Friday, May 4, 2012 / 9:41 am

Young Storytellers: This Magic Moment

The school’s act could be more together, but all that’s forgotten when the kids get cooking.

by Nathan Walpow


If the school I’m a Young Storytellers mentor at wasn’t so darned close, I’d probably have switched to another by now. Every session there’s a few things that demonstrate their lack of commitment to the program. One time the mentors showed up for the first session and found the school had neglected to pick any students. At one Big Show, entire classrooms of students got up and left partway through.

So the problems this time around haven’t exactly been surprising. After a week off for spring break, we returned for our third session. Which was missing the four fifth grade students, who were off on a field trip. Which the school had neglected to mention was going to happen. So several mentors (me included) sat around during one-on-one time, and the energy in the room was way off.

The next week we got going again. The kids learned screenplay format. I think way too much time is spent on this kind of stuff. Do we really need to spend ten minutes explaining parentheticals to the group when it can be done in two when student and mentor pair up? It’s a delicate balance between group and one-on-one activities, and I think a lot more would get done if we shifted to the latter.

That session, Vanessa started her screenplay. It’s about a student whose entry in an art show is stolen the day before. No supernatural or science fiction elements, for a change. We did an outline, then got the first scene and the beginning of the next done. She has so many ideas; as usual, it’s going to be tough to squeeze everything into the five pages allowed.

Oh, and by the way, next week the fifth graders will be on a camping trip.

This time our lead mentors manage to get the school to help us out. The next session is cancelled and replaced with one in a week where we weren’t going to meet because of testing. So we had three weeks left with all hands on deck.

The first was this past Wednesday. After a quick game and some more discussion of parentheticals, we split into duos. And the magic began.

There’s always a moment when the student gets cooking, and this time it was as soon as Vanessa and I sat down at the computer. (From this point on, she dictates and I’m her secretary.) We took a brief look at what we’d written. “And what happens next?” And we’re off to the races. She shoots out lines. I write then down. Pow, pow, pow. Several more scenes got completed.

These kids amaze me. They have an innate sense of story. Only once in a while did I need to give a little nudge. Like, “This might make it too obvious who the culprit is.” Vanessa got it instantly. A couple of words were changed, and the mystery remained.

Right at the end I asked if she’d come up with a title yet. She hadn’t. Then she thought about it a second and came up with a fabulous one.

The school’s shenanigans had made me lose a little enthusiasm for the program. In that moment, it all came back.

Nathan Walpow writes crime fiction and is FourStory's editor. |


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