Manual Introductory Guide to High School Short Story Writing: Family Narrative

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To understand further why you need to think beyond the five-paragraph essay, imagine you have been asked to submit a six-page paper approximately 1, words. You already know that each paragraph should be roughly 75 to words long. If you divide the required word count by five paragraphs 1, by 5 , you end with words per paragraph, way above the number you should have in a paragraph. If your paragraphs are too long, they likely have too many ideas and your reader may become confused.

Your paragraphs should be two-third of a page at most, and never longer than a page. As you will see in Section 4. For the rest of this chapter, the term paragraph will also imply section. The introduction should state the topic of your paper: your thesis statement as well as brief signposts of what information the rest of the paper will include. That is, you only want to mention the content of the body paragraphs; you do not want to go in to a lot of detail and repeat what will be in the rest of the essay.


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The first body section or paragraph should focus on one of your main points and provide evidence to support that point. There should be two to three supporting points: reasons, facts, statistics, quotations, examples, or a mix of these. Both the second and third body sections should follow the same pattern. Providing three body sections with one point each that supports the thesis should provide the reader with enough detail to be convinced of your argument or fully understand the concept you are explaining.

However, remember that some sections will require more explanation, and you may need to separate this information into multiple paragraphs. You can order your sections in the most logical way to explain your ideas. For example, if you are describing a process, you may use chronological order to show the definite time order in which the steps need to happen. You will learn about the different ways to organize your body paragraphs in the next chapter.

The concluding paragraph , or conclusion, can be a little tricky to compose because you need to make sure you give a concise summary of the body paragraphs, but you must be careful not to simply repeat what you have already written. Do not include any new points in your concluding paragraph. Later in this chapter, you will work on determining and adapting to your audience when writing, but with an expository essay, since you are defining or informing your audience on a certain topic, you need to evaluate how much your audience knows about that topic aside from having general common knowledge.

You want to make sure you are giving thorough, comprehensive, and clear explanations on the topic. For example, even though some of your instructors may teach criminology, they may have specialized in different areas from the one about which you are writing; they most likely have a strong understanding of the concepts but may not recall all the small details on the topic. If your instructor specialized in crime mapping and data analysis for example, he or she may not have a strong recollection of specific criminological theories related to other areas of study.

Providing enough background information without being too detailed is a fine balance, but you always want to ensure you have no gaps in the information, so your reader will not have to guess your intention. Again, we will practise this more in Section 4. In the next eight sections 4. These are:. As you read about these modes, keep in mind that the rhetorical mode a writer chooses depends on his or her purpose for writing.

Sometimes writers incorporate a variety of modes in any one essay. In this chapter, we also emphasize the rhetorical modes as a set of tools that will allow you greater flexibility and effectiveness in communicating with your audience and expressing your ideas. In a few weeks, you will need to submit your first essay—an expository sample—and you will be given the choice of topic: one from each of the modes.

Think about which types of expository essays are easier and which are more challenging for you. As mentioned, as you progress through your studies, you will be exposed to each of these types. You may want to explore a mode you find more challenging than the others in order to ensure you have a full grasp on developing each type. However, it is up to you. As you work through the sections, think about possible topics you may like to cover in your expository essay and start brainstorming as you work through the self-practice exercises.


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  4. After we explore each of the individual modes in the eight sections that follow, we will look at outlining and drafting; it is at this point you will want to fine tune and narrow the topic you will write about, so you can focus on that when doing the exercises. A narrative can be factual or fictional. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories; novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.

    Because the line between fact and fiction can often blur, it is helpful to understand what your purpose is from the beginning. Or does your interest lie in reshaping the world in your own image—either how you would like to see it or how you imagine it could be? Your answers will go a long way in shaping the stories you tell. Ultimately, whether the story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way.

    You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through humour, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be. On a sheet of paper, start brainstorming ideas for writing a narrative. First, decide whether you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then, freewrite for five minutes. Be sure to use all five minutes and keep writing the entire time. Do not stop and think about what to write.

    Take your free writing and start crafting it chronologically into a rough plot summary. Collaboration : P lease share with a classmate and compare your rough plot summar ies. What feedback or other ideas can you suggest to your partner? Stories typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and these events are typically organized by time. Using transitional words and phrases help to keep the reader oriented in the sequencing of a story. Table 4. The events as they unfold in sequence.

    The people who inhabit the story and move it forward. Typically, there are minor characters and main characters. The minor characters generally play supporting roles to the main character, or the protagonist. The primary problem or obstacle that unfolds in the plot that the protagonist must solve or overcome by the end of the narrative. The way in which the protagonist resolves the conflict of the plot results in the theme of the narrative. The ultimate message the narrative is trying to express; it can be either explicit or implicit. When interviewing candidates for jobs, employers often ask about conflicts or problems a potential employee has had to overcome.

    They are asking for a compelling personal narrative. To prepare for this question in a job interview, write out a scenario using the narrative mode. This will allow you to troubleshoot rough spots as well as better understand your own personal history. It will make both your story your presentation of it better.

    What Is an Expository Essay?

    When writing a narrative essay, start by asking yourself if you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then freewrite about topics that are of general interest to you. Once you have a general idea of what you will be writing about, sketch out the major events of the story that will compose your plot. Typically, these events will be revealed chronologically and climax at a central conflict that must be resolved by the end of the story.

    The use of strong details is crucial as you describe the events and characters in your narrative. You want the reader to emotionally engage with the world that you create in writing.

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    To create strong details, keep the human senses in mind. You want your reader to be immersed in the world that you create, so focus on details related to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as you describe people, places, and events in your narrative. As always, it is important to start with a strong introduction to hook your reader into wanting to read more. Try opening the essay with an interesting event that helps to get the story going.

    Finally, your conclusion should help resolve the central conflict of the story and impress upon your reader the ultimate theme of the piece. To illustrate means to show or demonstrate something clearly. A writer can use different types of evidence to support his or her thesis. Using scientific studies, experts in a particular field, statistics, historical events, current events, analogies, and personal anecdotes are all ways in which a writer can illustrate a thesis.

    The stronger your evidence is, the more clearly the reader will consider your point. Using evidence effectively can be challenging, though. The evidence you choose will usually depend on your subject and who your reader is your audience. When writing an illustration essay, keep in mind the following:. Use evidence that is appropriate to your topic as well as to your audience. Assess how much evidence you need to adequately explain your point depending on the complexity of the subject and the knowledge your audience has of the subject. For example, if you were writing about a new kind of communication software and your audience was a group of English major undergrads, you might want to use an analogy or a personal story to illustrate how the software worked.

    You might also choose to add a few more pieces of evidence to make sure the audience understands your point. However, if you were writing about the same subject and your audience was information technology IT specialists, you would likely use more technical evidence because they would be familiar with the subject. Keeping in mind your subject in relation to your audience will increase your chances of effectively illustrating your point.

    When in doubt, add an extra example to illustrate your idea. The controlling idea, or thesis, belongs at the beginning of the essay. You can start supporting your main point with your strongest evidence first, or you can start with evidence of lesser importance and have the essay build to increasingly stronger evidence. Do not rely on just one. Variety in choice of words and phrasing is critical when trying to keep readers engaged in your writing and your ideas. In the workplace, it is often helpful to keep the phrases of illustration in mind and incorporate them whenever you can.

    Whether you are writing directives that colleagues will have to follow or requesting a new product or service from another company, making a conscious effort to incorporate a phrase of illustration will force you to provide examples of what you mean. First, choose a topic you are interested in.

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    Then create an interesting introduction to engage the reader. The main point, or thesis, should be stated at the end of the introduction. Gather evidence that is appropriate to both your subject and your audience. You can order the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important. Be sure to fully explain all your examples using strong, clear supporting details.

    On a sheet of paper, form a rough thesis based on one of the following topics. Then support that thesis with three pieces of evidence. Make sure to use a different phrase of illustration to introduce each piece of evidence you choose. Discuss which topic you like the best or would like to learn more about. Indicate which thesis statement you perceive as the most effective. Writers use description in writing to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. This requires a concerted effort by the writer to describe his or her world through sensory details.

    Your descriptions should try to focus on the five senses because everyone relies on these senses to experience the world. The use of sensory details, then, provides you the greatest possibility of relating to your audience and thus engaging them in your writing, making descriptive writing important not only during your education but also during everyday situations. Avoid empty descriptors if possible. Empty descriptors are adjectives that can mean different things to different people. The use of such words in descriptions can lead to misreads and confusion.

    Whether you are presenting a new product or service to a client, training new employees, or brainstorming ideas with colleagues, the use of clear, evocative detail is crucial. Make an effort to use details that express your thoughts in a way that will register with others. Sharp, concise details are always impressive. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and point of the essay.

    Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on. Or you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations. Maybe start with the floor and move up toward the ceiling. Choosing a subject is the first step in writing a description essay.

    Once you have chosen the person, place, or object you want to describe, your challenge is to write an effective thesis statement to guide your essay. The remainder of your essay describes your subject in a way that best expresses your thesis. Remember, you should have a strong sense of how you will organize your essay.

    Choose a strategy and stick to it. Every part of your essay should use vivid sensory details. See Appendix : Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample description essay. On a sheet of paper, choose an item below, then decide on an organizing strategy e. C reate a rough outline of possible supporting points. Describe it, but preserve the mystery. We classify things in our daily lives all the time, often without thinking about it.

    Cell phones, for example, have now become part of a broad category. They can be classified as feature phones, media phones, and smartphones. Smaller categories, and the way in which these categories are created, help us make sense of the world. Keep both of these elements in mind when writing a classification essay. Choose topics that you know well when writing classification essays. The more you know about a topic, the more you can break it into smaller, more interesting parts. Adding interest and insight will enhance your classification essays.

    The classification essay opens with an introductory paragraph that introduces the broader topic. The thesis should then explain how that topic is divided into subgroups and why. Take the following introductory paragraph, for example:. When people think of British Columbia, they often think of only Vancouver. However, British Columbia is actually a diverse province with a full range of activities to do, sights to see, and cultures to explore.

    The underlined thesis in this example explains not only the category and subcategories but also the rationale for breaking it into those categories. In this classification essay, the writer hopes to show readers a different way of considering the province. Each body paragraph of a classification essay is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subcategories. In the previous example, then, each of the seven regions of British Columbia would have its own paragraph.

    The conclusion should bring all the categories and subcategories together again to show the reader the big picture. In the previous example, the conclusion might explain how the various sights and activities of each region of British Columbia add to its diversity and complexity. To avoid settling for an overly simplistic classification, make sure you break down any given topic at least three different ways.

    Choose one of the classifications and write a brief paragraph explaining why you chose to organize each main category in the way that you did. Start with an engaging opening that will adequately introduce the general topic that you will be dividing into smaller subcategories. Your thesis should come near the end of your introduction. It should include the topic, your subtopics, and the reason you are choosing to break down the topic in the way that you are. Use the following classification thesis equation:. The organizing strategy of a classification essay is dictated by the initial topic and the subsequent subtopics.

    Each body paragraph is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subtopics. In a way, coming up with a strong topic pays double rewards in a classification essay. Not only do you have a good topic, but you also have a solid organizational structure within which to write. Be sure you use strong details and explanations for each subcategory paragraph that help explain and support your thesis.

    Also, be sure to give examples to illustrate your points. Finally, write a conclusion that links all the subgroups together again. The conclusion should successfully wrap up your essay by connecting it to your topic initially discussed in the introduction. In either case, the formula for a process analysis essay is the same.

    The process is articulated into clear, definitive steps. Almost everything we do involves following a step-by-step process. From riding a bike as children to learning various jobs as adults, we initially need instructions to effectively execute the task. Likewise, we have likely had to instruct others, so we know how important good directions are—and how frustrating it is when they are poorly put together.

    The next time you have to explain a process to someone at work, be mindful of how clearly you articulate each step. Strong communication skills are critical for workplace satisfaction and advancement. Effective process analysis plays a critical role in developing that skill set. The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the goal of the process. The organization of a process analysis essay is typically chronological. That is, the steps of the process are conveyed in the order in which they usually occur.

    Body paragraphs will be constructed based on these steps. If a particular step is complicated and needs a lot of explaining, then it will likely take up a paragraph on its own. But if a series of simple steps is easier to understand, then the steps can be grouped into a single paragraph. Always have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. When a writer becomes very close to a subject, it is difficult to determine how clearly an idea is coming across. Having a friend or co-worker read it over will help identify any confusing spots.

    On a separate sheet of paper, make a bulleted list of all the steps that you feel would be required to clearly illustrate one of the following processes: Tying a shoelace Parallel parking Planning a successful first date Being an effective communicator S tart creating a rough outline of the possible information to include in each of your steps. C onsider that you will cons truct paragraphs based on the complexity of each step. For complicated steps, dedicate an entire paragraph. If less complicated steps fall in succession, group them into a single paragraph.

    Choose a topic that is interesting, is relatively complex, and can be explained in a series of steps. As with other rhetorical writing modes, you should choose something you know well so that you can more easily describe the finer details about each step in the process. Your thesis statement should come at the end of your introduction, and it should state the final outcome of the process you are describing.

    Body paragraphs are composed of the steps in the process. Each step should be expressed using strong details and clear examples. Use time transitional phrases to help organize steps in the process and to orient readers. The conclusion should thoroughly describe the result of the process described in the body paragraphs.

    The purpose of a definition essay may seem self-explanatory: to simply define something. But defining terms in writing is often more complicated than just consulting a dictionary. In fact, the way we define terms can have far-reaching consequences for individuals as well as groups. The way in which one defines alcoholism depends on its legal, moral, and medical contexts. Lawyers may define alcoholism in terms of laws governing drinking alcohol; parents may define alcoholism in terms of morality; and doctors may define alcoholism in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria.

    Think also of terms that people tend to debate in our broader culture. Defining terms within a relationship, or any other context, can at first be difficult, but once a definition is established between two people or in a group of people, it is easier to have productive dialogues. Definitions, then, establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse, which is why they are so important. When writing definition essays, avoid terms that are too simple, that lack complexity. Definitions of concepts, rather than objects, are often fluid and contentious, making for a more effective definition essay.

    Definitions play a critical role in all workplace environments. Take the term sexual harassment , for example. Sexual harassment is broadly defined on the federal level, but individual companies may have additional criteria that define it further for a particular work setting. Knowing how your workplace defines and treats all sexual harassment allegations is important. The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state as your thesis your definition of the term. The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition.

    Instead, consider the context in which you are using the word. Often words take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the ideal leader in a battlefield setting could likely be very different than a leader in an elementary school setting. If context is missing from the essay, the essay may be too short or the main points could be confusing or misunderstood. For example, if you were defining a good leader in an elementary classroom setting, you might define the person according to personality traits: patience, consistency, and flexibility.

    Each attribute would be explained in its own paragraph. For definition essays, try to think of concepts that you have a personal stake in. You are more likely to write a more engaging definition essay if you are writing about an idea that has personal value and importance. It is a good idea to occasionally assess your role in the workplace.

    You can do this through the process of definition. Identify your role at work by defining not only the routine tasks but also those grey areas where your responsibilities might overlap with those of others. On a sheet of paper, write about a time in your own life in which the definition of a word, or the lack of a definition, caused an argument. Your term could be something as simple as the category of an all — star in sports or how to define a good movie.

    Or it could be something with higher stakes and wider impact, such as a political argument. Explain how the conversation began, how the argument hinged on the definition of the word, and how the incident was finally resolved. Choose a topic that will be complex enough to be discussed at length. Choosing a word or phrase of personal relevance often leads to a more interesting and engaging essay. After you have chosen your word or phrase, start your essay with an introduction that establishes the relevance of the term in the chosen specific context.

    Your thesis comes at the end of the introduction, and it should clearly state your definition of the term in the specific context. Establishing a functional context from the beginning will orient readers and minimize misunderstandings. The body paragraphs should each be dedicated to explaining a different facet of your definition. Make sure to use clear examples and strong details to illustrate your points.

    Your concluding paragraph should pull together all the different elements of your definition to ultimately reinforce your thesis. The key to a good compare and contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities.

    For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences: Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two different types of apples as in the example above because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare apples and oranges.

    The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be. Comparing and contrasting is also an evaluative tool. In order to make accurate evaluations about a given topic, you must first know the critical points of similarity and difference. Comparing and contrasting is a primary tool for many workplace assessments. You have likely compared and contrasted yourself to other colleagues. Employee advancements, pay raises, hiring, and firing are typically conducted using comparison and contrast.

    Comparison and contrast could be used to evaluate companies, departments, or individuals. Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples. Romantic comedies Internet search engines Cell phones Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison.

    Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities. Department stores and discount retail stores Fast-food chains and fine-dining restaurants Dogs and cats. The compare and contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects being compared, contrasted, or both, and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward either comparing or contrasting, or balance both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader.

    Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting. Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted organic versus conventionally grown vegetables , and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader. You may organize compare and contrast essays in one of the following two ways:. According to the subjects themselves, discussing one then the other. According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point. The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

    Given that compare and contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. First choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare and contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both, as well as state what can be learned from doing so.

    The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Be sure to use comparison and contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.

    After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and reinforces your thesis. Many business presentations are conducted using comparison and contrast. The organizing strategies—by subject or individual points—could also be used for organizing a presentation. Keep this in mind as a way of organizing your content the next time you or a colleague has to present something at work. We want to know how much money we will save over the long term if we buy a hybrid car. These examples identify only a few of the relationships we think about in our lives, but each shows the importance of understanding cause and effect.

    A cause is something that produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often determining the exact relationship between the two is very difficult. For example, the following effects of a cold may be easily identifiable: a sore throat, runny nose, and a cough. But determining the cause of the sickness can be far more difficult. A number of causes are possible, and to complicate matters, these possible causes could have combined to cause the sickness. That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect.

    Therefore, cause and effect discussions are often complicated and frequently lead to debates and arguments. Use the complex nature of cause and effect to your advantage. Often it is not necessary, or even possible, to find the exact cause of an event or to name the exact effect.

    So, when formulating a thesis, you can claim one of a number of causes or effects to be the primary, or main, cause or effect. As soon as you claim that one cause or one effect is more crucial than the others, you have developed a thesis. The cause and effect essay opens with a general introduction to the topic, which then leads to a thesis that states the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.

    The cause and effect essay can be organized in one of the following two primary ways:. Start with the cause and then talk about the effects. Start with the effect and then talk about the causes. For example, if your essay is on childhood obesity, you could start by talking about the effect of childhood obesity and then discuss the cause, or you could start the same essay by talking about the cause of childhood obesity and then move to the effect.

    Regardless of which structure you choose, be sure to explain each element of the essay completely. Explaining complex relationships requires the full use of evidence, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and anecdotes. When teaching "all adverbs must die", I concentrate on the importance of giving the power to the verb. Once pupils realise the potential in this, they quickly kill adverbs and load the power of the action onto the verb.

    Not the most original method I'll wager, but this is tried and tested. Pupils divide a page in their jotter and give each quarter the headings likes, dislikes, motivations and flaws. What makes these complex and rich characters? What makes them get out of bed every morning? What stops them from achieving their ultimate goals in life? How would they react in various situations? Once pupils have thought about these characters, I ask them to complete the page in their jotter with as many pieces of detail as they can for their own character. They swap with a partner and, using another person's character notes, write a monologue beginning with the line, "I lay away, unable to sleep, and all because…" What is this new character excited about, or scared of?

    What have they done or what will they have to do? This exercise is always busy, exciting and produces promising and complex pieces of writing. There's something a bit weird about the idea of being a writer; it's a vague, wishy-washy concept for students. They don't yet understand the hours of admin, self-promotion, editing, graft, grief and rejection that writers go through.

    Many pupls seem to think writers have great lives, are fabulously wealthy and sit around all day making up stories, all of which go on to be published without much bother at all. So I always like to find video clips of writers talking about writing, sharing the pain they've gone through, their thought processes and daily routines. If you can find video clips of a writer whose work you're using as a model or studying in class, then this can really help pupils to engage with their work.

    YouTube is full of interviews with writers, recordings of book festival appearances and spoken-word performances. Being a Scottish teacher working in Scotland, I use of a suite of videos filmed and hosted by Education Scotland , which features a number of writers discussing their inspirations and motivations, how to create characters, how to write in genre and how to redraft.

    The videos are all around five minutes long which makes them excellent starter activities; you can find them here. This can be modelled in class by the teacher projecting their work onto the whiteboard. Most pupils assume that once they've chosen a narrative perspective and tense, their narrative voice will take care of itself. But with a little coaching and training, maybe we can hone their skills and abilities that much more. Narrative distance is the proximity of a reader's experience to the character's thoughts.

    How close will we get? A close-up narrative would allow us to share the character's complete thought process, hear their heartbeat, feel their discomfort. A mid-distance narrative would give us key insights into pertinent thoughts the character has, but not bother us with every detail; we would see the character going into a coffee shop and have to surmise their mood and personality by observing how they react and interact.

    This is more of a film director's vantage point. And for a long-distance narrative, we only see the character from a distance — in the midst of other people, operating in a vast and complex society. We would come to understand them from the way they move through the world and the opinions that other characters have of them. It's a bird's eye view.

    There is a lot in here, and mastering these narrative distances would take considerable effort and time. But if pupils could get to grips with them and become comfortable in zooming in and out on a story, then they will have developed some intricate and powerful writing abilities.