Marvin and Susan Olasky.
“What did one muffin say to the other?” Marvin asked. Susan answered “‘It’s hot in here.’ But he left out a detail—the muffins were in the oven.”
In her blue blouse and black slacks, Susan stood at the front of the classroom. She glanced at Marvin to double check a few of her facts but taught us thoroughly and calmly.
Every story should have a protagonist, antagonisms, mission, and obstacles. We analyzed a few of our own stories to find these qualities.
We also discussed the ladder of abstraction. Summary is at the top, and specific scenes are at the bottom. Specific scenes provide the emotional pull that any story needs to effectively reach an audience. To better our descriptive skills, we partnered off and gave our partner a beginning statement. Joshua, my partner, gave this sentence: This is the time I went outside and screamed.
From that sentence, I formed questions with the end goal of describing the scene that prompted his sentence. Likewise, I gave him the sentence “This is the time I almost died.”
We wrote up our descriptions into paragraphs and shared a few with the class. Here’s what I came up with after questioning Joshua.
“Joshua considers Betty his older sister, though not related by blood. He walked out the back door of his one-story house in Gambia and screamed as Betty fell from atop a yellow jerry can with a small red lid. Blood spewed everywhere. The jerry can was made for holding water and did not prove a sturdy stool. The broken pop drink glass bottle piece now sat innocent on the ground. Betty had pulled it out of her arm and the gushing blood began. Broken glass bottles lined the neighbor’s fence to prevent trespassing. But Betty wasn’t trespassing, she only wanted a mango.”
Susan and Marvin both critiqued and commented on our work. Susan prayed for our lunch before we headed to the dining hall to skype Emily Belz. She is a reporter in New York and shared with us her challenges and experiences. Including getting chewed out by a US Congressman. Her lesson was to be less self-aware. As a reporter, you will be in awkward situations, but often get a better story because of it. And remember, don’t send angry emails.