What Is a Story?

Grades 1-6

Every story needs a problem to be solved, just like a puzzle needs pieces to fit together! This is what makes a story different from just telling what happened. See why we added “had a problem with” to the chart?


Sometimes, things just happen one after another, like going to the park, eating lunch, and playing dodgeball. These are called narratives, but not quite stories yet.


A true story has a problem that the main character must fix. Let’s see how an incident and a story are different.

A Narrative

(By Wannabe Silly): 


Now let’s look at what a story is:

Stories are all problems to be overcome.

“How will the hero ever solve that?” Stories get us thinking along with the hero.

Let’s take a peek at a story together. You’ll see our hero has two problems to tackle:

  1. An emotional problem they had before the story began, like maybe being scared of the dark.
  2. A brand new, related problem caused by a troublemaker.

Dr. Yukon Trustus

Yanika Kingman and I were AABFF – African-American Best Friends Forever. We were in the sixth grade, though in separate classrooms.  We talked about anything and everything, but there was one thing we talked about most.

We loved cats.

I would often dream of a cat lying beside my bed.

Except my mother wouldn’t let me have one.

“Please, please, please, please, please,” I would beg.

“No cats, no bats, no rats,” she’d say. “And no tats. Not in my house.”

“Please!” I’d repeat.

“Are your dishes done?”

I’d woefully shake my head.

“There you are, then,” she’d say.

“After I do them, then can we talk about it?”

She would take her Cat Woman pose, which meant, No more arguing. 

Then one day, Yanika asked if I wanted to have a sleepover.

“We’ll watch scary movies and munch popcorn and drink too much soda,” she promised.

It was a Friday, and Mom was going out with Troy, who was trying to become my stepdad. She said okay. Which surprised me.


I arrived to find that Yanika’s mother wasn’t home. “It’s fine,” she assured me. “She always get home by nine.”

Mrs. Kingman was a surgical nurse.  She and Yanika  lived in a rundown house outside of town, just at the edge of Arizona’s high desert. Yanika’s mom had bought it with plans on fixing it up. “But she’s never gotten around to it,” Yanika said.

We settled down for our scary movie filmfest.  Yanika lowered the lights. Halfway through the first movie, a zombie film, my heart was pounding.

“Want to see something really scary?” Yanika asked.

“What,” I asked.

“In the basement.  It’s White Death.”

“White Death?”

“C’mon,” Yanika said, and yanked me to my feet.

Within moments, we were treading down the basement stairs, Yanika behind me, nudging me forward, the steps creaking beneath our footfalls.

The basement was old and messy.  It smelled musty.  There was a workbench, a water heater, and so many spiderwebs that I wondered if they were holding up the house.

As soon as we were at the bottom of the stairs, I turned to tell Yanika I wanted to go back up. The zombie movie was nothing to the fear I felt here in the basement.

Yanika sprinted up the stairs. 

I ran up after her. The doorway framed her silhouette. She shut the door and as I stuck out a hand for the light switch, which was hanging by wires, I tripped.  Then—


Electricity jolted me.  I fell backwards down the stairs.

“Hyacinth, are you okay?” Yanika yelled through the door.  She rattled the door – hard. “I can’t get the door open! I think it locked itself!”

I pulled myself to my feet and dusted myself off. I wasn’t hurt – just angry. “Well, get the key!”

“My mom has it. But she’ll be home at nine.”

I pressed the button on my watch.  It lit up.  8:36. 

I sat down on the next to lowest stair.  “Great,” I said. “Just … great.”

Yanika’s mom didn’t get home at nine.

She arrived back after midnight.

There had been an emergency surgery.

I sat for hours. My eyes slowly adjusted. Then light from under the door cast the room in a spooky haze. A circle of light from where a dryer vent used to be looked like a spotlight waiting for an actor on a stage. I huddled there whimpering.

Something scurried below me, in newspapers underneath the stairs.

I looked down. I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.

I screamed and bolted from the stairs. This wasn’t Mickey Mouse. This wasn’t Jerry of Tom and Jerry cartoons. It wasn’t the cute rat who cooked in the Ratatouille cartoon movie. This was a disease-spreading rat that would love to dine on human flesh and human blood.

I desperately felt my way to the workbench and crawled on top.

Something padded from the rafters, above me. Then a scratching, like something in the insulation.

I hit at it with a thin board I found on the workbench.

An animal fell into my lap.

I shrieked and leaped to the floor.

The rat disappeared from the circle of light. A hissing came from there, and a scuffling. Something screamed.

An animal appeared in the circle of light.

I climbed back onto the workbench. The cat jumped up and nuzzled me, wanting to be petted.

While I waited for Mrs. Kingman to arrive home were some of the happiest hours in my life. I now knew who White Death was. She didn’t attack humans. She brought death to the rats who sneaked in.

“White Death,” I whispered as I stroked her fine, soft fur. “W. D.” I thought for a long time. “Wild and Delightful,” I told her. She purred.

After Mrs. Kingman got back and found the basement key, I emerged blinking into the first floor’s harsh light, White Death in my arms.

Mrs. Kingman phoned my mom, who rushed over.  Mrs. Kingman apologized many times. She grounded Yanika for a month.

“Can I keep the cat?” I asked my mom. “Can I keep White Death?” I held her up for my mom to pet. My mom backed away. “She helped me not be afraid of the dark. And she killed a rat.”

“Get that filthy animal away from me,” she said. She glared at Mrs. Kingman. “This will be the last time my daughter will be doing a sleepover here. Your daughter scared Hyacinth half to death!”

I did not want to talk to Yanika about White Death. I did not want to talk to her about anything. In fact, I didn’t talk to Yanika for a month.

“Want to be friends again?” she asked me one day after school.

I didn’t say anything.

“I have a gift for you, if that will make things better,” she said. “Come over this afternoon, and I’ll give it to you.”

“No way,” I said. “You’ll lock me in the basement again.”

“I’ll bring it to your house,” she said.

She and her mother arrived at supper time.

 “We’re moving away,” Mrs. Kingman said.

I realized I might never see Yanika again. Before her horrible prank, we had shared many good times together.

I stepped forward.

Yanika and I hugged.

“BAAAFF!” we said at the same time and burst into laughter.

Yanika went out to their car and returned with White Death in her arms.

My heart leaped.

“Can I hold her?” I asked.

Yanika gave her to me. I held her against my cheek.

“Can I keep her, Mom?” I begged.

“Absolutely not,” Mom said.

She put her fingers in her ears when I pleaded.

Yanika and Mrs. Kingman took White Death back home. I waited a couple of days and then asked Mom again. More than asked. I promised to do my homework every night, promised to change White Death’s litter box, promised not to forget to do the dishes ever again. Whatever I needed to get Mom to let me have the cat.

“I’ll never have to tell you about the dishes again?” Mom asked.

“If I forget, I’ll give White Death away,” I said. I told myself I would not break my promise.

“Okay,” Mom said. “You can have the cat. But on one condition. You rename her. W.D. won’t stand for ‘White Death.’ It will stand for ‘Wash Dishes.’”

Mom and I hugged. My heart beat so rapidly it was if it were thumping against my chest.

Mom drove me to Yanika’s house. I ran to the door and picked up Wash Dishes. It was raining. I kept one hand on the umbrella handle and the other beneath W.D. within my jacket.

Yanika and I were in tears as we said goodbye. She moved to Mississippi. I never saw her again.

About six months later, I awakened to something moving under the bed.

The furnace grumbled.

Wind and rain slashed against the window.

I wanted to call out to Mom, but I didn’t want to wake her.

I was supposed to be old enough not to worry about monsters under my bed.

I looked outside. All the street lights were dark. I tried the light switch.  No power. The storm had knocked out the electricity. The only power was a long ways away.

I reached for W.D. to comfort me.

She was gone!

Meowing came from under the bed.

I found a flashlight and, trembling, looked down there.

There was a large hole. A light glowed from the bottom. The light revealed a ladder.

I’d better tell Mom! But she would just say it was a nightmare.  And maybe it was.

Then a meow echoed up the hole, and I saw a familiar shape in the light down below.

Wash Dishes!

I carefully climbed down the ladder. I found myself in a cave.

I was shaking all over. I didn’t want to go further.

But then W.D.’s meowing sounded from deeper in the cave.

I journeyed onward.

I turned a corner, There on a ledge was Wash Dishes, previously known as White Death, staring at me.

I’m glad you could make it down here, she said.

“You’re speaking inside my head!” I exclaimed.

Of course, she said. That’s how I got your mother to change her mind.

“You did that?” I asked.

I hypnotized her, Wash Dishes said. It took a few days for the hypnosis to take effect.

“I don’t believe you,” I said. “A cat can’t do that.”

Who do you think locked the door after Yanika shut it?

“You?” I asked. “But why?”

I wanted some time with you. So you would want to take me home. I knew the Kingmans would be moving. I needed new people to feed me. And I would pretend to love them.

 “Now see here!” I said.

You humans are so stupid, the cat said.  You think you own us cats. But we own you. We train you to feed us, pet us, and play with us. Even take out our precious poop. She batted her eyes and recited a poem she’d made up.

She turned and padded away.

Then she turned back. She was in the shadows. I couldn’t see her face. 

Who do you think gives you the idea to do those things? she asked. We’ve been

controlling you humans for thousands of years. Ever since our spaceship crash-landed on Earth.

“You’re an alien?”

In answer, she stepped out where I could see her.


Task 2.2.1 – Individual

  1. Did you like the second story more than the first? Why or why not?
  2. What was the main character’s inner problem?
    (Hint: What was Hyacinth’s problem before the sleepover?)
  3. What was the main character’s outer problem?
    (Hint: what was Hyacinth’s problem after the sleepover?)