Castles And Creatures
Requirements: Apple II series with at least 64K RAM, Commodore 64, or IBM PC and compatible computers.
For all the ten-year-olds who've wanted to write a story, but found the spelling, grammar, and development of character and plot beyond their ability, Woodbury Software offers a solution: the P1ayWriter series. Castles and Creatures is one entry in the series; it's a program that provides children with a set of tools for writing their own fantasy adventure book.
The PlayWriter program provides the framework for the story, but the child personalizes it by giving the details: naming the characters, locations, and key objects, describing them, and making up the action. Most of this is accomplished through a series of menu choices. The program asks for the name of the town that is the scene of the action and offers the choices of Tribula, Mastria, Louisville, or Other. Other allows entry of a name of your own choice. Commonly the program suggestions include one or two fantasy-sounding options, and a clever or funny one. Occasionally the program will ask the child to write a sentence describing a character, or a paragraph relating a critical bit of action.
The Final Product
When the story is finished, a procedure that takes about an hour (it can be saved and reloaded later), the child has several options. A rudimentary word processor allows the entire story to be reviewed and edited, or it can be printed in several formats. Eventually, you'll want to print the story on the special paper that comes in the package. But before then it should be printed on plain paper for review and correction. The manual suggests creating several versions of the story and choosing the child's favorite to turn into a book.
The package includes everything necessary to publish the story in hard cover: the proper size of paper, stickers for illustrating the story, end papers, and cover. The procedure for binding isn't difficult but does require assistance from an adult. The company will provide refills of the book package, but they aren't necessary. There are definite advantages to allowing a child to create his own drawings and cover for a story printed on standard-sized paper.
The program's functions are straightforward and easy to use, but there are weaknesses. Most noticeable and irritating is the long wait while the program saves a chapter and prepares to create the next. The very bad riddles it offers in the interim are only mildly diverting.
Another problem is the complicated plot and the number of characters; even though you named everyone, you may still have difficulty keeping track of who's who before the end of the story. And educators may validly object to the amount of work the program does for the child. PlayWriters are best used as an introduction and supplement to normal story-writing exercises. They can be valuable for launching children who are intimidated by the work involved in creating a story, or to stimulate the imagination of an entire class.
Castles and Creatures
127 White Oak Lane, CN 1001
Old Bridge, NJ 08857
$39.95 for all versions
(plus $2.50 shipping and handling)