You win a pizza! Unfortunately after you pick it up, you trip and the pizza splats onto the sidewalk. Life is full of ups and downs and so are stories. Ups and downs are what makes a story interesting. You read to find out what is going to happen next.
In my February workshop with West Education Campus fifth graders, we warmed up with a “fortunately, unfortunately improvisation game.” The students had imaginative ideas—some dramatic and some funny. Our story did involve a pizza and ended with a twist. Even though our main character, after many obstacles,, finally, finally, finally got the pizza in the end . . . the pizza had pineapple on it, which the character didn’t like. Hilarious.
Next, as a group, we worked through the process of out to RAISE THE STAKES in a story by using my three-part process.
1. Write a short WOW outline. My WOW outline is Want, Obstacle, Win.
2. Ask yourself, “How can I make the want, the obstacle, and the win more dramatic?” Think of lots of ways and write them down in a revised outline.
3. Now, write the story!
We started out with this simple outline: Boy wants to enter a bike race. Boy doesn’t have a bike. Boy finds a bike and enters the race.
The students did a great job of raising the stakes. Here are some examples:
What if the boy started out not knowing how to ride a bike? Then even if he got one, he’d have to work really hard to get good. What if got a bike, but the bike broke? That would be even worse. The boy could go to a bike shop to ask the owner to help him fix the bike. But the owner could be mean and say, “No way unless you have money.” When a character keeps having ups and downs, it’s more exciting. Finally, what if it wasn’t just any race, but a professional bike race with a cash prize. That would make the ending more dramatic. We’d be hoping he would win!
Raise the stakes of a story by actively trying to imagine lots of ups and downs for your character’s journey before you even start writing.
The students are writing their own stories, and I can’t wait to see what happens.
My West Education Campus Fifth Grade Writing Residency is supported by An Open Book Foundation. I’ll be posting a once-per-month essay about the experience between December 2020 and May 2021. More entries on this residency.