Deer in the headlights. Owls in shock. Porcelain dolls with those big-lashed eyes. These are just some of the images that could describe my students when they learned our next project was to write a short story.
Whether out of fear or joy, the prospect of telling an original story is a cause for wide eyes. And these are the two categories I tend to see my students fall into when it comes to storytelling – fear or joy. While I could spend many blog posts relishing the students who find joy in storytelling – and I likely will – this piece is an ode to the deer in my classes who feel like they are about to be crushed by a car.
One deer in particular comes to mind; we’ll call her Alice. Alice is a hard-working person who succeeds at just about anything she touches. Give her equations to work? Solved! Give her Latin to translate? Ita! Give her an essay to write? Got it! Ask her to come up with and write her own story? Big eyes and silence.
Needless to say, her parents wanted to be sure I knew Alice was struggling with this assignment.
“She doesn’t think she can do it. She doesn’t know what to say.”
Dutiful as ever, Alice participated in group critiques, took notes, and listened to her classmates develop their stories. Other students came to me with excited brainstorms. Not Alice. She quietly worked away at her project, nervous that it wouldn’t be good enough. I sat with her when I could and tried to help her organize and flesh out her inspirations. When the time came for me to read her rough draft, though, I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
Wow! If the students had given me an anonymous stack of all their stories, I would not have been able to tell you which was hers – except by process of elimination. It was so different from anything I had ever seen come out of her – a story filled with spies and secret missions, humorous tough guys and daring escapes.
It was so exciting! Everyone loved it, and I couldn’t have beamed more with pride.
The best part was seeing her eyes light up with the joy of telling a story to an eager audience.
Her story was truly a pleasure to read, and I was able to see a side to her that she had never shown me. Alice is the kind of person who, if I had never assigned her the project, would probably never have written a story on her own.
The story had nothing overtly to do with her, but the class and I learned something about her through it. And, hopefully, she learned something about herself – she does have stories to tell, and she is more than capable to tell them, if she wants.
More than that, I learned an important lesson: Everyone has a story to tell.
Does everyone have a calling to tell stories? No, that’s different. Is everyone capable of creating a story? Yes, it just might take a helping hand and a little push.
That’s where I come in. I love being the helping hand (and the little push, if needed) to help people realize the stories within them. Sometimes that takes its form in brainstorming about their stories, sometimes in editing, sometimes just in reading and encouraging them.
Where are you in your writing journey? Are you on the path? Are you skiing on the Double Black Diamonds? Are you standing off the path with wide eyes as headlights careen right toward you?
You can do it! And, if you need, I can help you.