A Short Story for Pride Week

Instead of my normal blog post, today I have released another one of my short stories: “Kinderszenen.” This is my most recent story, and it’s taken months to fine-tune.

“Kinderszenen” deals with themes of love, loss, and memory while Anna, an old woman, wanders through Costco. You can find it through the Stories tab on my site’s menu, or you can go read it now by clicking here or the first link above.

Or you could wander around like Anna, and perhaps the story will find you.

Tales from a High School Writing Club

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Almost five years ago, I entered ninth grade with the goal of writing a book. With minimal experience, I knew I’d need help. I also knew that my school had a creative writing class and a newspaper club, but both were disbanded or discontinued the same year I arrived. My small, rural school provided no resources for creative writing, so I thought I’d create my own.

The adventure began with a series of daily, voluntary trips to the principal’s office, seeking information on how to start a club. Among the most memorable requirements was a club constitution ratified by at least fifteen students and supported by an English teacher. The constitution read as follows:

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I spent two days with that sheet of paper asking everyone I could find, “Do you like writing? Would you support a creative writing club?” Most of my essay-weary peers said no, but I scrounged together my fifteen signatures as fast as I could. Most signatures belonged to my friends, of course. Finding a teacher supervisor turned out to be easier; most English teachers jumped at the opportunity to support a student literary group.

We met for the first time on a Wednesday in 2013. Amazingly, almost twenty people arrived. One fact immediately struck me as odd, though: I was the only male student in the room. That fact alone never bothered me, but the potential reasons for it did. Did so few male students take an interest in creative writing? Had the culture of our back-country town forced them to suppress their creative pursuits in favor of sports, et cetera? I always considered that possibility. During the four years I spent leading the Bohemia Manor High School Writers Club, only one other male student ever showed up to meetings.

Regardless, the club was undeniably successful, especially in its first year. Once I convinced people to share their works through Google Drive and give meaningful feedback, almost everyone participated. I’ll never forget the first time a new story arrived in my inbox for feedback and editing. I happily accepted the opportunity to help before I realized the… ahem… raunchy nature of the story. But I did my job with giving feedback, and I forced myself as club leader to treat all genres equally.

Meanwhile, I shared out selected chapters from my book as I wrote them. They often surpassed 4000 words, so only a few brave club members gave thorough feedback. At the time, I hadn’t yet joined Wattpad, so the suggestions I received from Writers Club members weighed much more heavily on my writing process. That being said, the feedback from club members usually ranged from polite to painfully terse. I thanked them anyway; I felt lucky just to have support for my writing, and I’m sure they all felt the same.

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Around the time when I started posting on Wattpad, the club’s weekly attendance dwindled. I doubt that Wattpad caused the slow decline of Writers Club, but the events coincided. Fewer and fewer members returned from one week to the next, and by the end of senior year, weekly meetings consisted of me and one or two people typing at adjacent computers in a dark room. The shared Google Drive folders turned into a forgotten collection of memes, gothic poetry, and vulgar comics drawn in MS Paint.

I doubt that Writers Club continued after I graduated, but while it existed, it fulfilled the purposes outlined in its constitution. I am still in contact with many of my Writers Club friends, and some of them have continued writing for fun. I hope that the others have too, or at least I hope they got something positive out of their experiences in my club.

If I’d never made those trips to the principal’s office, if I’d failed to gather fifteen signatures, or if I’d joined Wattpad earlier, none of this would have happened. The story of the Bohemia Manor High School Writers Club proves that through sheer force of will, even a ninth grader can make some difference in the literary community.

Into Battle, Armed with a Rubber Chicken

Before anyone taught me how to outline a story, I believed that the ideal circumstance for writing went something like this:

“I awaken from a dream, alert, lucid, and armed with a brilliant new story idea, having witnessed a complete and coherent narrative in my sleep. I then grab my laptop, hunker down, and tap away for three hours until everything is there, perfectly written and saved to a Google Doc.”

This scenario has only occurred once for me, when I dreamt the near-finished version of my short story “The Painter’s Foe.” The immediate product was something that I hardly felt the need to edit—for better or for worse.

My miraculous experience with that story convinced me that I could wait around and get lucky ideas from time to time, like Fawkes the phoenix dropping Gryffindor’s sword down to me in a hat. When that never happened, I realized that my “ideal circumstance” was so uncommon that it might as well be disregarded as myth. Fleshed-out, complex storylines almost never emerge at random, ready to be typed up and sent off to The New Yorker. The interactions of characters, the motivations of antagonists, and the overall meaning of a story do not arise implicitly during the writing process. A writer who begins drafting a story before planning out these elements runs into battle armed with nothing but a rubber chicken.

What happens when your villain is boring? What drastic changes must be made to accommodate a central conflict that’s too easily resolved? And what do you do when your story starts to speed onward, dragging through side-plots until your original idea is left in a muddy ditch, ten miles back? These are questions asked by authors after their rubber chickens—their rushed-to-draft story ideas—did not hold up in battle.

When going to war with an empty page, arm yourself with a weapon that takes in what makes it stronger. You may not obtain Gryffindor’s sword, but you may forge the next best thing: An outline.

Plan out as much as you can. Build an outline that lets you fill in all the blanks, or even create new ones for you to fill. Consider the details that weren’t included in your recent moment of inspiration: What is your protagonist’s life goal? How did your mentor character become so wise and yet so disgraced? Or, what makes that charming love interest so important, anyway? A thorough outline answers all of these questions and more.

The simplest justification for outlining is that a story’s problems are always easier to fix on a smaller scale. Catch and fix whatever you can before you attempt to pen your first draft, and you’ll save yourself from many headaches later.

Today, I believe that the ideal circumstance for writing a story goes something like this:

“I take a moment of inspiration from my life, and I place an unwritten protagonist there as a starting point. I craft a larger setting, picking a genre that suits my mood, and I transfer all of this to the first page of an outline. I make a table with three columns: Character name, character background, and character secrets. As I fill my character table, a plot idea takes shape! Now my outline is three pages long, and I can plan out the exact events of every chapter from start to finish. When the outline is up to eight pages, I have a clear and satisfying arc for every major character. The puzzle pieces fit together not by luck, but because I cut them that way.

“At last, armed with my outline, I charge into battle.”

(But I’ll keep the rubber chicken in my back pocket, just in case.)