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 CRITICAL CREATIVE WRITING SKILLS : PSLE



CHAPTER 4



WRITING A RECOUNT


What are the types of stories you should write?

It is useful to learn to write different types of stories. In this lesson, we shall start with learning how to write a recount. This is a very popular type of examination question.


RECOUNTS


What is a recount?

In a recount, you take the reader on a journey through a series of events. The stories usually revolve around everyday situations. You can also write about a horrific act of terrorism such as the September 11 bombing of the World Trade Centre in America.


HOW TO WRITE A RECOUNT?


Beginning


The beginning of a recount is usually called the orientation. This simply means that you need to introduce what the story is all about. Tell the reader what happened, when it happened and where it happened. You may also add who were involved and how it all started.


Middle


In this section, you tell the reader what happened. This is known as the record of events. The story should be told in the chronological order, that means in the order that it actually happened. The actions, reactions and emotions of the people involved in the story must be included to arrest the interest of the reader.


Ending


At this stage, you are supposed to round off the story by linking it back to the starting point.


A MODEL OF A RECOUNT : A FIRESTORM


Beginning
- orientation (what, who, where, when)

Fire and smoke poured from Mai Tai's hut in a tiny village in Chiangmai, Thailand. His neighbours' mud huts were not spared either. They were devoured by the fire in seconds and exploded into the air like an atomic-bomb blast. The tragedy, which took the lives of fourteen villagers struck on the eve of the Thai New Year in September 1999.


Middle
- record of events

Mai Tai, his parents and their neighbours stood transfixed to the ground as they watched the fire feeding on their wooden furniture, pillows, blankets, stoves and cooking utensils. Uncovering his eyes and shaking his fists, Mai Tai screamed, "Stop it, you blasted fire! Stop burning my things!"

The fire was dancing along the riverbank, crackling like bullets and rattling like machine guns. Mai Tai's head jerked in sudden horror as he caught sight of flames racing along the top of the trees swaying in the wind towards him. His aged parents were weeping inconsolably at the far end corner of the village, helpless and hopeless.

Then he heard a growing roar. It grew louder and it began to fill the sky. The noise was louder than that made by a jet plane. It was the sound made by the wind and fire. It was fire mixed with a tornado - a firestorm! Two doors away from Mai Tai's hut, a flimsily built cow shed suddenly blew apart and scattered in the air.

Mai Tai fell forward into the sand covering his face with his hands and crying out to the gods for mercy. The air was burning and the sky was ablaze. He forced himself to look through the slits between his fingers. The whole village was a great molten sea of fire. There was a rolling ocean of fire with red curling waves breaking over the huts.


Ending


Mai Tai found it hard to breathe. He wanted to touch the river. The heat was burning his skin and burning his lungs. He tried to run against the wind. The wind knocked him cold.


ASSIGNMENT 4


Write a recount of your own using the structure given above and notes given below. You are free to add more ideas of your own. Please write in complete sentences and suitable paragraphs. Do spell correctly and observe proper grammar rules.


A TRAGIC NIGHT



Notes

Beginning - orientation (2 paragraphs)
  • night of traditional Chinese New Year Reunion dinner at Marine Parade
  • half of the 9,000 residents became homeless that night - 14 February 2000
  • fire started at 8pm - just when most of the Chinese families had settled down to enjoy a sumptuous meal
  • broke out at the new condominium construction site, next to the Marine Parade Community Club

Middle - record of events (3 paragraphs)

  • heavy winds blew and fanned the flames into a raging fire that lasted for four hours
  • residents had time only to grab a few valuable belongings before the fire turned into an inferno that sent them screaming and scuttling for safety
  • 200 firemen with more than 20 hoses battled to bring the fire under control
  • fire fighters fought relentlessly
  • fire seemed to grow in intensity
  • explosion sent roofing of bungalows flying into the air
  • sparks caused a fire to rage on the rooftop of a nearby block of flats
  • hundreds of curious onlookers mingled with the homeless victims to watch from as near as they all could get
  • hysterical residents who had lost their homes had to be rushed to the nearby Changi Hospital for observation

Ending (2 paragraphs)

  • at 12 midnight, the fire fighters succeeded in bringing the rampaging flames under control
  • no one was injured as the Civil Defence officers managed to effect an efficient evacuation before the fire devoured 444 houses and fourteen block of flats
  • 4,444 victims from 1,500 families were left homeless by the fire
  • many of them spent the horrific night at their relatives' homes or temporary shelters set up at the Bedok Army barracks


 THE ESSENTIAL EXAM-ORIENTED ENGLISH EXAM GUIDE: VOL. 2


CHAPTER 4


SECTION 1: CREATIVE WRITING


WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DEVELOP A STRONG STORY CLIMAX?

Evoke emotions


Have you been to a rock, pop or classical concert? If you have, you would understand how your heart starts to pound when Madonna, Mozart or Michael Jackson brings the audience to the brink of delirium (sheer madness and happiness) with their climactic performances. After that, the audience applaud madly with wolf-whistles and stamping of feet. This is the sensation you want to evoke in your examiner. Well, it is probably too far-fetched to expect the examiner to be so easily moved by your writing. However, you can always work towards that goal.


Greatest moment of suspense

The strong story climax is the greatest moment of suspense as the whole story moves towards it, in the same way that a piece of musical composition reaches its crescendo at the end. Like a good joke with a punch line, the whole point of a good story is its ending. Think of the movie 'Titanic' once again. Wasn't the ending where the subsequent make-belief wedding of Jack and Rose an absolute strong climax? The audience were cheered by this climax after seeing Jack drowned in the icy Atlantic waters.


Make an impact in the end

As you plan your writing, you must decide on how to make an impact in the end. The advantage of planning your ending first is you know how to use the 3-Step Suspense Technique to work towards your story climax. Imagine that you are an architect; you need to have an overall idea of the building that you plan to erect. You must have a mental picture of what it is going to look like, even before you consider the nitty-gritty of how to build it. In the same way, this is how you can plan your story. Work backwards. Have a theme first and then decide whether you want your story to have a tragic, comic or even romantic ending.


HOW TO DEVELOP A STRONG STORY CLIMAX?

THE FIVE FAVOURITE TECHNIQUES

1.
Give the characters in your story some minor problems to face as your story unfolds. This builds up suspense.

2.
Either solve some problems for your characters along the way or pile up more problems for them to create even greater tension.

3.
Throw in the Key Problem in the middle of your story. Remember not to solve the problem immediately. Sustain the reader's interest by elaborating on the problem and give ample description of the pain and sufferings felt by your characters.

4.
The solution to the Key Problem faced by your characters is the Strong Climax of your story. Will Jack and Rose survive when the ship capsized? How will their love be sealed? The Strong Climax shows that Jack was drowned but Rose survived to tell their love story.

5.
There are many ways to solve the Key Problem you have created for your characters. You may choose to let Jack and Rose both die in the icy waters. You may allow them to be rescued or you may choose to drown Rose and let Jack survive. You are the director. You call the shots


WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF A STRONG STORY CLIMAX?

1.

Let the Characters face real danger

 
Let your characters face real danger in the end. Make your reader worry for them. Will the detective be able to track down the fugitive? Is the fugitive guilty or innocent? Will the horse trainer be able to tame the horse, which had gone berserk since it met with an accident? Will its owner, a little girl who had lost a leg during that riding accident be able to enjoy riding her horse again?

2. Let your Climax be believable
 
The climax must be believable. Many students think that because it is fiction writing, they can make the characters perform superhuman feats. Do not make a little girl kill a cobra with a water pistol in your story.

3. Resolve the Key Problem in your Climax
 
The climax resolves the Key Problem. If you are writing about a boy who stammers and faces difficulties in relating to his friends, then you must tell the reader what happens to him in the end? Did he see a speech therapist to stop the stammer? Did he gain many friends in the end? You can give him a sad ending or a happy ending. The ending must focus on the boy. Do not be sidetracked and talk about his pet dog that killed his neighbour's cat in the end. Focus on the problem faced by the main character. Do not introduce a new character at the end. Solve the Key Problem faced by the main character.

4. Add a twist in your Climax
 
Add a twist to your ending. Many exciting thrillers end with a twist in the climax. Lead the reader to believe that scenario A will take place, but surprise them with scenario Z! Let's think of the familiar story of 'The Three Little Pigs'. Instead of the wolf leaving the three little pigs alone, end the story with the three little pigs trapping the wolf, skinning it to make them fur coats for winter and barbecuing the wolf for a summer's night party at the beach!! See, it can have a hilarious twist at the end.

5. Maintain a Consistent Tone
 
Maintain a consistent tone in your writing. If you have chosen a serious story, then you should not add a comic climax. For instance if you are writing a story about how a family pulls together after the death of their father, do not describe their father's nasty habit of picking his nose when he was alive. Do not write about his best friend bringing in a large specimen of a nose at the funeral service to honour the memory of their deceased father. It spoils the tone of your writing and is annoying to the examiner. It is definitely a twist but a trivial one and will not score you points.

6. End with a doubt in the Reader's mind
 

A clever way to end a thriller or a murder case is to convict the suspect, then introduce a new piece of evidence and allow the reader to be the jury and the judge on the protagonist's supposed guilt. This technique is not simple to apply, make sure that the doubt you raise in your reader does not annoy but intrigue him. For example, in the story of the 'The Three Little Pigs', you may question the action of killing the big bad wolf as being acceptable and may choose to ask the reader whether the pigs should be hanged for murder.



ASSIGNMENT 1 : TOYING WITH CROCODILES

Write an essay of about 400 - 500 words using the notes below. The Key Problem has been decided for you. Now, you have to develop your own climax and conclusion. Refer to the notes above to give the examiner a satisfying or intriguing ending.


Notes

Protagonists (Main characters)

  • Lim family keeps a crocodile farm at Yio Chu Kang village
  • has been a family business for the last twenty years
  • Meng Jin's father keep the crocodiles mainly to sell their valuable skin
  • occasionally uses the crocodiles as a tourist attraction to add to their family income
Suspense Step 1
  • as you walk towards the farm, a strong pungent odour assails your senses
  • fifty crocodiles live in five adjoining ponds
  • fed dead chickens, ducks and even rats caught by the family dog Rolf
  • each crocodile measures two-metre long and weighs about 100 kilograms
  • love basking in the sun with their bodies half buried in the mud and half out of the water to await unwary victims
  • several stray cats have fallen victims to the voracious crocodiles
Suspense Step 2
  • Mr Lim's biggest problem is keeping the curious school children off his farm every weekend
  • they have been found feeding the crocodiles dead lizards and fried chicken wings as they enjoy seeing the crocodiles swish their powerful tails as they fight over the scraps of food thrown into the pond
  • one night, Mr Lim was devastated to find his pet dog Rolf yelping for dear life as it was caught in the jaws of a big ugly crocodile
  • apparently one of the neighbourhood boys had played a trick by hurling the little jack russell into the pond, completely oblivious to the fate of the poor dog
Suspense Step 3 / Climax and Conclusion

You are on your own now. Continue the story. Develop Suspense Step 3 - focus on Mr Lim, Meng Jin, the naughty boys and the man-eating crocodiles. The Key Problem faced by Mr Lim is trying to keep the boys out of his farm. His pet dog has been killed. What happens next? You decide. Remember you can add a twist and end with a happy or tragic ending.


SECTION 2: A BOOK REVIEW


WHAT IS A BOOK REVIEW?


What does it mean to review a book? It means that you have to decide whether to recommend the readers to read the book because of certain reasons. You could also dissuade readers from reading that book because of its poor writing. On the other hand, you could state your opinions and invite the reader to read and make his own judgement about that book.


HOW DO YOU WRITE A BOOK REVIEW?


THE NINE NOT-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN POINTS

  1. Title
    It is vital that you state clearly the title of the book that you are reviewing. Do not assume that just because it is a very popular book, everyone ought to know what book you are reviewing.

  2. Author
    It is necessary to state who the author is. If possible, give some information on the background of the writer. This may include his nationality, education background, titles of other books that he has written or any other piece of relevant information. For example, if you are reviewing the book 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' you have to give more information about the famous writer J K Rowling and say how popular her other Harry Potter titles are.

  3. Plot
    You must describe clearly what the story is all about. You do not have to provide a summary of the whole book. Just explain concisely the plot of the story. In this paragraph, you have to give your opinion of whether the plot is believable, arresting, or simply boring. You also have to give reasons to support your stand.

  4. Characters/Main subject matter
    If it is a book about people, then you should say whether the characters are well created, believable and fascinating. If it is a book about animals or other aspects of nature, then you have to say whether the author has given superficial information or vital information about the subject concerned.

  5. Story Climax
    Does the book have a tantalising climax or does it taste flat like flour? Describe the section that deals with the climax and say why it is good or bad.

  6. Language used
    Is the book readable? Does the writer use simple modern language or archaic obscure language? Is the writer simplistic, poetic or simply divine in his descriptions of the characters, scenes and mood in the story? Do they appeal to your sense of touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight? Do the descriptions create vivid pictures in your mind?

  7. Best Part
    Which part of the story is most exciting? Is it due to the writing style or the content of that chapter or the resolution of the crisis? You have to support your stand.

  8. Worst Part
    Which part of the story is most boring? Has the writer given too much historical or technical information for you to digest? You have to give valid reasons.

  9. Overall rating
    On the whole, how would you rate the book? Would you recommend the readers to rush to the nearest bookshop to buy a copy? Or would you rather they read their favourite Enid Blyton or Roal Dahl books at home?

A MODEL OF A BOOK REVIEW


Shanghai Baby

I have recently read the book entitled 'Shanghai Baby' written by a young Chinese graduate named Wei Hui. It is a story of love, sex and self-discovery. What made me read the book was the fact that it was banned in China. I was also keen to learn more about the mindset of the youths in modern Shanghai.

The author is the daughter of an army officer. She studied literature at the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai. She has been criticised by the Chinese press as being decadent, debauched, as well as a slave of foreign culture. The book was banned in April 2000 and 40,000 copies were publicly burned.

The book is a semi-autobiographical account of her spiritual and sexual awakening. The story is based on her personal experience. The characters are fictitious but the experiences are genuine. The protagonists are Coco and her spiritless boy friend Tian Tian.

The theme focuses on how Coco tries to establish her personal identity after moving out of her parent's house. She starts living with her newfound love Tian Tian. She is a struggling writer and he comes from a sad family background. His father is mysteriously murdered and his mother abandons him to run a restaurant with her lover in Spain. Tian Tian is entrusted to the care of his paternal grandmother.

The story highlights the intensity as well as the insanity of the love between the couple. It is not a healthy relationship that would be encouraged by parents. Nonetheless it is supposed to portray the pain and angst of finding oneself both spiritually and sexually. Coco is deeply in love with the pathetic, spineless Tian Tian. At the same time she is sexually attracted to a married expatriate working in Shanghai. The plot is believable as Shanghai is swarming with middle-aged expatriates who might not be able to resist the charm of a young attractive woman like Coco.

The triangle relationship highlights the paradoxical nature of life. In this story it means that the protagonist Coco hurts the person whom she loves love intensely. On the other hand, the story also highlights the genuine sexual needs of the young and robust youths in modern China. They are eager for sexual experiences and have abandoned the traditional values of chastity or faithfulness to one's lover.

Drug addiction is a sub-theme explored in this story. The story ends with the death of Tian Tian and the eventual departure of Coco's temporary foreign lover. She can no longer count on them to find herself or satisfy any of her needs. She is left alone to fend for herself.

Abandonment, regret and reconciliation are also dealt with in this book. The effort of Tian Tian's mother to seek reconciliation is futile. It is too little and too late. Tian Tian has been permanently scared by the abandonment and lack of parental nurture.

The language used is not exactly poetic as it is a translation from the original Chinese version. It is fairly readable. There are no vivid descriptions of Shanghai. The characters are adequately described so that you get to know them and share their inner thoughts. It is a rather brave attempt of the writer to bare her soul to her readers.

Personally I did not enjoy reading the book as I had the books written by George Elliot. However it enlightens me on the struggles and pain that some young people have to wrestle with in modern Shanghai. The theme is probably applicable to Singapore, except that outwardly we are more conservative. However, the book could very well reflect the inner struggles of the youths here.

I would recommend the book to adults and youths aged eighteen and above. It requires some emotional detachment and maturity to understand the viewpoints of the writer and not be tempted to expose oneself to the similar experiences of Coco.



ASSIGNMENT 2


Using the notes presented in this section, write a book review of about 350 words on any one of your favourite books.