reflective practice · writing

What do you think?

I often write to figure out things. This is typically scrawled in a notebook that no one but me sees. I follow winding trails of thoughts, capture snippets, and try to come to deeper understandings. I tell you this as part of a disclaimer. Usually I go to those notebooks before blogging about something that is nagging at me. I sort out some of the initial messy thoughts before I share the tangled ideas in a public forum. Blogging then helps me refine my thinking.

Tonight’s post isn’t refined. Instead it is the kind of initial thinking that usually goes in that notebook. I know others have written about this topic with a much greater understanding than me. In fact, my plan is to read some of their thoughts this week. This is a post just sorting out some of the things I’ve noticed and to try to figure out why it is harassing me at the edges of my mind.

Here’s what I’m noticing:

Often young writers rewrite movies, tv shows, video games, or books when given the chance to develop their own writing idea. Sometimes they take characters that already exist from one of these sources and use them to write their own story.

Why do they do this? I’ve noticed it before and I’m sure you have too. I know I can just say “Don’t rewrite a movie…blah blah blah” and they will stop stealing existing story lines. However, I don’t want them to stop just because I said so, I want them to stop because they’ve developed as writers. I want them to move past rewriting other people’s stories and to developing their own.

So I’m asking myself why do they do this in the first place. Here are the scrambled thoughts in my mind. I’m hoping you add some of your own in the comments section so I can come to a deeper understanding.

  1. It’s easier to write a story that I already know how it goes than to create a new one from scratch.
  2. When I can picture a story in my mind, I’m able to write better than when I’m not able to envision the story. So it makes sense that if a young writer has a vivid picture of a movie, tv show, or video game, then he would be tempted to rewrite it.
  3. I wonder if it has to do with confidence. Do young writers believe in themselves enough to trust their own ideas are good enough?
  4. I notice less experienced writers are the ones who have a tendency to swipe favorite story lines. I wonder if this is a form of scaffolding for them. It makes sense to think of this as scaffolding.
  5. Maybe they don’t think their own ideas are worthy. Maybe they aren’t sure how to find an idea to write about. If I offer minilessons about getting and developing ideas will this issue go away?
  6. It annoys me when young writers rewrite an existing story. I think this is why I usually just tell students to stop and force them to move on. This year I want to understand the reason why they do this and to help them grow and mature as writers.
  7. In the WFMAD Challenge last week, Laurie Halse Anderson encouraged us to borrow a classic story line. Her post resonated within me. One of my strengths as a fiction writer is character development, however plot is a little (okay a lot) tougher for me. As I followed her advice I found a renewed energy for my story. So if Laurie Halse Anderson recommends borrowing a story line, I’m thinking there is value in it. Now she doesn’t advocate to steal the story, so there is a segue that will need to be taught…still I think this is an important thing to remember. I wonder if I could offer this segue in a minilesson.
I’m looking forward to your comments and to experimenting a little with these kinds of writers.

9 thoughts on “What do you think?

  1. I like #4 because I remember doing this when I was writing my first stories back in elementary school. I was an avid reader, and many of my stories had elements of my favorite books–the kids who solve a mystery (Bobbsey twins), the little girl living on the frontier (the Laura Ingalls Wilder books). I’m sure it’s not the same for every young writer, but I think “scaffolding” is probably necessary on some level to writerly development. We imitate plots, styles, characters, etc., as we learn to develop our own plots, styles, and characters.

    Then again, some kids might just be lazy. 🙂 But I know that, as a writer, many of my earliest stories were developments or imitations of stories I already knew.


  2. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I also appreciate the comments, and hope you won’t mind if I share a different view.

    There are many deep and wonderful communities for fanfiction writing for teens and older adults. Fanfiction writers reimagine everything from Harry Potter to Twilight, Star Trek and Star Wars. Many fanfiction authors write from the position of “what would happen if…” with their favorite stories. They collaborate, read each other’s work, debate the merits of decisions about beloved characters, and so on. These are rich writing groups, even if they are based on “bubble gum” or what some might think of as pop culture stories. Could students have these conversations about pop culture topics too?

    I also see these popular culture stories as part of student background knowledge. My daughter has written Spongebob stories in her writer’s notebook. I’ve talked to her about why she has Spongebob or Patrick do certain things, and her answers tell me that she knows their character traits as well as basic elements of plot. We may not want every story a child writes to be based on their pop culture fandom interests, but we can still use this writing to talk about all kinds of aspects of composition. We can use examples from pop culture stories familiar to them to walk them further down the path of writing. And if we don’t know much about Spongebob or whatever else they like, it is a great opportunity to let them teach us about what matters to them.

    Just my thoughts!


  3. I agree with everything you said, as reasons for swiping story lines from movies/TV. I have also had several students over the years who simply have difficulty imagining new characters to write about. One student a few years ago always wrote what were essentially re-tells of shows he had seen and I challenged him to tell me what happened next, at the end of the movie or TV show. It was hard for him! Another student had a similar problem, but he only wrote stories about his sister. Even non-fiction writing assignments would turn into a story about her. Finally, I told him he wasn’t allowed to do that for a particular story and that he needed to come up with a new character, and spent one whole writing period trying to think of a name for his new character! 🙂 I agree with Linda and I think the problem, besides the ones you named, is lack of practice pretending. I have seen this problem mostly in only-children who watch a lot of TV and don’t read a lot of books.


  4. I think your reasons #4 and #5 are what I see most in young writers. I think our students don’t get enough experience talking about their lives before they have to write so they go to what is familiar and what is talked about by everyone around them. I think if more time was spent in the early primary grades talking and playing outloud, our students might be able to write it better.


  5. This was an interesting post–thanks for getting me thinking! As I read your list of possible reasons, I had two thoughts. Writing what they know takes the pressure off writing. It’s a tough process and by eliminating the taxing work of creating, it frees them to practice so many of the other skills they need to be effective writers–sentence fluency, organization, word choice, voice, stuff like that.

    The other thought I had is that there are very few original ideas in the world. Most stories follow familiar themes. Perhaps that’s the reason for “borrow a story line” exercise. Maybe kids know this intuitively or they’re looking at their television programs and movies as a sounding board for the themes that seem to matter in their lives…


  6. I have always thought that it is easier for them to write a story that they have seen played out already. I think our youngest student still think in pictures and to recreate what they have seen is helpful to them. Along that same line, many kindergarten students are non representational drawers at this time of year so drawing an existing story instead of your own may be a kind of scaffold. I am anxious to hear what others say because I have always wondered the same thing.


  7. The reasons you came up with make a lot of sense to me.

    I think it’s interesting that you find characters easier than plot. I’ve been doing more writing this summer than I’ve ever done, and I’m finding that developing characters is really hard for me! It takes forever for them to seem believable as people, and longer than that to make them sound right in my head. Plots are much easier.

    So maybe some of our kids are borrowing a character they already know so they don’t have to worry about creating a whole person, and can put their energy towards a plot of their own, or even just retelling the story in their own words.

    And I think some of them just love that character/world and want to (re)write the character/story they love to feel like they’re a part of it.


  8. I like all the different reasons you’ve listed & really, they’re probably all true. When I first started reading your query, I thought of another idea, & that is what if they don’t know enough about pretending? The teachers of the younger students in my school say that they spend time teaching some students how to play. Today’s children are very structured; many don’t have sandboxes any more, for example. They go to lessons and have specific toys that tell them the story line. Another example we’ve discussed is how many of the Lego kits are themed, instead of just using a lot of legoes to build whatever it is you want to build. That’s pretending (creating) too. Perhaps it would help the younger students if we gave lessons in pretending or ‘what if’? Just an add-on to your list!


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