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Good to be bad

The writes and wrongs of spinning a good yarn. Author Tommy Donbavand says it's as simple as B-A-D

There is nothing more terrifying than a blank sheet of paper at least, not to a key stage 2 pupil charged with writing a short story. Yet all your young authors need is a simple planning system to banish the panic of plotting.

Starting your story with "One day, there was a...", "Deep in the forest..." or even the ubiquitous, "Once upon a time...", will result in nothing more than chewed pencils as the pupils wonder what to say next. The answer is a plot plan.

Give each pupil an extra sheet of paper on which to plan their story and explain that something "bad" is going to happen. After all, there's nothing more boring than another wonderful day in writing. For the story to be exciting, things have to get bad. Really bad.

To prepare for this event, they should write those three letters B, A and D down the left-hand margin of the paper. Each of these letters will represent a different event in the stories which, when described one after the other, will reveal a strong plot for the characters.

The first letter B stands for bad. Pupils should complete the word in their margin and then, alongside it, make notes on what the bad event in their story is. The bad event must be caused by a baddie. Whether the antagonist is a wicked space monster, strict headteacher or a sudden flood, the baddie kicks off the plot.

The bad event must happen to the hero or affect them in some way. It's amazing how often this simple rule is overlooked, even by professional writers. The baddie can trick, trap, chase, threaten or hurt the hero, or do the same to the hero's family, friends or environment.

Give the hero no choice but to respond to the bad event, with pupils jotting down a few key words or phrases explaining what has happened. They don't have to write it out in full, that comes later when they are composing the story.

It just gets worse for the hero, I'm afraid. After the bad event and the main character's reaction to it, something "awful" happens. Pupils can fill in the rest of the word in the margin next to their letter A.

Somehow, your hero's response to the bad event will backfire. If chased, perhaps they tried to escape and ran into a trap. If their family was threatened, maybe they entrusted their safety to someone sympathetic to the baddie's cause. Whatever happens, things take a turn for the worse and, once again, your hero will be forced to act in order to fix the situation.

Make some notes about the "awful" event. As before, pupils should not feel the need to put everything down, or even write in complete sentences. This is their plot plan so key words are fine for now.

We're really piling it on top of the hero now. While their response to the awful event may have appeared promising, the baddie comes out on top again and there is a "disaster".

Time to complete that word next to the letter D in the margin. The disaster is the worst thing that happens to the hero a real no-hoper of a situation which appears to spell doom for all concerned.

Create a corker of a disaster and your readers will be on the edge of their seats, desperate to learn how things pan out.

Get pupils to make some notes about the disaster. Finally, it's up to them to decide whether their story ends on a happy note (the hero wins), a sad event (the baddie wins) or perhaps even leaves questions unanswered, ready for an action-packed sequel.

Pupils now have a complete plot for their stories. All they have to do is put their characters in the bad, awful and disastrous situations and watch what happens. Terrific tales are guaranteed

Tommy Donbavand is a children's author and playwright. His newest series of novels for seven to 10-year-olds, Scream Street, will be published by Walker Books from October 2008. For more information about his workshops in schools, visit www.tommy

Hot plot tips

Make the story evolve naturally by avoiding coincidences.

Heroes should not act out of character. A brave knight with no experience of magic cannot suddenly cast a spell.

Spread the action scenes out among the quieter moments so your story reads like a rollercoaster ride.

Encourage pupils to always think of something more exciting.

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