“The Catastrophe” – narrative writing in a Norwegian 10th grade

Submitted by: Ann Sylvi Larsen
Abstract: Keywords: creative writing, narrative knowledge, cultural repertoire
What are the images of catastrophe in fictional narratives written by a group of Norwegian 10th graders and which cultural tools and narrative structures do they use when creating such stories? The paper explores narrative texts from a Norwegian 10th grade class, where the students were asked to imagine a sudden catastrophic event and how the surroundings and the society changed after the event. The study is a part of an ongoing project about narrative knowledge and understanding (see Bruner 1986). The empirical data of the study is 51 narrative texts with the title “The Catastrophe”, written during a two hours workshop conducted by a Norwegian author.
The main theoretical approach is a narrative, hermeneutic perspective, combined with genre analyses and a cultural analytic perspective. The way we interpret reality is culturally contingent and filtered through symbolic forms like myths, religion, narrative form, images etc (e.g. Bruner 1991, Holm 2012). Studies regarding children’s writing clearly show that they draw on a cultural repertoire, but also that they are actively interpreting and making sense of their experiences (e.g. Dyson 2016).
Preliminary results show that terror and ecological crises are motif in several stories, where the most used pictures is an aircraft crashing into a skyscraper, a car driving into a crowd of people or a gigantic wave flowing over the city. In several narratives, we face war or warlike conditions. The students use well known images and narrative structures from news media, TV and movies, and also from dystopian novels. The given assignment stimulated the creativity by giving the students an opportunity to create a fictional world where a worst-case scenario happens. The stories show that the catastrophe narrative’s sudden event is fruitful in the creation of narratives. In a wider sense, the stories give a picture of what anxieties the children have for the future, but also how a wider cultural context affects their understanding. Finally, the results will be discussed in the light of theories of narrative knowledge and understanding, and implications for education.

Bruner, J. (1991). The Narrative Construction of Reality. Critical Inquiry, Vol 18, No 1 pp 1-21. Hentet fra https://www.jstor.org/stable/1343711?seq=pef-reference#references_tab_contents
Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridgre Mass: Harvard University Press.
Dyson, A. (2016). Children’s Writing. The Sage Encyclopedia of Contemporary ECE Sage: Los Angeles, CA, USA.

Holm, I.W. (2012). The cultural Analysis of Disaster. In C. Meiner, K. Veel (Eds.), The cultural life of catastrophes and crises (pp 15-32). Walter de Gruyter (Consepts for the Stydy of Culture, Vol. 3).