Innovative use of language, expert grasp of technology and enthusiasm for unusual words – these are the key characteristics today’s youngsters display in their creative writing.
That was the verdict of a team of lexicographers from Oxford University Press who analysed nearly 75,000 short stories children sent into a competition run by Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans.
The results of the 500 Words challenge showed that young people are very inventive in their storytelling and language use. It also emerged that children often refer to technology in their writing and that celebrity culture is a major influence.
Well-known people like Chris Evans, Jacqueline Wilson, Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi and Justin Bieber featured in many of the youngsters’ 500-word stories.
It was clear too that American vocabulary and spelling is creeping into children’s work more and more – especially those written by 10 to 13-year-olds – arguably due to the popularity of US novels such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, the study said.
The most popular examples of this were words including cupcake, garbage truck, trash can, candy, sidewalk and soda.
Contrary to concerns about the increasing use of text-speak, the budding young writers only included it in their stories when it was appropriate.
Furthermore, children were excellent at spelling the more unusual words, such as pterodactyl, while there was some confusion over more common words (does and didn’t) and the construction of tenses (waked up).
Also, misuse of the apostrophe appeared to be a common problem, while one of the most popular forms of punctuation was the exclamation mark – used nearly 352,000 times.
The six finalists in the competition, all aged 13 and under, heard their stories broadcast on Chris Evans’s breakfast show by celebrities like Will Young, Catherine Tate, Helen Skelton and Richard Wilson.
The winner of the 10 to 13 category of the competition was Isobel Harwood, a 12-year-old pupil at New Mills School in Derbyshire, whose story, Defining Moments, was about a girl befriending a boy who does not fit in with the norm.
The young writer won Chris Evans’s height in books (6ft 2in) as reward for her endeavours and 500 books for her school library. She said: “I was a bit surprised when I heard my name being read out and I’m still a bit shell-shocked. It was the first time I’d written a story like that – and I only entered it an hour before the deadline. I’m glad I did.”