If you happened to be wandering past my classroom at Generic Middle School this afternoon, let’s say around 2:00, you would have seen me at the overhead projector discussing the merits and drawbacks of various narrative leads. Using a vignette concerning a boy named Scott whose tranquil camp breakfast was interrupted by his father’s announcement that a car was in the lake, I showed my students multiple ways to draw a reader into the action, while avoiding the drab, “ho-hum” style opening plaguing many a student essay.
One opening featured Scott abandoning his breakfast and running at breakneck speed to the lake. Another began with Scott’s father frantically calling him to the shoreline. A different lead took us straight into Scott’s thoughts as he wondered what caused his dad to disrupt breakfast with a lot of shouting.
Throughout the lesson, I remained in close proximity to one of my more, um, spirited students who did not appear to be engaged in the material. When I asked the students to try the different leads out on their own stories, I wasn’t surprised that this particular student wasn’t eager to participate. What did surprise me was the reason he cited for not wanting to go proceed.
“What happened at the lake?” he demanded.
The lake. What lake? Oh. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of the paragraph leads as anything more than a curriculum-supplied exercise—a means to an end. But here, my student was looking for a story. And why shouldn’t he? We’re studying narratives, after all.
Not missing a beat, I answered, “Well, I guess the writer really did his job,” explaining that the paragraphs were just examples of how a writer might begin a story. “He drew you right in, didn’t he?”
“Did his job? Did his job?” my student sputtered. “How can you say the guy did his job if he didn’t even finish the story?”