One of my favorite writing workshops for elementary school–aged kids is to have them create Nature Narratives, or fictional stories starring an animal they choose as the main character.
The first step: Find three facts about their animal that they can use in their story.
Every story has a problem to solve. In the natural world, there are problems of survival: finding food and shelter, dealing with predators, and raising a family. There could also be environmental problems humans have created in their habitat.
What’s the animal’s goal? Several years ago, I wrote a monthly series of nature narrative stories for the National Wildlife Federation’s Your Big Backyard magazine. These stories are now published in ebook form at schoolwide.com. One of them, Up and Away, is about a family of baby spiders that emerge from the egg sac and need to find new homes. Three facts:
- Baby spiders spin threads, which they let out into the wind to carry them to a new place.
- Birds are potential predators.
- Hundreds of baby spiders are holed up together in one egg sac.
What are three problems or obstacles along the way to reaching the main character’s goal? The idea here is that each problem provides dramatic tension in the story and every solution to a problem helped move the plot further along toward reaching the main character’s goal.
Using my Up and Away story as an example:
- The first obstacle is getting out of the egg sac. The solution is that the baby spiders tear open the egg sac together and crawl out.
- Now they are hungry. But their mother has conveniently left a dead fly next to the egg sac for them.
- The third problem is that Wendy Wren is flying near where the baby spiders are. With a little help from Olive Opossum (the main character in the series), who distracts Wendy Wren with conversation, the baby spiders are able to scurry up to the top of a bush and balloon off into the wind.
One last plotting idea that really grabs kids’ attention is the darkest moment! Nature Narratives really lend themselves well to the idea of whether the character will survive to reach its goal. The darkest moment in the story is when the main character has a moment of doubt or fear about whether he or she can overcome the last obstacle. This is a great time to make a list of adjectives with the class that describe this emotional cliffhanger in the story.
The climax of the story is when the main character figures out a way to solve this problem and summons the courage to face this last challenge and reach his goal.
Let your imagination go wild and have fun writing Nature Narratives!
Clare Hodgson Meeker is the author of 11 books for young readers, including the Smithsonian Notable Book Lootas, Little Wave Eater: An Orphaned Sea Otter’s Story. Her new chapter book, Rhino Rescue! And More True Stories of Saving Animals is published by National Geographic KIDS and will be available in bookstores starting this month. She works from home on Mercer Island near Seattle, and teaches writing in schools through Seattle Arts and Lectures.
Author site: www.claremeeker.com