Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity
This is a short story about someone who lights a fire in a fireplace, watches it burn for a while, letting his imagination wander along with the flames, and then, bored, goes away from the fire to do something else. The character finally returns to the fireplace, but only after the fire is out. This story has a beginning (lighting the fire), middle (the fire is burning and the character is dreaming), and end (the character returns to the dead fire).
Project: Describing What You See
Think of things you have watched closely, such as fish in an aquarium, rain falling outside a window, traffic on a street, or clouds in the sky. Decide on something to write about. Then think of a character who, in your story, will see what you saw. Show us what that character sees and how that character responds to what he or she has seen. Remember, this character is not you and may act very differently from the way you act.
Author Campe Goodman’s character in “The Fire” is not given a name and his physical features are not described. But writing fiction is like making magic: because Campe describes the fire so well, and because he shows us how his character does things—how he lights the fire, how he dreams for a while and then gets bored with it all—we get some idea of what this fictional person is like.
Campe gives his story structure (a beginning, a middle, and end) partly by choosing to describe a process (burning paper and wood) that involves dramatic change. You can do the same if you choose to describe something like the sky as it turns dark at night, or a cloud as it forms, turning from wisps to a fantastic shape and then back into wisps.
By Campe Goodman, 12, Norfolk Academy, Norfolk, Virginia
From the September/October 1985 Issue of Stone Soup
The pile of logs and paper lay lifeless in the fireplace. I lit a match and wondered how this could produce my mind’s picture of a roaring, blazing fire. I pulled back the chain curtain and tossed the flickering match in. Soon flames shot up from the paper leaving an inky black trail wherever they wandered. The smaller pieces of wood began to glow, and gradually tongues of fire enveloped them. I could no longer distinguish between paper and wood, for the dancing fire blurred everything. Slowly the flames soared higher and higher as a red veil crept over the logs. Now the fire was a mountain range with jagged red peaks rising and falling. Twisted ghostly shapes could be seen weaving in and out among the flames. Little by little I lost interest in the shapes and walked away.
I returned later to find the fire blackened, trying to find life in the few remaining embers. These gradually faded out, too, leaving me with only memories of the fire.