by Jen McVeity
If you got a dollar for every time you told your kids to plan their writing, you'd be living on a tropical island now, right? The only trouble is, it's hard to show children HOW to plan.
We've all seen examples of poor planning:
• Movies that have great starts, terrific characters, fascinating plots - and an ending which is flatly disappointing.
• Books that get bogged down with 57 characters and 49 locations leaving you bewildered and bored.
• And then there's real life. The handyman who pulls apart the lawn mower to fix it, and only when it is in 42 bits around him does he discover he needs specific wrenches (trip to neighbor), an instruction booklet (search 47 files in a cabinet), cleaning fluid (trip to hardware store) and finally - it's all done, all fixed, but oops, forgot the oil!
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Good stories (like movies, books, poems and even jokes) all follow a similar structure.
1. Start with a bang - put the main character in an action scene. A fight, a rescue, a sudden danger.
2. Back fill - the who, what and why are filled in WHILE the action unfolds. (Not in big slabs at the beginning.)
3. The main problem is introduced.
4. Complications and more problems. Things get very bad indeed.
5. Tension scene where hero/heroine fights against incredible odds. Surely they must fail...
6. Climax - incredibly, wonderfully, they win!
So how can you help your kids to plan? Speaking something aloud is often a test of how well we know the subject. So use this to help kids get a great story plan in their minds
BEFORE they write.
Once kids know about the story graph, get them to come to you with a story 'mapped out' in their head. Now ask them to tell you their idea. However, to keep them specific and to make sure they have all the sections covered, YOU scaffold them all the way through it.
Following the six point outline above, here are some sample questions to ask your kids at each stage:
1. The Action Start.
• So what's the start of the story?
• You have to start with a bang - what's a great action scene you could use?
• What's something exciting your characters could do to show how clever they are?
• Your character is really brave - what's something he/she could be doing to show this?
2. The Backfill - often this is done as the starting action is unfolding. We don't need huge slabs of explanation.
• Why are they there?
• What's a quick way you can tell this?
• In one sentence say why they are scared/over confident/angry.
• Can you get someone to say the main character's name so we know it without being 'told'?
3. The Main Problem.
• Right, now what is your main character's problem?
• If your hero is going to help a friend, find a big problem for them to face.
• Saving a cat up a tree is sort of a small problem. Can you think of something more powerful?
4. Even More Problems.
• We need even MORE problems. What will they be?
• Things must be very bad indeed for your hero. What else can go wrong?
• Give your hero a really hard time.
• What more can happen? What would really make your person scared?
5. The Big Tension Scene
• Ready for the tension scene? What happens? Will your character survive?
• Give lots of detail of this scene. Picture each step in your mind.
• Your reader must think your hero will fail. Make it REALLY hard.
• Make your villain or problem even bigger than your hero.
6. The Climax
• And now for the big climax. How does it all end?
• What's the hero going to do to win?
• The hero must solve the problem. How?
• It sounds really exciting. How's it going to end?
Often I put in really basic or even silly ideas, just to get the ball rolling. However, don't put in too many ideas or rush to fill the silences. Let your kids do the thinking - that way they 'own' the story.
And remember, kids don't always HAVE to write the story, to practice their planning skills. Just playing with ideas, brainstorming a story a night, is fun - and terrific training for their planning skills.
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© Jen McVeity - creator of the Seven Steps to Writing Success. To learn about all seven steps visit http://sevenstepswriting.com/.You'll also find a story starters worksheet, ideas chatterbox and a free parent newsletter with more writing tips and fun activities to share.
About the author:
Jen McVeity designed the Seven Steps to Writing Success program. She is a National Literacy Champion, the author of over 20 books for children, a Churchill Fellow, the ex-chair of the largest writing organization in the world and in her spare time she flies on a circus trapeze!