Assisting Young Writers To Compose Effective Narratives
Before young writers can begin to develop a more distinctive storyteller’s voice, we must assist them to understand that writing becomes more personal when the topic or focus of their writing is limited to a specific moment in time. The closer they can get to a small moment, the more the writing comes to life for the reader. Then, if they can link more than one of these special moments along a timeline, a sense of storytelling emerges for the reader.
Writers are essentially story tellers. They frequently tell their stories many times over before they are transformed into words. We must allow the inexperienced writers in our care to practice the art of telling their stories to different audiences. Doing this establish the story more fully in the mind of the writer. This is particularly important with our youngest writers.
If your students are writing focused and clear narratives but you are not gaining a sense of the storyteller’s voice in the words, this is where the teaching focus needs to be.
The challenge is to raise the young writer’s sense of story. It is important for the developing writer to understand the role of the narrator. Are they aware of the narrator’s viewpoint in telling the story? This is the story within the story. What mood is created by the words? How is the plot unfolding? What is the author doing to draw in the reader? How is the author using the power of words to evoke a response from the reader?
All writers seek to influence or persuade their readers. Whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction. Think about the way Roald Dahl, master story teller that he was influenced our opinions of the characters in his stories. We felt a strong sense of empathy for Matilda and we despised the horrendous behaviour of The Trunchbull. Similarly readers were revolted by Mr and Mrs Twit. Dahl influenced our thinking through his clever word choice and crystal clear description.
When students are able to envision the telling of their stories in this way, they can begin to write in a way that draws the reader closer. When we approach the teaching of writing this way it assists the developing writer to include a sense of dramatic tension.
There are many craft strategies that can be used to develop the storytelling skills of young writers. Show, don’t tell assists the reader to visualize events in a story. The inside/outside strategy allows the readers to gain a sense of a character’s internal thought processes. This takes the writing beyond descriptions of the physical world and external actions.
Developing a stronger sense of setting and characters are both vital to the storytelling craft. Dialogue can be used to reveal characters and move the story forward. It is also important to teach young writers about the role of paragraphing to highlight specific details.
I often discuss with young writers the need to tease and tantalize the reader. ‘Don’t tell them everything at once,’ I remind them. ‘Don’t blurt out everything too quickly. It’s not a race, you are telling a story and the writer controls time and events. What power you have at your fingertips. You decide how much information is given and how quickly it is revealed.’
We often investigate how our favourite authors teach us about pacing our stories at different speeds. They vary the pace. They expand moments. They move through time quickly on occasions. Not all events in a story are given equal attention.
Storytelling is a craft. The best writing makes you think. The writing causes you to question and wonder. As teachers we need to reveal to our students, the whole story about the craft of storytelling.