Writing the (Terrible) Narrative

The writing genre that has found its way back into the English Language Arts curriculum is the narrative. Students at every grade level, K-12, need to meet the Common Core Standard that requires them to:

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.(CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3

In other words, students need to write a story.Once upon a time
But writing a story is not easy.
Just check the statements of writers known for great stories.

There are those authors who find writing “painful”:
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” (GEORGE ORWELL)

There are those authors who find writing difficult:
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” (NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE)

And there are those who are glad to finish the ordeal of writing:
“I hate writing, I love having written.” (DOROTHY PARKER)

But the fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss (of the three-volume series The Kingkiller Chronicle) has accurately captured the quality of many of the narratives written in school through his admission of his own first, terrible narrative experience:

I started a novel back in high school. It wasn’t very good. It was the opposite of good. The writing itself wasn’t too bad, and the characters were interesting. But the story was a mess, and it was full of fantasy cliches. Dwarf with an axe. Barbarian warrior. I don’t ever think I’d bother finishing that. It’s just not worth my time.

Teachers will be trying to meet the Common Core Requirement by having students try a narrative, but having a student, even one as talented as Rothfuss, succeed at this narrative genre is another standard entirely.


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