One day at dismissal while I was monitoring the hallway, i.e., preventing a stampede, a fifth-grade girl approached me:
Mrs. Haley, I have been working on a story. I was wondering if you could give me some tips?
Of course! Is this an assignment for class?
No, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while…
Even better. Have you written any of this story yet?
Yes, a little, but I’m stuck. C. told me how you helped him last year and he said you‘re the one to ask…
And so it was arranged that the student would come to meet me in the morning, story in hand.
She brought a friend. Another fifth-grade girl.
I began to sense that this was either a business conference or a council of wizards… maybe both.
The student read her story (a fantasy) and explained that she needed help with where to go next.
We discussed the strengths of her introduction and how to create a hook. The friend’s eyes glistened.
I asked several questions about the characters and their problem-solving adventure (i.e., plot). The story-writer answered aloud, expanding her own thinking. When I made a suggestion or two, both girls’ faces took on an otherworldly light.
Most of all, my young apprentices (I really didn’t say ‘my young apprentices’ — I only thought it as I spoke), if you’re going to have magic in this story, you have to stick to the rules you put in place or you’ll lose your readers. Does that make sense?
Oh yes, said the friend, nodding sagely. It still has to be believable.
And off they went, leaving me marveling in their wake about codes and spells and the power of one’s own mind to imagine the unimaginable, of idea-dust drifting through the atmosphere to settle upon whomever it chooses for bringing forth the story that wants to be told.
For, in a time and place when writing workshop is out of vogue and crafting responses to texts is essentially all the writing the present educational Powers That Be can imagine, what could be more magical than a child desiring to write a story for the sheer pleasure of it?
Nothing, I think. Nothing. It’s an ancient alchemy.
Go forth, young crafters.
Your stories await.
So do I.
So do we all.
John Steinbeck on Storytelling. Jill Clardy. CC BY-SA 2.0
Special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge…supporting student writers starts with supporting teacher writers.