My dear lady wife - whose name momentarily escapes me - dedicates her days (and indeed unreasonably large portions of her nights, weekends and holidays) to attempting to teach English to the slack-trousered ragamuffins littering the less salubrious parts of the largest nearby town, in aid of which she frequently slides teaching material in my general direction to check for typos. The other night, the forlorn teaching aid presented for my perusal was a story-planning sheet, an A4 sheet of paper with various boxes, numbered and linked with arrows, to help her pupils gather their addled, scattershot thoughts together in the pursuit of meaningful and engaging narrative.
In an unnecessarily pedestrian manner, the guidance in the boxes was something along these lines:
1) Describe a character or setting
2) Introduce a problem
3) Describe how the problem develops
4) Describe the character's attempts to solve the problem
5) Describe how the problem is solved.
Her pupils still had trouble engaging with this dumbed-down advice, so she had suggested to one less able boy "Imagine that one of your friends tells you about a plan for a terrorist attack on the school", upon which he goggled at her and said "What, Jamil again?"
"The problem is you need to give them a bit more concrete guidance" I opined last night over a modest supper of salmon-en-croute with seasonal vegetables.
"Well, what do you suggest?" she said, inevitably.
I gathered pencil and scrap paper, and within minutes had produced an improved version, the linked boxes of which now read:
1) Describe a character and a setting.
2) Describe how the setting, and indeed the whole of Planet Earth, is imperilled by an imminent invasion from an alien fleet.
3) Describe the character's efforts to resist the alien scourge.
4) Reveal, in a surprise twist, that the character and setting - not to mention the alien fleet - are actually figments in the imagination of a lonely, socially dysfunctional woman named Beryl living in a seedy bed-sit in Kidderminster which she shares with 197 stuffed toy dogs.
5) Describe how he police arrest Beryl and charge her with spreading panic and wasting police time.
6) Narrate Beryl's inner monologue as she sits alone in her police cell, in which she reveals that her toy dog obsession and her inability to form lasting human relationships stem from a traumatic incident in her childhood during which her beloved Labrador puppy Benji - the only thing she ever truly loved - disappeared without trace.
7) Describe how her court appearance is interrupted to everyone's surprise and shock by the appearance of an fleet of Intergalactic Zargon Battle Cruisers, led by a four-legged alien who takes his helmet off to reveal that he is in fact Benji, who was a actually a Zargon Prince genetically modified to look like a Labrador puppy and placed on Earth in Beryl's care by his father, Lurprox, King of the Zargons, so that he would be safe from the rebel Kra'aka'ars. Having grown to manhood (or at least Zargonhood), defeated the Kra'aka'ars and punished them by removing the extraneous vowels from their name, he has now returned to rescue Beryl and make her his queen. She accepts the offer happily and vaporises the judge, yelling "TAKE THAT, WIGGY!" as she does so. And they all live happily ever after.
There was a pause.
Guthlac pronounced the story "Awesome, except for the bit about the woman."
At length, my wife replied "I think I'll stick with the original version, but thanks all the same."