Short and limited – writing the first reader

Posted: April 15, 2011 in process
Tags: , , , , ,

How short is short? And with how restricted a vocabulary can you write a half-decent story?

I’m not talking flashes of 50 words for an adult comp. I’m talking very very easy readers for children who have just learnt their initial words and want a story they can read all by themselves to boost their confidence and love of books.

And – before we start – where do you get your list of specified words?

Louise Jordan printed one in her book How to Write for Children. And on the Internet you can access the Reception-level “sight words” list from the National Literacy Strategy (NLS), and the list for Years 1 and 2.

When I tracked down the Words First reading scheme on soundlearning.co.uk, I found that the first five books of that scheme use only the NLS’s 45 “sight” words plus three more. Book one only uses the first 12 words…

Now that is amazing. And extreme. I was thinking of somewhere in between.

So is it possible?

Well, I wrote a story called “That Rascal!” using Louise Jordan’s list (must ask her where she got it) and am now using the same list to write another story with the same main character. Just for practice. I believe I will need something to send to a publisher (one who still makes additions to their scheme, of course) to prove I can work well within limitations, but after that I believe it’ll mean waiting for a chance and specific instructions! But I’m not sure. Some research needed here.

Why am I doing this? Surely the chapter books I’m writing are easier?

Yes, but I find this sort of challenge fulfilling because it brings out the editor in me to join with the storyteller. There is always a way to create a story (an illustrated one, at any rate) with a beginning, middle and end, using a restricted vocabulary. You just have to do it in such a way that the picture says the rest. The child will be reading both picture and words as a unit. So it’s a skill and an art rolled into one inspiring story.

If you fancy a go, here are some get-started tips:

1 Colour-code your word list to divide it into types of word, such as adjectives, present-tense verbs, past-tense verbs, question words, personal pronouns, extras etc.

2 Experiment with inventing disparate phrases from the words before you start thinking of a story. One will then spring to mind, but you’ll have released possibilities rather than feeling chained in.

3 Look out for opportunities to use a word in a different way eg “can” (as in can swim) or “can” (as in a container).

4 Think in pictures as you go so that there is action and context on each page.

5 Remember you can add in extra nouns so long as they are obvious from the picture, because the child will be scanning for clues and have a good guess.

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