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The lessons you MUST teach for Creative Narrative Writing

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When I first started teaching writing, one of the things I noticed when teaching creative narrative writing is students just wrote a story from start to finish. They knew how to do that really well. But they had no idea how to develop characters, develop the setting, or create a strong ending.

And that’s the difference between a standard creative narrative that any 2nd or 3rd-grade student can write and a more advanced creative narrative that you’re expecting from a 4th or 5th grader.

Now, one of the questions I often get from teachers who read my students’ writing is, “How on earth do you get students to develop their characters?”

Great ready because I’m sharing with you the five simple strategies that will help you teach creative narrative writing from 3rd grade up. These are the most important lessons to teach your students to ensure they can produce amazing, creative narrative writing pieces.

1. Character Development

Character development sounds pretty simple. But it doesn’t always feel that way, especially when you’ve been reading lots of stories and your students still don’t know what character development is or how it works.

So, what I do with students is work specifically with them on actual character development. We start with a character that we all do as a class together. During these lessons, we work on what goes into the back end of character development. These are things like:

  • Character actions
  • Dialogue
  • Anything that gives a clue about the character’s traits, interests, and background

These elements are obvious to teachers when looking at a reading passage or story, but it’s not as simple for students. So it’s imperative to model for students what goes into character development and how it’s different.

My favorite thing to do with students after we’ve gone over the basics and developed a character together is to look at a writing piece with character development versus one where all those pieces are removed. So, all of the character actions showing what type of person the character is, the dialog, and any details showing their traits, interests, and background are gone.

Looking at the difference between those two pieces is the easiest way to show students what character development really looks like in a writing piece and why it’s so important.

2. Setting development

Setting development is just as important as character development. We’re looking at where and how we’re naturally describing the setting for setting development. I will model for students by developing my own setting for a story with the students actively involved in the process so they can see what goes into it.

Simply showing students a picture and us writing about the setting is not enough. We have to go through our thought process of what goes into setting creation. We need to show them what we include throughout our story to build on the setting instead of just writing three sentences at the beginning to tell the readers about it. That’s not enough if we’re talking about writing really creative narrative text.

If we want an advanced writing piece from our students, we must show them how to build the setting and use it throughout the story.

3. Sequence of events

We don’t want students to write something like: this happens, then this happens, and then this happens. Instead, we’re looking at how our sequence of events will fit into the story while making readers excited. This includes thinking about how the events will lead to a strong ending.

Using a plot pyramid

Instead of just doing a simple sequence of events, we’re going to take those sequence of event pieces and put them into a plot pyramid.

It’s just a traditional reading plot pyramid. If you haven’t taught this yet in reading, that’s OK. The pyramid’s purpose is for students to have a place to organize important aspects.

  1. The conflict: We need to ensure students develop this so that something interesting happens in their story. Many students will tell something step-by-step that happened, but it’s not engaging, or something others will enjoy reading.
  2. The climax: This is where things get really interesting and exciting.
  3. The Resolution: We need to make sure students know how to resolve things properly.

We don’t need to get too complicated regarding the plot pyramid. But we do need to make sure students have those pieces and that they start with the sequence of events and build extra parts in to make sure it all flows well and is engaging.

When we sit down to work on the creative narrative’s flow, I ensure my students are not just using the words: first, next, then, and finally. That is way too easy for upper elementary students. So, I have a bookmark I use to help students transition. It has lots of different ideas to help them if they get stuck. And I show them how to use it. This helps them know how to use the bookmark, how to use transitions, where to put transitions, and not just at the beginning of the first, second, third, four, or fifth paragraph.

Transitions need to be a little different and more creative in narrative writing. So, we work on using transitions when something is happening in the story. 

4. Writing dialogue

Writing dialogue is one of the trickiest parts of creative narrative writing. So I like to use a dialogue bookmark to show students how it works and all the different rules that go with it. This resource helps make the grammatical part of dialogue writing easier.

We use dialogue to incorporate character traits and show how they act and feel. But we also use dialogue throughout the conflict, climax, and resolution to convey the important parts of the sequence.

It’s so important we model dialogue writing in every step of the writing process with creative narrative pieces because it should be ample in their writing pieces.

5. Strong endings

Writing a strong ending should be the easiest part of narrative writing for students. But unfortunately, students tend to feel rushed and want to get it done. So, they end with a non-ending.

So, we must model it and show students the elements of a strong ending. A strong ending should be simple as long as they’ve worked hard to ensure they have a sequence of events that properly flows through the plot pyramid.

We do a lot of revision and partner work in this area, so students get feedback and have a chance to end their writing piece powerfully.

Help for teaching creative narrative writing

If all of these pieces seem a little overwhelming, check out this creative narrative writing resource that takes you step-by-step through incorporating all these writing pieces. It even includes the bookmarks mentioned above! You can also try a free sample of the resource here.

If you’re looking for more information on how to teach writing in a short time block, check out this blog post: Can Writer’s Workshop Be Done in 30 Minutes?

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April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 

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