I was teaching a unit on legend writing recently and, in order to ensure that the children included all the features of a legend, we used writing frames. For those of you that have never encountered them, a writing frame has each section of the story listed with a space for notes or ideas. It’s basically a very detailed plan, ours was paragraph by paragraph. First paragraph – setting. Second paragraph – introduce good character. Third paragraph – introduce bad character and problem. Fourth paragraph – solution to problem. Fifth paragraph – ending.
(If you’re wondering why the stories were so short, the children were nine and half of them were writing in their second language.)
We used another writing frame for persuasive letter writing: Introduction; first argument and evidence; second argument and evidence; third argument and evidence; conclusion.
And the frames worked well. The higher attaining children wrote very long paragraphs with ambitious language (everyone was obsessed with the word iridescent for some reason – iridescent jewels, iridescent sword, iridescent castle) and the lower attaining children wrote well-structured stories that they most likely wouldn’t have got anywhere near if we had just told them to write a legend.
But the very prescriptive plans got me thinking about similar stories that are written by the same writers. Because while their stories were not identical, there were obviously very alike, they had all followed a pattern or formula because that was how they were told a legend should be written.
And while my class was 30 children writing 30 stories to 1 specification, some authors also seem to have found a formula that works and stuck to it book after book, writing stories that they know their readers will enjoy. Now I’m not saying that all of their stories are the same by any means but I know that if I pick up a Jodi Picoult book I’ll find a family embroiled in a courtroom drama. I know that most Harlan Coben books will involve a character’s past catching up with them in an elaborate way with so many plot twists that I can barely keep up with what’s going on. They’ve found something that works and they’ve run with it.
Writers tend to stick to a genre, they might publish something in a different genre but they’ll still be referred to as a horror writer, or a crime writer, or a fantasy writer. I’m sure that there are many reasons for this but the question that I want to ask is what about you? Do you have a tried and tested formula that you love? Do you want to try a bit of everything? Do you think that one is easier that the other? Is thinking of new stories that fit a particular more difficult than switching between genres after every story?
Looking at the word documents on my computer I’m bouncing around between every genre I can think of never getting anything finished so maybe finding a formula and sticking to it is the way to go. What do you think?