Sunday 5 February 2012

Structure-writing: how to escape it.

(These notes are expanded from some replies on a facebook thread)

1. The structures for writing that many young children in primary schools are offered are lies. They are told that stories have or should have a certain structure. The model they are given doesn't correspond to the stories they actually read.

2. Even if you did give them some supposed 'true' structure that did correspond to the stories they read, it would be such a piece of reduced 'formalism' as to be of no use to them as writers.

3. I suggest several other approaches: motif, parody, dilemma - not in any particular order.

Motif encourages children to 'spot' motifs from one story to another by calling on their own 'intertextual repertoire' responses 'Is there anything about this story that reminds you of anything else you've read or seen?' So you encourage children to draw on what they know about stories - which is already massive, if you include film and TV programmes. You encourage them to spot 'motifs' (scenes, moments, types of encounter) and to spot differences between them...with a view to using them adapting them for their own purposes eg child meets monster...or child runs away...or poor girl becomes rich...etc

Parody asks children to see if they can swap 'paradigms' to see what happens: . What would happen if Little RRH was waiting to catch a wolf who had to take some food to his granny? This is both ludic (playful) and subversive. Essentially, you ask children to 'write like' but swapping elements.

Dilemma-based writing suggests that most (not 100%) of stories that they come across have a key dilemma or problem which is 'solved' through the telling. In the usual skeleton or structure children are given, this problem doesn't turn up till after 'introduction', 'characters' and 'setting'. This is actually a lesson in bad writing! As my daughter says, (10) she really likes stories where you get the conclusion at the beginning and you read in order to find out how the characters got there! She is 'wrong' according to the systems they're given. The great thing about dilemma-writing is that you discover that writing is the work you do to solve the problem, You dig into the dilemma in order to dig out solutions. Your tools are the words you use.

Only when you've got people writing and talking about writing, do you need to get into talking about structures. In fact, it's much more exciting and much more complex than these prescriptive ones out of text-books and schemes.

The politics of prescriptive structures and writing:

The ideology behind this 'reduced structuralism' is that children are incapable beings; they are positioned as unknowing, waiting to be filled up with knowledge which is possessed ultimately by distant far-off gods called examiners, inspectors and ministers.

It leaves everything unequestioned - writing, stories, structures, the world, how we learn, the hierarchies between adults and children, between teachers and their bosses. It the theory of permanent non-revolution that dominates education. Nothing evolves or changes. Nothing is there to be questioned. You can't get round it or behind it. You just have to do it as systematised by my dear bro as 'Don't question it, just do it.'

In order to create passivity in the majority, these permanences are constantly being put in front of children on the basis that they're lower ability or that this will help them get through SATs or GCSEs or whatever. The 'help' is in fact a hindrance. It's a seminar in passivity.