Graphic novels can be a powerful motivator of summer reading, which can be especially helpful for boys and reluctant readers. In Tip #39, I mentioned that the best graphic novels demand many of the same skills that are needed to understand traditional works of prose fiction, so reading them has not just affective but also cognitive benefits for kids. Comics and graphic novels are also a great way to inspire summer writing and creativity, especially for kids who already love to read them. Writing in comic-style can be especially enticing for reluctant writers or kids who prefer drawing to writing, because this form is less text heavy and writing with dialogue bubbles tends to be perceived as less daunting and more fun.
There are so many ways that kids can write stories in graphic/comic book style. They can write their own original graphic story, or they can use specific comics/graphic novels as a springboard for their own writing. For example, kids can write their own “different” ending or add another chapter or prequel chapter. They can be encouraged to add a twist to the middle of the story in order to embellish the plot, or they can change the text in the dialogue bubbles. They can even take a favorite picture book, chapter book, poem, play, or even song lyrics and re-write it as a graphic story! Since many of these forms tend to be text-heavy and lacking visual elements, interpreting them into a visual form requires lots of imagination.
To gear up for writing, talk together about the features specific to comics as well as those shared with prose. Through discussion, make the special features of comics explicit so that your child can easily identify and use them in his/her own comics writing. Here are some features of comic-style stories to guide your child towards including them in his/her own writing:
- use of a specific genre, which can be the range of genres used for prose, such as mystery, realistic fiction, western, science fiction, superhero, and comedy.
- a beginning, a middle, and an ending
- a vivid setting and a main character or group of characters
- a central problem or conflict, and a resolution to the problem
- character goals, feelings, and thoughts throughout the story
- a central theme or message
- characters drawn so that they look very different from each other (so they are easy for readers to distinguish), with the look of the character matching the personality.
- drawings of characters have exaggerated body language and facial expressions.
- Use of a comic strip layout, with panels, pictures for each panel, captions/dialogue, and word bubbles with “tails” that point to the appropriate character doing the talking.
- Word bubbles are in one of two forms: speech bubbles that show what characters are saying (smooth and curved, such as an oval) or thinking bubbles that show what characters are thinking (wavy, shaped like a cloud)
- the form of the text might communicate meaning as well — words or letters might shrink from left to right to show that speaking is getting quieter, or increasing volume might be conveyed with letters that get larger in size or that are capitalized or put in bold.
Of course, kids can draw their own panels as needed for their story, though templates with already-existing frames can provide some minimal assistance that gets them started. http://www.Barebooks.com provides eight-page blank “books” for writing authentic books in graphic style. Or, you can find free printable comic strip templates online, such as at http://donnayoung.org/art/comics.htm, which has many formats from which to chose and print. There are also many online comic creators with varying levels of complexity and some with specific themes. A few to check out include:
After your child completes his/her comic style story, encourage it to be shared with others, read it aloud, and add it to the home library for later reading. And maybe inspire even more summer writing by expressing your eagerness for a sequel!