Luc, my eleven-year old, was part of a social studies presentation last night. His brilliant teacher had her kids each pick one of the explorers who they had studied and become that person. Or, to be more precise (and I just love this) become the wax museum figure of that person.
It was awesome.
Luc picked Henry Hudson. (I had no idea that his crew mutinied, finally, and left Hudson, his seventeen-year old son, and a few sick and/or loyal sailors to fend for themselves in a tiny boat never to be seen again. Ack…kind of rough, eh?)
Back to the Wax Museum exhibit. It truly was awesome. Magical, even. The lights were dark, orchestral music floated in the air, and the explorers were frozen in two and three person tableaux around the periphery of the classroom with floor spotlights shining up eerily on their faces. Honestly, I felt like I had walked back in time when I stepped into the space the kids had created. I was in something, not just gazing at it. I was mesmerized. Tavia, my four-year old daughter was mesmerized. Everyone was.
So how did they accomplish that? How did they successfully create a whole and full world that was both strange and encompassing? This is what I am trying to achieve in my stories after all. Of course part of the answer was in the sensory details: the melancholy sound of the violin, the pinpoint of light on a tight, pursed mouth, and the real (uugghh) stuffed beaver hanging from Samuel de Champlain’s clenched hand. But part of it—and this is what took me a while to figure out—is a two-parter. Firstly, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The effect of all of the tableaux woven together with the lights and the music and the props was strong and deep. But the reason it was strong and deep was because, secondly, each part (each kid) fully inhabited his/her explorer. I’m telling you, you could feel the belief and imagination humming through each and every kid—and then out into the room. As we walked through the space we were literally breathing it all in.
This is what we need to generate in our stories. This vibration of belief and imagination. And we do this by fully inhabiting each part of the story. Each character, each object, each bit of landscape. This is sort of obvious, but it is sort of not too. I think most of the time I manage to inhabit a lot of my story, or almost all of my story…but rarely the whole entire thing.
Something to strive for.
Joanne Rocklin does this in One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street. Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee do this in All the World.
What other stories do this?