An Exercise in Structure – Carolyn Thomas


A fun piece of advice I like to pass on that is not my own, but I’m not sure who the clever person is who thought of it, is as follows:

Put a man up a tree

Throw stones at him

Get him down again

I’ve found this invaluable when looking at structure and it can apply to writing a novel too. However, I have utilised it, to good effect, as an exercise with students starting out on short story writing.

Not only does it give us a clear and simple lesson about the essence of story, it allows the imagination to reign, without getting bound up in the mechanics of structure itself. But it also results in a wonderful demonstration of the fact that every writer brings their own uniqueness to a story. Given the same brief, we end up with entirely different pieces, each with their own ‘writer’s voice’ and usually offering something the next person would not have thought of.

As a tutor, it also gives me an insight into how my students write, for instance, some may choose to follow the brief quite literally whilst others interpret it more loosely and without a tree in sight. Within each of these, there are examples of writers who are prepared to take risks, those who prefer not to and those who pose intriguing questions for the reader.

Carolyn trained and worked as a primary school, then SEN teacher, specialising in dyslexia. She also trained with NAWE as a writer in education to provide writing workshops in schools/colleges and has a diploma in Dramatic Writing from Sussex University. She has worked with New Writing South as a writer in residence in schools and is part of their Creative Learning Team. She is a tutor in Creative Writing for the Open University.

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