Writing accomplishes so much for the writer. It helps him look at areas of his life that may be uncomfortable to confront directly, it gives him a way to communicate ideas that he cannot voice orally, and it gives him a craft. There are few successful writers that are completely self-taught. The art of writing should be learned beginning in the primary grades and continued through a lifetime. That is because without some fundamental knowledge, building a story becomes a daunting task. Writers must understand structure, but how do you best teach story architecture in a classroom? Some of the best strategies are the easiest. A few of these are the SWBST, familiarization and the outline worksheet.
The acronym stands for “somebody wanted to…but…so then….” This is perhaps the most basic of tools for teaching creative writing. There are many types of stories like flash fiction (which typically is only 500 words or less), short stories and, of course, novels. The thing is that a novel is like a forest in which a writer can get lost. Plot, characters and other elements of a good story seem to blur. The SWBST outline is a fundamental blueprint that helps writers, even experienced ones, keep track of the story direction and the character’s objectives. Students who follow this simple step build characters who have objectives, create conflict for them to overcome and then resolve the problem.
This actually is an introductory strategy. As they read together, students are led through a process in which they identify the elements of good storytelling. They see the main character and understand what that character wants, they determine the obstructions in achieving that goal and they observe how the character overcomes ( or is frustrated by) those barriers. Used with elementary students, this method can utilize fairy tales. With older students, more complicated plot lines such as those in classic novels like “Catcher in the Rye” or “Grapes of Wrath” or even structure in modern books like the “Twilight Series” can be used.
Ask some writers how they determine plot, and they will say that their characters tell them what to write. While that sounds like a spurious answer, given to dismiss the question, it is actually to-the-point and in line with this teaching tool. Novel writing worksheets include several aspects of the novel creation including character development. Similar to the SWBST method, students using a novel outline worksheet create characters using physical characteristics, personalities and other components, develop a plot in which the characters attempt to reach a goal despite opposition and understand how a theme can drive a plot.
Creative writing can be very satisfying, and when someone besides the writer can understand the theme of a story, identify with the characters and enjoy the plot, the satisfaction increases. For more information about a novel outline worksheet and how to use it, visit Adobe’s Education Exchange. A teacher who can communicate these concepts may not have a future Steinbeck in his classroom, but he will teach a craft the pupil can enjoy for a lifetime.