I’m reading student short stories.
Yes, I am aware that I had two weeks to read these, but I will say that if I don’t assign homework for my little dumplings, then I should get a bit of a pass as well. And here I am, reading narratives that my students have written.
They started with characters that they created. And they had to know a bunch of things about their character before they could start writing. For some this means they jump right into the story with great opening lines –
“After a long day at school, Kitty was immersed in her history homework when her phone buzzed.”
“It was Tuesday, just after dark, and the situation was serious.”
But as often as I get a nice beginning, I get what I describe as the character dump, a la S. E. Hinton in The Outsiders. Along the lines of hello my name is Ponyboy and I have green eyes and sandy hair that is long that I slick back and I have two brothers and our parents are dead and we are called greasers and we don’t get along with the Socs and I wish that I were Paul Newman.
One really great opening was buried behind the character dump:
I spend my life sitting on corners waiting for a drug deal to come my way.
Now, if that was an opening sentence, you – as the reader – wouldn’t know if the narrator was a dealer, a junkie, or a cop. There is so much potential when you have to construct an understanding of the character.
Another typical moment in a student story is the miraculous conversion from bad to good or the suddenly off-the-page-and-out-of-sight climactic confrontation. The writer leads up to these moments, and just as they get to the thing that we (as readers) really want to know about and care about, it’s over in a blink. The characters had a conversation and made up. Suddenly, the main character knew that he had to change his life. I want to hear that stuff! I want to know what the character is feeling and thinking!
My students all knew that this was a first draft. I made sure that they knew it is different than a rough draft. Spelling, punctuation, subject verb agreement, correct word choices – these all had to be in place. In the second draft they will develop their story more, tell us more, show us more, and let us hear their characters speak. It’s not easy to read these, but it is worth the time and effort.
Image by 50 Watts