Character, Plot, and Setting, Oh My! (Part 2)

Homeschooling, Teaching Writing  /   /  By Jenn Stefaniak
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2016

Developing the Elements of a Story, Part 2

lionI can’t even count how many times I have read Thomas’s Christmas Delivery or Little Bear’s New Friend.  My children never tired of hearing about Thomas’s and Little Bear’s adventures. Though as adults we may not read the same book as many times as our children reread their favorites, we can appreciate the draw of a good story.  It’s that connection we have with the story that keeps us up to the wee hours of the night turning page after page and lingers in the periphery of our minds, wooing us as we go about our day.  But what makes a story one to treasure, and how can we help our kids develop a tale beyond a sequence of events? The glue that holds a story together is character, plot, and setting, and when children understand and develop them, a great story is born.

“You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere,” according to Stephen King. He, along with few other famous writers, claims that plotting a story hinders creativity. Our children though, like most of us, aren’t Stephen King and aren’t experienced enough writers to just throw plot out the window.  You might be asking, “But what is this plot you speak of?” It is the map of a story. A basic understanding of plot can help children organize, develop, and focus their writing.

In the simplest of terms, plot is what happens in the story. Pretty simple right? Not really. Children often get sidetracked while writing. They might include irrelevant details or add more and moreplot diagram ideas until the story goes off the rails on a crazy train. It’s also a challenge for them to isolate their main details and sequence them in a logical and interesting way. However, plotting can help them take control of what happens in the story. Plot includes exposition (beginning), where the main character and primary conflict (his or her motivation) is introduced; rising action, which is the series of events that affect the main character and his or her achievement of a goal; climax (middle), where the main character succeeds or fails at his or her goal; and falling action and resolution (end), where the story wraps up and provides closure. A plot diagram is a great way to help children see this progression, and they can use it as a guide to plan their stories.

Basic mapping of their story will help them organize their thoughts as well as develop and focus their ideas. They can write in their story points on a larger copy of the diagram or use the interactive plot diagram at ReadWriteThink.org. Here kids can type titles for their scenes with a brief description and place them into the diagram to be printed when through. The graphic organizers at Teaching Ideas have a user-friendly format for younger children. Another fun way for kids to plan their stories is a storyboard. These planners have comic strip-like blocks where writers provide a brief description and sketch of their scenes. Many children like the old standby—outlining, where the first main topic represents the exposition, the next few main topics represent the rising action and climax, and the last main topic represents the resolution.

Once the story has some focused scenes, characters can be developed further as children decide how they will respond to the situations within the story. But where does all this take place? Next week we’ll have some fun with setting.

About the Author

Jenn lives in Massachusetts and is a homeschooling mom to her two children, Luke and Lia. In her spare time, she teaches writing at a community college, reads voraciously, hikes, runs, and generally spends as much time as possible outside with her husband and kids.

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