Category Archives: 642 Things To Write About Young Writers Edition

437 – Describe your absolute least favorite thing to do. Why is it so terrible?

Grading papers is the worst. It’s not the number or even sometimes the content. When it comes to projects, we spend weeks writing and editing only for me to take them and have to read them. I read all hundred and thirty or so. I get how much work they’ve put into writing them, well how much work some of them have put in, but man, reading them takes forever.

Imagine coaxing over a hundred people into putting forth a lot of effort. Getting them to exert themselves takes effort. You repeat things over and over only for people to forget things, sometimes forget to do them at all. You give suggestions. You argue with some people just to get to do it at all after which they basically do the bare minimum or worse.

Then, they hand them all to you, or in my case, upload them all at me. It’s like a digital barrage. I figuratively drown in non-existent paper. Sometimes I have trouble getting myself to open the program, but if I don’t the number of ungraded things stares at me like a judgemental, motherly eye. Just finish me they seem to say. In my head, I throw the silent adult equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum.

When I do finally get to grading them, usually the first thing I’m greeted with is an inevitable barrage of mistakes that could have been fixed with spell check but for some reason hasn’t. How you make spelling errors in the age of spell check and the red squiggly line is beyond me, but every project there is always someone’s paper with prose that must have been littered with red. How lazy do you have to be not to right click and fix it? It literally fixes it for you.

One paper in and I’m reading most of everything. By paper five I’ve had to reread things several times because my brain has inevitably wandered mostly because I’ve managed to find three papers where the writer seriously thought I wouldn’t notice that doing zero thought or editing was totally cool.

It’s not cool! Reading writing that makes no sense is not cool and it doesn’t make you sound smart to massacre words.

Then, I see it. A child who’s work should be great. They always write beautifully, and, you know what, they did. Except, that I’m still reeling about the person who honestly thought that riting is a word that means to put words on paper. See. Spell check! So I know that I’m not really enjoying this story as much as I should.

Twenty papers later and I’m literally having to fight my brain to stay inside of my head. It’s not allowed to leave just because a student wrote a nonsense scene about a jerk throwing coffee at someone that for some reasons happens a page after this person also inexplicably does something that has to do with sports. By the way, the next page is equally as nonsensical and confusing, but he managed to fix some of the spelling so that’s at least something.

This is the point that I look at the clock and realize that I’ve already been at this for forty five minutes, and I’ve still got twenty more to go in just this class alone. I seriously consider slapping random grades for about twenty seconds before I click to the next one.

Oh good, they’ve forgotten that you had to double space. Never mind that it was written on the board, on the project paper, on the schedule, on every draft assignment, and on the final project, but that’s cool. You clearly didn’t need to read the stuff that told you how to get points. You clearly didn’t hear it the thousand times I said it in class or personally reminded you to fix it when I saw that you still hadn’t done it three days ago in class. I’ll just take those points back.

At this point, I’ve found a space on the wall that looks like a particularly inviting place to smash my forehead.

I know. I’ll grade my honor’s class. 

Wait the first paper is forty pages long and the first four are description of the way the light perfectly falls on this perfect guys face, and how said perfect guy doesn’t know that the main character exists because she’s just so terribly shy. Well, the idea’s good except why has her name changed and is this guy supposed to be nice or a jerk.

Where’d that dog come from and why is he wearing a hat?

Well their vocabulary is good and the story mostly makes sense so. Next!

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#49 – Choose a villain from one of your favorite stories. Write about the world the way they see it. Give that person a chance to explain their actions.

“Murdered. She murdered her.” A single crystal goblet sailed across the room shattering into a thousand shimmering pieces against the stone wall.

“Yes, my lady.” Beneath the decorative blue and red uniform, the witch could see the monkey’s tail quivering. Good, he should be afraid.

“And you say they cheered.” One green hand closed into a tight fist at the witch’s side.

“They cheered and then gifted the house girl with the slippers.” The witch stopped and her head slowly turned toward the guard.

“Get out.” The order grated past her lips. The monkey began to move but not quickly enough.

“Get Out!” With his tail tucked protectively beneath his robes, the monkey sprinted the rest of the way.

“I’ll get you and your little dog too,” the witch said and meant it.

#265 – Rewrite a fairy tale from the point of view of one of the less important characters.

Even in Mei’s practiced hands, the tray shook. It took all of her concentration not to stare at the sharp, gleaming metal the door guards held before them. Their schooled faces showed nothing. Not the slightest thought flickered across their chiseled faces. Mei knew how quickly those blank faces could turn deadly.

On silent hinges, the massive red doors swung inward beckoning Mei in. She scuttled forward doing her best to keep the tray and its simple contents steady. At this late hour, all but the most dedicated watchers had left to get a few hours of much needed sleep.

Mei swallowed a gasp as she drew nearer the massive bed. At the center, the Emperor’s shrunken form seemed too small and shriveled for such a large place. His wrinkles had sunk further into his impossibly pale face. Mei settled her tray onto a finely carved table set beside the bed for just that purpose.

She lifted the lid from the tray and set it to the side being careful not to scratch the lacquer. Steam wafted into the flickering darkness.

“Soup, your Imperial Highness,” Mei said softly. Her voice floated away from her and got lost in the vastness of the space around her. The Emperor didn’t stir. All around him was splendor. Brightly colored silks hung high into the rafters fluttering occasionally in the hot summer breezes allowed in for the Emperor’s health.

The only thing that seemed out of place was a bejeweled golden bird. It sat on a table all its own beside the Emperor’s bed. Mei eyed the metal creature warily, but it made no noise. In fact, it had made no noise in years. The fact that it sat there still held a testament to the bird’s sway over the Emperor.

Mei wished it’s real life counterpart still lived in the palace. The golden bird had been beautiful, but she’d never liked it better than the friend she’d brought to the palace all those years ago.  

The Emperor stirred and turned toward where she stood beside the table and tray.

“Pl…,” he muttered. His purplish lips smacked together drily.

“Your Highness?” Mei trembled. She should say nothing.

“Play!” he shouted. His body twisted. Covers pulled this way and that tangling around his frail arms and legs. “Why won’t you play? I want to hear your song?”

Mei flinched, terrified of the rage in the sleeping man’s voice. A hand gripped Mei’s shoulder. Her eyes went wide with fear.

“The Emperor will eat his soup when he wakes.” Mei stared silently, unable to speak, into the wild dark eyes of a courtier. His fingers tightened, digging into her shoulder. She allowed herself to be propelled toward the door. What could a kitchen maid say?

In seconds, she found herself thrust back into the hallway.  She walked as quickly as she could and still look proper. It would not do for even a servant to run.

Returning to the kitchen seemed to take an age, and even when she’d returned she was still unsure of how to do what she knew needed to be done.

“Did he eat?” the head cook barked from her chair beside the fire. A massive fan wavered back and forth in her calloused hands. Mei shook her head and kept moving across the floor. She’d have to be careful if she was going to make her way out of the forbidden city.

“That’s no answer!” the cook called after her, “What do you think you’re doing Mei.” Mei looked over her shoulder at the older woman whose face had gone nearly purple with rage at being ignored.

“I’m going to save the Emperor,” Mei said. The cooks face settled for just a moment before it split with gales of laughter. Mei turned and darted out into the night. The head cook didn’t have to believe her. She knew what she had to do.

 

 

“Friend!” Mei called into the perfumed night air. Branches wavered in the warm night time air. Leaves whispered against each other. It had taken hours of careful sneaking through the avenues of the palace before Mei had managed to escape into the city and then the countryside. Her feet ached, but beside her water tripped musically across rocks and fallen sticks.

“I know you are there,” Mei said softly. Her voice carried upward like it had in the vast bedchamber of the Emperor. “Nightingale, I know he wronged you, but he needs you now. He is dying.”

Mei stomped her sore feet and wandered further beside the brook she’d visited since she’d been little. Only the sound of the wind greeted her.

“If for him, then please come and sing for me, Nightingale.” Hot tears welled behind Mei’s eyes. If she was wrong, if she was found outside the palace, she’d pay dearly. She’d known, but she’d been so sure that she came anyway.

Tired and losing hope, Mei dropped herself down to a moss covered rock.

“Please,” she begged. Tears sprang from her eyes and tracked down her cheek.

A rustle beside her in the leaves pulled her head from her hands. Down in the leaves and pine needles, the form of a small nightingale hopped first from one foot to the other.

“Friend,” Mei cried.

“I came for you,” the Nightingale said in a voice like a music box.

“Fly. I will meet you there. Together, we will save him. If you will not sing for me, then sing for him.” The Nightingale threw itself into the air as an answer. Mei did her best to follow and retrace her steps through the forbidden city.

Night spread across a city holding its breath. Light outlined the palace walls stealing Mei’s breath when she most needed it. Still gasping she stopped just outside the palace kitchens. While she had run, the sun had wheeled closer to the horizon. To the east, the sky was brightening.

“Carry me, friend,” the Nightingale said simply. “We will go together.” Mei nodded and held out her hand. She entered the kitchen with the bird held before her as explanation. The cook looked up from the beginnings of breakfast but her words stopped in her mouth. All knew the bird and did not question.

Through hallway after hallway Mei went with her avian ambassador before her. Guards and courtiers, who normally would have shooed her away, watched with slack faces and wide eyes.

When she arrived at the door, Mei looked into the faces of the door guards and knew she’d been seen. The broad red doors swung inwards. Courtiers raised themselves from where they lay and began to protest.

Mei did not stop until she stood beside the Emperor’s bed. Out of respect for her friend, she picked up the golden copy and moved it away. The Nightingale hopped onto its rightful perch. Mei felt a cold prickle between her shoulder blades and turned. Unnoticed by the courtiers, a figure dressed like a fine noble but all in black stood watching on. His hair was a glossy black and his eyes seemed bottomless.

“Sing friend. It’s now or never,” Mei begged. The Nightingale considered the room before its throat bobbed and music poured from its tiny beak. The music, long missing from the Emperor’s palace, poured forth once more. It filled the grand room from floor to ceiling.

Mei smiled and let her eyes slide shut. She was reminded of a happy childhood and of her trek into the woods with the Emperor and his courtiers. She could see the branches and waving leaves. The sun seemed to show through the bars of the bird’s song.

When at last she opened her eyes, the man in black had moved away. A smile had split his impossible face. His chin dipped in a respectful nod toward the bird, and then it was like he’d never been there before. Mei smiled.

A gasp arose beside her. The Emperor, still tangled in blankets, sat with his eyes opened. They were fixed on the small, plain bird perched where the lovely jeweled copy had stood only moments before.

“How can I ever repay you?” he said and his eyes slid to where Mei stood.

#358 – Write the story of how you got your name. Either interview your parents to find the true story or write an imaginary story.

This is actually something my parents have talked about frequently. Part of the decision making process was to sit down and think of all of the ways any of the names they’d chosen could be turned into insults. When they found a name, Whitney, that they had trouble turning into insults, they settled on it.

Evidently, my grandmother wasn’t thrilled with the choice. I’ve always liked it because I’ve rarely had to share my name with anyone else. Kids did still manage to turn it into an insult, but my parents couldn’t think of everything.

#270 – What do you do after school?

Seeing as I’m a teacher and still work in schools, this one feels right tonight, especially this close to summer.

Most nights it’s fairly boring. I do things like clean the kitchen and make dinner. Then most of the time I read or write, though not as much as I should.

Sometimes I cross stitch and watch documentaries about somewhat depressing stuff. If it’s about the Holocaust, I’ve probably watched it. For example, last night I stitched a cute geometrical deer and watched something about the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Lately, I’ve had this strange hunger to know more about the things that happened when I was too small to remember. Because of this I’ve delved into weird topics lately like the one mentioned above, Enron, and the 2008 financial crisis.

To be frank, the last one has probably had the most immediate effect on my life as it stands though, if I’m honest, I was lucky not to be affected too negatively. After college, my husband and I were pretty lucky to find well paying jobs out of state. It even allowed us to eventually move abroad.

Apparently, I’m getting a bit introspective tonight. Sometimes that’s where writing takes you though.

I guess I’ve always been someone who’s interested in the nuts and bolts of things. I like to know how things fit together, and I definitely like to know what’s happened before so I’m prepared for what might happen next.

That’s something I really try to impart to the students I see on a regular basis. That something small, seemingly insignificant, can change the course of someone’s life and in changing that life can change the course of the world. It’s part of the world’s beauty and part of what can make it so horrible.

Of course, I try to focus on the beauty.

But there is no light without the dark.