Home  |   Writing Grade by Grade  |   Reading  |   Workshop Help Desk  |   Principal's Guide  |   Buy it Now! 

Unit of Study 4
Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions

by Lucy Calkins
and Colleen Cruz
Annotated Table of Contents | Contents: Narrative Format
Annotated Table of Contents
  1. Imagining Stories from Ordinary Moments
    In this session, you will teach children that fiction writers get ideas for stories from daily life and from past writing. You'll help them get started doing that.
  2. Imagining Stories We Wish Existed in the World
    In this session, you'll tell students that one strategy writers use to get ideas for stories is to imagine the books we wish existed in the world.
  3. Developing Believable Characters
    In this session, students will learn that fiction writers need to choose a seed idea and begin to develop characters by creating their external and internal traits.
  4. Giving Characters Struggles and Motivations
    In this session, you will teach children that writers develop characters not only by telling about their motivations and struggles, but also by creating scenes that show these things.

  5. View Session 4
  6. Plotting with a Story Mountain
    In this session, you will teach children that writers sketch out possible plotlines for stories often on "story mountains" that represent traditional story structure.
  7. Show Don't Tell: Planning and Writing Scenes
    In this session, you will teach children that, in a sense, writing scenes is the same as writing Small Moment stories. Writers often begin by putting the character into action or by laying out the character's exact words, and then unfolding the moment, step by step.
  8. Feeling and Drafting the Heart of Your Story
    In this session, you will teach children that fiction writers create our best drafts when we experience the world through our character's skin, letting the story unfold as it happens to us.
  9. Studying Published Leads to Make Leads
    In this session, you will explain that just as fiction writers revise with lenses, they edit with them as well, rereading their writing several times for several reasons, editing as they go.
  10. Orienting Readers with Setting
    In this session, you will remind children that as they write they need to "stay in the scene," making sure the action and dialogue are grounded in the setting.
  11. Writing Powerful Endings
    In this session, you will teach children that writers of fiction do their best to craft the endings that their stories deserve. In particular, they make sure their endings mesh with and serve the purposes of their stories.
  12. Revision: Rereading with a Lens
    In this session, you will teach children that when revising, writers don't simply reread, we reread with a lens. Writers vary their lenses according to what the writer values for her work.
  13. Making a Space for Writing
    In this session, you will tell children about the intimate work space you've created for your writing and teach them that they can create their own spaces inside their writing notebooks and their homes.
  14. Using Mentor Texts to Flesh Out Characters
    In this session, you will remind students that writers study mentor authors to notice what other writers do that works well. One thing writers do is use actions and revealing details to show rather than tell about characters.
  15. Editing with Various Lenses
    In this session you will teach children to listen to our writing carefully, then choosing words, structures and punctuation that help us to convey the content, mood, tone, and feelings of the piece.
  16. Publishing Anthologies: A Celebration
    In this session, writers will have an opportunity to see their work published in book form, and to experience the thrill of receiving reviews on their contribution to the class anthology.
Back to Top
Contents: Narrative Format

After students spend a month writing essays, they'll be eager to return to the land of narrative writing, especially if they are finally, at long last, able to write what students want most to write: fiction. By this time, no one will be surprised that the unit begins with learning ways to live like fiction writers, seeing ideas for stories everywhere. At the start of this unit, we let students know that fiction writers get ideas for their stories by paying attention to the moments and issues of their lives. We tell children, "When I was young, I thought fiction writers looked up into the clouds and imagined make-believe stories about castles and puppy dogs. But then I grew up and learned how real fiction writers get their ideas." We let them know that Robert McCloskey got the idea for Make Way for Ducklings when he was stopped in Boston traffic while a line of ducks waddled across the street in front of him.

Children collect story ideas in their writer's notebooks, learning to flesh the ideas out a bit so that they contain some of the elements of an effective story. Children learn to take the tiny details and big issues of their lives and speculate on how that could become stories. They might write entries in which they both recount a bit of their lives and then speculate (in writing) on how they could turn this into a story. A child who has recently moved could make up a story about a girl who moved, only this time she could give that girl a companion—a dog? a sister?—the writer wished she'd had. Children can reread their notebooks as well as live their lives collecting possible story ideas. In these entries, children will not actually write their stories; instead they will write plans for how their stories might go. For a few days, children will collect entries in which they explore ideas that could possibly become fiction stories. As they do so, they will profit from trying story ideas out. A great way for them to do this is by storytelling those ideas to a partner. We teach children some storytelling techniques-for example, the beginning of their stories might sound like the beginning of a famous book or a fairy tale: "Once, not long ago, a little girl named Cissy—" Elevating storytelling a bit helps each youngster bring a storyteller's voice—and an aura of literary language—to his or her own story plans.

Once children have each chosen a seed idea (which will now be called their story idea), it is important for them to develop their ideas. One way fiction writers do this is to develop their main characters, perhaps in notebook entries that never appear in the final story. A fiction writer once said, "Before you can begin writing your story, you need to know your characters so well that you know exactly how much change each one has in her pocket." When children are asked to develop ideas about their characters' traits, most children immediately list external traits, "She has red hair," and so on. We encourage children to also think of a character's internal traits. What is she afraid of? What does she want? The trick is to help children create coherent characters with characteristics that fit together in a way that seems believable. When children use broad generalizations—for example, suggesting the character is a good friend—we ask them to open these terms up, to be much more specific. What are the unique ways in which this character is a good friend? After writers gather entries developing their character, they may dramatize the character, having him perform action in a scene, a fiction writer's word for a Small Moment story. Finally, it is important to be sure that young fiction writers think especially about a character's wants and needs. Usually a storyline emerges out of the intersection of a character's motivations and the obstacles that get in her way.

As in every unit, we remind children that what they learned once through revision and editing now needs to move forward in the writing process. Not surprisingly, then, the story mountain becomes a tool not for revision but for planning. Children use story mountains to plot their story plans and to revise these, too. We teach children, for example, that sometimes what they expect will be the prelude to their story must actually become back-story so that the actual text can focus on two or three scenes.

When children begin to draft, they rely on their story mountains as road maps. Each item (each dot) on the story mountain is usually designated its own page in a story booklet, and this, plus an emphasis on using skills developed in earlier units and on storytelling rather than summarizing, makes it more likely that children's stories will sound and feel like stories. Since the stories are long, revision needs to begin early; we help students incorporate qualities of good writing as they revise the early sections of their stories. Children incorporate all they learned during the personal narrative units of study into their texts, writing with dialogue and showing rather than summarizing their character's feelings.

We help children see that these story mountains build to a high point and that their main characters struggle harder and harder toward their goals. As they sequence their story, children learn that at the top of their mountain something happens that solves (or begins to solve) the character's problem.

Although the unit is titled Writing Fiction, it is also a unit on rehearsal and revision. Capitalizing on children's zeal for fiction, this unit encourages them to do more of both than they have done before. Although we emphasize the efficiency of revising as we write, once a draft is completed we then emphasize that writers look back on the trail of a story and consider making substantial revisions. Above all, we teach writers to consider the importance of setting in a story. Earlier, when children's dialogue threatened to swamp their story-lines, we taught them to intersperse actions with dialogue, now we highlight the need to ground the entire story (not just the introduction) in a sense of place.

Then, too, children are led to rethink the evolution of their stories. Oftentimes, they approach a fiction story planning for the character to magically receive his or her fondest dream in the form of a solution that flies in out of nowhere like Superman. With help, we show children that in fiction as in life, the solutions we find are generally those that we make, and if there are magic answers to be found, they usually have been there before our eyes all along.

Back to Top
Learn More. . .
Also Available
Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum, K-2
Copyrightę 2015 Heinemann. A division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All Rights Reserved.