Warning stories

It was Samuel Johnson who suggested "the same images, with very little variation, have served all the authors who have ever written" - and the "warning story" is one such simple pattern. The tale hinges around a warning being ignored.

The pattern lends itself to warnings about local places that might be dangerous - car dumps, a quarry, a cliff or an old tin mine. You could begin the story with a warning: "Don't fool around by the canal," snapped Mrs Jenkins.

The two main characters set off, deciding to ignore what they have been told. They head for the forbidden setting, but on arrival disaster soon strikes, with one of the characters in trouble. A rescue attempt is called for, followed by an ending in which the original "warning" reappears, "I told you not to..."

The warning itself acts as a trigger which focuses the ensuing action.

Macbeth met witches, Aladdin met a genie - and these events trigger their tales. Another similar strategy is to begin by introducing a key fear that the main character will then meet and eventually overcome: "Billy was afraid of being trapped in the darkness". Again, the opening foreshadows the tale

Pie Corbett is a literacy consultant

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