P: Planning Out a Pleasing Plot. Starting Your Students on Story [Teacher Tips from A to Z]
Write a story. Make it three pages, and make it fictional. Ready? Go! This is not the best preparation for writing a narrative.
For anyone who is writing, coming up with an effective and well-written piece takes time and effort and some planning at the start of the process. Nonnative speakers will be even more intimidated by jumping into the cold water of story writing without a little preparation ahead of time. Use the following steps with your students to help them establish the foundation of their plot before they set to the task of writing a fictional narrative.
P: Planning Out a Pleasing Plot
Procure a Protagonist
The first step in planning a plot for a piece of fiction is deciding on your protagonist or main character. If you were to write a personal narrative, the protagonist would be the writer of the story. Each of us is the main character in our own stories. For fictional stories, on the other hand, the main character may be a little more difficult to create. If your students need help coming up with an original character, have them start with lists of characteristics that they like and another list of characteristics that they dislike in people. Write down at least five of each. Then when creating their main characters, have your students select two qualities that they view as positive and one that they view as negative. For example, your student may decide his main character is innovative and courageous but is clumsy or she may be beautiful and sophisticated but talk too much. By including a negative characteristic along with the positive ones, the reader will be able to better identify with the protagonist and your students will avoid having a character who it too aloof and unrelatable.
Produce a Predicament
The second step in creating plot is to give the character a problem. There are an infinite number of problems that a character may have, but the key to an effective problem is to make sure the character may or may not be able to solve it. By bringing the main character’s success into question, your students will create tension which drives plot and keeps the reader’s interest. When deciding on the problem for a main character, consider his or her setting and role in life. Is she a doctor in a third world country? Is he a garbage collector in Beverly Hills? Performing surgery will be a more interesting problem for the second character while finding a way to make quick money may be more challenging for the first.
Pile On the Problems
No good character solves his problem on the first try. Encourage your students to think of ways their character may try to solve the problem and fail. Does the doctor try to have a spaghetti dinner that no one can afford to attend? Then does she try to sell her collection of antique novels only to find that the people in the village cannot read? In each case, the attempt to solve the problem will fail. A good rule of thumb is to have two failing attempts to solve the problem before the final successful solution. The character’s failed attempts should make the overall situation worse than it was before he or she attempted the solution making the reader question whether the piece will have a happy ending.
With each step in the plot, there should be some question the narrative has not answered. How will the doctor get the money? Why does no one in the village eat spaghetti? Why has no one learned to read? As your students plan answers to the problems they present, have them present more problems that the reader does not yet have an answer to. This pattern of answering one question but bringing up another should continue throughout the story. When all the questions are answered, the narrative is finished. Post it’s are a great tool for kids (and adults) at this stage in the writing process. By writing a short note or drawing a simple picture on each of several post it’s, your students can keep track of the events in their stories and play with the ordering and arrangement. They can also see what the plot will look like if they decide to remove an event all together. These little slips of paper give your students flexibility and make arranging the events of a story less intimidating.
Pose a Possibility
As your students are answering and planting questions, they can use questions of themselves to help further the plot. What would happen if…? What if this event were the next thing to happen? By asking themselves questions, they can think ahead to the next step in the story. They should do steps four and five at the same time while constructing their plots. With each event will come a question that the reader will want to have answered.
Writing a story cold is something very few people can do. Even most professional writers have some sort of plan in place as they write.
By plotting out the structure of a story, your students will have a path to follow as they write. This will alleviate stress and give them more confidence as they express themselves through words. By guiding your students through this five-step process, you will give them the foundation for a fictional piece of writing that will be engaging and interesting and that your students will be proud of.
Susan likes to enjoy every day to its fullest whether she is freelance writing, teaching homeschoolers, or developing her special talent of instigation. When she is not imagining sand castles or catching others off balance, she cooks, sings, reads and takes walks in the sunshine. She earned an M.A. from the University of Delaware in Linguistics and an M.A. from Trinity School for Ministry in Youth Ministry. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and her three cheepy cockatiels.
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