An update from our fifty-third Writing Workshop
A summary of the workshop held on Saturday November 13th, plus some of the output published below
In this writing workshop, William asked participants to focus on an origin story of a great character. As William noted in the lecture portion of class, sometimes the origin of a character does not suggest that later on in the story, they will achieve greatness. A character could come from modest beginnings and go on to do amazing things, despite the odds—there are no formulas when it comes to writing a character’s life arc. The class went over some famous archetypal origin stories, including the stories of Moses, Athena and other Greek gods, and Batman.
The challenge: Write an origin story for a person who will later achieve greatness in life.
The participants: Ethan, Madeline, Peri, Liam, Sierra, Tilly, Aditi, Jonathan, Rachael, Elbert, Marissa, Kina, Grace, Kate, Nami, Iago, Samantha
Madeline Kline, 12
Everyone always focuses on the end. Never the beginning. When people talk about my writing, their comments always have something to do with my endings. People love a strong ending. They love a powerful note, a note that resonates with readers. They always forget the beginning. Always.
If life were a story, childhood would be the beginning. The first few notes, the introduction to the song, or the part of a story where the reader goes around getting accustomed to the characters.
If my life were a story, I would have too many characters in my beginning to keep track of. Me, my family, the people in my young writers club, everyone else I’ve ever known. The thing is, life keeps introducing new characters, and forgetting about the old ones. It’s almost as if the writer can’t make up her mind. Should she keep this character throughout the story? Should she add someone else as the best friend? Should she add a redshirt, a character who’s introduced only to dramatically leave the show?
But it doesn’t matter what she does. Because nobody ever pays attention to the beginning. I find examples of that, throughout my life. When I get a bad grade on an eighth grade assignment because I turned it in fifteen minutes late. It’s the end of the world, but it’s not. Because middle school doesn’t matter. Neither did elementary school.
So why does childhood matter? Why do I need to add extravagant language, beautiful imagery, outstanding metaphors, when nobody pays attention, anyway? Does childhood ever start to matter?
The answer is no, I think, as I turn the corner, heading uphill towards my high school. I’m alone outside, with no company but my own mind, and my own footsteps. The sun decided to sleep in today. When I left my house, it was still dark, and chilly. Now, the sun is lazily climbing out of bed, yawning. It radiates enough heat to push my jacket off my shoulders, and I pause to tie the jacket around my waist, now that I no longer need it.
My shadow follows me to school as I head towards the sun, shielding my eyes with my hand. As I turn into the school building, I head to the seat I usually share with my best friend, Zoe. She’s not there.
She isn’t at school at all, I realize, when the teacher takes attendance in our first period class - the only class we share. I pull my phone out under my desk, and send her a quick chat message.
Where are you? Hope you’re doing OK.
There’s no response the entire day. There’s no response the next day either. Or the next. Zoe’s chair becomes a gaping hole, a black hole that sucks my attention in day after day. It seems to be a vacuum, pulling my mind, all of my energy, towards it, so much energy it’s almost trembling, about to collapse.
Over the past week, I’d sent enough panicked texts to overload Zoe’s phone. Not a single one had gotten a response.
So when my phone chimed on Friday, while I was walking, halfway to school, I wasn’t going to be surprised when it wasn’t Zoe. But it was. And it wasn’t.
I’m sorry, Leah. I thought someone would have told you.
Told me what? The three dots dance across the phone screen as I wait, stoppeds in my tracks, the lazy sun reflected into my face.
Zoe overdosed on painkillers last Sunday.
The sun should have dropped out of the sky. But it didn’t. It stood its ground, sleepily warming the Earth. But I was still cold. And my thoughts turned back, back to when I was walking up to school on Monday. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who figured out that beginnings don’t matter. So she ended her beginning, gave up on the story, not even bothering to add a plot, a climax.
And now this is my beginning, too. And no one will pay attention to it, no one will remember it, except me. But unlike Zoe, I will keep writing. I will develop a plot. I will hit my crowning achievement, my climax. And then, only then, will I fall back down with the falling action, until I reach my resolution, my ending. And I already know, I can already tell. My story will be a story that people remember.
The Struggles of the Future
Peri Gordon, 12
It was the year 2486. Sylvia looked up at the curving crescent moon. My mistress will be up there tomorrow, she thought, polishing the silver jetpack until it reflected her pale face, dark circles under her eyes. It was always a comfort for Sylvia to picture her mistress on the moon. Most people go there within their first ten years of living, she thought. Except me.
Sylvia sighed. How many times she had asked to come along on one of her mistress’s trips? She had asked the mistress herself. She had asked Brenda, the scientist who showed her the jetpack. She had asked every adult she came across.
No, no, and no. Always no. There were no open doors or opportunities for Sylvia, only jetpacks to polish without her wearing them and a moon to gaze at without her seeing it up close. The 25th century was a harsh place. Technology had advanced, but the human heart had remained cold and calculating.
Sylvia had a question for her mistress. The power button on the jetpack was coated thickly with dirt, but Sylvia feared that if she tried to clean the button, she might turn the jetpack on by accident. She could already picture it: the jetpack startling her with sudden rumbling, like the feet of a thousand bison; the jetpack zooming into the mistress’s bedroom, out of control; the mistress waking up angrily and firing Sylvia without thinking twice. And the girl would be without a job once more.
But if Sylvia didn’t try to clean the button...she could picture that, too. Her mistress reaching to turn on the jetpack and soiling her finger. Sylvia wondered if that might get her fired, too.
Sylvia had only had this job for a month, and despite her mistress’s attitude, despite the tantalizing technology lying around, it was her favorite yet. She was a mere maid, but she got to come into contact with the most fantastic contraptions.
And she was making money. She could not fathom getting fired. But she couldn’t wake the mistress up to ask what to do, either.
Sylvia sighed. There was so much uncertainty, so much doubt forced upon the lower class. Not knowing what was expected of her was often too much to bear.