I spent last week at Fort Mason with my lovely writing, teaching, dog walking partner Ann Jacobus-Kordahl, mentoring twelve gifted writers.
We talked about developing characters—how they need to want something that’s hard to get—a desire with obstacles to struggle against. The twelve listened and thought and started to write.
We talked about struggle and conflict, tension and odds. You could see the ideas taking shape. They asked questions, thought some more and then wrote and wrote.
We talked about showing not telling—how dialogue and using the five senses help us to show. They got it and used it.
In the course of a week of afternoons, they created twelve amazing short stories. Two different and unique stories about lost mothers and daughters needing to find them. A story of self-discovery and traveling the world, port to port. A story of an old man afraid to follow his dream until the right person gives him hope. A story about a courageous thief who nearly gets away with the most valuable painting in the world. A story about a girl helping her family escape from Nazi occupied Norway. Another with an evil Martian despot who goes to war for a donut recipe. Another in a graveyard with the spirit of a dead author with the power to enter books who takes over the minds of three children. A story of a girl determined to help her softball team win the trophy. And another of a girl who must chose between her love of swimming and her politically radical parents. A story about a bullied girl who must summon the courage to fight for her beloved tree. And a story of four friends vacationing in London who band together to solve a murder mystery.
Really, really good stuff. Most of the writers were twelve years old. Two were eleven. One was thirteen. Their stories all had active characters with a strong desire or need, obstacles in their way, tension and conflict, sensual details, dialogue, and even endings that were surprising but inevitable. I'd somehow forgotten how smart kids are. I mean seriously—twelve years is not that long to be on this earth! How did they get so smart and creative and capable in such a short period of time?
We also ate a lot of popcorn. And talked about favorite books and favorite characters. And played some story/word games that made us all laugh so hard, we cried.
The one thing that was really hard for them was sharing their stories. Despite our encouragement, only four of the twelve were willing to read their stories to the group. When we realized that no amount of cajoling would change their minds, we told them we understood—that sharing is hard and makes us all feel vulnerable. We wanted to tell them that it gets easier. But we couldn’t lie.
It doesn’t get easier. That part at least.
But life keeps getting better and better. Spending the week with these young writers made even more so.
Take Good Care,