The GiverWhy Read?

Ever had a kid tell you half-defiantly, “I don’t read”?  I’ve even had one who said, “I can read all right, but I won’t do it.”

Maybe they know we love challenges–they do bring rewards.  One new non-reader ended up finishing three books in his first two weeks–non-fiction books with lots of pictures.  My librarian knew boys.

One year, I had entire classes embrace reading.  While a teacher was on medical leave, I got students who could not spell–and most did not or could not read well.  For them, I chose Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a tale of a future without pain–no cold weather, no childbirth, no dead end careers, no old age. The cost was no excitement, no choices, and euthanasia.   Well, these kids hadn’t known there were books that you had to argue with!

When we were done, I gave them six choices for their next book.  They choose the darkest, Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, a story of a Jewish girl inside a Nazi death camp.  They wanted to feel.

When kids learn in order to get a great job someday, it restricts their interests. These are the greater gifts from reading.

1.  LEARN TO MAKE LIFE CHOICES.
Analyze character’s actions–would you have done the same thing?  Would you have risked death to hide Anne Frank in your home?  Would you have accepted your aunt’s reasons for marrying a humorless Puritan?  Would you have stayed with the plane or tried to walk out?

2. KNOW THAT, WHATEVER YOUR SITUATION, OTHERS HAVE FACED IT.
Pain is bad enough, but it’s harder to cope if you believe life is singling you out for ill treatment. So the kids at school make fun of your shoes, you can’t hit a basket with a bat, much less a ball, and your getting weary of hiding your mom’s alcoholism from the world. You are not alone. Others have survived–and grown–from such challenges.

3. LEARN TO UNDERSTAND PAIN AND PEOPLE’S REACTIONS TO IT
Before you suffer great pain, books can help you learn what causes it and how sufferers cope. What would it be like to lose a parent or a leg? How would it feel to be trapped in a avalanche or lost in a blizzard? What if your parents’ divorce or your brother takes his anger out on you? It happens. And people have not one reaction, but a string of them–and authors write of them.

We must endure much more than we can imagine–but we can be strong, at least sometimes, and learn to forgive ourselves for the others.

Plot Structure

Plot-Diagram

There’s a saying that 90% of published stories follow “the formula”—and the other 10% are great literature.

               So what is “the formula”?  So glad you asked–I’ve taught plotting for 15 years and need spend no time researching an answer in this busy season. 

               First, let me tell you why it helps to know.  If you’re acting as a teacher, it provides you with built-in questions about a book you’ve never read.  If a student has just started a book, you ask about aspects of the opening.  If they’re halfway through, you ask about character, conflict and one point of rising action. 

               If you’re acting as a reader, using the language from plot helps you state why you like or dislike a book.  The main character was inspiring or dorky; the conflict was interesting or weak; the climax was riveting or predictable. 

               If you’re a storyteller or a writer, what you need to know is that opening and conflict get the first 20%; the rising action and climax, the next 60%; and the falling action and denouement, the final 20%.   

               This is it—the basis of the majority of the world’s literature. 

               Opening/Exposition:  Introduces the setting (time and place) and the characters.  Recently, there’s a trend to having the first scene be a life-or-death action borrowed from later in the plot, but at some time the author has to get around to who and where.  

               Conflict:  The problem that must be solved before the story can end.  By the end of the third or fourth chapter, readers need to know there is a problem, one they care about, and have some idea what direction they want the story to go. 

               Rising action:  The problem gets worse—and worse—and worse yet.  New challenges arise and possible solutions disappear. 

               Climax: The point at which the solution is revealed.  Sometimes this is a breathtaking action—the poor hero hanging from roof’s edge manages to pull himself up and knock out the villian.  But it may be two starving children lost In a blizzard stumbling into campground and finding a half loaf of bread in the garbage.

               Falling action: The handling of loose ends.  The police arrive and take the villian away or the kids to the hospital.

               Denouement/Resolution: The “new normal” is revealed.  The characters go forth with new knowledge and understanding.  

               Now take a story you know—the simpler the better—and see if you can identify the elements of the plot.  I’ll use the “The Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs” as an example.

               Opening: Each little pig goes off to seek his fortune.

               Conflict: A hungry wolf decides to eat the pigs.

               Rising action:  The house of straw disintegrates.  The house of sticks follows.  The wolf is using all his wind power to threaten the house of brick.

               Climax: The wolf goes down the chimney and lands in a vat of boiling water.

               Falling action: Everyone realizes what has happened and celebrates.

               Denouement:  All of the pigs now understand the benefits of preparation and hard work and live happily ever after.               

               Admittedly, longer stories are more complicated with subplots and character development, but we tend to get disappointed if each of these major elements is not well done.