Middle school students and teachers often approach fiction writing with skepticism. For many students, reading and writing stories are simply chores: readings seem irrelevant and writing assignments overly prescribed. For too many teachers, creative writing isn’t “real” in the same way that research reports and persuasive essays are. So why bother teaching our students to write short fiction? What can be gained?
When studying this genre in the classroom, students use their creative energy to transform events from their personal lives into a short “realistic” fictional piece: one that is uniquely their own yet worth reading by others. Student writers reflect on characters with whom they can identify and carefully consider how they might react to plausible challenges by asking “what if” – an intense and complex higher-order thinking exercise appropriate for youngsters just beginning to explore their relationships with others and this world. While they are free to imagine a storyline, at the same time students must harness their thinking to stay within the boundaries of “real life” if their stories are to have an internal logic that is compelling to readers. For youngsters, this is a tall order that requires them to contemplate what they know about themselves and others, about human interaction and about life in general. In the end, a work of fiction emerges that is both enlightening and satisfying. It takes writers (and readers) on an unforgettable journey while being based on believable thoughts, emotions and situations.