One of the world’s leading authorities on literacy, Margaret Meek, wrote that “dealing with illiteracy in adults was difficult because they didn’t understand how ‘story’ worked.” Story is key to literacy, Meeks says, because it is key to our understanding of how the world works.
Not only is it the best tool in the writer’s armoury, it is the vehicle through which remote experiences of the world can be accessed. And, because a child’s education is all experience, having an intimate knowledge of what story is and being equipped with the tools required for its craft is surely a goal worthy of the most dogged pursuit.
Story’s ubiquity today occupies many forms. While perhaps still most dominant as the novel, it is also the basis of fictional and true-life accounts in stage and radio drama, comics, motion picture, television , short story, live storytelling and much technology based multi-media and, increasingly, computer gaming.
Yet in the practice of teaching creative writing, the nature of ‘story’ as a unit of creative output, the theories of its formation and the foundations upon which decisions about design and structural elements can be made, is not taught.
Australian author, Anthony Eaton, says, “… we apply to the process of teaching creative writing not the tools of creativity, but of analysis.” Traditional curriculum and teaching methodologies miss the mark in the teaching of creative writing because they attempt to draw from the analytical practice of studies in literature rather than on the spectrum of creative acts required for story writing.
To assume that students should learn creative writing practices for creating stories from reading and analysis is a seriously flawed approach. Apart from the risk of encouraging poor practices, it ignores two significant realities.
First, that story is the access point by which all students come to reading and writing. Beginning long before they can write, children articulate adventure and fantasy through play and storytelling involving toys, objects, picture books and adults.
Second, that writing stories is a highly disciplined creative act underpinned by its own body of theory and formal praxis.
When we understand these two principles, we understand both the power of story and the great benefit that a pedagogical structure such as the Born Storytellers program, designed to educate the complete writer, offers in the struggle for improved literacy.
The Born Storytellers program applies both creative and critical theories that underpin storycraft. Students learn theories of the design, formation and structural synergy of story and the practical techniques of their application. The experience unlocks a combination of creativity, discipline and confidence, resulting in them achieving authorial status, enjoying intimate contact with readers and taking a stance as a credible fictional voice within the child-reader’s literary spectrum — a space hitherto reserved for adults.