Writing Fiction: How Authors Build a Story

So, let's be honest.  Writing fiction has made me want to stab myself in the eye for most of my teaching career.  Because, one of two things happens:

1.  Sally starts a new school.  She is worried because she doesn't have any friends.  She goes to school. She makes a friend.  The End.

2.  Sally starts a new school.  She is worried because she doesn't have any friends.  She goes to school. There is a magical pony.  She and the magical pony ride to an ice world.  There is an evil queen in the ice world.  The ice world starts to melt, so they go to a rain forest.  They play ring around the rosy with some toucans.  This story is never going to end, is it?

I finally figured out how to stop all that nonsense in its track.  It involves studying how author's build a story, using a super trick from my favorite author Helen Lester, strong character development, lots of planning, more planning, and then finally writing the story.

I'm not going to try to cram all of this into one post because this unit is going to take us weeks.  We started out by reading some Helen Lester's books.  Love her!

As I read each book, we stop and decide what the purpose of each page was-character development, problem, attempts to solve the problem, solution, everybody's happy now.

For Tacky the Penguin, the breakdown looked like this:
Character Development: 11 pages
Problem: 3 pages
Attempts to solve the problem: 11 pages
Solution: 2 pages (or something like that)
Everybody's happy now: 1 page

This was a real eye opener for my kids.  They rush through character development and attempts to solve the problem to get to the solution.  Doing this allowed us to pick apart a book and study how an author builds a story.

Up next: Character Development.  I've got a fun activity to share with you on that one.


  1. I love this! Mentor texts help with a bazillion annoying writing issues, don't they?

  2. Love love love this!!! I, like you, have hated teaching narrative writing. I had a Grade 8 student once write a 30+ page story completely in "stream of consciousness". That thing did NOT get read!
    Thanks for the great idea.
    Thinking of Teaching

  3. Love this! I will be checking back for when you update with that character development activity:) Thanks for the mention:) I stopped by and was so surprised to see that button! I am heading to check out the other two I haven't see yet. Julie's looks amazing!

    My Teacher Friend

  4. I love to write, but I hate to teach it. I love your comment about story number 2. Isn't that the truth!! Pages and pages of weirdness with no punctuation. OMG, this made me laugh. I could so relate to it. Your kiddos are lucky to have you. It sounds like you're doing an awesome job with writing.
    Take care,

  5. Thanks for the plug! :)