Writing Irresistible LEADS with Grade One Students

I have been reading Australian author, Kate Grenville’s book, ‘The Writing Book – A Practical Guide For Fiction Writers.’ Grenville writes about leads and reminds us that the beginning of a piece of writing needs to be irresistible. Further to this she reminds the reader that it doesn’t matter where you begin a piece of writing- just begin! Grenville quotes Ezra Pound who said, ‘It doesn’t matter which leg of the table you make first as long as it stands up in the end.’

The writer’s aim is to glue the reader to the page. Grenville also makes the observation that sometimes you need to write the whole story before returning to the start in order to write a great beginning or ‘lead’ for it.

Recently I have been working with groups of Grade 1 writers alerting them to the various ways in which writers ‘lead’ the reader deeper into their stories. Initially we looked at their own writing samples and I asked students, what did they notice about the words being used in their story leads?

The discussion that followed revealed the sad fact that the leads being used in their writing were pretty much the same. Lots of pieces began with ‘One day’ or ‘On the weekend.’ The students agreed that always using the same beginning was a bit boring for the reader.

This was a perfect moment to suggest we look at the way other writers introduced their writing. I had brought with me a collection of books –fiction and non fiction for them to look at. Texts I knew had ‘irresistible’ leads. These young writers were about to become investigators –text detectives! We looked at the books and selected those leads that truly grabbed our attention. -Leads that shook us up a little. We listed some of them for closer examination.

The aim of this investigation was to draw attention to the possibilities, not control learning. I wanted them to see this aspect of the writer’s craft- and to see it as attainable for them to use as part of their own writing.  So then I asked them, -Could you write in the style of these particular authors? Could you design leads that were attention grabbers?

We then set about trying to write in the style of the authors whose work we admired. To begin I showed them how I write under the influence of another author.

I chose, Cathy Applegate and Dee Huxley’s ‘Raindance’, which begins:
 Everything is quiet. Everything is still. It hasn’t rained for two whole years. We wait and wait and wait until we are no longer sure what we are waiting for and whether it will ever come.’

I share my writing based on the mentor text’s use of repetition, which I believe is highly effective in setting the scene for the story that follows.

‘ The beach is quiet. The beach is still. No one has walked along the shoreline all day until my dog and I arrive. We walk and walk and walk until we are no longer able to see the lighthouse…’

It’s not the plot that has drawn me to this piece of writing, but the words and the structure. It’s the mood created by the original words that has led me to this lead. I wanted to borrow the voice and use it in my own writing.
The students were asked to compare the original with the lead I had written. They noticed the use of repetition in both pieces. They were aware of the fact that I had ‘borrowed’ the style not the storyline.
It was at this point I released them to try their own new and improved leads. Some chose to do more reading before launching into their independent writing. Others jumped straight into the constructing of new and ‘irresistible’ leads.
Here are some the leads these Grade 1 writers produced:

  • Sometimes I like to ride my bike to the shops, but today I will walk.
  • My brother reckons he’s so smart.
  • Cats annoy me!
  • Mum shook me. ‘Wake up sleepy head. It’s time for school.’
  • Yesterday was so hot. I was sitting under a tree in the backyard and I still felt like I was melting.
  • Dad tried to grow mushrooms under our house!

So much more engaging than what they were producing before our investigation, don’t you agree? Sometimes you need to borrow the magic of another writer to create your own magic.

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