William Melvin Kelly has been teaching creative writing for over thirty years. A tenured professor at Sarah Lawrence College, he has developed a curriculum designed to teach anyone to write a good story. A master of the short story, he claims he can teach writing to a stone.
Students in his classes are instructed to keep daily diaries, in longhand. Like any other creative endeavor writing requires practice, and the act of writing daily in a diary is a great way to achieve this. Poppy takes that diary business seriously in his teaching, and he says that while it’s the simplest of his requirements it tends to be the most difficult for students to keep up with. They often fail to see the validity of writing in a diary, or get bored, and they particularly don’t like that it has to be in a book, longhand. But the act of writing every day, of organizing your thoughts, of feeling your thoughts flow through your hands is important to the process of writing.
As his daughters, we also were required to keep diaries every day. Sometime in December Poppy would come home with brand new appointment books, maybe 8″x5″ in size. He usually bought the same type and brand. He and my mother would get larger ones, set up with one page a day. For my sister and I, he usually got smaller books set up with two days to a page–a half page of writing a day. Two consequences of our childhood diary-keeping developed. The first and obvious one is that unlike many people, we have documentation of a good part of our lives, and secondly we all write fairly well.
Another technique that Poppy has developed is the Nine-Sentence Story. He told me he developed the concept after hearing a hollywood director describe the plot of a movie: “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back.” In this technique, the writer allots three sentences each to the three sections of a story; the beginning, the middle and the end. Here is an example:
Goldilocks in the Forest
A nine sentence story by William Melvin Kelley
Once a upon a time a girl named Goldilocks, who made a living as a burglar decided to burgle a cottage in the forest… She broke into the cottage and went from room to room taking objects of value… After a while she got hungry and went to the kitchen…
In the kitchen she found three bowls of porridge on the table and decided to sample them… She found the first bowl too hot, the middle bowl too cold and the smallest just right …
She devoured it…
Upstairs she discovered three beds and fell asleep on the most comfortable… While she slept the three bears that lived in the cottage came home and found her sleeping and called the forest police, burly bear cousins of the three bears…
The forest court, presided over by three owls, sentenced Goldilocks to five years in the forest prison for breaking and entering and burglary…
Now, you try.
* * *
It’s been a long time, and in the meantime our youngest writer, Blossom Kelley-Washington has emerged. This first story, Estrellas, is her family magazine debut.
– The BearMaiden
Quicklinks to Previous Fiction
Chuvo – There was once a boy who thought he was a horse.
Elvis in Taos – What if some of those Elvis sightings are true?