As a teacher and natural organizer, I love and maybe even crave structure. It makes me feel safe and lets me know what to expect. A predictable mealtime, the order I put hair products into my untamable curls (prep, cream, mouse, shine), dentist appointments six months apart on the 14th of August & February—this is not normal, but at least I’m upfront about it?
Needless to say, when we started to analyze the structure of memoirs, I was both happy and nervous to hear that not every story follows the “plot diagram” we teachers love to present to our students. Plot diagrams, they’re easy to teach, but they easily fall apart in the face of real literature. Not every story is as neatly packaged as I would like it to be, but that’s the beauty of a story—of life—inviting people in journeying together in the unstructured uncertainty of at all.
But sometimes we can use a little direction, from someone who has done it before, someone willing to lead the way (in this case a published author). So, in looking at short sections from mentor texts, we formed maps—short little diagrams of a craft moves.
From one text we found a string of pearls, —o—o—o—o—o—o— Short and beautiful moments of life held together with a common theme.
From another a series of events story told, A–>B–>C–>D
And from yet another, “Quotes”+ Reflection–> “Quotes” + Reflection
There were more texts, more patterns, and a room full of teachers looking from above at a text and mapping it out however they saw fit. Just seeing a pattern helped me to see purposeful craft moves that I could make, because even though my story wasn’t exactly the same, there was still much to learn.
The structure gave me something to hold onto, got me out of feeling so stuck in my writing, so while the reflecting was hard, it had a place in my story and I would have to go there to make the piece effective.
I wrote all that to say a few things:
- Wow, the impact of just a few carefully chosen mentor texts.
- Imagine the power of letting students create their own map & follow it.
- Being teachable— in writing, in reflecting, in journeying—Beauty.