What's Really Going On?

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SWBAT differentiate between the inner and outer story and enhance their own memoirs by developing both.

Big Idea

How can we fully develop protagonists? Students will develop their memoir's inner story. What is happening behind the scenes?

Complete First Draft

20 minutes

If students need extra time to complete their first drafts of their memoirs, they can use the first twenty minutes. If they have already completed these, they can use this time to silently read their independent texts.

Even if they're sure they've completed their first draft, I urge them to log on and at the very least  proofread. Then they should print a copy so we can make hard copy changes. If the resources are available, I urge students to make hard copy edits whenever possible. What are hard copy edits and why are they important? Watch this video to hear more.

I usually have two narrative samples on hand. One for the beginning stages of modeling revisions and one for the latter stages. This is because engagement tends to wane as the unit continues. I like to pull out a fresh narrative for the second half.

Note Taking: Inner vs. Outer Story (Ralph Fletcher)

5 minutes

Using direct instruction, I explain Ralph Fletcher's concept of inner and outer story. All stories have an inner and outer story. The outer story is more obvious. It is the action; it is what is happening. There is concrete evidence that the reader can see. However, the inner story is more delicate. It is the behind the scenes magic. It is what the character thinks or the narrator tells us. It is the inside track.

Most emerging writers have only outer story taking place in their narrative. They have tons of characters doing lots of things. They are very busy, running around and living their life. What is missing? The inner story. Have you gotten inside of your character's head and explained their thinking? Have you, as the writer, explored their inner thoughts? Have you made your reader aware of important background information? This must be done using inner story.

The memoirs students will write should all be first person point of view. You are your own protagonist. This is an easy way to explore inner story.

I explain that goal is not to eliminate outer story; we need outer story! I say that the goal is to have either equal parts inner and outer, or a at least a touch of inner per page, depending on your personal writing style.

I find the more advanced writers are more comfortable with inner story and tend to include more. However, I warn against including too much. Too much inner story can become distracting and lead to confusion for the reader.

Modeling Inner & Outer Story

10 minutes

I take a copy of my narrative draft and begin to model changes.

I begin reading aloud my narrative. I ask students to listen for examples of inner vs. outer story.

"My aunt Maddie came to visit three or four times a year. These were special times in my life. Maddie lived in Los Angeles; she was a professional modern dancer. In short, I wanted to be her. She’d glide into town with her artsy clothes, 90’s blue jeans, and three stuffed-to-the-brim suitcases. Aunt Maddie is larger than life in my five-year-old mind’s eye, with her unruly, brown curls that cascaded down her shoulders."

In this first paragraph, where is the action and where is the background information? What can I see happening vs. what is being told to me as privileged information about the protagonist?

Students are usually able to identify the differences here. They pinpoint these two sentences as inner story:

"These were special times in my life."

"In short, I wanted to be her."

In a first person narrative, we can identify inner story as the narrator, or protagonist, speaking directly to the reader.

I explain that a great place to add inner story is where the reader may have questions or may request more information. We get to the place in my story where there is dialogue.

“Let me watch that again, the tape cut off in the middle,” said B-ma.

“Let’s do it again!” I would say, mocking annoyance.

When we get to this section, some kids ask the following question: Why are you mocking annoyance? What does that mean? I answer, it means that I was pretending to be annoyed but secretly I was excited to perform again. That can be a light bulb moment for students. Some will say, you should add that in!

I return to my draft and add the following section:

“'Let’s do it again!' I would say, mocking annoyance. I wasn’t really upset, just pretending. Days when we had the opportunity to perform twice were my favorite. The second performance was always more advanced and perfected than the first. We would be more in sync, and I had a chance to correct all of the mistakes, remember the steps that I missed."

Independent Practice: Highlight Changes

20 minutes

Now it is the student's turn. They read their stories. The first step is to get them to find differences between inner and outer story in their narratives. I ask them to find pinpoint these differences and then share them at their tables.

Once they have found these differences, they are ready to add a little inner story wherever appropriate. I always ask that they make hard-copy changes. Then they take those changes and make them on their drafts.

From time to time, students will notice that they have too much inner story and not enough action. These students tend to be the more wordy writers, so they'll use this time to cut background information and add action.

Some questions to pose during this writing time:

Where should we hear your characters' thoughts?

What is important for the reader to know about this character's past?

How can we interject character thought without it distracting our reader?

Once they've made changes on the hard copy, the students can go back into their word document and highlight changes in word on their draft. This allows for a clear visual when I am giving process writing grades. I look for a certain percentage of high-lighted work, which signifies the amount of revision students completed.

Share Changes

20 minutes

At the end of the period, I ask students who are willing to come up and share their changes under the document camera. It is very helpful for all kids to see their peers reworking their writing. Some have more practice with this, some have less. The visual element of student revision is crucial. By the end of the block, your paper should look messy! These are works in progress. We're far from finished.

During independent practice, I keep tabs on a few examples that I find to be exemplar, or that I think would benefit the whole class. I ask these students to participate before we break into the share time. That way I know I'll have a few kids on hand ready to share.

I also keep one or two hard copy student exemplars, per writing unit, on hand to share with students who may be struggling.