Primary English Tips | Creative Writing: Creating a Problem in Your Story: Part 1

Two weeks ago, we asked you which was the component in the new PSLE English format that you had found to be the most challenging and here are the results! Although the sample size was small, it is salient that composition and open-ended comprehension were the top two areas of concern for most parents. With the results, I will attempt to provide more tips in these two areas. Hopefully, they will be helpful in easing some of the anxiety that parents and children have regarding these two components.

Before we continue with today's topic, I would like to thank you for the love you have shown to Grammar Grandma. I am glad that the kids are loving her and some adults have given her really nice compliments as well. You have all made the old lady really happy. Since we are going to discuss creative writing today, I would like to introduce the character who will be assisting the children with this in my classroom, He is none other than...

 

Compo Cop

Age: Secret (He is undercover and would need to keep his details as private as possible. Thank you.)

Hobbies: Grooming his moustache and keeping an eye on problem areas that children have trouble with during writing.

Fun fact: He has a famous brother in Hollywood by the name of R _ _ o Cop. 

Compo Cop realised that a lot of stories are rather flat and boring as they lack a real problem to create the excitement. This post will seek to provide a solution to how children can brainstorm for a problem and also touch on what a complication is.

As an educator, it is important to explore ideas and strategies that will best help your children to learn. My way of teaching creative writing has been an accumulation of methods that are tried and improved. Even so, I still enjoy reading up on methods and resources shared by other educators to get ideas on how to apply them to my own class. Some time ago, I came across a list of literary terms by Balance Publishing House which provided some interesting definitions of the elements we use in a story. I like the definitions as I feel that they provide a refreshing perspective to children and aids them to understand the parts of a story better. Hence, I am sharing some of the definitions provided from the list in my post today. You can read up on other terms in the list here although I have picked what is relevant to primary school creative writing.

Some of you may be puzzled by the title of this post. Creating a problem in your story? Do not be confused with "finding a problem WITH your story"! That is the last thing that we need when it comes to writing. What we really want to do, is to find a problem in the story so that our story will definitely be an interesting, exciting and best of all, dramatic one. Remember, your task is to excite your readers with the 50 minutes (excluding situational writing for upper primary children) that you have. Give it your all to impress and excite during the ten minutes when they are reading your story, you only have one chance.

Before we discuss how to create a problem, let's talk about the parts of a story.

Introduction

Build-up

Problem 

Complication*

Solution

Conclusion

*In my humble opinion, not every story needs to have a complication. More about this below.

There are various ways that one can plan for a story. Some use the "rollercoaster" or "mountain" plot diagrams; others use the "hamburger" or SPACE strategy to help them think through the different parts in a story. There is no right or wrong but for me, I usually keep the different parts of my story simple with the elements above. Children seem to be able to identify these events more easily compared to terms like "rising action" and "climax" and thus, I have been using these for planning with my little ones. 

Focusing on our topic, a problem (or a conflict) happens when the main character wants something and yet, something stands in his or her way. That makes a lot more sense then just saying that "something happened in the story" which is really vague. If children do not even understand what a problem is, how can we expect them to come up with one? 

With the "problem" in a story defined, we will now look at the different types of problems that can be created. 

According to the literary terms defined by Balance Publishing House, a problem can be created in the five manners below. 

1. Man against Man [One character has a problem with one or more other characters.]
Story introduction: Dexter and his classmate were carrying a stack of books to the staffroom for their teacher.

Main character wants to...: Dexter needed to deliver the books and leave.

Problem: Dexter and his classmate saw the upcoming examination papers. His classmate decided to take a peek but Dexter did not agree with his behaviour. 

 

2. Man against Himself [A character has trouble deciding what action to take. This type of conflict deals with right and wrong.] 

Story introduction: Dexter and his classmate were carrying a stack of books to the staffroom for their teacher.

Main character wants to...: Dexter needed to deliver the books and leave.

Problem: Dexter and his classmate saw the upcoming examination papers. His classmate decided to take a peek and Dexter was tempted to do the same. He knew he should not do that but his teacher had warned him that if he was to fail another examination, he would not be allowed to take part in the soccer competition which he was a star player in. He must decide whether to peep at the questions or be honest and study for the test on his own.

 

3. Man against Society [A character does something that he wants to do but it interferes with the law, school or is considered unaccepted behaviour.]

Story introduction: Dexter was a teenager who just had a quarrel with his parents.

Main character wants to...: Dexter wanted to be by himself until he was feeling better.

Problem: In a fit of anger, Dexter vandalised some walls with paint that he saw at a construction site. He was too outraged to care and wanted to vent his frustration by painting the walls with vulgarities.(Conflict with the law)

 

4. Man against Nature [A character struggles with the elements.]

Story introduction: Dexter went on a camping trip with his friends in a forest.

Main character wants to...: Dexter wanted to reach the campsite before night arrived.

Problem: A sudden thunderstorm caused Dexter and his team to seek shelter in the nearest cave. 

 

5. Man against Fate (situation) [A character is faced with uncontrollable circumstances.]

Story introduction: Dexter was celebrating his birthday at home and had invited many guests over.

Main character wants to...: Dexter wanted to celebrate his birthday and give his guests a buffet treat.

Problem: Dexter's guests began throwing up and had diarrhoea after having food from the buffet. They were suffering from food poisoning.

 

The truth is that when children are able to see in a clearer manner how different types of problems can be formed, they will be in a better position to brainstorm and come up with ideas for a problem.

Complication

However, do not think that once a problem is found, the next step will definitely be to provide a solution. At times, if a solution is provided too quickly, there is a risk that the story will not have sufficient excitement and development. How do we extend this period of difficulty for the main character then? 

For some storylines, we can do so by adding a complication after a problem. A complication is defined as "the difficult circumstances that come about through the character's attempts to find solutions to his/her problem." You can also look at it as a smaller problem that happened within the big problem or something that prevented the problem from being solved immediately.

 

Here is an example:

Theme: A Camping Trip

Story introduction: Dexter went on a camping trip with his friends in a forest.

Main character wants to...: Dexter was to return to the campsite before night arrived.

Problem: A sudden thunderstorm caused Dexter and his team to seek shelter in the nearest cave. 

Complication:

1) To their horror, the map was wet and was torn. They could not find their way back to the campsite.

OR

2) One of Dexter's friends fell and suffered a deep cut on his leg while they were trekking back. Night was approaching and they were not sure if they could make it back in time.

Solution: A camp guide came and searched for the group. The group was rescued and returned to camp. 

A complication is not easy to form but one common complication that seems easy to apply in most situations is injury. This is seen in the example above as complication 2. Do take note that not all stories must have complications and sometimes, a well-developed problem and solution can be more powerful than a minimally developed problem, complication and solution.

 

I hope this post provides a clear idea and framework for your children to explore when thinking of a problem for their stories. In the second part of this post, I will show you how knowing these five ways of forming a problem can be applied to the compositions in the new PSLE English format.

 

To end off this post, I am excited to share with our readers that we have revamped our homepage! It should be even easier to navigate our website now and find the relevant information you need. I could not resist roping in our Lil' but Mighty English characters like Grammar Grandma, Compo Cop and the Oral Pears for this project. In addition, we have also added a launch page for our 2016 schedule that will be released soon. If you are wondering what 2016 will be like at Lil' but Mighty, do drop by to see some snippets of our plans. Bookmark the page or subscribe to our blog for the latest updates and happenings on Lil' but Mighty! 


 
The Write Recipe - The Composition Writing Online Course
 

The Write Recipe

  1. Learn about how to plan your writing
  2. Know the key ingredients to create exciting content during planning
  3. See the flow of your story with our unique paragraph-by-paragraph structure (New!)
  4. Application to questions with the PSLE format

Lily Chew

An English tutor on a mission to educate children; a blogger with a passion to share and grow the love of English with the world.