Saturday 6 October 2018

Writing for Children 5 The fully fluent reader

Who the child is

The reader is aged roughly 9-11 and often in the last two years of junior school. They are no longer dependent on the reading scheme and want to choose books that look like the ones adults and older children read.  They are firmly in Piaget's concrete operational stage; they can measure and calculate. However, they are not yet into abstract thought. They recognise make-believe for what it is. They understand and expect the normal patterns of story.   

What the books look like

They will usually have a thick spin and on average contain 45,000 – 60,000 words though there are many exceptions outside of this range. The text is usually blocked. The font is usually seriffed, with difficult 'a's and 'g's. There are few pictures though some may have decorative icons at the beginnings of chapters. Occasionally the font and the line-spacing may be a little larger than in books for adults and older children. The books certainly look like "proper" books for these readers.      

What to think about when producing the text for the fully fluent young reader

As these children know what to expect from a story you need to make sure your story has a firm structure.   
For all sorts of ideas on story shape, see my blog post Story Theory. You may find Christophe Booker's ideas particularly helpful here. Booker identifies seven story shapes:

Christopher Booker’s Story Theories

(Booker, Christopher. The Seven Basic Plots. London: Continuum, 2004.)

The Seven Plots

Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return
Overcoming the monster
The call
Initial success
Final Ordeal
Miraculous escape   
Rags to Riches
Initial wretchedness at home (call)
Out in the world – initial success
Central crisis
Independence and the final ordeal
Final union, completion and fulfilment
Problems encountered:
Deadly opposites
Journey to the underworld
Story arc:
Arrival and frustration
Final ordeals
Voyage and return
Dream stage
Frustrations stage
Nightmare stage
Thrilling escape and return
Often contains:
  • Characters dressing up in disguise or swapping clothes 
  • Men dressing up as women  or vice versa
  • Secret assignations when the wrong person turns up
  • Characters hastily concealed in cupboards etc. 
Types of comedy:
  • Burlesque
  • Dark figure is hero
  • No dark figures
Macbeth (and other tragedies) 
Act One - anticipation
Act Two – dream stage
Act Three – frustration stage
Act Four – nightmare stage  
Act Five – destruction stage 
Some archetypes
Good old man
Innocent young girl
Rival or “shadow”
Hero falls under shadow of dark power
Threat may seem to recede
Threat approaches with full force
Dark power seems to triumph
Miraculous recovery – some input form hero, though
Underlying shape
Booker also identifies an underlying shape in all stories:  
Initial phase
Opening out
Severe – constriction
Dark power dominant
Reversal and liberation
Dark figures
Other self 


Also for the first time we are likely to have a story with several sub-plots. The relationship between the main plot and the sub-plot is important.
Andrew Melrose argues that if you pile the plots up on top of each other in the order of which takes up most of the story, largest on the bottom, smallest on the top you get a pyramid if you keep a balanced ratio between them.
I further develop that argument and say that: The smallest subplot contains the crisis, climax, resolution and an ‘aha’ moment. Each sub-plot is actually part of the main plot and the next sub-plot.  
We can see this in Palacio's Wonder:  
Main plot: August gains acceptance
Sub-plot 1 – circle of friends
Sub-plot 2 – friendship with Jack
Sub-plot 3 – attitude of family
Sub-plot 4 – Amanda
Sub-plot 5 – hearing-aids   

Have a go

Now have a go at planning a story. You will find now that you will devote several chapters to each of :  
Inciting incident:
Growing complexities:
Crisis point:
Also similar arcs will be making their way through the sub-plots.
How will you set your plan out?
·         Mindmap
·         Spreadsheet
·         Filing cards
·         Writing software such as Scrivener.
If you really are a "panster" and can't be bothered with tis amount of detailed planning, try analysing a book for an early fluent reader instead.


Some books to study

Cross, Gillian. (2013) After Tomorrow. Oxford: OUP.  
Funke, Cornelia. (2005) Inkspell. Frome: Chicken House.
Kinney, Jeff. (2010) The Last Straw  London: Puffin  
Palicio, R.J. (2012) Wonder. London: Corgi.  
Saunders, Kate. (2014) Five Children on the Western Front. London: Faber & Faber 

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