Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Story Starters

I have loved writing almost all of my life. As I reflect upon this, I find it somewhat odd because I did not grow up in a household that viewed writing as anything other than a purely functional activity. There were no poets, novelists or essayists in my family. It came to my attention years later that my father kept a diary. While his inclination to record the daily events of his life may seem, on the surface, like a contributing precursor to a love of writing for me, it was strictly a private affair. I never saw my father write and he never spoke of doing so. If I hadn't stumbled across the diaries after his death, I would never have guessed that he had engaged in writing at all.
In fact, I never knew that writing could be enjoyable and emotional until one day, in third grade, when my teacher, Miss Ferguson, placed a series of laminated 8 x 10 photos along the chalk ledge of our classroom.
"These cards are known as story starters", she told us. "I want each of you to choose any card you like and write a story based on what the picture tells you."
I had no idea how best to approach this. I had never written a story in my life. In fact, I cannot remember even having told a story aloud before. But, never-the-less, I did as instructed and choose my story starter card.
The photo on the card showed asked thieves emptying a safe and filling a sack with valuables of one sort or another. There were three thieves. The safe appeared to be located in the study/library of a wealthy person. It was night time. The thieves were shrouded in darkness and shadow. What were they after? Who was being robbed? Was there an alarm? Would they get away?
I can't remember a single word of what I wrote but I can recall the buzz that coursed through my body and my mind as I wrote a story for the first time. I remember having eight pages complete by the time Miss Ferguson asked us to stop and share our work with the class. I remember transporting myself completely into the scene that I was describing. I remember forgetting I was at school and being slightly sweaty and disoriented when I was asked to stop. I remember not wanting to stop. I remember thinking that this was the best feeling I had ever experienced. And, even today, next to falling in love, falling into a story so completely that you lose your sense of orientation with reality is still the best feeling of all.
Thank you, Miss Ferguson, for introducing my to the writer's life.