Stone Soup Writing Activity: Writing a Duet

Activities, Story activity  /   /  By William Rubel, Editor
Stone Soup Magazine
Sept/Oct 2016

Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity

This is a story about an afternoon when two people go to the same place, the woods, and do different things—a girl plays while her father paints. They are together, but they are not working doing or thinking the same things. This is also a story about a place. It is the story of the woods, its history long ago when it was a farm, and its current history when many different types of people come to use it, some for the quiet pleasure of being outdoors, others to cut firewood, others to dump trash.

Project: Two People Who Are Together but Doing Different Things

The father paints and his daughter plays. Write a scene or a complete story in which two people are together but each person is doing or thinking something different. Think of several situations before you start writing. For example, on a car trip one back-seat passenger might be looking out the window watching the scenery and thinking while the other plays with toys. Or two people might be in a room, one watching television while the other writes a story. Both characters are “quiet,” neither is talking, but they are engaged in very different activities and are, for the moment, worlds apart. In opera, there are often duets in which two singers are singing at the same time, but each singing their own thoughts.

When writing about two people who act independently of each other but share the same scene, you might borrow an idea from Vanessa Beach, author of “What Will Happen to These Woods?” From time-to-time Vanessa brings her characters together. The daughter makes contact with her father, either by talking to him or by looking at him and thinking about what he is doing. This occasional contact between the characters gives the story its overall structure and at the same time offers insights into the characters’ personalities. Note, for example, the interchange between the girl and her father over the spider.


What will Happen to these Woods?

By Vanessa E. Beach, 11, Jackson, New Jersey
Illustrated by the author
From the September/October 1985 Issue of Stone Soup


Today I’m going off with my father. His hobby is painting, and sometimes he hops in the car with all his tools and goes off to the middle of nowhere and paints. Today he offered to take me with him.

As we were driving along in the car, on this old dirt road, we suddenly bounced up in the air. “Look!” my father exclaimed. “Somebody has been along here with a bulldozer and ripped all these trees out. Now it really looks horrendous!”

Silently, I agreed. I usually enjoy going off in the woods because everything is serene and beautiful. Now, I thought to myself, nothing will ever be the same in these woods.

The car stopped. I got out and walked along a path. Suddenly a huge, fallen-down tree loomed in front of me. It looked very old, since all the bark had fallen off, and it was very smooth and gray colored. Vines covered the end that was lying on the ground.

“Hey, Stu,” I yelled (Stu is what we all call my father).

“What?”

“Are these leaves poison ivy?”

“No.”

“Good!” I said and climbed onto the tree. I walked all the way up to the top. On the way I noticed a pile of sawdust and brushed it away. Sitting on the top where the tree had been broken, I saw that the limbs had been sawed off.

What Will Happen to these Woods climbing on a fallen tree

“Somebody’s been getting a lot of firewood,” my father observed, coming over to the tree.

“Yep! Somebody built a fireplace, too,” I said, pointing to a circle of cinder blocks, with ashes in the middle.

“Uh huh. Did you know there used to be a farm here?”

“No.”

“Well, there was. Kept horses, too. And that tree you’re sitting on was brought here by someone. It’s a sycamore, and they aren’t native to the woods around here.”

“I nodded and he walked off with his sketching board under his arm.

“What are you painting?” I shouted after him.

“Grapevines.”

He must be working on leaf patterns again, I thought.

I slipped down off the sycamore and onto the ground beside the fireplace. I followed two tire tracks. A car or truck had been here recently, and the tires had pressed down the tall grass blades.

I passed a place where, inside a grove of young trees, there was a heap of junk. I stopped and looked at it. It was ugly; old tin cans rusted, parts of a mattress scattered around, worn tires, old scraps of things people hadn’t wanted. Someone had actually come all the way out here to dump their trash? Actually going out of their way to ruin a once beautiful and clean spot? I walked on.

Field daisies bloomed all around me, and bright yellow dandelions too. The fresh spring grasses parted before my feet. Soon the fire tracks ended, and a narrow path took their place. I passed my father, sitting in front of a mass of vines yelling at a bee who was distracting him.

I looked around me again. The field daisies had disappeared, and tiny white flowers bloomed in their stead. Darker shades of grass rose up to my knees and swished as I walked. I began to run.

The path divided, but I stayed on the one I’d been traveling on. Tall green milkweed plants stood there like soldiers guarding a queen’s courtyard. Leafy little bushes grew like dwarves in a helter-skelter manner.

I stopped running. The path went on into a cluster of trees. Beyond them it seemed like there was a clearing, and I could see the tops of higher trees farther away. I wanted to go on but didn’t. Something held me back, or maybe I was afraid of what I might find ahead.

I stood there for a minute, then turned and ran back along the trail. I was nearly to my father, and I slowed to a walk. He might not like to be disturbed while he’s painting, I thought.

What Will Happen to these Wood falling on the ground

Next to the trail there was a large place where the young grass was pressed down. Something must have been lying there. I decided to lie down there, too. It was so soft, and it smelled warm and sweet.

I closed my eyes and felt little prickles on my arm. I looked. Miniature, green crickets were hopping all over me. I stared, fascinated. Suddenly a spider skittled across. I squeaked in alarm and jumped to my feet.

“Something bother you?” asked my father.

What Will Happen to these Wood painting

“Yeah! A spider crawled across my arm,” I explained. He went on painting the grapevines.

I went back to the sycamore and lay on the warm, smooth trunk. I felt the sun beating down on me and saw the cloudless, clear blue sky above me. The hum of bugs surrounded me. A horse neighed twice, far away. I could hear cars zooming by the highway. An airplane passed, high in the air. I thought to myself, all these things are signs of civilization around me. The trash is part of civilization, too.

Wherever people go, they always seem to leave refuse behind them. If this is true, what will happen to these woods? To any place which hasn’t already been spoiled?

William Rubel, Editor
About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea. Along with co-editor Gerry Mandel, I have continued to edit and publish Stone Soup for all these years. I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a 130,000-word bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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