Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Story for English

"I have to write a short story for English," my son told me. "But I can't think of anything. I don't do stories."

This would not have been a problem for me when I was in high school. I had a notebook full of short stories that no one had asked me to write. I could have taken my pick and turned one in.

It was a problem for me to figure out how to help. How do you get a story out of someone who doesn't like to think them up?

"Lets start with a setting," I said. "Where do you want your story to take place?"

Blank look.

"In a house? On the beach? In a car? On a school bus?"

Slight raise of one eyebrow.

"On the moon? In a banana tree?"

"A banana tree," my son said. "We could have two ants talking to each other."

It wasn't working.

"So maybe you could take a story you already know and change the characters," I suggested. "Like The Three Little Pigs, or Goldilocks."

"Mom, I can't do that!" he said. "I have to make it up myself."

Later, at the dinner table, I noticed how my son kept us all laughing with one clever joke after another. "You should write a funny short story," I told him. "You're good at funny."

"But I don't know what to write about!"

I reached deep in my mind, trying to find the essence of story. Where does a story come from? A story is a person in a place with a problem, right? I decided to try it. "A story needs a main character. Who do you want it to be?"

"I don't know."

"Boy or girl?"


"How old?"

"I don't know!"

"Older, younger, or the same age as you?"


"Good. Now where does he live?"


"City or country?" my husband asked.


"Good," I said. "Now, what does he want?"

"Candy!" my younger son giggled.

"Okay, candy," said my high school student with the writing assignment.

"And what is keeping him from getting what he wants?" I asked.

My son grinned. His eyes gleamed. The gears had begun to turn. "His mom."

In the next few minutes, a hilarious story took shape. My son got up from the table and went to the computer to get it down. And so a story is born.

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