The Story Lives Behind the Obvious
My day job is pretty awesome. I go to an elementary school and for two hours, four afternoons a week, I help a group of fourth graders (and one seriously funny first grader) become better writers.
On Tuesday, I gave my fourth grade students an assignment: Think about what your life would be like without electricity. Brainstorm, then write three paragraphs.
One of my small groups is just two students. As they were talking out the brainstorming portion of their assignment, they agreed with each other that if there were no such thing as electricity, they’d never be able to go to Mexico.
Now, we live in Northern Nevada. And while I wouldn’t call Mexico a close neighbor, it’s considerably more accessible than say, Iceland or Australia. So I asked, “Why couldn’t you go to Mexico without electricity?”
Because there would be no cars or airplanes.
Which led to a discussion of all the ways it would be possible to get from Northern Nevada to Mexico, sans car or airplane. They would walk. Ride a bike. Get to California and then take a ship. Ride a horse or donkey. Take a cart pulled by a cow. Get a piggy back ride, if they could find someone willing. Hang glide, at least part of the way.
The coolest part was the way these kids lit up. Their ideas got wackier and wackier, but when they finally got their fifteen minutes to write their mechanical pencils were on fire. On fire, I tell you!
For the first time since I started working with them, they wrote and didn’t stop. They didn’t ask me how to spell anything. They didn’t agonize over doing it right. They each wrote three solid paragraphs and then kept going and filled their pages, were surprised when I called time, and had to do rock-paper-scissors over which got to read share first.
This was big fun for me. And it really got me thinking about writing. You have a character or two, and they have a problem. And, sure there are obvious solutions out there: if they want to get to Mexico they can drive or take a plane.
But what kind of fun is that?
Take away the obvious and you get to find out that what lives behind it is the story of the girl who walks from mountain-to-mountain through Nevada and down the length of California, ever Southward, hang gliding from each peak on her way to visit her sick grandmother and eat her famous Tamales just one more time.
And a nine-year-old who didn’t realize she had such a great story inside her.
* * *