• Mr. Douglas Teng

The BIGGEST story writing mistake

Many of my students seem to struggle when creating imaginative texts in Year 11 and 12 ATAR English.

They often tell me that they used to find it easy, but their marks started to decline especially during Year 9 and 10. It was strange that no matter how great their story ideas were, they just couldn't get above a 50%, 60% or 70% mark. Their marks had just plateaued and they didn't know why.

Does this sound like you? Then read on!

The BIG Mistake

You are not using techniques in your writing.

What I mean is that whenever you write a story, you do not plan to use specific techniques in your story. You just write and write and write, focusing on the plot and action only.

When it's all done, any techniques that are present in your work are there entirely by coincidence and don't really accomplish much.

That's not a good thing.

By now you should know that the entire ATAR English syllabus is based on how techniques create an effect. You cannot expect to incite a response from your audience if you didn't consciously make the effort to use the narrative techniques you have learned about for some purpose.

How are you going to get your audience to feel sympathy? Inspired? Frustrated? Vengeful? Hopeful?

How are you going to get your themes and ideas to resonate within your audience?

So the next time you write a story, sit and think (PLAN!) about how you are going to execute your story.

Here's an example of how you might go about doing this.

Planning a Story

Start with a purpose: What is the purpose of your story?

It isn't enough to just say that the purpose of your story is to entertain. Let's try to go beyond a Year 5 level here. It is important to get a clear purpose so that you know what you are trying to do with your writing. If you don't have a purpose, you won't know what effect you are trying to create and will end up not creating any effect at all.

The purpose of your story could be to make your reader feel a sense of hope, to get them to think about a certain idea, to think from a certain perspective, to feel some kind of emotion etc.

For example, I could try to write a story inviting my audience to understand how bushfires affect families and communities. This would be my purpose.

Now let's think about how I can go about achieving this purpose - I would think about which techniques I'm going to use. Maybe I'll decide to encourage empathy and sympathy from the audience towards my characters who are affected by a bushfire using:

  • Imagery - I will try to create a vivid understanding of what a bushfire does to a community by detailing the haze, heat, smell and ash covered faces of others etc.

  • Narrative POV/perspective - I plan to have a first person child narrator who can tell the story through an innocent perspective. I can describe what I observe and allow the readers to understand how children and families are impacted by such an event.

  • Tone of narration - Using an innocent but clearly distressed and confused tone will help to reinforce the negative impact of bushfires on families and communities and invite sympathetic and empathetic responses.

  • Emotive language - Appeal to reader's emotions during the telling of the story. Try to create a sad, tragic atmosphere, appealing to my reader's sympathy and empathy.

From my plan, I have come up with four main techniques AND their specific intended effects that I would like to use throughout my story. These act as a point of focus and will help me to think about what I am writing and why.

It is no good just to use as many techniques as I can, there must be a clear reason for it!

Markers will be able to identify the techniques that are present within my story and award me marks for how I have used them for effect.

Here's a secret!

Markers and teachers know that not everyone is a great and talented writer, so don't feel bad if you can't write the next best selling novel.

Even if your story is terrible, as long as teachers can see that you are actively trying to use techniques for an effect (and that you answer the question), they will award you marks for it.

I have seen some cheesy and admittedly lame stories receive marks over 80% because their writers showed that they understood what markers were looking for i.e. that you know how to use techniques for an effect in your audience.

Mr. Douglas Teng

Thanks for reading! If you want to learn more about how to improve all aspects of your writing, feel free to ask me any questions or sign up for a free trial in our ATAR English weekly classes every Thursday at Rossmoyne SHS.


Any questions? Send me a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can!

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