Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Becoming a Story Detective - Guest Post

Encouraging kids to become story detectives is a great way to get them focussed on writing. Here are some fantastic ideas from Australian author, Sandy Fussell, that will help your kids turn into story detectives and look beyond the obvious in a picture prompt. Sandy was kind enough to share one of her favourite story writing resources for when she's working with kids. It's a pdf booklet by author, Rosanne Hawke, called Picture This, available free at Rosanne's website. 

Sandy is a computer programmer by day and a children’s author at night. Much to her surprise the two jobs go together very well. She has never been to Japan, the Arctic or the jungles of Mexico but she has a wild imagination and a passion for unusual research including pretending to be a samurai trainee at swordsmanship lessons, learning the shakuhachi flute, imprisoning herself in a box and sitting in a bath tub of ice to see what it felt like to be really, really cold. Sandy is the author of the Samurai Kids series, with the fifth title Fire Lizard released in September 2010. Her historical adventure novel Polar Boy was shortlisted for the 2009 CBCA Book of the Year Younger Readers. Another novel recently reviewed by The Book Chook is Jaguar Warrior. You can find her at www.samuraikids.com.au and  www.sandyfussell.com, or blogging at www.readwritezone.blogspot.com and www.sandyfussell.blogspot.com 

Becoming a Story Detective

It's fun to find stories in pictures. In fact, it’s all about being a story detective and looking for clues. So how do you find clues in a picture? You start by asking questions. But here's a top secret tip - think of the less obvious answer. The one that doesn’t jump out first. The one everyone else won’t think of. You don’t have to write about what you see in the picture, you can also write about what the picture suggests.

Here are some questions to ask: How does the picture make you feel? Ask yourself who, what, where, when and why. But the most powerful question of all is: what if?

Have a really close look at the picture. Is there something unusual about it? It might be the colour, or perspective. It might be an object in the picture. Or a person. Unusual features suggest story ideas.

You need to decide who the narrator is. Are you telling the story? Try putting yourself in the picture. Your own memories and experiences can help you find a story. Perhaps the narrator is someone you can see in the picture or someone looking at the scene the picture contains. Or maybe the narrator is not a person at all. Animals and even inanimate objects can tell a story.

Look at the story elements the picture suggests – are there clues about the setting, the character, dialogue, action or plot? When looking at the setting, where the story is taking place, don’t forget to use all five senses – touch, taste, see, hear and smell. Imagine the picture has a volume control. Turn it up and have a listen. What sounds can you hear? Is anyone (or anything) speaking? Dialogue will give the picture a voice, by letting it talk.

What is happening in the picture? Now look outside the picture. What happened before? What is going to happen next? The answers to these questions will suggest a plot, storyline or action.

One of my favourite techniques is one I call “putting your other glasses on”. By this I mean take another look at the picture in a different way. If you think it looks happy, try and imagine a way it could be sad. If you think it looks like a horror scene, turn it into a romance.

Still stuck? A good way to jump start your story is to make lists. Write down ten words the picture suggests. Write down five sounds in the picture – onomatopoeias, dialogue, noises. Write down five things about each character. Write a list of who, what, where, when and why.

Choose a picture. What story does it suggest to you?

Thanks Sandy! Such great questions and suggestions to help kids find their way into a story!

(If you're interested in more ideas for encouraging kids to express themselves creatively, whether in writing, art, or using other media, you might like to read some of The Book Chook's Creative Prompt Series, which you can find in the archived posts at right.)

Image credits, top to bottom:
1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanhayes/1319672999/in/photostream/
2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/21745851@N00/382031318/
3. http://www.flickr.com/photos/39025971@N00/3947002940/
4. http://morguefile.com/archive/display/15597# 
5. http://www.flickr.com/photos/22707445@N00/4202169880/
6. http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielproulx/3474414230/
7. http://www.flickr.com/photos/27382987@N00/2820034015/
8. http://www.flickr.com/photos/26304233@N00/2621194666/


  1. THIS is a fabulous pos! I LOVE it! Thanks Sandy.

  2. So many nitty gritty ideas to help kids hone in on ideas for writing, Kelly. You could use the questions with your own photographs too, I reckon.

  3. OOOO, yes -- good idea :D


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