This article will use the book, Rick & Bobo by James & Nick Ventrillo, 2009, Vanir Books, but the concepts can be applied to any book, movie, or story. These will enhance anyone's reading skills.
A WAY to ORGANIZE YOUR THINKING by using Who, What, Where, When, Why, How!
Reading and writing are basically thinking skills. Once you learn how the symbols for the sounds look and sound, you need to know what they represent or mean. Reading, watching TV, and writing are getting and making meaning from agreed upon symbols such as; (1) Plot, (2) Character, (3) Setting, (4) Theme, and (5) Conflict. Understanding these will help you understand the meanings the writer is trying to communicate.
Newspaper reporters have a few minutes to get the main information and then write it clearly, but briefly. They use these to record the key details as well as to give the big picture. They use - wwwwwh: WHO - person or animal; WHAT - the action or behaviors; WHERE - location; WHEN - time; WHY- purpose, and HOW - the way the action occurs.
Often you don't know what to ask so you need to think about an overview of the whole story. Use the wwwwwh format to do this.
Challenge. Write one or two paragraphs using (wwwwwh) to describe one major
event in the story
READING IS THINKING.
Many students believe that when they pronounce correctly the words in a reading selection that they are reading. That is word calling, not reading. Reading is thinking about and understanding what the writer is trying to say. The ability to recognize what the letters and the symbols stand for and the sounds they represent are important, but it is only the beginning of the reading process. A person cannot read without knowing what the symbols represent, but that is not enough. A reader and a writer are partners.
A writer's task is to carefully construct what he is writing so that the reader can understand his messages and intentions. A reader's task is to interact with the writer and try to " think" like him. If the reader could actually talk to the writer and explain his understandings of the writing, then the writer would know what parts of his messages the reader did or did not understand and he could further clarify his meanings. This does not happen so the writer must try to be as clear as possible and hope the reader gets it.
Since the readers have different levels of interest, intelligence, and experiences, the writer usually selects a very specific audience to write too. A writer whose audience is nuclear engineers could assume that they knew all the complex ideas and vocabulary and could use his words freely. If he wanted the general public to read the same thing he would have to simplify it or he would lose many potential readers.
Challenge. Ask questions to the writers concerning any part of the book you didn't understand. Share these in writing or orally with a partner or group. It will help you clarify your thinking.
In writing, the plot is the series of main events that tell the story. Plot takes careful thought by the author in planning a complex story. This is an example about the book.
Ray (Bobo) is a adventurous vagabond, the polar opposite of his quick tempered genius brother, Richard. When one of Ray's fancies makes him into a multimillionaire, he calls on his brilliant brother to help him with his wildest idea yet: become a superhero. But when their purchase of key components draws the attention of the megalomaniacal Freya Bakken, the brothers quickly discover that no superhero is complete without a supervillain.
Challenge. Write two more versions of the plot. The first one is to be two paragraphs and the second three paragraphs. Each should be more detailed. Usually the first sentence is the main idea of the paragraph and the rest of the sentences fill it in with more details explaining the main idea. Imagine you are explaining to a much younger person.
Take YOUR life up to now and make a brief plot of it.
A well-written story has "flow." Flow is the way the story moves on from one setting, scene, and event to another without " dead time." When you go to a movie that is advertised as action-packed, but between the action parts you get bored, that is "dead time." It means the writer, director, or film editor was insensitive to the flow, or the story is too complex for you to follow. Of course, a story has to have spaces between each action or the viewer would get exhausted and overwhelmed. The timing of these spaces needs to be filled with other kinds of action or with a new build-up of tension that is leading to the next action.
The difference between a poor or fair book and a good or great book often is the way it handles flow. In a great book the time passes fast. In a poor one the flow is so bad that you want to go the washroom, get a drink, do something because nothing is happening. Now, in a good book, flow can proceed by dialogue, action, or even with just scenery, but it fits and carries you along.
Challenge. With a partner or small group explain the dialogue in one part that demonstrated effective flow. Do the same with one action sequence.
If you felt there was a part that exhibited "dead" time discuss that.
The theme of the story is the writer's messages. Most stories have several important themes. To teach something or to portray ideas the writer believes are important is often his reasons for writing it. Or, it could be purely for entertainment.
In Red Riding Hood different writers of this story have emphasized a variety of themes. A child should listen to her parents. Always be cautious when you go into an unknown environment. Do not trust strangers. Follow directions.
Challenge. Explain what you think are the main themes of RICK & BOBO.
Write the main themes of YOUR life.
The way the writer reveals or develops each person into someone believable is called CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT or CHARACTERIZATION. When a person first appears in the book you have no idea of who he is or what he is going to do. It is the writer's job to make the person into a flesh and blood human. He does this by what he SAYS and DOES. If the writer does a good job, then you begin to be able to PREDICT the character's actions. If you are attentive and watch and listen, ALL the characters become more predictable as the story unfolds.
From the start of "Jack and the Beanstalk," Jack does not listen to or follow his mother's wishes. Jack's behavior is predictable. You know what he is going to do each time he travels to town. His basic character traits of loyalty and innocence, which causes him to be outwitted by the seller of the beans, are what make the Giant's wife love him. It results in Jack's success.
In any good story the basic character of each person unfolds in scene after scene in which the character shows a consistent pattern of behavior. You expect the Wolf or Fox in all the stories to do or say bad or evil things. You expect the characters to behave in predictable ways as soon as you get to know them, because you have seen them do many of the same things over and over.
However, if all the characters continued in the exact same patterns, stories would be so predictable that they would be boring and not true to life.
In real life people are reasonably predictable, but either strange, unknown things happen within a person or people and events outside of a person cause him to act in way that seem to be "out of character."
When someone who has been acting cowardly does a courageous thing, it becomes dramatic and interesting and human. It is the fact that a person, no matter how predictable, can learn from his mistakes or express a trait that he has not shown that makes a story worth watching or reading.
The writer's job is to make theses changes believable and understandable. He has to show you through what the person says or does or what others do or say to him why he changed - or has remained the same despite pressures to change.
Each character has strengths and weaknesses that are shown in the story. As in real life it is a person's weaknesses or unreasonable desires that get him into trouble or conflict. It is his strengths, sometimes even unknown to him, which help him face and solve it.
Challenge. Take one hero and relate the sequence of the specific things he says or does that show the pattern of strengths that you believe will enable him to overcome his problem.
Take one villain and show how his weaknesses defeated him.
Take YOUR life and show how you used your strengths to defeat someone who was either harming you or trying to do harm.
What are the major patterns of YOUR life that make you predictable?
Setting is the scene or the where and the when the characters or actors act the plot and themes. The settings are the stages on which the story unfolds.
To be taken seriously a story about an English Knight of the Round Table would have to take place in England, Europe, or the Holy Land and be during the Middle Ages. If the knight were in armor and on his horse in Los Angeles in 2009, it would mean the story is a comedy or science fiction. The setting must fit, be appropriate to, the kind of story being told and help the writer make it more vivid in the reader's or viewer's mind.
In a story about the Civil War, if a jet fighter plane suddenly appeared firing missiles at enemy troops it would immediately tell the viewer that this was not a fact-based or realistic drama. Instead, it would be science fiction or a comedy.
The writer chooses his setting very carefully, because he knows that each setting places specific expectations in the viewer's mind. In a suspense or mystery, he purposely leads the viewer into thinking one way to get him on the wrong track. Magicians distract you in this way to trick your eyes. In a mystery this is good writing. In a drama it is not. The reader feels tricked and angry.
Challenge. Play with two settings or scenes in the story by changing either their time and or location. What would happen differently in the story?
Your life was somewhat determined by when and where you were born. Change one and then the other and have fun discussing with a partner or small group how this would have changed your life.
Now that you have seen how you can change your life by changing the outside conditions, discuss what you could do now to improve your life.
Any story has to have some conflict. The conflict can be INNER, which is within a character or characters or EXTERNAL, that is, it results from forces outside or external to the characters. Without a conflict that you can see or "feel" with, the story is merely the telling of a series of events.
Most students' stories explain one fact or event after another. It becomes a sequence, not a story. The conflict in a story pits one character or force against another. Each character's strengths and weaknesses are shown as the story unfolds.
The writer brings you into the story by creating characters you care about and you want to know how they will solve their problems or conflicts. The more complex the characters, the more real their lives are, the greater the conflict. These are what make them into stories rather than a mere sequence of events.
Challenge. Explain the main conflict between Ray and Freya. How does that create interest and excitement?
What are two conflicts in YOUR life. Explain how your strengths are helping overcome them or your weaknesses are overcoming you. What are you willing to do about resolving these conflicts?
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