Parts of a Story & Planning
This week we’re going to talk about fiction and one of my least favorite questions in real life: what’s the plan? (which loosely translates as ‘What is your solution to this?’)
Planning is a helpful tool that will give your children the chance to see their story as a whole before they start writing.
At this stage, planning is as important as ever, but it is not necessarily formal. Beyond primary school, children may need to draw plans for their essays, but for us here, the planning should be simple. Ask your child, what are you going to write about?
Done! End post.
But don’t run away yet. I want to convince you that planning is useful and will make it easier for your child to sit down and write.
As a teacher, planning a lesson is essential – it helps me see the elements in the lesson all together, and as I am planning I can see the connections as well as the gaps. I can write down which resources I need.
You can be spontaneous while having a plan. There is room to be creative and flexible, but knowing where you’re going will give you more freedom to create. It will give you direction and confidence.
How do we transpose this to writing?
Try this: Sit down to write. Start with a sentence. Then another one. Any idea where you are going with this? Is this story going to be a succession of sentences or will there be a plot? Trying to see the whole picture and planning before you start will help answer these questions.
What makes a story?
When thinking of fiction, we think of characters, or at least a character (after all, The Very Hungry Caterpillar had the whole book all to itself). Who are these characters and what do they want? What do they want to do?
These characters, where are they? And when does their story unfold? We need a setting for them – a time and a place.
Then, the problem.
Stories need problems, characters need challenges
Let’s look at this very short story:
A little girl went to school and her ponytails stayed in place all day. She had a sandwich and an apple, and played with her best friend. The end.
I can hear you snoring in the background. What was wrong with this story? Nothing – so, everything.
Stories where nothing goes wrong tend to be much less interesting. By wrong I don’t mean all chocolate cookies have disappeared off the face of the earth or a city is invaded by aliens – it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. But something has to go wrong. The girl can’t find her sandwich, she sees a monkey climb down from a tree and into the school playground, reaching for her apple. A challenge in the story will make the characters react and it will develop the story from a collection of still pictures to an action-packed plot. Action means the characters are doing something, they are not simply spectators.
Stories need problems, characters need challenges.
Back to planning
Planning means making a plan, plain and simple.
Ask your child, what are you going to write about? After some thinking, they say, “A dog.”
Cool. Happy? Maybe let’s get to know this dog.
So, this puppy (let’s assume your child said he’s young), what does he like to do? Where does he live? What kind of trouble is he going to get into? Is he going to meet other animal friends in this particular story?
Take your children through the different elements of a story, such as character, setting and the big problem, asking them to fill in the gaps. Then, once your child has a character in a setting with a problem, we need to know what will happen next – the solution. We tie it all up and call it a day. Or a short story.
If it’s easier to write this down, have your child write some short sentences under each section (character, setting, etc.), but they may be happy to just say them out loud and get on with writing the actual story.
So… what’s the plan?