Writing Assignment: Using Non-Chronological Sequencing to Heighten Suspense

Happymess kids are perfecting their creative writing skills.  Quantum is hard at work on his current narrative assignment.  The assignment is to take a small (actual) misdemeanor and turn this episode of misbehavior into a fictional narrative that evokes an element of mystery or fear.  The method?  Beginning in the middle or the end.

Quantum chose a time when he “hid” in the back seat of the car so that he could attend his older brother’s college football game.  In actuality, we knew he was there and we were delighted to have him.  In Quantum’ s fictionalized account the young boy remains hidden until he gets out, unnoticed, at a country gas station.  He intends to secretly re-enter the car but his timing is wrong and his parents, unknowingly, drive off without him.

Quantum wrote this story from beginning to end, in correct chronological sequence.  He then chose a sentence from the middle of the story,

“It was hot and stuffy in the trunk and I was getting hungry.  I was wondering if my parents would ever stop for gas…”

This became the new beginning of his tale.  From the inside of the trunk we experience the boy’s discomfort and regret.  When the boy is abandoned at the gas station he is befriended by an old man.  The man encourages the boy to call his parents and tell them the truth.

By inverting the sequence of events and fictionalizing a small misdemeanor Quantum is able to create an entirely new, and suspenseful story.   He uses extensive dialogue to express the thoughts and feelings of his characters.  After calling his parents the boy is left waiting to be picked up at the gas station.  We know the dad is angry but the reader waits with the boy, in suspense.  We can only imagine what the punishment will be.  Will the dad be as angry as the boy imagines or will Dad be forgiving and understanding, as the old man at the gas station believes?  Quantum leaves these final questions unanswered so the reader can supply their own ending.

The technique of fictionalizing a small bit of truth and then inverting the sequence is successful in creating suspense.  Starting with a misdemeanor and writing a beginning to end story with liberal fictionalization was an easy way to get Quantum writing.

We like to begin our writing sessions (after planning) with several 15 minute free-writes.  Quantum sketched out a general idea for his story, “hiding in the trunk” a climax, “lost boy” and a theme, “reckless behavior can lead to unexpected consequences” and an uncertain ending, “would the boy be forgiven?”

Once the events and order had been established, it was…On your mark, get set, GO…15 minutes of non-stop writing, no time for perfection, just get the story down on paper.

After re-reading his free write Quantum chose his middle sentence and started from this point.  He began to write more thoughtfully and slowly, really taking the time to build the story in the mind of the reader.  Now he had to make us feel the inside of the trunk, and see the barren gas station, he had to make us worry about this boy by himself, his decision to trust the only adult, an unknown male.  We were rooting for him to finally call his parents.  We knew they would be shocked and worried.  We knew they would turn around immediately and pick him up.  Of course they would be angry, but would they understand and forgive?  Most importantly, will this boy finally get to see his brother’s college football game?

By starting. In the middle, and not answering all our questions, Quantum has created a tale of mystery and suspense.  Most importantly, this technique enabled a novice writer to begin at the beginning, initially, and to feel comfortable creating an imaginary story that rings true.  Following these basic stair step exercises demystifies the writing process and brings simplicity and joy instead of tears and frustration to the creative writing process.

Happymess Kids Practice the Dark Art of Writing

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is striving to make the impossible attainable.

Writing Assignment: Seeing Myself Through the Eyes of Another

Happymess kids are learning to write.  This week Quantum is completing an assignment in which he has to describe himself (in the third person) through the eyes of a grandparent.  Through this process he will additionally be describing the grandparent and will introduce the reader to Quantum as perceived by the grandparent.  Thus, some of Quantum’s positive attributes may be viewed negatively and some seemingly unimportant moments may be accentuated due to the values of the grandparent.

,This story is a fictionalization of an actual encounter, in a restaurant, between Grandfather and Quantum.  Grandfather is delighted that Quantum is dressed appropriately but does not think children should receive too much attention or praise.  This piece is both comical and sad as the two males, at either end of the age spectrum, miscommunicate and misjudge one another.  The opportunity for mutual appreciation is certainly lost through this encounter.  Quantum effectively uses fictionalization to emphasize the mood he strives to create.

Quantum eagerly attempts to share his interests and accolades while Grandfather dismisses these attributes with sharp-tongued staccato remarks designed to remind Quantum of his more junior place at the dinner table.

Said by Quantum, admiringly,  “Grandfather, did you ever get to see Babe Ruth?”

“My father wouldn’t have cared if Babe Ruth was sitting in the backyard!” Grandfather retorts, disparagingly.

Through this exercise Quantum is learning the craft of character description, setting and the use of dialogue and innuendo to create an effective and moving scene.  This writing exercise builds upon real world facts while allowing extensive room for creativity.  The students’ sense of security is enhanced in that initially they are reporting on known events.  The focus on pure creativity is reduced.  As the tale unfolds the student is free to rearrange the details as she/he learns to use words to illustrate the tale.

Garth Williams

This assignment helps to bridge the gap between reality and fiction.  It also helps to illustrate the manner in which fiction can be more truthful than facts.  Sometimes a fictional portrayal of an event more closely reassembles the truth, as perceived by the individual.  Third person self-description in an excellent introduction into the craft of fictional character development and can be employed in a writing program designed for any age student.

Would you be interested in using this technique to expand the writing skills of your students?

What techniques have you used effectively?