Here’s one of my deep, dark secrets: I’m a huge fan of the reality TV show “Finding Bigfoot.”
My fangirl status may worry you. But I ﬁnd the show hilariously entertaining. And there’s a part of me that really wants to believe there are actual Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) out there — just like when I visit a house with a cupboard under the stairs, I always hope that I’ll ﬁnd a boy wizard too.
You may say I’m a dreamer.
But the best part of “Finding Bigfoot” is that it’s strangely comforting. The show rigidly adheres to their story-telling formula. My life is currently revolving around several things that are unknown, unpredictable, and stressful. I ﬁnd it oddly restful to watch the “Finding Bigfoot” formula play out, show after show, with only slight variations. Even before the episode begins, I know that yet again, despite a close call — an unidentified howl, a shadowy ﬁgure, a rustling in the woods — the team will not be bringing Bigfoot home tonight. That is as it should be. Bigfoot belongs to the woods, not to some scientific lab somewhere. So for that hour, all is right with my world.
I created a story-writing formula for students for much the same reason: comfort. In my early school visits, I discovered that while there are many kids who love to write stories — which is the kind of kid that I was — there are also others who are terrified of the whole process. To them, the thought of a writing a story is as threatening as — well, as a hungry Bigfoot!
So I teach them a formula. Of course I want kids to bring themselves and their own creativity to their writing. But I ﬁnd that with a trail to follow, most students can ﬁnd their way to the other end of a story.
Where do we start? Basically, I have students choose a character (younger kids especially enjoy animal characters), a setting (real or imaginary) they’d like to visit, and an activity they enjoy (I discourage passive activities like computer games). Then I have them mix those three elements together, and brainstorm a list of things that could potentially go wrong with that mixture. A soccer game would be tough in outer space because of gravitational factors. A polar bear might struggle in Hawaii. A snake would have a hard time holding a paintbrush.
Then the story formula works this way:
Begin your story by introducing your character. Throw some kind of problem in the character’s path almost immediately.
For the story middle, show the character trying to solve the problem, but don’t let them succeed right away. Multiple failed attempts or introducing new problems will add tension to the story.
At the end, allow the character to solve the problem. Show the reader how life will be different now that the character has solved this problem, and how the character has grown through this experience.
With that trail to follow, writing a story doesn’t seem nearly so mysterious!