Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Narrative Structure and Story Balance - Creating Life

My husband recently used an activity I designed a few years ago to teach Year 8s narrative structure and the balance of events and details in a story.  It uses this handout to illustrate the idea, and students seem to react well to it and it really clicks with them.  My husband had great success, and I felt a bit chuffed, so it seemed like an activity worth sharing.

Kids like colouring in the face and stuff, but they need to leave space for notes
So this works two-fold: one, it opens up discussion regarding the elements of narrative structure, which you can then explain further using pretty much any popular movie or book as an example.  You can combine it with this handout for students to actually note the parts of the example story:

For this particular unit, the students are aiming to write a Quest Story, and a great example of this is Finding Nemo.  It has all the elements of a quest, and a clear narrative structure, so it serves well for establishing the parts of a narrative.  A Quest Story is one of the seven basic plots.  As you discuss narrative structure, you can quickly come up with your own example with the students' help, and then use the narrative structure handout and have students write out the elements of Finding Nemo, or whatever existing you choose, into the table in order for them to demonstrate that they can recognise and organise narrative structure.

The second level of the skeleton is to illustrate the balance of the parts of your story.  One good way to use this resource is to project it onto a whiteboard and colour code the 3 aspects off the explanation:
  1. Bones: these are the major events of your story, the essential elements of your narrative, without these you have no story. (no colour coding needed)
  2. Muscle: in between bones you have muscle to hold it together and held the skeleton move.  Muscle in the story represents minor events, the things that happen in between to make sense of major events and connect them, avoiding simplistic or jumpy writing. (red words in between the rib bones that say 'minor events')
  3. Fat: a healthy body has a little bit of fat, and in your story it's what makes it delicious.  Fat is the detail, the description, the background, the dialogue, the little interesting bits that take it from a basic story to a story worth reading.  Too much fat makes your story unhealthy and might even hinder the enjoyment; if you write 4 pages about your characters dark past for a short, 800 words story, then your story has too much fat. (I usually use purple and make little squiggles around the edges, then scribble lots of purple to show 'too much fat')
This is an activity we do early in the term so that students understand the important of planning, structure and balance before they get too involved in planning or writing their stories.  Students who struggle with writing will understand they need to do more than just list a bunch of 'bones', and students who often go overboard (often these students don't plan their stories) will understand that they need to scale back their extra fun scenes if it's making their story too 'fat'.

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