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Writing Activity: increasing tension with first person narrative

This story, told from the point of view of the first person, is short but wound tight, like a spring. The story flows from beginning to end, concluding in a climax, Piper has succeeded in doing something that is very difficult - getting the reader of a short story to so identify with the character that we, too, feel the relief of the ending, we, too, feel overwhelmed by what is happening and a sense of exhilaration as we read the last words!

How does Piper do it? She does it by immediately making us feel our own body - "My palms are sweaty. My whole body is tense, waiting. I'm up next." These are the feelings we can all relate to, whether or not we have ever participated in a music competition, and the direct language makes us relate to the feelings immediately.

Piper creates an almost dream-like state in which we are acutely aware of our body but also of external events, like the leaves falling. She creates a psychological place where we hear sounds differently - "My name dives down upon me, echoing as it comes." This is a work of great creative power, on in which the experience of tension and tension released is thoroughly imagined and then translated into powerful word-images and word-feelings.

Project: Write a short short story about a tense moment.

Start your story, as Piper does, when you are already in the midst of the tension. Use the first person, the "I" and the "me" voice, to help your readers identify with the moment. Think of your story as a spring being wound tighter and tighter to finally, suddenly, at the end, in a tremendous release of tension, unwind.

Tension has its physical effects, like sweaty palms and difficult breathing, and it also creates dream-like states where we get focused on certain sights and sounds. Write the first draft of this story in one sitting. After first imagining a super-tense situation, let the feelings pour out, like a flood. Think of this as a story written in one breath.

From Stone Soup, January/February 1994

Will They Like Me?

By Piper Dorrance, age 12, Danville, Pennsylvania

MY PALMS ARE sweaty. My whole body is tense, waiting. I'm up next. At ten years old, my six years of fiddle-training are being put to the test. The Ligonier Highland Games, more specifically, the Fiddle Competition, has begun. Winning last year gives me a speck more confidence, but it also means I have more to lose.

As I wait, the cold morning air blows itself out and the warm air of the afternoon replaces it. It is a sunny autumn day and the brassy- and rusty-colored fallen leaves dance crazily to the music of the fiddler in the soft breeze outside of the sturdy gray pavilion. I look longingly out and wish that I could be out dancing with those leaves instead of sitting still, waiting for the last note of the person ahead of me. That note comes. I get ready, setting my fiddle on my lap.

My name seems to be floating above my head, hover-ing, waiting to strike. My name dives down upon me, echoing as it comes. I take a deep breath and get up. I mechanically walk up the steps to the stage, almost in a trance. I look down. The ground is miles away and the silence, oh the silence! It gives me chills. The judge looks at me and goes back to her work. She finishes. Her papers are put aside and a fresh one passed to her. She looks at me and motions for me to start. I let go a long, deep breath. I walk up to the microphone and adjust it. I open my mouth and somehow my song titles come pouring out. The silence roars over me and tears me apart. I raise my instrument up to my chin and play like I've never played before.

My air is slow and full of love. My march pounds out a booming pace. And last, but not least, my strathspey runs along merrily with a dancing melody. I am done! Never in my life will I forget this moment!

A great clapping soon covers over me. It feels sensa-tional! The judge is clapping and my teacher beside her is doing the same! My parents are clapping! Suddenly, my cousins are there clapping too! People I don't even know are clapping! They liked me! They really liked me!

© 1994 Children's Art Foundation

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