How To Build a Better Story Without Writing It

PictureRecently I had the opportunity to be a special guest as part of the Picture Books and All That Jazz Workshop (PB & J) at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center. You can see I was jazzed about being part of this workshop. And a Highlights experience has been on my bucket list for years, so…CHECK!

Now, I’ve attended literally hundreds of workshops, webinars, seminars, sessions, intensives and breakouts over the years and frankly, I’m usually not surprised these days by “how to write a story” material. However, during the Highlights workshop, co-instructor, Darcy Pattison, offered an approach that I found both helpful and unique.  I’m going to give you the cliff notes version here. (If you want the longer, better version, you’ll need to attend PB & J next year!) 

Darcy is the author of many award-winning fiction and nonfiction children’s books and writing instruction books so she understands story making. She lead us through an exercise in which we we TALKED TO a partner about our work in progress picture book story. We took turns telling our story quickly, then in more depth, and finally in enough depth that we had to really think about details and layers.

All of this happened without one letter of the story being written (or typed).  Because we weren’t committed to something on paper or screen, we could morph it based on reactions from our partners and our own reaction when hearing it.

When it came time to write, we began with a story that had been tested and thought through.

Guess what? The benefit of the oral storytelling approach surprised me! It shifted my view and my future approach to works-in-progress. Darcy mentioned she uses this exercise with students in workshops, too, and they also make great strides.

​Innovative first grade teacher, Mrs. Sarchet in BC, Canada, takes the idea one step further and provides ‘loose parts’ for her students to build their stories before “capturing” them on paper or screen. Check out her blogs for more info.


“Telling a story from summer memories” Mrs. Sarchet

I’m hoping Darcy will add this element to her next workshop!

So if you are looking for a way to build your next story, find a partner, or a pet or even a microphone, and tell it before you write it.

Tell me how it goes!