So the kids were off a week for Spring Break. Many of them had completed a draft of their story. As I reviewed them, some were as short as 4 very short sentences while a few were a couple of pages.
As I reviewed their work, I had to be mindful that I was not grading their work, but finding ways to encourage them.
That is important to you as a writer yourself. This is not about judgement. Your story is not merited based on how much you wrote. Real merit is found in how well someone else can read and engage with your story.
We began by looking and discussing their stories as a group. I do this by having them tell us their story. Each child is given another child’s story to read as well. The author gets up to tell their story, while the reader takes the story into the hallway. Once the author is done, we quickly recap the character, the problem, solution and setting.
We then invite the reader back in to retell the story. They are allowed to have the story in hand, but I do not ask them to read it out loud. Instead, they recount what they remember about the story. Then we recap the character, the problem, solution and setting.
I kept notes on both so that we could compare the tellings of the stories side by side. I also open up the author to taking questions and record those as well. In the end, the author has information and feedback to help them improve and clarify their writing.
What a lot of the students came to understand is that there is still a lot of information about their story in their head.
While most first graders tend to skip details in their stories, as seasoned writers, we can make the same gaps in our writing.
Example of a first grader: The girl went to the beach. She forgot her swim suit. She bought a swim suit. Then went home.
The story was actually about a girl losing her cat. She had searched for it and was sad, so she went to the beach because the beach makes her happy. She wanted to go swimming, but did not have a bathing suit. So she went to the store to buy one. She went home to change into her swim suit because there was no place to change at the beach. When she got home, she heard her cat meowing under the porch. Her cat came home and she was happy.
Her telling of her story is much better than her writing the story. Her story makes logical sense, but most of the story is irrelevant to her story. We ended up with a second problem (no swim suit).
So we had to figure out what the story was about. What did we need to tell that story?
For her, she needed to understand her plot.
For you and me, it may be something more complex like a flat story arc. We may have a good story, just not a great one.
When I wrote Pedro’s Pan, my issue stemmed from not understanding all the nuances to the market I was writing too. But even when I did, the story was flat. My character lacked an arc. That was solved by writing the story from a different perspective. The new character POV made a good story into a published story.
Over Spring Break, I took a story I have been working on for a couple of years and again changed which character was going to tell the story.
And it was some of my best writing to date. Telling the same story, but changing the driving character helped me write a more complete story. I now had my new voice reacting to the old voice.
But what I think made the story so much better, is it filled in many of the gaps that I could not see. I had to anticipate how another character might react or feel about the actions of my original character.
It is a good practice to change up your focus. After you have written something, turn to viewpoint around and write it from a different character in the story. What would the sidekick think and say? How about your antagonist? What happens if you introduce a completely new character?
You may choose to keep your original POV, but with luck, it will help you enrich and define your main character’s voice.
Next week we will be wrapping up writing our story and preparing to submit it for a writing contest.
I also found out this week that we will be readjusting the groups I have been working with to finish out the year.
I still had three weeks planned, so I will be throwing out some things and cramming other things into the week that I have left.
So next weeks theme: Writing to a deadline!