Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Appropriate for a group activity or individually

1) Decide on a main character ~~ person, animal, machine, made-up
2) Give the character a goal ~~ something she/he/it wants more than anything else.
3) Make a list of possible bad guys and things that can interfere with your main character getting what he or she wants.


Other people -- classmate, teacher, parent....
Nature -- weather, allergies, animals....
Machine -- computer, bicycle, skateboard....
Society -- homework, chores, expectations of others....
Character's own self -- fear, hate, prejudice, flaw....

4) Introduce these examples in the Beginning -- 1st 1/4 of the story
5) Show the examples interfering with the main character achieving his or her goals in the Middle -- the middle 1/2 of the story
6) Show the main character eliminating the examples in the End -- the last 1/4 of the story


Saturday, at the Asilomar Regional Reading Conference, I sat in on a class where the teacher demonstrated one method of writing instruction currently being used with students in public schools. Since then, I've been trying to understand what I saw.

First, however, I made my plot presentation to a roomful of teachers and specialists and administrators. What a joy to discuss great fiction with teachers. Goosebumps raced across my arms more than once when I relayed a perfect dramatic Crisis or touching Climax. The book example may have been The Cay or it could have just as easily been Harry Potter. All five book examples I used hit the marks of the Universal Story form like clock-work.

The sea of faces in front of me did not reflect my excitement. The longer I spoke and their faces remained expressionless, the more insecure I grew. Finally, when I could stand the pressure no longer, I blurted out, "Do you already know all this?"

The resounding, "No! Why haven't we be taught this before?!" soothed my fears and renewed my faith. The plot insider tips I'm so passionate about sharing are helpful to classroom teachers, reading specialists, librarians, and program specialists, and ultimately, the students themselves.

I concluded the talk with something I truly believe: Once kids and teachers learn to spot the structural plot, they can better enjoy reading and writing.

A line of teachers waited to sign up for the free Plot for Kids ebook. Excited me to want to finish the writing project.

My friend and I then attended a writing session that showed the proscriptive reading program currently being taught in primary and middle school.

A group can only go as fast as the slowest member, I kept reminding myself.

Standardized teaching, at least through this program, plot is event-driven. Usually there is an obvious moral to the story.

At first I despaired, unable to integrate what I know plot really is into what's in place now. Then I remember that the concepts I espouse work for great fiction. In the classroom, great fiction is usually summarized for teaching. That means cutting all the moment-by-moment excitement and the chance for deep character identification.

Does that means what I'm so excited to teach can only happen with library books? I wonder.....

In every great story, the events affect and change the character. That change means something. What that character change means is something the reader decides.