I. Four Ways to Expand a Story Idea into a Story

Important Terms

1) Story Idea:
A story idea is a short description of what a story will be about. It is usually written before the story is written. It may describe the primary plot, it may list or describe one or more characters, it may describe the relationships between characters and it may describe a setting. It only covers a few important details that will appear in the story; it is not the story itself. It may also include a description of the purpose of the story, for example, to inform, instruct, persuade, or entertain.

2) Plots:
A plot describes the most important events and relationships in a story. An author can expand a story by increasing the number of events and/or the number of relationships in the plot, or by adding more details to events and/or relationships that are already in the plot. An author can also expand a story by adding additional primary plots (a primary plot is one whose events and relationships are most important to the author) and/or adding subplots (a subplot describes events and relationships that are not as important to the author as the primary plot is). Events may be actions that characters take, or actions that affect characters. Actions that affect characters may be actions taken by other characters or by natural forces (ex. tornado or fire). Relationships describe the way characters interact with other characters; the other characters may be other humans, supernatural beings, live plants or animals, or non-living characters. Interactions between or among characters can take place at different levels. What do we mean by different levels? If an author writes about one character talking to another, or about an event that all characters are experiencing together, without any mention of what each character is thinking, that is a single level. It means that each character is completely aware of everything that is said or done. If the author adds what a character is thinking but not saying out loud, that is a second level, because the other character does not know what the first character is thinking. The same reasoning applies if two characters talk about another character and the other character is not aware of what was said. If a story includes the description of a dream, the dream is on a second level; the events in the dream are not taking place in the real world in which the dreamer lives.

3) Characters:
An author can expand the length of a story by adding more information, such as physical descriptions, about existing characters, or by adding new characters with information about them. When an author adds a character, he or she is usually also adding an event that that character causes or participates in.
(Comment: Otherwise, why is the character in the story?)

4) Setting
Setting refers to the location where an event or a relationship takes place, or to the time period in which an event or relationship takes place.
4.1) Location: An author can expand a story by describing the characteristics of the location of the setting and/or by adding additional settings.
4.2) Time Period: An author can expand a story by adding or changing time periods.

5) Graphics:
Graphics refers to adding photographs, drawings, paintings, tables, charts or graphs to a story. Adding any of these will increase the length of a story. Comment: These same techniques can be applied to a story published as a hard cover book or in digital form as a CD, DVD, tablet, movie or video.

EXERCISES:

Below are three story ideas. Read each story idea and expand each using the aspects mentioned in this chapter.

Story Idea #1: A Boat And Its Journey

Setting: a tidal river in the state of Maine
This story idea is about a small rowboat that is owned by a family and is tied to their dock. After several days of rain, she fills with water and becomes so heavy that the wind and tide combine to snap her mooring line. She drifts down the tidal river, and as she drifts, she encounters various living and nonliving things typically found on a tidal river in Maine. Finally, she drifts into a cove on whose shore sits a house. A child of about 11 years old looks out the window of the house and sees the boat drifting toward their dock. Her family does not own a boat.

 

STUDENTS’ WRITING ASSIGNMENT:
1. Write sentences or phrases describing how you would expand this story idea to a multi page story that would appeal to elementary school students. Assume this will be a picture book with story text. Use each of the four ways to expand a story that were described above in this chapter.

2. Include in the story at least one living creature that would inhabit a tidal river in Maine, and explain how you were able to determine that this creature would live there.

3. Which character or characters tell the story and why did you choose them?

4. What title and subtitle (a subtitle is a short phrase that adds more detail to the actual title) would you give the story?

 

Story Idea #2: An Amazing Chicken

Setting: The area of the United States known as the Far West (includes states like Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico).
A family of two parents and four children live in the Far West, on a two acre ranchette (a ranchette is a small ranch – just a couple of acres). They own a pig, several horses and ponies, goats, dogs, cockatoo birds, a rabbit and several hens. The family notices
that one of the hens is very intelligent and friendly, and interacts with the other animals and with the family members. Because of these character traits, they give her a special name. They become very fond of her, and brag about her to all their friends

 

STUDENTS’ WRITING ASSIGNMENT:
1. Write sentences or phrases describing how you would expand this story idea to a multipage story that would appeal to fifth and sixth graders. You can assume this will have photographs with story text. Use each of the four ways to expand a story that were described in this chapter. You don’t have to actually write the expanded story (unless you want to); you just have to describe the ideas you have for expanding the story.

2. Who would you select to tell the story and why?

3. What title and subtitle (a subtitle is a short phrase that adds more detail to the actual title) would you give the story?

 

Story Idea #3: The Boy From Africa

Settings: A poor country in Africa and a school and community in the U.S. You are a children’s book author and you are looking for a new subject to write a book about. In the newspaper, you read an article about a teacher in an American school where many students are refugees from Liberia, an African country that has been involved in a civil war. This teacher is so moved by the sad stories that she hears from her students that she is determined to do something to help those left behind in the African country. Included in ways she is willing to help is the option of adopting an African child who is of elementary school age, since she does not have children of her own.

STUDENTS’ WRITING ASSIGNMENT:
1. Write sentences or phrases describing how you would expand this story idea to a multipage story that would appeal to middle school students. You can assume this will be a picture book with story text. Use each of the four ways to expand a story that were described in this chapter. You don’t have to actually write the expanded story (unless you want to); you just have to describe the ideas you have for expanding the story.

2. Explain how you would find out information about life in an African village in Liberia, to use in the story.

3. Who would you select to tell the story and why?

4. What title and subtitle (a subtitle is a short phrase that adds more detail to the actual title) would you give the story?