Students then see in an orderly fashion the parts of the whole. This can be done in analyzing a story or in the beginning of writing one’s own.
Another useful tool is “Clustering”. An oval shape is used to begin the forming of the important elements of a story. This, too, could be used after reading a mystery or before writing.
(figure available in print form)
In planning the story, the sequential details should be set down. Know your ending and how you will arrive there. The story nucleus comes from the “title”, then branches out into various parts.
In characterizations, students should be shown the importance of making them seem real. To a beginning writer, the use of characterization can be very frustrating. Reading mystery stories with identifiable characters such as the Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald may be helpful. The younger brother J.D. tells the stories about his older brother Tom who he feels has an astounding brain and is a boy genius.
Children may ask “What can I write about?” Some ways to spur ideas are:
1) Writing a title from which they create the story;
2) Naming a character e.g. “Lonesome Sue”. Have them write various scrapes the character gets into;
3) Use a “setting”, e.g. a ball-park, a haunted house, etc.;
4) A gimmick like a picture;
5) A T.V. story or series;
6) A newspaper clipping;
7) A tragic happening—let them recreate the details.
Linking reading and writing is one very important way of creating a student’s “critical eye”. By first reading “good” writing, a student becomes more able to recreate “good” writing of his own. In creating the “design” of a mystery story with your pupils, you also introduce them to another facet of reading—reading for enjoyment. As Richard S. Prather
so aptly points out in his introduction to
An Eye For Justice
“Enjoy. That’s the key word here” . . . Another reason for my pro-P.I. and pro-P.I. writer bias: These stories have
This is an essential part of the mystery story to children—a hero. Someone fighting against the odds and coming out victorious. This hero appeals to their growing sense of individuality, a detective who triumphs in the end by using many of the skills they are just learning to use, the art of detecting and deducing a solution from the clues.
Howard Haycraft in his books
The Boys’ Book of Great
, explains that he compiled these stories to give younger readers their own book of established classics of mysteries. In his second volume, which carries on with modern writers of a span of 25 years,—years which he calls the richest periods of detective fiction, and one he calls the “new style”—where detectives are “more natural, more plausible, and more closely related to real life”, he concentrates on stories that are “bona fide” detective stories. Each story has a central character who is an outstanding fictional sleuth.
He attributes the trend toward a “naturalistic” detective to Edmund Clerihow Bentley and his novel,
. Haycraft adds that this novel has been credited with changing the whole course of the detective story. His hero, the engaging amateur detective—who is an artist and journalist by profession—Philip Trent, is one with whom many young readers could relate.
Children identify with children they read about. This idea is stated well by Wallace Hildick in his book,
Children and Fiction
. He contends that the process of identification is basic to the whole writer-story-reader relationship. This is where the aspect of the “power” of a work of fiction is said to “take us out of ourselves”. Good stories do even much more; they widen our experience by cultivating our sympathies, giving them depth, and extending their range. He feels strongly that in helping children to begin writing, a teacher’s aim should be to, in his words, “derive the stimulating and strengthening of the speculative imagination and therefore of the individual’s capacity for human sympathy”.
Virginia Hamilton, an award winning author of children’s books does this well in her stor
The House of
. Her hero, Thomas, is a thirteen year old black boy moving from the South to a town in Ohio, to a house which had ties in the past to the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves. This is a book many black children could relate to and, in reading, discover many historical facts and insights into slavery written in an understanding and enlightening way.
Mystery writing lends itself well to the short story. With its tightly-structured format and basic elements, children can find a secure base for beginning to write in following the rules set up for a well-written mystery story.
Starting with the premise that even a child can be a detective, as shown in the Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, or Hardy Boys stories, a child can then write about such familiar events as a lost notebook, a stolen article, or a missing child.
Linking reading and writing is an important aspect of this unit. Exposing pupils to mystery stories of various themes and locales will give them the background, impetus, and stimulation to begin (and
) writing one of their own. With the writing of a story will come an awareness of the need to use the thinking process skills used in reading and solving the mystery along with the author. Their writing then becomes one method by which these reading skills improve.