Recently, the mom of one of my students talked to our class about her work as a writer of YA books. She prepared a PowerPoint presentation using Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt as her mentor text. The following list includes some of the tips she gave the children.
(1) First, it's important to write about what you know so that you can write with confidence and authority.
(2) A well-developed beginning, middle, and ending is a critical component to any story. Just writing "the end" is not enough. It was great to have a professional writer point this out to the children since often that is how they end their stories because they've figured out that they don't have anything else to say. The truth is that either they didn't plan their story before sitting down to write, or they didn't have a problem in the story that needed development and resolution. This is something I'm planning to address during the last term of this year.
(3) Pay especial attention to the beginning of your story. A well-written and interesting beginning will often be the determining factor for whether or not the reader will want to continue reading.
(4) Make sure there is a conflict in the story. If there is no plot, the story will be boring.
(5) The ending should wrap things up for the reader in some way. My student's parent mentioned that she didn't like cliff hanger endings. I respectfully disagree. Sometimes those are the best endings because they leave me wanting to read more. More books, more by the same author, and more in a series, if that's the case. I don't always think cliff hanger endings are a bad idea unless it seems obvious that the author couldn't think of an ending and so decided to have no ending instead.
All of this was very instructive and validated much of what I've been teaching this year. However, what piqued my interest the most was when this parent shared her "character collage". A character collage allows the writer to think about and develop a character before she even starts to write her story. By using magazine images and words the writer can create a picture of a character's interests and traits. And, this collage can be a work in progress as the writer starts to write and think about major and minor characters, plot, and setting. This is the next step I am planning to take as we continue thinking and analyzing character traits in my classroom. I will write more about how this went with the children during the first week of April. In the meantime, just in case you're curious about character collages, read this post at http://www.stinalindenblatt.com/2010/10/getting-to-know-your-character.html at my student's mom's blog/website.
I'd love to hear any thoughts about the tips mentioned above from readers of this blog. Please, feel free to leave a comment with your ideas.