How to Write a Story

How to Write a Story

An Instructional Guide for Understanding and Teaching Basic Story Writing

by Lee Roddy
Spiralbound, 89 pages
Price: $29.00

Lee Roddy has written countless short stories and novels for young people. In How to Write a Story he turns his experience into instruction for aspiring writers. By walking them through the elements of a short story and how to successfully plot their own, Roddy takes kids away from muddy, unclear plots to well-planned narratives. This book is the result of lecturing on writing for over twenty years, and constitutes the advice and instruction of a multiply-published author.

How Does This Work?

Eight lessons walk students through the entire story-writing process, from generating a workable idea to filling in details. The author identifies three major aspects of any story: Objective, Obstacles and Outcome. The objective is essentially the main character's motivation and his desire to resolve the conflict central to the story's plot; this comes at the beginning and essentially comprises what many authors call "exposition." The obstacles are basically the main body of the story, the difficulties the main character encounters while trying to achieve his objective. Finally, the outcome is the climax, resolution and denouement, where readers encounter the ultimate success or failure of the main character.

Roddy provides a number of checklists for students to make sure each element of their story is believable and contextually acceptable. He provides hints for developing characters, writing dialogue and crafting scenes. Like most writing instructors, he emphasizes the importance of revision and only including information and detail that is pertinent to the story. In some ways, this brief course could help students analyze stories as much as it might help them write their own, since there is so much information about what to look for in a story.

This text was designed for younger students (pre-high school), though it could easily be adapted for older students or even adults. Though the style is intended to address pre-teens, the information isn't specific to any age group. There are a number of exercises to be completed by the student, but since there isn't any one specific answer to any of the questions they could be re-phrased for older kids. This was meant to be teacher-intensive and for the material to be presented by an instructor, though a motivated student could get through the course on his own.

Our Honest Opinion:

How useful this text is to you depends on what you expect from it. If you're child thinks after working through it he will be a great writer, you might want to wait until his jets have cooled before giving him the go-ahead. If he just wants to learn the basics of writing a believable story, this could be helpful. Roddy assumes people who write stories do so because they want to be published, so his instructions are largely oriented to writing a marketable story. This doesn't necessarily translate into an objectively well-written story. A student can't really be taught how to write great literature; he may be able to learn how to write a salable story. If Roddy's success as a published author is any indication, that may be a useful skill to acquire.

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