We all love a good story that is intense and gripping... well, at least I do. The thing about many younger writers is, it is common to observe all manner of weird and/or illogical plot devices in their stories. Why is that, and can we turn that around to the writer's advantage?
Across the board for my classes, I've noticed one thing about students who include illogical elements in their stories - they're fond of these elements, or have a stronger familiarity with them. Furthermore, these are typically elements that are more likely to capture an audience's imagination. A lot of times, it's because they're visually more impactful with an accompaniment of effects. Look at a quick dissection of the examples below:
Zombies - undead, rotting humans who want nothing more than to eat the face of their former loved ones
Aliens - vicious, take-no-prisoner creatures with varying degrees of ugliness, although this really depends on whether you're talking about the Scott/Giger- or Spielberg-type
Disasters - buildings crashing with terrific, rippling impacts; tornadoes and tidal waves that dash entire cities
Guns - devices that go BLAM and provide viewers with all sorts of gratifying gore effects
All of them tend towards a hyperbolic nature, easily invoking emotions. A lot of these themes are also present in popular, mainstream culture. Students of weaker writing ability who identify better with these gripping visuals will naturally gravitate towards such ideas.
Writing as if there are zombies in your story
There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to include such elements; it's the actual inclusion that needs to be advised against, especially when writing for academic purposes. This may. however, be difficult to avoid for students with low motivation levels. They may have their minds firmly set on wanting to write stories with high levels of destruction. That's what motivates them.
In such cases, it's important to emphasise that even with story complications or elements that are less destructive, it's possible to infuse them with life and vividness so that they're both a joy to read and write. The process of writing such scenarios doesn't have to be stale. Consider getting the student to apply descriptions related to the five senses, for instance with the sense of sight to describe the chaos of a fire breakout, or to narrate the rapid movements of the crowd pouring forth from a burning shopping mall.
To do so, of course, would also require the student to have a wider vocabulary repertoire, but that's where the guidance should come in. With more words to express oneself, writing also becomes easier, and motivation tends towards the intrinsic. Thus begins a self-actuating spiral that ultimately has the student build independence in writing and creativity in ideas.
In a sense, it's like writing as though there are zombies in your story (because zombies are associated with "death", "destruction" and "excitement"), but without that plot element.