Mastery in Writing

This week I want to explore two key questions about writing. Firstly, is the quality of writing based solely on grammar? Secondly, how does creative writing, for example, in stories, differ from other forms of writing – and when is it okay to break the rules of grammar?

How does grammar feature in the quality of writing? Young children are first taught how to link words together according to the rules of speech – I like milk. There’s a bird in our garden. They learn that words go together in a specific order – for example, adjectives are usually in front of nouns. Sentences have capital letters and full stops, as do proper nouns, such as names of people, places etc. Later on, children learn how to write different types of sentences, using different punctuation: question or exclamation marks, speech marks, and so on. They write in different tenses: past, present and future.

Having mastered simple sentences, children then learn to write complex ones, using conjunctions (and, but, because) as ‘joining’ words. Longer sentences then begin to include clauses to expand on the meaning.

Verb structures become more complex also – for example, ‘if I had known in advance, I would not have bothered to attend’. It takes time to reach this level of verb structure. Later on, adjectives and nouns become ‘adjectival phrases’ and ‘noun phrases’.

Yes, children are assessed on the quality of their grammatical usage – mainly. It matters, for most types of writing – formal letters, reports and so on. So children need to master it.

So how is creative writing sometimes different – and when does grammar not matter as much? I have recently noticed many changes in media writing, for example, that names are not always given capital letters, although they are proper nouns. Writers of fiction often break the rules for impact – one word sentences. Sentences may begin with and or but, even though we teach these as joining words that can make two short sentences into one longer one.

So children surely need to know when to apply rules of grammar and when to relax them for specific purposes and readership. We want children to write interesting stories that are not stilted and wooden. Grammar has its place, but in creative fiction – meaning and impact surely take precedence over the rules. This is the ‘creative’ side of writing.

Having said all this – grammar is still the basis of quality writing: children must know the rules in order to be able to bend them. So help your child to master grammar – and to know the difference between more formal, grammatical writing – and when the rules can be bent for the purpose of creativity. Start by finding out WHAT your child learns and HOW. My books will help – Supporting Children at the various Key Stages by Sylvia Edwards are available from Lulu in printed form, and from Amazon, in printed form and as ebooks.

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