Ideas and Story Development – Giving writers time!

sols_6Where do ideas come from? 

This morning I was skimming blog posts and ran across a comment from Sharon Creech.  Years ago she had woken up with the thought – the boy on the porch. It was a thought that keep bugging her day after day and so she followed it. She sat down to write and find out about this boy. Now there is a new book being release soon call The Boy on the Porch.

This is one way people get ideas. The ideas just pop into their heads and pester them until they respond. For others ideas come from reading the news and finding stories that make them wonder what if. Some writers have a topic given them and after a great deal of research they begin to write. The ideas may come from childhood interests or questions unanswered. They may come from experiences they have had while traveling or just being with people.

What I am noticing again as I now sit down to write or re write the stories I started years ago is that story ideas take time. Even the ones that pop into our heads. The ideas need time to grow and develop. We need to sit with them for awhile, think about them and slowly develop them. Maybe even do some pre writing about the setting or characters before the story really unfolds. There may be lots of writing that is never used in the story.

Every writer has a different process. I wrote the basic story for two children’s books years ago and only now am I able to see what is missing from the stories. Time! I needed time to grow and develop my thinking. Now I know years is a long time and that is another story but you get the idea. It is time that is needed but you have to do something with that time.

Teachers as you are heading back to the classroom this fall and begin your writing workshop try to remember this bit of time that is needed up front for idea development. It is so easy to throw out a topic and say write. The great quick write.  It is a good exercise and well worth doing but…

If we are want students to stretch out and really develop a story we also need to let them play with ideas. We need to give them time to think, share thoughts with others, read about the topic or free write about the characters or setting. We need to give them creative thinking time.

I know this is tricky. There is never enough time in the classroom. There is also the student (and it will be most of them at first) who does not know how to take time to think about a story idea. Have we modeled that? Can we model that?

What are the steps to modeling thinking and reflection about a story?

  • sharing your thinking process for the story you are writing ( you are writing? yes?)
  • brainstorming/ list making of ideas that they know about or care about
  • sharing ideas with a small trusted friend group ( the writers group – this is a process all in its self -Building a safe friendly writers group. Maybe another post)
  • small writings about a place, time, season, smells, sights and sounds
  • reading stories that might be on a similar topic – mentor texts
  • writing, reading aloud, sharing with your trusted group
  • writing some more

And I am sure we could put more into this list but you understand. It is time for development as a writer that we need to hold space for in your writers workshop. We as adult writers need this development time and so do your young new writers. Writing is hard work and real work.

I don’t want to scare students off but I want us to show them how to do the real thing, to really write. I want students to know what it takes to write and be ready and able to do just that. We do them a disservice if we don’t help them to understand the real process of taking time to think about our story. That is the hard part-the thinking and we often skip over it or don’t give it the space it should have.

What do you do in your classroom to help your students develop their stories and story ideas?

Please share how you model and give development time to your  students.

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in journals, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Ideas and Story Development – Giving writers time!

  1. Leigh Anne says:

    I love this post. I started writing this summer by starting my blog and writing slices. I get the time part! I never realized how important this is. The best part of my writing journey is that now I actually have real experiences that I can tie my lessons to. I think this will make a huge difference in the way I teach writing….if I can just get over that I may be the only one to do it this way. (Most of our instruction is prompt based) I can tell this is a post that I will refer to often. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • It is hard when people around you are giving prompts and asking students to write. It is writing experience but it is not modeling or teaching. Hang in there and show students what you have learned. You will see a difference in their writing and yours.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    This is full of wise advice! I think time is the key, but there are different ways that I have nudged students in their story development, like sketching about different parts of the characters’ lives, creating maps of their settings, and so on. All of these things help students dig a little deeper into the stories really to see if they’ve missed anything they believe is important. Time, and support from other writers (peers and teachers). Thanks much for emphasizing the priorities!

    • I love adding the art into their writing. It does really help. I have also had students do little mini skits of their stories to help develop dialog and to see what might be missing. Students love it once they get into the routine. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Creative thinking time is so important! One of the biggest insights I’ve had from a summer of writing is that writing generates more writing. Seemingly random events will cause the story I’ve been working on to pop into my head and give me a new idea for a scene or an insight into the character. It’s really quite amazing. I’ve read many books about writing and teaching writing that describe this kind of process, but until you have the experience yourself, it just isn’t as meaningful.
    It’s getting late, but I do hope to get my slice written tonight, and it might be a riff on what you have here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this process!

  4. Wow, I even want to give myself time in reading this meaty post. It is very frantic feeling at the begining of the school year here. I get to team teach writing, this year in a first grade classroom. We all are in a hurry, too much of a hurry. The pace is really out of control. Talk is essential also. xo

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