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!