Sunday, August 4, 2013

Elements of a good story_Using story books to introduce Literature

How to read and understand a good story
                          
with reference to:
                          
The Ring and the Roaring Water by Diane Browne
                          Little Island – Big Adventures by Maria Roberts Squires
                        
                           Reading age – 10 -14 years

    
 


A FEW REMINDERS

Teachers - let us begin by reviewing the main elements which make up a good story. Remember that all stories are different; some may be stronger in some elements than others, and some might present problems as they won’t fit neatly into these guidelines. (Simplify for the younger students)


    Elements of a Good Story


I.
Character
    The story must have at least one character. This may be a person, robot, animal, monster, alien and so on. Most stories have more than one character. The most important character in the story is the main character also known as the protagonist. The protagonist will have a problem to be solved or a goal to be achieved. How the protagonist achieves his desired goal, his setbacks and triumphs, make up the plot of the story.   
  A story will also have minor or secondary characters. Minor characters will not be as important as the protagonist but they should have a defined position, a reason to be in the story, helping it to move forward. Sometimes, one minor character plays the role of the antagonist – this is the person who gets in the way of the protagonist, and prevents, or tries to prevent him or her from reaching a desired goal.

Characterization
  This refers to how the personality of the character(s) is revealed.  Example: their appearance, actions or thoughts; their comments and how others react to them. The author will sometimes make direct statements about the characters, or reveal aspects of the character through their actions and what other characters say about them.
   

II.
Setting
    When and where the story takes place. By the end of the first page or chapter, (depending on the length of the story), you should have a pretty good idea of the time and place in which the story occurs. Is it historical? If so at what particular time in history. Is it contemporary? In what country or part of a country does the action take place?
  Setting can help to establish the mood of a story. If the story begins in an old dilapidated house, on a moonlit night and there are bats flying around, the reader is entitled to expect an adventure in a haunted house.

III.
Plot
    This is the chain of related events that tells the reader "what happens" in a story. Short stories will have one plot line, while a novel will have subplots which mirror and link to the action of the main plot.
    Plot always involves conflict of some sort, such as the struggle between opposing characters or forces.
    Example:
    man against man
    man against nature
    man against society
    man against self
  The plot reveals how the character goes about solving a particular problem or reaching a particular goal. It often moves forward by cause and effect. One action will cause a consequence (good or bad) which leads to another action and so on. So the protagonist moves towards the climax, having to overcome one obstacle after another, (rather like a hurdles race) each one seemingly more difficult than the other.

IV. 
Climax
  The story reaches a climax when the action reaches its highest point of interest and can go no further - the problem must be solved or the goal attained.(Think of a step ladder) If the character cannot solve his or her problem, we say that the story has a tragic ending.(tragedy) Otherwise it ends happily. (comedy).

V. 
Resolution – or Falling Action - The events and complications begin to resolve themselves.  The reader now knows what will happen next and if the conflict is resolved or not (events between climax and denouement). 

VI.
Denouement - This is the final outcome or untangling of events in the story. Any loose ends must be tied up.

VII.
Point of View
    Through whose eyes( and heart ) the story is told. The story can be told through different points of view.
    1st Person – this is limited to the character telling the story (often the protagonist)
Example: I was walking along the road minding my own business when a car pulled up beside me and a very mean - looking man got out and stood blocking my way.
  A story which begins like this will continue to tell you exactly what the person who is the “I”  did, saw and felt.
(This is the point of view in the novel
Little Island – Big Adventures)
    3rd Person (Limited) – Although the voice is that of a third person narrator, this voice is limited to the actions and feelings of only one of the characters in the story.(Again, often the protagonist’s) All the action is interpreted through this person’s eyes and feelings.
   In the example above the passage would now read: John was walking along the road minding his own business when a car pulled up beside him and a very mean - looking man got out and stood blocking his way.
  The reader would learn what happened after this through John’s actions, feelings and interpretations.
    3rd person (Omniscient) –  this is the "the all-knowing" narrator. The voice is of someone outside the story who can tell you what any one of the characters is doing and feeling, at any time. Since this point of view is all-seeing and all-knowing, it can easily move the story about from place to place and from character to character. Many stories use this point of view.
(This is the point of view in the novel
The Ring and the Roaring Water)
It is not wise for an author to mix these differing points of view in any one story except in very special circumstances. Mixed points of view can create confusion for the reader. Sometimes however, especially in a long story, the author  will move from the 3rd person omniscient viewpoint to the limited 3rd person. This helps to give the reader a more intimate peek inside the protagonist.

VIII.
Theme
   This is the main idea of the story; the meaning that the author is attempting to get across to the reader
   Themes are generally about universal human conditions such as love, survival, courage, hate, jealousy, greed, ambition, friendship, and so on.
   The author will, however, have something specific to say about this theme. This can usually be summed up in a sentence. Example, if jealousy is the theme, the story might be pointing out that jealousy can spoil a good relationship. This would be the lesson that the protagonist would learn.

IX.  
Style
  How is the story told to us? Does it use special language? Is it funny, sad, sarcastic, violent, emotional? You will quickly be able to ascertain the author’s style by the choice of words and your own reaction to what you are reading.

X.  
Dialogue – the conversations of the characters in the story. Pay attention to how dialogue is written. Dialogue is often used to move the story forward, giving information or filling gaps, and breaking up long narrative  passages. Characters should speak 'in character' i.e they should not all sound alike, but speak like the person(s) depicted. Differentiation makes for more interest.

XI. 
Development of the story
Stories have three main divisions
The Opening
The Middle
The Ending

  The opening section establishes the protagonist, any significant minor character(s), the setting, and gives an idea of what is the ‘challenge; for the protagonist. ( It generally answers the questions Who? What? When? Where? Why? The 'How' develops as the plot unfolds. By the end of the first chapter, you should be able to answer these questions ( Be aware, however, that authors like to experiment, they may not stick to this rule.) The opening needs to grab the reader’s attention; make him want to continue reading the story.

The middle section develops the intricacies of the plot (and subplots).

  The ending wraps up all that has happened in the story. Some endings are satisfactory, some not. Sometimes we read a story and wish it had ended differently. Bear in mind the author’s intention. If this has been fulfilled, then you have to rate it satisfactory.


SOME USEFUL LITERARY EXPRESSIONS AND THEIR MEANINGS

Genre: refers to the category in which the story can be placed. It answers the question – What kind of story is it? To which you may get an answer like:
Adventure novel
Children's literature
Comedy
Crime fiction
Detective fiction
Fable, Fairy tale, Folklore
Fantasy
Historical fiction
Horror
Medical novel
Mystery fiction
Philosophical novel
Political fiction
Romance novel
Saga, Family Saga
Satire
Science fiction Thriller
Conspiracy fiction
Legal thriller
Psychological thriller
Spy fiction/Political thriller
Tragedy
( Genre may also refer to the form of the literary piece. – fiction, poetry, drama, essay.) 


Imagery

Sight, sound, taste, smell, touch - the five senses are the principal ways in which we interpret life. In literature, the author can use imagery relying on our sensory perceptions to stimulate the readers’ imagination and create vivid pictures
Example:
“Now, strolling along, the glint of water caught my eye. The earthy smell of mud tickled my nostrils. I was almost there. I heard the wind whispering secrets to the trees and branches replying in a rustle of leaves. I turned the corner, and there, like a giant eye lay the pond, glittering mysteriously in the sun. ”
Little Island-Big Adventures (p. 108)

An author may choose to use various figures of speech to enrich the language in the book. Common figures of speech are:
Alliteration – the repetition of a particular consonant to obtain a particular effect
Example: Round and round the rugged road the ragged rascal ran. Alliteration might be less obvious in prose than in poetry, but it still has its uses in creating a particular effect .
Example:
“All of a
sudden there seemed to be gusts of wind swirling around the house.” The Ring and the Roaring Water… p.118
Hyperbole – Using exaggeration for a particular effect.
Example:
“My heart dropped; dropped some more, and stopped with a sickening thud at the soles of my feet.”
Little Island … p.151
Personification – non-living things, animals, ideas are given human qualities.
Example:
“A huge brown lizard soaking up the last rays of the sun’s rays cast a disdainful glance my way.”
Little island … p.43
Simile- a simile uses the words “like” or “as” to compare two things which are not alike to bring out a particular meaning.
Example:
(describing red peas soup gone cold and unappetizing)
“It was now covered by a pale, brown-white crust with little cracks through which tiny rivulets of muddy brown soup peeked. Out of this, the tips of the food now stuck up
like slimy, cream-covered islands in a murky sea.”  The Ring and the Roaring Water (p.64)
Metaphor  also compares unlike things, but without the comparison words “like’ and “as”. This intensifies the image.
Example:
Rivers of perspiration coasted down my back and face.
Little Island ….  (p.61)
As a simile this would be: perspiration coasted down my back and face like rivers .
Cliché -  an expression so overused it has lost its punch (imagery)
Example:
“Cool as a cucumber.”    "Blind as a bat"
Authors (and editors) try to avoid clichés. However, since real life people often still use clichés in their speech, you may find them in dialogue. 


Irony results when there is a difference between what appears to be happening and what is actually happening.  For example, when a character or reader expects or assumes one thing and the opposite is true, the writer has created irony. Irony is created when a writer says one thing but really means something else.
Example: as you read through
The Ring and the Roaring Water, you will find  examples of irony. – things are not always what they seem.  


Stereotype -  Giving individual characters attitudes and behaviours which are ‘supposedly’ true of types of people. Example fat women are always jolly. Grandmothers are always very old, wear glasses and aprons and bake cakes and mix lemonade. Stereotyping almost always shows some form of prejudice towards the individual or race or sections of the society being portrayed.  Some standup comedians rely on stereotyping for their jokes: example the dumb blonde jokes, or the dumb school jock, good at athletics but nothing else. Modern writers tend to be careful about characterization;  editors frown on stereotypical characterization.
  The more individualized a character, the more interesting to the reader. Sometimes however, an author may stereotype a very minor character as a kind of short-cut.
  See if you can spot any stereotyping in our two featured novels. 


Symbol

An object or action in the story that stands as its actual self but also represents something beyond itself. An old, dilapidated house can be just an old house but also represent decay in the life of the character(s).
In
The Ring and the Roaring Water, the ring is both a real ring as well as representing a friendship which should not have been broken.
In
Little Island – Big Adventures, the strange bird in chapter 4, is symbolic of the way the story will turn out.
The bird cannot remain on the island, inevitably it has to fly away. Similarly, the family will have to leave the island and move on. 


Flashback 

A scene in the story which takes the reader back in time of the experiences of the characters. It is used to give information necessary to the understanding of the present situation of the characters in the story.
Foreshadowing – gives hints of what will happen later in the story . They are a bit like clues.


Little Island  - Big Adventures by Maria Roberts Squires
Published by Carlong Publishers(Caribbean) Ltd. 2007
163 pages
ISBN 978 976 638 087 8 

Available at Sangsters Book Stores
http://www.sangstersbooks.com/products/children-s-books/item/little-island-big-adventure?category_id=52


  This novel has a glossary to explain words and phrases which are peculiar to that part of the Eastern Caribbean in which it is set.
  The author deliberately does not name the island which is the setting for the story, only that it is one of the small Grenadine islands attached to Grenada.
  It is set in the 1960s and gives a believable picture of life on this tiny island where its small size is both a pleasure and trial. There is no electricity, no police presence, one school, and one church. Children attend school barefooted, but there is no sense of deprivation.
  The island is described by someone who is obviously fond of  it, and wishes to preserve a bit of its history and the customs peculiar to its culture. The narrative is in the first person which helps to give the impression that it is, in the main, autobiographical.
  The language might seem sophisticated, in parts, for an eleven to twelve year old, but this protagonist is presented as being precocious, a very avid reader and a highly imaginative child.
  The style of this novel is episodic, that is, almost all the chapters can stand on their own as short stories. Therefore there is not the kind of cause and effect development of plot, building to a strong climax.  Although there is action aplenty as Sara-Ann and her friend Ruben get in and out of scrapes, the story is more character driven as we learn about several of the people who live on the island and their interaction one with another. Although the novel is episodic,unity is provided by the presence of the principal characters in all of the chapters - Sara-Ann, her family  and Ruben.
  This story celebrates family, friendship and commun
ity. Its strengths are in descriptive language and characterization. It is a good introduction to the study of literature at grades 6 or 7.

  Although narrated by a girl, Sara-Ann, the story has both boy and girl interest, as the most important minor character is a boy, Ruben.

The Ring and the Roaring Water by Diane Browne
Published by Diane Browne 2008
Pages 227
ISBN978 976 8203 79 3 

www.amazon.com/Ring-Roaring-Water-Time-Adventure-ebook/dp/B00QKVXZ46/

This is Diane Browne’s second novel about the adventures of two sisters Vanessa and Kerry Barrett. The girls are on summer holiday with their aunt and uncle in rural Jamaica when the discovery of a long lost ring causes them to go back in time in their uncle’s time machine to discover the truth of how the ring was lost or stolen.
This story falls in the genre of historical science fiction as a central part of the action deals with their experience of Hurricane Charlie, a major hurricane which struck the island in 1951.
In the previous book,
A Tumbling World, a Time of Fire, the story takes the girls back in time to the catastrophic 1907 earthquake which destroyed Kingston, the capital of Jamaica.
These stories give accurate historical information in a way which will entertain readers.
In
The Ring and the Roaring Water, Vanessa and Kerry meet Ian and his strange family. They are forced to shelter with this family during the storm and go out into the night when it seems that this house in past time might get washed away.
The plot of this story moves in the cause and effect pattern. The girls find out the truth about the ring, although there is still a problem arising from Time Travel which cannot be solved. This story has a strong subplot. Both plots are intricately linked.

The themes here are family, friendship, trust and loyalty, both in the main plot as well as the subplot involving the girls’ relationship with the boy, Ian, they meet in the past.

General questions on each story  (can be applied to other stories)


1.  From whose "point of view" does the reader understand the events of the story?

2.  How would the story change if told from another point of view? Whose point of view would you choose?

3.  Who is the main character? What makes the main character interesting?

4. How does the author  organize the events of the story? (the plot) Are they ordered chronologically or out of sequence? Does the author foreshadow or give the reader clues to future events? Does the author use flashbacks?

5.  Where and at what time period does the story take place? Is it set in the  present? In the future? In history? How does this "setting" of the story  contribute to the meaning?  If the story were set in another time or place how would this affect the story? 


6.  What is the "tone" or style of the story? Is it conversational, formal or informal? Is it simple or complicated? Is it ironic or satiric? Is it comic, sad or tragic?

7.  Are there parts of the story which are not clear? Can the events of the story be interpreted in more than one way? Does this make the story more interesting or simply confusing?

8.  Is there any symbolism in the story, and where do you find it? In the  characters or their actions? In specific objects?

9.  What is significant about the title? Does the title help to give you an idea of what the story is about?  Does the title make you curious to read the story?

10.   Does the historical context of the story or information about the author's life enrich your understanding of the story in any way?

11.  Can you identify with the story or any of the characters? Does the story agree, or not agree with your own politics, spirituality, philosophies or  morals? How does that influence your reading?

12.  Finally, what is the main theme?  What does the story reveal about human experience?
 

Exercises which can be applied to these and any story for grades 6 and 7

Breaking down the story into scenes
Any story can be divided into scenes. For each scene, find the answers to these questions
   Where and when does the scene take place?
   Who is in the scene?
   What happens?
   How does the scene relate to the rest of the story?
   Could this scene be omitted without affecting the story?

Then, in groups, write a description and the dialogue for different scenes from the story. Each group will choose a different scene. Students may use the dialogue from the story as well as make up their own. This will be a play which the groups can perform for the class. A book can easily be revised using this exercise.

The teacher reads a scene aloud for the class.  Students must listen carefully for descriptive words and phrases. (They may make notes)  Afterwards each student should produce his or her own picture of the same scene and a few sentences describing the drawing. (students do not have to be ‘good’ artists.) When completed, the teacher uses the pictures to start a discussion on how each listener interpreted the scene differently.

Characters
• Identify the main character, list three problems he or she faces, and explain how the problem is solved. If the problem isn't solved, explain why and tell how you would  solve it.
• Select an important quote from the story and show how the quote relates to a theme, conflict, or character in the text.
• Is there an antagonist in the story? If so, identify this character and say how he or she affects the protagonist.
• Choose a minor character and show how he or she was important to the plot, main character, or themes.
• Select three events and show how each provided insight into the protagonist’s personality.
• List several characteristics that you value in people or that are important to you. Did you find any of these in the story?
• Are there any stereotypes in the story?


Learning to analyze books studied as 'literature' can be fun for teachers and students. I hope the above pointers helped.


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