I was invited to talk to a group of third, fourth, and fifth graders about the writing process and what goes into writing a book. This will happen tomorrow. Children are a joy to be with. It’s like they have sponges attached to their bodies, sucking in whatever information you give them.
I’ll start out by asking if they’ve ever lain on their backs and watched the clouds move in the sky, and ask them to describe what they saw, how they felt. Someone is bound to say some look like cotton. Then I’ll tell them how when it was snowing recently my four-year-old grandson told me the flakes were big and looked like cotton balls—the clouds were breaking and the pieces were falling to the ground. That’s a great concept for a children’s story.
A few years ago when I spoke to another class I made up large cards containing and explaining the elements of a story/book. We’ll touch on those.
Purpose; why do you want to tell the story?
Setting; what is the location, the time of the year?
Point of View; who is telling the story, is it in first person or third person?
Plot–Story; what are the key scenes moving the story from one point to the next and the actions of the characters?
Characters; how do you make them believable, what drives them, motivates them, what do they care about? What a protagonist or main character is, and what an antagonist is. That a character may be an animal, or a bad storm.
Dialogue; how does it help tell your story and things about your characters? I’ll ask them if their grandparents or teachers or friends all sound the same and use the same words. I’ll tell them it’s important to give their characters different voices.
Pace; what is the speed and rhythm; do you want things to move slow or fast?
Conflict, the heart of fictional plot; what is the struggle between your characters or forces? What is the bad guy doing that the good guy can’t walk away from?
Climax, or when the tension is at the highest, toward the end of the book.
I’ll show them what a manuscript looks like before and after it is published. How a big stack of papers turns into a book.
Then I’ll draw a storyboard:twelve boxes, three rows of four, or four rows of three. In the first box, write down the question the book asks. In the last box, write the answer to that question. The other boxes are the plot points that lead to the eventual answer at the end. Storyboarding chapters is a tool to create logical flow after you have determined what your book is about, and why you are writing it.
And then we’ll write a story together. I used the storyboard technique with a class a few years ago and they came up with a wonderfully creative tale. So, I best get my supplies together so I’m ready to meet my students in the morning.
Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago Mystery Series, set in Minnesota.