Should You Teach Your Students to INVENT a Good Story, or to TELL a Good Story?

The truth is that there is very little difference between a personal narrative essay and a fiction story. After all, who doesn’t look at a fiction story and then look at the author and say, “Oh, I didn’t know…” And the author says, “Oh, no, it’s not autobiographical. It’s just a… story.” And then we think, “Me thinks thou doth protest too much!”

A good story is a good story, whether it’s from real life or the imagination. Many, many (if not most) good stories are told from real life knowledge. The real skill is not in being able to INVENT a good story, but in being able to TELL a good story. That is a skill worth having!

Professional authors largely write about, what they know about. Our students should as well. Natalie Goldberg, author of the classic “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within” said, “We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary.”

As teachers we need to help students find the extraordinary in their own ordinary lives. Actually, that’s hard! However it is easy to teach kids to see that everything is extraordinary.

Ex. “Strange Happenings at the Dinner Table”

“Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay” does not really get involved with “fiction writing.” It does get quite involved with “story telling” and “creating interest.” Many aspects of the program directly address finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and that nothing is really ordinary… or extraordinary… (Often when you take something that is “extraordinary” and try to make it sound “extraordinary” it loses its effect and becomes… ordinary. In other words, do you like “hype”?)

However, what I’ve seen is that when students are writing regularly in a way that they take pride in, they often discover this aspect of writing all by themselves.

What happens is that there are days when they must simply write about what they see in front of them. Nothing “extraordinary” has happened recently, so they turn to the “ordinary.” Very often it turns into their most satisfying writing. They start to see the beauty in “The Messy Teacher’s Desk,” or wonder about “The Secret Life of Bobby: Why He is Late to School Every Single Day!”

In short, teach students to use real life to create captivating stories!

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