Wednesday 11 January 2012

Story: What? How? What! Now?

If you're a teacher and you know that you're going to do 'writing stories' today, tomorrow, in a have the permanent problem of 'how'. All sorts of people (myself included) will come at you with suggestions and plans as to how to do it. Some of the most appealing talk about structure. They offer you plans and blueprints: this is how a story is, children, all you have to do is follow the plan. And in the plan, there'll be all the tick-boxes of what the children are supposed to achieve at this particular point in their existence.


I think this is the law of diminishing returns. If you want children to write because they want to write, if you want to generate excitement and interest, then you have to do 'other stuff'.

Can I suggest that writing done by professional writers tends to start out, (broadly speaking) from two sources which are linked: from the things they're reading; and from what I'll call an 'itch'. When you read, you're offered possibilities and the simplest and easiest thing to say to children can be the best - 'Hey, we could write something like that.' And the 'something' can be the structure, the theme, the method of narration or another aspect of what you're reading. The advantage of this is that it gives you and the children an emotional and structural resource - at the same time. Technically speaking this is the 'parodic' approach ie you're asking the children to write what is in effect a 'parody' - not in the comic sense...just as a way of 'borrowing' the shell of the story, or an aspect of the story and re-using it.

The 'itch' approach - and the 'itch' may have arisen from the reading anyway - says that writing starts from problems and dilemmas that need to be solved. And - this is the crunch bit - you solve them in the process of writing.

One of the problems with the structure and plan approach is that you're asking children to solve the problems or 'tell the story' before they've told it. Part of the fun of writing is to push your pen to solve the dilemma, whatever it is - you discover that you're a wizard, you find a million quid, you lose a million quid, etc etc. The advantage of this is that it makes writing a bit like a game. Game 1 - invent a dilemma. Game 2 solve it. You can even set people up in pairs where one person comes up with the dilemma and the other person has to solve it.

But starting from pure structure, pure blueprint...doesn't it wear you out? Wear them out? Wear your brains out?