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:~: Wednesday, April 12, 2006 :~:

Nature or Nurture?

My nephew, Ryan, is eight and in the second grade. Ever since he was about four, he blew things up. Not literally, but in his imagination. He would run about the house with a constant barrage of explosions echoing off the walls. "Phwoo--phwoo--phwoo." Then he'd sputter out gunfire. Mutter, "Gotcha, take that." But mostly just the sound affects.

He lives three hours north of us and when I'd visit, I was always talking with my family and the kids played together, so I didn't really notice how pervasive his battles were.

At some point, after listening to him do this...for hours...I ask, "Ryan, what are you doing?"

(Can you tell I have daughters?)

"The aliens are battling the pirates," he says, his sweet little face with the freckles dotting his nose and cheeks completely serious. "They're storming the palace and there's a fire breathing dragon (is there any other kind, I wanted to ask, but didn't) behind the wall."


"Does he do this all the time?" I ask my sister.

She rolls her eyes. "All the time. This is nothing. You should here him when he gets the Lava Guys involved."

"Lava Guys," I echo. "Uh-huh."

I know what you're thinking--too much violent TV. But, no. This is not a child who's left unattended in front of the television to watch Forensic Files, Cold Case Files or COPS like mine are.

(Did I say that out loud?)

When he came to stay with me for a week over the summer, I set down immediate rules. "Ryan," I said, "if you're going to blow things up, you have to do it outside."

He complained and pouted, but he went outside to fight his imaginary battles.

** Skip to the present... **

Two weeks ago he calls me. "Aunt Joan, I'm writing a story."

I'm thinking it's something for school, right? My sister had him call me--the best-seller-in-waiting--ahem--for help.


Turns out he's writing a story for fun. He says it's going to be a hundred pages long. Twenty chapters, because there are twenty battles in the story, a chapter for each battle.

I fight the urge to ask, "How old are you, again?" and tell him how cool that is and ask him more about it. He says, "My dad draws the pictures and my mom helps me spell the words."

He's eight years old and he's got an illustrator and an editor.

I corral my envy (not really--kidding...no, really, I'm kidding) and listen as he reads it to me.

My first thought? Oh, my God, he's good.

I suppose there is something to the simplicity of a child's skills. His sentences are short and to the point, packed with enough description to get your imagination working and verbs that give you the action with straight-forward punch. And of course with Lava Guys, Pirates and Aliens fighting twenty battles, there's a lot of action.

After I'm done praising him, offering every accolade I can pull from under the thought, 'He's going to get published before I am', I talk to my sister. She says this is just something he wanted to do. He elicited their help and just...started.

Last weekend I went to visit my family for Ryan's First Communion.

He and I had made the plan two weeks before that we would work on his next chapter together (or whatever portion of that chapter his attention span would allow).

I sat down with him at one of those kid-sized tables in his room, and we read over his story together. We looked over the pictures his father drew in accordance with the Ryan's story, and I asked him, "Okay, what happens next."

He looked perplexed for a minute. His lips pressed tight together, and his little jaw shifted to the side as he thought. God, he was so friggin' cute!

I was busy studying those darn freckles that just kill me when he turned toward his toy bins. "I've got these guys..." He starts jabbering about his toys, and I'm disappointed, thinking I'd lost him already--he was going to play with his toys.

But, no. He diligently searches through the myriad of action figures and pulls out the Lava Guys, sets them on the table top, and proceeds to show me all their fine fighting attributes, and how those will defeat the pirates attempting to storm the palace.

And I'm thinking...where the heck can I get toys like this related to my writing? What a visual aid! I could use some cops, some bad guys, guns, a few sexy men and women, a couple villains...

"Aunt Joan?"

Oh, right. Ryan. His story.

We hammered out a few sentences. I show him how to use the dictionary (because his parents didn't have a thesaurus...OMG, who doesn't have a thesaurus?? Okay, their kids are only eight and two) to find stronger, more varied verbs (since his other writing techniques didn't need much work) like the catapult 'rocketed' through the courtyard gate instead of 'smashed', which he'd used a few times already.

Then he wandered into his parent's room where his sister and my two daughters were watching cartoons, crawled over them on the bed and settled right in the big middle of all the girls.

I have a feeling that will be a constant in his life...amid a bunch of girls all fighting for his attentions.

So...this got me to thinking. Are writers born or made?

I've always believed that anyone could do anything if they set their minds to it. I do agree that some people have propensities to certain talents, but I don't believe that precludes them from achieving outside those God-given abilities if they have the desire.

I've read articles written on both sides of this issue. One camp says that writing is a craft that can be learned. Honed. The other says that while they agree that writing is a craft that can be learned, they believe there has to be some inherent, underlying talent there to begin with, an ability that can be polished and brought out. They don't believe talent can be taught...an interesting thought.

I still lean toward my steadfast belief. While I think that people like my nephew Ryan may have a talent, may reach success sooner if he chose to follow that path, I also believe people like...er, me...can work at learning the craft, developing storytelling skills and ultimately be successful, talented writers.

What do you think? Nature or nurture?


Blogger Paty Jager said...

Both. I think every writer has the knack for a good story- but some of us need the tools to make it shine and grab the readers attention sooner than we might naturally tell it.

You can be a good story-teller, but not have the drive to do anything more with it than pass it down to your family. It takes perserverance and determination to get published no matter if your talent is nature or nurture.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

I forgot to add- my adopted son is nature. He is a gifted writer. When he lived at home and I was stuck trying to find a word- he always came up with it in a flash! I've tried to get him to send to contests and he won't do it. He does however write songs. lyrics and melodies. So one day he may get published that way. If he isn't working on a fantasy book as we speak.

In his case it is a gift of nature.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Oh, boyssss....

Love this post. Yes, boys are so different from girls. (And I have to mention I just loves the name Ryan.) My son likes to blow things up too. Everything is double-time action.

Nature vs. nurture...hmm...I'm not sure. I think there are a lot of good storytellers that don't make good writers because they can't get their stories down on paper, so in that respect, you have to learn the craft of writing to become a successful author. In the same respect, there are a lot of really great writers who aren't good storytellers even though they may know all the mechanics of grammar and spelling. Personally, I think the best writers are a combination of the two - they intrinsically know how to tell a good story, but have learned the craft along the way that makes them phenomenal writers.

3:50 PM  

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