It was a lovely late autumn day, and I abandoned all my indoor projects to go sit on the swing under the piñon pine tree on the hill. The kids were swinging from various ropes that hung from the lowest branches of the large, gnarly old tree.
JudyLucy dug a shallow hole for the baby to sit in to keep her from losing balance and falling over in the pine needles.
David was collecting pine sap, a pastime of all the kids. Daddio had showed them how to select perfectly aged sap and chew it into a tart form of chewing gum.
For the past two weeks the three oldest children had been working on stories as Christmas presents for grandparents. It had been their idea and, for the most part, all their own labor. As the questions came up I interjected short lessons about sentence construction, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. But I felt that something was still missing from their writing; it was story development. I had tried to teach this by helping them with their stories but felt I was helping too much, and I wanted them to be compelled by the idea rather than by me. Daddio and I had talked about it, and he had suggested a new approach to getting their attention. I had been waiting to spring it on them.
“I bought David a present today,” I said, “and he loved it.” All of the children stopped talking and playing and turned to look at me. David looked excited and confused.
“What was it?” JudyLucy asked.
“Where did you get it?” David asked. I waited a moment as more questions came and the kids crowded in around me.
“That's the rest of the story,” I said. “Where I got it, when I got it, what it was, how I gave it to him, why he liked it, how he looked when I gave it to him… all of that is story development. The answers to all the questions you might ask about the central plot to any story.
“When you write a story you have to put yourself in the place of your reader and try to ignore all the things that you know about your story. Depend only upon the facts you have written. Then ask the questions your reader will ask—and answer them.”
The kids laughed, finding my teaching method funny. I could see that they had now felt the need… but were still unsure of the answer to the need. So I told my story again.
“I went to the store this morning while you were all still asleep,” I said. “I went to a place I've never gone before… well, not for years: the mall. There was a store that was having a big sale on robots. They had robots that were three feet tall! The store was full of boys and their parents. I decided to buy one for David, and when I carried it to the front to pay for it, three boys followed me, staring at the robot with wishful eyes.
“Who is that for?” the boys asked.
I told them it was for my son. They wanted to know his name. I told them that his name was David and that he had recently fallen out of a tree where he had been building a tree house and that he had broken his leg, so I was buying him a robot to play with while his leg heals. The man at the checkout gave me a small robot for free and said that all the big ones came with a free small one. So I decided to give that one to Seric.
“I brought the robots home and wrapped them up in blue and black paper that had lightening on it. When David woke up, I gave the huge package to him. He tore off the wrapping paper so fast—” David interrupted me saying,
“And his face turned white with amazement and excitement, like this: (shocked face) and he fell backward on his bed and totally forgot his broken leg for a second—” JudyLucy interrupted David saying,
“And Seric opened his present at the same time, and when he saw it he started jumping up and down on the couch shouting at the top of his voice!” (Seric frequently shouts at the top of his voice.)
By now we were all laughing and the kids were adding more and more to the story. When they paused I asked them, “So which story did you like best; ‘I bought a present for David and he liked it,’ or the second one with all the details?”
“The second one!” they all agreed.
“I feel like it must be true,” David said. “It seems real to me. I even feel excited about the robot.”
“Then I want you and JudyLucy to write me a one-page story today that is fully developed. Make me feel like it must be true. When I read your story I want to see and hear what happened in such a way that I feel excited about it.”
The kids set to work immediately. Their enthusiasm was plain, and the result in their writing was immediate and significant. Adobe playhouses, puppies being born, space travel, Christmas day, sibling interactions… all found their way into short stories that captivated us.
A Story about Delaney - by JudyLucy (8 years old)
One day I was outside with my baby sister.
Her eyes were as bright as the sky itself and her pupils where as small as a baby ant.
It looked like she had glitter in her eyes.
The sun was shining on the side of her face.
She was laughing and smiling and chewing on a plastic toy.
I dug a hole and put her into the hole so she would not fall over.
The hole was about 8 inches deep. She loved it so much.
She sucked on braided rope I made while she was in the hole.
I played with our puppy and taught her to sit and shake hands with me.
My baby sister's name is Delaney.
The Best Christmas Present Ever - by David (10 years old)
Once upon a time there was a girl named Rose who loved her big brother and she loved to play LEGOS. She would ask her brother in her sign language to build her a ship made out of legos. She was only 22 months old so she could not build legos yet. He loved her so he made her a plane out of legos.
He had broken his leg 1 month earlier. He did not have any more pain but he could not walk yet. He was in a 25 foot tree and he was 2 feet above it when he fell out. Luckily he grabbed hold of a branch and it slowed the fall; so he lived.
He sat on his bed with his little sister, Rose, and played legos. His sister was a beautiful little girl with a little sprout on her head and the funniest faces you ever saw.
He was so happy to be home instead of in the hospital with a traction splint and having spasms. He loved all his siblings and having his leg working again was like the best Christmas present ever.