The Stories Children Carry

From the time humans huddled around the fire at night, we’ve told each other stories. As humans, we’re hard-wired to both hear and tell them. Epics like Beowulf, the Mahabharata, the Aeneid, Gilgamesh — they’re buried deep in our DNA.

All children love to be read to. They also love to make up elaborate, imaginative stories. But somewhere in childhood, that natural gift gets squelched instead of channeled, which is why for Christmas, I wish that we taught creative writing from kindergarten. Even before a child can write, she can dictate an amazing story. Just try it and see. 

In many schools today, students learn ad nauseum the mechanics and theory of English composition without ever writing stories themselves, which is like studying dance while bolted to your chair. When you describe a rabbit scurrying/scampering/bolting through the forest, you sear those pesky vocabulary words into memory. Teach the narrative arts, and you’ve taught English composition, too. Plus, you’ve encouraged kids to think creatively, a life skill adaptable from science to business.

“If a kid understands storytelling, she can harness her imagination to tell her own story.”

Yet in 12 years of school, many kids never get to write fiction or poetry. Mine sure didn’t. Perhaps it’s considered frivolous compared to book reports, analysis and essays, but the bill comes due with college essays. Rich families hire tutors for this, which isn’t fair. That’s why I volunteer, helping underprivileged kids frame their own stories —which can rival Tolstoy in scope, tragedy, obstacles, luck, poignancy and humor. 

Yes, I know I’ve switched goalposts from creative writing to dreaded college essays, but they’re connected. If a kid understands storytelling, she can harness her imagination to tell her own story.

Lastly, kids who write are also curious to read other stories, AKA books. AKA literacy. But all too often, we make reading and writing dreary, punitive or extracurricular. Rediscovering the joy of creative writing in K-12 is what I want for Christmas this year.

Denise Hamilton is the author of seven crime novels and the editor of “Speculative Los Angeles” (forthcoming, February 2021). She also is the editor of the best-selling anthologies “Los Angeles Noir” and “Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics.” Hamilton is a former L.A. Times journalist, Fulbright scholar and Edgar Award finalist. Her essay on lust, in our feature on the Seven Deadly Sins, appeared in the summer 2017 issue (Vol. 7, No. 2) of LMU Magazine. Visit her at