Lots of kids like to write stories. But sometimes those stories go on forever, or they’re super short, or they're sort of...not really stories, or they’re all the same, or whatever. So it’s worth it to try to stretch kid writers by taking a look at the elements that typically go into stories, and to let them experiment with those elements.
Lest you reject this as too much like yucky fourth grade language arts requirements, let me make a case for learning the elements of story. They are a good thing to understand as a reader, as well as a writer. Stories typically have a common structure. Once you know the pattern and can recognize it in a variety of contexts, you can start building (filling) a reservoir of models to support a critical stance. Kids can start seeing it in their own lives. They can start seeing it in commercials, start understanding how advertisers use it to hook us. They can appreciate its complexities in literature and film. And see and appreciate when authors and filmmakers deviate from the structure. Not that any of this is necessary, but it makes life richer and more interesting.
Background Information (Just the facts, ma’am.)
I Googled “elements of story” to check my facts, and it turns out that there are conflicting opinions as to what, exactly, the elements are. Everyone seems to agree on setting, characters, and conflict or problem, but after that it all falls apart. Some people say that plot is an element, others break out exposition, rising action, climax and resolution, still others include climax and resolution in the plot but drop everything else, and even other others skip plot altogether and go with theme.
Keeping in mind that one of the goals is to write a story, I’m going to go with
- setting (where and when)
- characters (who)
- conflict or problem (what/why)
- rising action, or steps toward solving the problem (how)
Even though the last three all go under the umbrella of plot (maybe even the last four, since the conflict is what drives the plot), it makes sense to me to think of them separately to make sure they all get recognized in the story.
These elements are pretty self-explanatory, and it shouldn’t be tough to present them directly and go through, say, a fairy tale or a fable, to make sure your writer can recognize them.
Two elements, conflict and climax, can get a little knotty. I think it’s worth examining the complications, so if you don’t mind the detour, skip to the end. If you first want to know how to do something with your writer/reader, just keep reading.