How to Master Narrative Writing in a Single Week
Mastering narrative writing in one week is a big ask. A very BIG ask! But you can teach the core elements of how to craft a well-told tale in this tight timeframe. Mastery will come through diligent practice on the part of the student and thoughtful feedback on the teacher’s part.
How do you teach students narratives?
In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can take your students from zero to hero, in narrative writing terms, in just one lesson per day during the school week and a little extra effort over the weekend.
Come the following Monday morning, and your desk should be positively heaving under the weight of your students’ freshly composed masterpieces.
Though we’re in the game of narrative fiction here, let’s try to bring our aspirations into the realm of the possible. We won’t get a novel out of our students in a mere seven days, not without working their fingers and to the bone. However, the short story format will perfectly serve our ambitions.
So, let’s get started by exploring these five narrative lesson plans – By Zeus’s breath! We’ve still set ourselves a task of Herculean proportions!
Lesson 1: Generate One Good Story Idea
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so you’ll need to get your students off to an energetic start if they’re to reach the finish line of a completed story by the end of the week.
They’ll need to come up with an idea for a story so engaging that they’ll be chomping at the bit to get their pens galloping over the page.
Try one of these two activities to kickstart your students’ creativity:
- Spin Story Gold from Your Spam
Open up your email and go into your Spam folder. This is a repository of some of the highest-flying fiction in the modern age. It’s peopled with fanciful characters from far-flung lands such as generous princes, dying businessmen searching for heirs, devious diplomats, not to mention desperate widows.
Cut and paste a few of these that are student-suitable, print them, and distribute the results to your class.
If your students can’t make a story from this raw material, you may already have a lost cause on your hands!
- What Ever Happened to So-and-So?
We’ve all had friends and acquaintances we’ve lost touch with over the years. This is true of our students too – young as they are!
Ask your students to think of someone they used to know. Maybe a classmate from kindergarten who went on to a different school, or a neighbor who moved to another city. Anyone they used to know, but since they have since lost contact with will do.
Now, ask them to imagine what happened to this person. What twists and turns have their life taken since you last saw them? Have they fallen into a life of crime or been abducted by aliens? Maybe they moved to a distant, exotic country and have started life anew. Encourage your students to let their imaginations run wild!
And, needless to say, have your students change their names to protect the innocent!
Once the students have come up with their rough story idea, it’s time to nail down some things in more detail and decide on a few crucial elements of their story.
Students must decide who the characters in their story are and what point of view they will tell the story. Will it be told from the first person POV, from the main character’s perspective, or from the omniscient third-person viewpoint? Can students sketch quick character bios to help them later in writing?
How about the setting? Where does the action take place? Will the story be static, or will locations change throughout the story?
The more questions students generate and answer, the easier tomorrow will be.
Failing all of that, if you need some creative juice, be sure to check out our writing prompts here.
STORY ELEMENTS FOR KIDS TUTORIAL VIDEO
Lesson 2: Outline
Day 2, and it’s time for students to outline their story. You can help this process significantly by giving your students a clear structure to follow. Graphic organizers offer an efficient way to lay things out easily to follow manner, helping students get their story written in an organized fashion.
But, whether they use graphic organizers or sketch their outline by hand, their story outline should contain the following elements (or similar variations):
● Exposition – include characters & setting details from yesterday.
● Conflict – this will usually emerge from the initial story idea.
● Rising Action – a related series of events that escalates the story’s drama
● Climax – the dramatic highpoint where the conflict comes to a head
● Falling Action – the dramatic tension of the story decreases, and things move toward the conclusion.
● Resolution – loose ends are tied up, and the story draws to a close.
Sometimes it can be beneficial to allow students to form small discussion groups to offer each other feedback and constructive criticism on their ideas.
Remind students that the more detail they go into in their outlines, the easier writing their stories will be.
Lesson: 3: Write the First Act
By now, your students have laid all the necessary groundwork, and the writing begins in earnest.
From our early school days, everyone knows that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the basic three-act story structure, a structure that is ideal for your students to follow when writing their short stories.
The purpose of today’s lesson will be for your students to complete the first act of their story. A well-written first act will provide great momentum to help the students through the remaining two acts.
In the first act, students should aim to:
● Introduce the important characters
● Establish the setting and tone of their story
● Reveal the story’s central conflict
● Begin the process of ramping up the drama through the rising action.
If the purpose of the first act is to grab the reader’s attention so that they simply have to read to the end, then your students will need to employ a hook right from the first scene of their tale.
The purpose of this hook is to intrigue the reader and entice them to continue reading. But, not only does the hook need to gain the reader’s interest, it needs to serve the needs of the plot too.
A well-used hook should:
● Introduce the main character
● Give an insight into that character’s daily life
● Show them dealing with some problem or conflict to reveal their character
Showing the main character in action dealing with a problem or conflict begins the story’s movement forward – even if the problem is minor.
Moving on from the hook, your students must work to keep the reader engaged throughout the story. There are two main ways to do this, either make the characters interesting or make the events compelling.
And, of course, there is a third option – do both!
The Inciting Incident
The inciting incident is the event that sets the ball rolling in terms of the story’s action. Often, this is when something happens to flip the main character’s world upside-down or begin a process that causes the pattern of their daily life to be altered significantly, often forever.
Here are two common options to help students create an inciting incident:
● The Deliberate Choice – Here, the main character makes a decision or a choice that sets all in motion the rest of the events of the story.
● The Coincidence – The merging of time, place, and characters. Think ‘right person in the right place at the right time.’ You could, of course, substitute ‘wrong’ for ‘right’ here!
From here on out, a sequence of events unfolds, leading us into and through Act 2…
Lesson 4: Write Right to the End
By finishing the first act of their story, your students have pushed the ball to the top of the hill. All that remains is to tip it over the other side and let it roll all the way to the end.
Act 2 will see the dramatic tension build over a series of cause-and-effect events. This is very important for students to grasp. While writing about fictional characters in a fictional world, their stories must still contain a sense of logical consistency or they will frustrate their readers.
The seeds of these events should have been planted in Act 1, whether in the central external conflict or within the characters themselves.
The tension of the plot should build toward the story’s climactic scene in the third act.
Usually, the climax will see the two opposing sides of the conflict come together in some final way. This is where the main character succeeds in their goal or fails. It is where we witness them pushed to their limits.
This is the point all previous events have been working towards. In the aftermath of the climactic scene, the story draws to a close. Loose ends are tied up as the story reaches the resolution stage.
In the resolution, your students should address (usually briefly) the consequences of the events of the story. In a short story such as you will have your students write, the resolution will usually take place over a single scene.
In character-focused stories, the resolution can usually be summed up in a single question: How has the main character changed?
A short story doesn’t usually have much of a build-up. It will usually start at the last possible moment of the action that will still allow the reader to make sense of what happens.
Likewise, the ending of the story should be tight and lean. The writer shouldn’t hang about, but should still leave the reader with a sense of continuation. That is, the reader should be left with the feeling that life will go in in this fictional world long after they have put the book (or pages!) down.
Lesson 5: Edit
You might be beautiful. But, if you don’t brush your teeth occasionally, give your hair the odd brush, and put on some fresh clothes a few times a week, you’ll always be a bit haggard.
Stories are the same. They need tidying up. A little TLC before they make a guest appearance on The Homework Show.
Editing is where this TLC takes place.
Often, it’s difficult for students to gain enough perspective on their story to edit it effectively. It can be good practice to assign students an editing partner, where each student can provide feedback and suggestions to the other.
In this first edit, the main thing students should look out for is the story’s structure. Is it all of a whole? That is, does the story move through the story arc as outlined on the first and second days?
Some other things to watch out for include:
● Is there a plausibility to the story? This is necessary even in the most fantastical of tales. Even if the events described are impossible, they must ‘ring’ true.
● Are all the major narrative elements there? Are the characters drawn convincingly? Is there a hook, an inciting incident, a climax, a resolution, etc?
If these larger structural elements are all there, then students check the writing for clarity and revise where necessary.
Editing should be a merciless process; that’s why writers so often talk about ‘killing their babies’ when they discuss editing.
The golden rule of editing narrative
writing is, if it doesn’t serve the story, then out it goes!
They can also check for the dreaded incidences of telling instead of showing. For example, characters should reveal themselves through their words and actions, rather than long, boring paragraph upon paragraph of exposition.
Students should make extensive notes for one another if they’re working with partners.
If they are doing their own editing, they can help to gain perspective on their work by reading it out loud.
Now, with notes gripped firmly in ink-stained hands it’s almost time for that final draft.
But first, a Day 6 interlude.
Lesson 6: Let That Potboiler Simmer!
Good writing is a slow-cooked stew of creativity and technical ability. It needs a full day for all the ingredients to steep in their own juices. And that’s what Day 6 is for – a much-needed respite from feverous scribbling.
Allowing the writing to rest for a day does two important things.
Firstly, it allows the student to replenish their energies in readiness for writing the final draft.
It also, more importantly, gives the students a little time to gain some perspective on their stories.
The mind works in unfathomable ways. Sometimes problems that arise in the writing of stories, and other creative text types, get solved by the subconscious while we sleep.
Creativity doesn’t answer to the blare of the factory horn. Students should give their imaginations some time to frolic and cavort.
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Lesson 7: The Final Draft
Day 7! Where does the time go?
It’s time for your students to uncurl Day 5’s hurriedly scribbled notes and get working on that final draft.
Students should work through the suggestions, accepting and rejecting as they see fit. While this is predominantly a functional process, there is room for creativity in this problem-solving work.
This is the final run-through. So anything that doesn’t work should be put up against the wall and…well, you get the picture.
Once the story is in fine fettle structurally speaking, it’s time for a final proofread. Punctuation and spelling must be checked and corrected. All t’s crossed and every I dotted.
With a final read-through, preferably aloud, each student should ceremoniously fold their masterpiece in quarters with great care and prepare to submit their work to the judgement of the Mighty Oracle of All That Is Educational at daybreak the following morn.
Failing that, they could just give it to their teacher in the morning!
There we have it, a rapid race through the twists and turns of mastering the narrative writing form. Just make sure you have set aside plenty of time to read a couple of dozen short stories come Monday night!