The English Teacher

Controlling Purpose in Writing Fiction

* Two-minute writing cycle [Focus: Controlling purpose in Writing] (* first without and then with a controlling "saying")
*These exercises both develop an awareness of the existence of plot and show how the addition of a "theme" shapes the plot. These exercises also show the need for a contolling purpose in what might be a rambling narrative. [Also point out to students how a plot-orientation focus draws attention away from character development.]
1) "Without saying [theme]" - The students sit in a circle. Each begins writing a story with the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night." After 3 minutes they pass it to the person on their right/left. The next student adds to the story for 3[?] minutes and passes it on, and so forth. The instructor keeps track of the time periods, adjusting them for the "speed" of the class but 3 1/2 minutes is generally best. *The instructor joins in the writing. As the time for a conclusion draws near, the instructor announces that the next writer will begin to finish up the story and the one after that will conclude the story. (The class may be told earlier that they will have to finish one of the stories, so that they can mentally prepare for finishing a story although they won't know which story they will finish.)
2. "With saying [theme]"- Previous to this second exercise the instructor has asked each student to turn in 3 sayings, preferably original, on a sheet of paper. The instructor chooses 1 of the 3 sayings from each and puts one for each class member, and the instructor, on a slip of paper. [*Plan time to choose appropriate sayings.] Then they draw their sayings randomly. When everyone has drawn their sayings from a box, the instructor says "Begin." They unfold their sayings and begin a story aimed at using the saying they have drawn as a theme of a story. The procedure is the same as the "without saying" cycle except the last two writers have the particular challenge of ending the story to fit and/or support the saying.
**These exercises are helpful in showing the function of "theme" in a story by being absent and then present. The students then see how theme shapes the evolution of a story. Plus, the interaction between students as they guide or deflect each other's purposes, also shows the power of intent and concept on the story at any given point.
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