Saturday, 16 October 2010

Impressing Examiners in English Examinations: Be Distinctive!

One of my frustrations with the 11+ examinations is that many schools are now setting writing tasks that require you to write the 'next part/next chapter/next page of the story' you've just read for the comprehension. Examiners love setting titles like this because:
* Every girl is writing about the same characters;
* Every girl is writing about the same setting;
* Every girl is writing about the same 'problem';
*...making it easy to compare the different candidates, and decide who is best.

The problem I have with 'continue the passage' questions is that they penalise those of you who are 'imaginative' rather than 'neat and tidy'; I much prefer 'open' title examinations - questions like 'Write a story set in ancient Rome' or 'Write a story entitled 'A Bad Day at School'. If you are given one of these 'open' titles, you'll have the chance to try to be distinctive. This is one of the 'fab four golden rules' for writing a short story in an 11+ examination.

But - I hear you cry - how can you be distinctive if you're given a title like 'A Bad Day at School'? Surely everyone will write much the same story?

You're right. Most girls probably will write about a bully, or a mean teacher, or a pupil falling out with their friends - but you can be distinctive if you 'mash up' genres. To be relevant, you'll need to write about a 'bad day' at a 'school', but there is nothing to stop you making this a school where the teachers and pupils are all animals!

A 'mash up' takes two story genres and combines them in a single story. For example, this story combines a Sherlock Holmes-style detective story with an animal story (Want to sound clever? This type of 'mash up' is known as 'steampunk'):

Learning to 'Mash Up' genres. There is a simple game you can play that will help you to 'mash up' different genres:

Top tip: watch Dr Who! Every week, the show 'mashes up' different genres. In this picture, science-fiction is being combined with a World War II story:

In this example, a zombie horror story has been 'mashed up' with the 1960s:

Or why not combine science-fiction with the medieval period:

This book combines a romance with sea monsters!

Why not try to 'mash up' genres next time you're asked to write a story under examination conditions?

Download a copy of my 'Bald Worm on Writing Distinctive Stories' teacher podcast and revise by listening to it on your iPod:

P.S. Want a copy of the my pictures? Download a copy of 'Writing distinctive stories: 'mash up'' here.

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