Finding Your Way Into Story

This Tuesday I’ll finish Part I of my class Imagine a Children’s Book.  I could not have imagined the creativity and thoughtfulness of the wonderful group with whom I’ve been working.  Each session has been marked with stimulating questions, observant remarks, caring for each other’s work and a bit of laughter.  Their range of voices and characters is intriguing and their writings show humor, wordplay and sensitivity.  Maybe most impressive part of this class has been the way each class member has worked to discover and honor finding the way into story.

During our penultimate session last Tuesday, I witnessed one amazing insight after another. Here some glimpses worth sharing.

One writer who had struggled to find the story of her adventurous bovine heroine, found word play and refrains that made her story sing in a way that astounded all of us, her former frustrations falling away as she found the perfect voice.

The next writer began by claiming she’d have to work harder to find her story. I tried to suggest playing, but it didn’t seem as if she couldn’t hear this directive.  Then she read two lines she’d written and discarded as a story beginning.  We were all delighted.  She’d discarded this form after my declaration that rhyming stories didn’t usually work because they too often sacrifice sound to sense, or sense to sound.  And yet she’d succeeded splendidly–“Don’t listen to your teacher, listen to yourself,” I cautioned her.

A third writer is understanding how interviewing all her characters is revealing deeper truths about the twining of her past and their stories, the characters’ relationships with each other and the way to weave mystery and emotions into her plot.

The fourth writer wowed us with the magic of a principal who faces a slew of problems, the most sudden and shocking occurring when she disappears an entire class!  All of this done with humor and a bad girl who may prove a worthy adversary.

Writer #5 read us a bit of a story that had hatched when he visited California during the terrible wildfires.  His read-aloud sample gave us such range of style and emotions–  a haunting image-filled dream sequence, followed by a very real sensory-strong flashback,and then a brilliant list that described succinctly the traits of his characters.  “Developing a scene helps me write my way in,” he declared. We all agreed.

Writer #6 has realized the complexity of her story.  She is writing of twins with polar opposite ways of seeing the world and, at the same time, establishing a fantastical world that is a significant part of her story.  She unrolled a magnificent plotting device she invented to track different characters, their psychology and more…all coded with colorful sticky notes. I only wish I could have captured a fuller picture.  Below find one view.

Andrea's Story Map-1

View of Story Map with Stickies

And here is a close-up of her ingenious story map:

Close-up of Story Map with Stickies

Close-up of Story Map with Stickies


The seventh writer had also done magnificent story-boarding. And again, I so wish I could have captured the entire story map because she began with one sheet of paper, noting and drawing conflicts, and then added two more.

3 pages of story mapping

One of three pages of story mapping

I especially adored how her mapping represented the setting of her story which has a feeling and tone of the North Carolina Mountains. Without her realizing, ideas resembled a mountain chain!

A mountain range of ideas!

A mountain range of ideas!


So here are two more joys.  First, this Tuesday will be our celebration, a night devoted to hearing some of each story.  And second, I think almost everyone is returning for the second part of class.  I can’t wait!!!


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