Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guest Blogger MJ Fredrick - My Secret Plotting Weapon


I have a secret plotting weapon—you’ll never guess what it is.

It’s my fourth grade class.

In Texas, in fourth grade, writing is one of the state tests, so we spend a lot of time learning how to brainstorm, get words on the page, revise and edit. (They don’t like those last two so much.) So I bring my work in to class to show them what I do.

Since we learn about story structure (I insist they know the movies The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean) and beginning, middle and ends, I bring in my story board. Now, my story board isn’t fancy, just colored sticky notes on a trifold board, divided into 12 chapters. I show them that each color has to be in every chapter, and show them that sometimes there are holes.

For example, before NaNoWriMo a few years ago, I decided to completely plot out my romantic suspense so I wouldn’t hit any snags along the way. I had my basic plan—bodyguard/local politician. Her daddy is a Jack Bauer type and his enemies went after her. I knew there’d be another man she was interested in, someone more like her, not like the bodyguard who is too much like her daddy. So I set up the project board in the front of the room, showed them where my holes were (mostly in the second part of the middle) and one of the kids, without even looking up from his doodling said, “You have to kill the other boyfriend.”

YEAH, I did.

I also was plotting a paranormal novella later that same year, and was having trouble working the cursed object as an integral part of the story. Those kids were the ones who told me the cursed object has to be used as a key, and as a symbol throughout the story.

Now, it doesn’t always work. Some of their ideas are, well, pretty typical 10-year-old ideas. But even if that’s the case, they love being part of the process, and I think it helps them think outside the box for their own writing. See, a win-win situation!

Sunrise Over Texas was conceived in Room 27, during social studies. While the kids weren’t in on the plotting of this one (I barely plotted it, since I started writing it for NaNoWriMo a few days later), they knew about the concept and were almost as excited as I was when it sold!

22 comments:

MJFredrick said...

Thanks so much for having me here today!

Meg Benjamin said...

You're more than welcome MJ! You've got an absolutely unique plotting approach here.

Gail Fuller said...

This is fabulous! Makes me wish I had a fourth grade class to help brainstorm stories. :) What’s wonderful is how you have involved them in the process and even though they didn’t help you plot Sunrise Over Texas, they were there to help you celebrate your sale. I bet they’ll always remember the teacher who invited their input for her stories. Congratulations on your successes both in and out of the classroom.

Wishing you much success with Sunrise Over Texas.
Best wishes,
Gail Fuller

Debra St. John said...

Great idea. I sometimes use my third graders' writing lessons to help move my own writing along as well!

Diane Gaston said...

MJ, this is just priceless! And how exciting for your class to feel a part of the plotting process and their teacher's writing like!
Definitely a win-win situation!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

I think this is so cool, a great lesson for them and helpful for you. And I bet they grow up one day and will think of you when someone asks who their coolest teachers were. :)

MJFredrick said...

Thanks for all the comments! I have one former student who is writing--she emails me a lot--and the others made me promise to dedicate the books to them!

Prisakiss said...

Cool idea, Mary. I bet your students will remember what you've taught them, and their part in your success for years to come.

It's those tangible lessons that stick with us most.

Wish I'd had you as my 4th grade teacher. :-)

Erin Nicholas said...

This is awesome! "You have to kill the other boyfriend"-- hilarious! And a great thing to remember when you're stuck in the future too right?
Thanks for stopping by!
Erin

PG Forte said...

Erin--all I can say is it's a good thing you didn't get that particular piece of advice during the writing of the @$%&ing book.

Great post, MJ, and I agree w/ Gail. I think it's great you involved your students like that. I wonder how many future writers you've inspired?

Norah Wilson said...

LOL, Mary. You're definitely going to be their favorite teacher! BTW, can't stop looking at that cover...

Skylar Kade said...

MJ, thanks for blogging with us today! I'm so impressed by your students--I know they'll vividly remember these lessons as they grow up.

What a neat plotting resource! I swear, I'm only a little jealous :D

Juniper Bell said...

MJ, this is awesome. I've got a few plot problems I need help with ... any chance you might lend out your class?

Thank you so much for this post, I love it! And congratulations on your release.

Juniper

Kelly Jamieson said...

Welcome back to the Naughty Nine MJ! That's so cool. I've tried to use my kids and their imaginations for help but any time I mention it they give me a teenage eye roll and disappear.

MJFredrick said...

That class was pretty awesome, but I'll never underestimate kids' imagination. If y'all could have seen Jordan's face when he said that about the boyfriend...

Norah, I have that cover on EVERYTHING ;)

LizbethSelvig said...

Hey MJ,
Awesome post--not only do the kids feel like part of the process, they probably feel like quite the grown-up writers too. Definitely win/win! Wish I'd have had teachers like you when I was in fourth grade :-)
Good luck with books you're going to dedicate to your students.

MJFredrick said...

I had to tell y'all--I just got back from Open House, and two of my ex-students came by to ask about those books! LOL!

Pat said...

Sorry so late, MJ. Just got in, but I gotta say, I'm not missing 10 year olds--secret weapon or not. My poor old psyche couldn't take it.

That said, you gotta love the way kids think. It would be nice to step back into that innocence, that "well, why can't it happen?" mind set once in a while.

MJFredrick said...

LOL, Pat! Kids definitely think outside the box!

When my son was younger, he used to go to breakfast with us on Sundays and I'd bounce problems off him. Now, I get the eye-roll, too, Kelly!

LORETTA CANTON said...

Now that is a great class but is sounds like you are a great teacher too.

loretta
lbcanton@verizon.net

Robin Kaye said...

Um...MJ, can I borrow your class?

MJFredrick said...

Aww, thanks, Loretta! I feel kinda selfish doing this, but hey, it makes them think, right? And shows them the process.

On "rough draft" days, we'd all write for about 45 minutes. Good for me, too!

LOL, Robin!!