Friday, September 9, 2011

Flesh On The Bones: Building A Story From Scratch

Although I haven't been called upon yet this year, I have on occasion presented a short program on writing for my childrens' various classes designed to help them understand how to build a story.   My little traveling road show as I dubbed it involved a basic prop, one that I thought kids as young as the fourth grade would recognize and even understand.

When I talk about writing to kids, I bring along a little wooden Halloween skeleton.  He's actually part of the annual decorations that we hang out, a skeleton about ten or twelve inches long but when I sat down to write up the first program on writing, it ocurred to me that little Skel-man would make an excellent illustration.

I used the prop to make the point that as I write a story, I put flesh on the bones.  The skeleton represents the outline or the raw character.  Each level of detail adds flesh to the bones so that the writer ends up with a fully fleshed, human looking, fully dressed character.

Kids liked the idea and best of all they grasped it.

When I moved on to explain the basic notion of plot, I ended up borrowing one of my son's many Hot Wheels cars.  Plot, for the elementary and middle school set, boiled down to this basic idea - plot is the car that drives the story forward.  Think about it - the plot moves the characters and the story from beginning to end.  It is plot that takes them where they need to be and fetches them up at "The End".

This is a bare bones - pardon the pun - version of the program I created to take into schools but it highlights the important parts.

The other vital thing about the program is that once the kids grasp the basics, we build a story together.  I pick out a student to come up, use them as my guinea pig and with the help of the audience, we spin out a story.   We involve everyone and I'd had educators amazed that I can bring the children's interest to such a level that all of them - even the shy wallflowers who seldom open their mouth in class - are waving hands in the area or shouting out ideas.

Maybe if I can do that I should run for office.

I don't think so, though.

Anyway, just some Friday thoughts about putting flesh on the bones and driving the story forward, coming soon to a school near you.

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