Monday, March 21, 2016

SOL #21: Maybe I Could

Up until now, I've been mostly writing a day ahead and the posting "for the next day" before bedtime, since I'm on Pacific Time.  Now that I'm on break, I can write at different times of day, so here I am writing and posting late on the same day.  Luckily, this post has been percolating in my head for a few days.  (I just tried to find an image that captured the idea of a percolator on top of my head, and all I got was a bunch of "pothead" jokes.)

A few weeks ago, I read a book in which the author wrote about the experience of working with screenwriters to adapt his memoir into a movie.  He realized that instead of saying, "No, that's not what happened," he had to see himself in the movie as a character.  As a character, he needed to have a story arc.  Supporting characters needed to support the plot in specific ways.  So even though the movie was based on his memoir, it wasn't actually about him.

This got him thinking about what makes an interesting story, and how if your main goal in life is something that would make a boring story, maybe you need to rethink your goals.  That was the main point of the book, but not of this blog post.


A few nights ago, my husband brought home some movies from the library.  I have somehow become my parents, in that I no longer see movies.  Like, ever.  Except for Pixar movies with the kids.  I don't even know what movies are out any more.  So when I chose the movie for us to watch from his stack, this is what I knew about it:

  1. It starred Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner.
  2. Reviewers who were blurbed called it "Hugely Entertaining."
  3. It was titled Dallas Buyer's Club
Now, if you haven't been living under the same rock I have, you may know more about it than I did, since apparently is earned all sorts of Oscar nominations and wins.  But we didn't know that, and during the first section, which is mostly McConaughey swearing, looking like shit, and getting diagnosed with HIV, we were all, "Okay, it's interesting, but 'entertaining' doesn't seem like the right word here."  Then yes, it got more lively, although I still think "entertaining" is not quite the best word for any based-on-a-true-AIDS-story film.

Immediately after the film, as is my wont, I pulled up some reviews and articles about it.  What I learned is that while the main character and the eponymous Buyers' Club did exist, the movie changed a bunch of stuff.  Like, a wife disappeared.  Instead, he had a transsexual/transgender (depending on if you go by 1985's understanding or ours) colleague and a sweet doctor, both of whom help him develop as a human being.  Like, part of the character arc in the movie was him overcoming his really ugly homophobia, but the actual guy was openly bisexual.  

Which got me thinking about the difference between "based on" and "inspired by" and "documentary" and all of that.  I thought of some of what I've written here in the past few weeks, when I've recreated dialogue minus the irrelevant parts, or simplified backstory in order to keep the front story on track.  I've always loved reading fiction, but have never felt confident in my own imagination.  I like writing from my life, but a) my life, like all lives, has no actual plot and b) it seems absurdly egotistical.


My kids and I went to see a matinee at our library yesterday.  We got there a little bit early and browsed the stacks.  I have more than enough books at home, so I wasn't too intent on finding anything, but then I noticed a book called Been There, Done That: Writing Stories from Real Life.  It's an anthology by YA and MG authors such as Julia Alvarez, Gary D. Schmidt, and Linda Sue Park.  In it, each author tells a story about something that happened to them, then shares a short story inspired by that experience.

Do you see where I'm going with this?


Today, I read an article in the NCTE magazine about Sharon Draper winning an award from them at the conference I attended last fall.  In it, she comments that although her kids are grown and she's no longer in the classroom, she still feels comfortable writing about young people.  That despite cell phones and social media, the experience of being 14, 15, 16 is the same.  The questions, the challenges, the excitement--it's timeless.  (Okay, I'm guessing that being a teenager in the Middle Ages was a bit different, but my mom always insisted that the Knights of the Round Table were a cross between early Boy Scouts and early gangs.)  

And there went my last reason why I've never attempted to write for my students.  I LOVE the voice that writers like Matt de la Peña or A. S. King capture, but I am so very un-cool that I knew I would sound awkward and clunky if I attempted to write ABOUT my students.  But I don't need to write about them (kids like them) to make it real--I can write what I know, and make THAT real.  I don't need to come up with everything from nothing.  I can adapt from my own memories and stories.  I don't need to choose between writing my truth and protecting the privacy of others--I can bend the objective truth to make a better story (and leave other real people out of the story as I go).

I still have no idea if I could do it.

But I am pretty sure I can try.

Written as part of the Slice of Life March writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers


  1. I think maybe you can, and you already do.

  2. Once I heard a presenter say she had magic words to engage kids in her modeled writing (I think it was Debbie Miller). She said, "When I was your age . . ." before beginning the story/writing. Even if she really wasn't the age or the story wasn't totally true, it made them sit up and pay attention because they wanted to know what she was like "at their age."


Please share your thoughts. Comments are almost as sweet as chocolate!