The Shape of the Story

The best stories exhibit questioning sequences that resemble a bell curve skewed to the right, with the action moving slowly up to where it is most intense in levels 5 and 6 and then tapering off rapidly from there.

One way to get rapid closure to a story is to ask if the story will end as a tragedy or comedy. Then just have the students turn to teach other and talk about ways to end the story and you can do all that in English. There are no rules.

The skewed bell curve image again reminds the reader how important it is to bring as limited a number of details as is possible to the earlier part of the story. In the past, the mistake has been that the stories take the shape of a bell curve skewed to the left (the beginning of the story) with too many details and not enough action, and not to the right. This hinders student engagement because, in my experience, details are less important to students than knowing what happened.

Students love plot. They crave it. But teachers in schools love increased vocabulary in their students. They crave it. But without a good plot, the words can’t be retained.

So, when we do not get to the plot relatively quickly, we lose them. That is why the story driver is such gold. She helps move us along in an efficient way through the thin part of the bell curve to the fun part, the part with the problem and its ensuing resolution. That is when, in the Star Sequence and due to the way it is designed as a taxonomy, we get the massive gains in vocabulary, towards the end Phases 4 and 5, especially.)

It is fine to introduce, say, five or six (at the most) separate new details in the three earlier questioning levels (who, where and with whom), but not ten or more. In that way, we keep the shape of the story skewed to the right, as it should be.



5 thoughts on “The Shape of the Story”

  1. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Sometimes I go back AFTER the plot is fleshed out and the story is told/written, and during the early iterations/readings I ask for more details, which I add in then – live in real time. Doesn’t this process more closely parallel the writer’s process, anyway? I mean we don’t necessarily need all the physical description details to wrap up the story, but once that story is sculpted it’s fun to refine the images…
    So I may add the student-suggested cape or enormous plastic diamond ring later.

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