Getting at stories from the inside out

| April 12, 2011

One of my tutees is a highly creative and imaginative young man.  When his imagination is captured by the task at hand, he dives in.  He loves picking out stories to read, he’s a big fan of Spiderman, and he knows how to make interesting and plausible predictions about stories.  However, when I first suggested that he try to write his own story with his own characters, he seemed daunted.  I gave him a little room to back away from this idea temporarily when I saw his initial reaction, but since I knew he had such a vivid imagination, I made sure to come back to it.

It took us several weeks to plot out the story.  He came to the idea of the main character very quickly.  He wanted to write about a bat named Max.  From here, we hit our first hurdle.  We found that we needed more information about bats in order to move forward, so we consulted some fascinating books in the school library about bats.  We found some fantastic descriptions of what bats eat and how they sleep, and we saw some memorable diagrams of bat physiology—the coolest one showed the bat’s skeleton.

From here, we were able to capture some details about our illustrious main character.  He has a furry face, strong wings, dark eyes and sharp teeth.  Next, we had to decide what would happen to our main character.  This led us to some more reading so that we could discover what kinds of problems other characters face.  After identifying these, we were able to discover Max’s problem: he sleeps during the night instead of during the day, so he can’t find food…he’s hungry!

Once we achieved this, we were ready to start deciding on the other elements of our story.  My buddy’s biggest challenge right now in his academic reading is his ability to retell stories with sufficient detail.  This time, he was in charge of adding relevant details to his story.  Since he had this experience of being in control of the story itself, he became the master of details.  In subsequent retellings, he has been much more capable of capturing salient points. This might seem to be an inside-out way of arriving at this skill, but I believe that this was perfect for the way my buddy’s mind works.