I love reading, especially when it comes to 19th century and early-to-mid 20th century literature. This really got me into trying my hand at writing. However, in the capacity of an educator, I needed to recognise that not everyone shared the same reading passion; ergo, not everyone had a natural inclination towards writing. I also found that teaching writing techniques to students was one thing, but to get them to actually apply those techniques seamlessly was another issue altogether. The scaffolding process needed to be more substantial.
One of the most commonly taught frameworks in school is this concept called the ‘Story Mountain’, which is likely derived from Shakespeare’s Five-Act Structure. The problem with this framework is that it’s too simple for students at advanced writing stages, and too abstract for those struggling with the fundamentals. It’s not a bad concept, but its application needs to be explicitly taught.
Let’s take a closer look at it, see what we can do to make it a more handy tool for our students.
What The Story Mountain Is
The Story Mountain is broken up into five parts: the Beginning, Conflict, Climax, Deflation and Resolution.
The Beginning is where the writer might introduce elements like important characters, locales and tone.
The Conflict brings in a foreshadowing of things to come.
The Climax is where the proverbial poo hits the fan.
The Deflation is the cleaning up process, where the tension begins to fall.
The Resolution is the happily ever after.
The Issue With The Story Mountain
Isn’t it a simple enough concept to grasp? And yet, some students struggle even after learning it. The reason, I realised, after having taught this to students of different ages, is that it’s application to writing needs to be taught in a specific way.
See, learning the Story Mountain leads to other questions like “How do I write the Beginning/Conflict/Climax/Deflation/Resolution?” and “What makes the Conflict different from the Climax?” The educator must know how to explicitly distinguish each part from the others, and channel each part to a tangible part of writing.
Applying The Story Mountain At A Fundamental Level
The ‘fix’ for this? Simply assign each part of the Story Mountain to ONE SINGLE PARAGRAPH. This is a solution for weaker writers; stronger writers who can write with more fluidity will usually stretch each part across multiple paragraphs.
I’m not going to deny that this ‘fix’ sounds like a statement of the obvious. However, it’s something we as educators tend to overlook in the process of scaffolding. In scaffolding, we have to get down to the basics with the student, but oftentimes we do not break down concepts sufficiently, which causes frustration for both the student and ourselves.
What positive outcomes can we expect from applying the Story Mountain this way? Chief among them is that the task becomes very guided, like a crutch for the writer. From here, we can identify more weaknesses, such as whether they are having problems at the sentence level, or if they are spending too much time and energy in trying to words from their vocabulary.
In addition and concurrently, we can easily teach other more basic components of writing, like sentence syntheses and vocabulary. This strengthens the students’ foundations while allowing them to see tangible progress, which in turn builds their confidence and motivation.
In many of my previous posts that are related to the education aspect, I talk about different tools and approaches that educators can use with the kids. Here, we focus more on how one such technique can be applied. I hope it’s a useful read to language educators out there. In a future post, I will discuss what paragraphs can entail, and how we can use this knowledge to establish another guided approach for weaker writers (which can work in conjunction with the Story Mountain).
If you’re not an educator, I hope this post also provides some insight, especially if you’re a Game Master. The Story Mountain/Five-Act Structure has really helped me to craft better adventures. More on this another time. Till then, happy 2017. May your adventures be fruitful, and your dice rolls awesome!