Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Toolbox of Lessons from Fiction Writing Can Lift the Level of All the Writing that Kids Do

Here are some more notes from the archives.  This particular speech was from the August 2007 Writing Institute and was delivered by Colleen Cruz of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.  As we begin to start up our writing workshops, it is important to keep in mind the lessons that fiction can teach us regardless of what kind of writing we are engaged in - especially personal narrative writing. Disclaimer: However, these are notes, and reflect the thinking and reflections of the note taker, which might not align completely with what the speaker shared.

Kids love fiction! It is mostly what they read.  We need to use fiction for our touchstone texts in other UoS – especially personal narrative.  It is powerful because it draws on the imagination and is not limited to facts (moves toward abstract).

The personal narrative is the cornerstone of writing workshop.  It is the closest bridge to fiction.  The similarities include: dialogue, setting, internal thought – opportunities to preview character action, and in-the-moment writing.

Help Young Writers Develop Setting, Character, Story Tension and Language
Make sure that we have some, it is ONLY described in-depth when it is significant.  Here are some important tips on when to include setting: it matters to the story because it is connected to the deeper meaning of the text, the setting might show us character emotions, or the setting could be a metaphor or symbol in the story.

A character has to want something for the story to work.  What is the character’s motivation and desire? What is driving them? 

It is also important to remember that the character’s internal and external qualities are connected.  When developing characters think about how the character feels, what the character wants, how they look.

Secondary characters need to play a role and be important and well-developed as we write our stories.  Predictable Problems: Often students will lose the main character OR lose the secondary character (emphasizing one over the other).

Finally, each character needs to have personality traits and quirks – cannot build Flat Stanley characters (characters need depth and dimension).  In order to encourage authentic character development, have students read their pieces aloud.

Story Tension
It helps to keep in mind the traditional story mountain (think of rising and falling action).  We need to throw obstacles in our character’s way to make the story more interesting.  It is important to give our characters a little bit of trouble that grows over time.

Strategy: Highlight the most important moment in the story.  This should be the part of the story that has the most words.

Language (The Grammar of Story)
We need to use specific nouns (tiny details) – names give you images).  Look at objects and be specific – use brand names.

It helps to use strong nouns and verbs (a great go-to conference or small group that immediately makes the writing stronger.)  Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly.  Beware of passive language – get rid of was, have, had, and –ing.

Another great conference or small group work is to look at sentence structure/length. Play with the length of sentences to convey the pace, emotion, tone or mood of the moment (short sentences versus long sentences).

1 comment:

  1. Ryan,
    I love how these notes parallel this summer's reading and writing institutes. The basic underlying principles for reading and writing are the same although the focus at specific grade levels may have shifted as we deepen our intensity of instruction.

    I have always battled with setting as a student and it is the major reason that I struggle with my own personal narrative writing examples. Teacher A wanted flowery, descriptive settings with no details left to the imagination. Then the next year, Teacher B wanted the story to begin with "Action" and let the setting unfold naturally. And finally, Teacher C said to, "Just write!" so I was left to "wonder" what she wanted.

    Love Colleen's criteria. She is a writing wonder!

    Thanks for the thoughts!


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