Maddy's Mad Inventions

story by Colin Varney , illustrated by Sarah Davis

Learning Intention:

I am learning about the characteristic narrative structure so that I can experiment with it to make my stories more exciting. 

Success Criteria: 

  • I can understand the narrative structure of the story arc.  
  • I can plan my own story using the traditional story arc.  
  • I can experiment with the order of events in my story arc and assess whether rearranging events creates a more engaging narrative.  

Essential knowledge: 

  • More information about creating or recreating events in the narrative form can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Narrative. 

After reading, discuss narrative structure with the class. Explain that there are lots of different ways to understand and terms to use when talking about narrative structure. Ask them for the simplest way to describe narrative structure (beginning, middle, end) and the version that contains technical English terminology (orientation, complication, resolution).  

Explain that narrative structure can be broken down into more detailed parts. A common format is the story arc (for a detailed diagram see the Cult of Pedagogy’s graphic: Story Arc.) Clarify that narratives do not have to follow this structure, but they often do.  

Plot the events in ‘Maddy’s Mad Inventions’ onto the Cult of Pedagogy Story Arc. Some suggested ideas include:  

  • Exposition: Maddy is a university qualified mad scientist. She lives in the basement of Mr Liang’s building, working on her inventions.  
  • Problem: Maddy would like to rent the attic, not the basement. However, Mr Liang likes the arts, not the sciences, so will not rent the attic to Maddy.  
  • Rising action: Maddy invents a series of appliances to convince Mr Liang to let her rent the attic. However all these inventions have already been invented.  
  • Climax: Mr Liang is so impressed with the winner of the ‘Best New Artistic Thingy’ awards that her asks her to move into his attic. However, she wants a dark, dank basement.  
  • Events after the climax: Mr Liang is then surprised to see that Maddy has won second prize by turning her inventions into art. He offers Maddy the attic and the artist who won first prize the basement.  
  • Resolution: Maddy realises that being a mad artist is as fun as being a mad scientist.  

Hold a class discussion on the opportunities and benefits of experimenting with narrative structure. Draw students’ attention to the line the narrator repeats in the story: ‘No, I’ll tell you later’. Explain that this has been used to create suspense and hold the audience’s interest because information is kept secret. This is an example of an author experimenting with narrative structure.  

Explain that another way to experiment with structure is to start a story with the climax and then go back in time to the exposition and rising action. This style of story telling is non-linear. For example, ‘Maddy’s Mad Inventions’ could start with a description of Mr Liang looking at Maddy’s artwork ‘How Time Flies’, or being rejected when he offers the other artist his attic to rent. This would instantly grab the reader’s attention. They would also have lots of questions (Who created this artwork? Why is Mr Liang so desperate for an artist to rent his attic?) which would make them want to read on.  

Ask students to plan their own narrative using a story arc worksheet. Alternatively, students could plan a narrative by pulling words out of a hat (a character, a place and an object.) After planning their story as a conventional narrative, students should experiment with moving their climax, or a detail of their climax to the front of their story. They should then use the exposition and rising action to backfill information leading up to discussing their climax in more detail.  

Students present both their plans (their conventional story arc and their climax commencing story) to a peer. Their peer should then decide which of the two plans sounds more engaging and explain why. 

Conclude the activity by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of starting a story at the climax, rather than the exposition. Examples of strengths may include the fact that it hooks the reader from the beginning and builds suspense. Examples of weaknesses includes the fact that it might be a confusing way to start the story, or you may give away too much information at the beginning.