Part 1 and Part 2 of Jenny’s Story, in case you missed them.
Jenny had lots of funny ideas to write about—Teletubbies, quesadillas made-to-order in Math class, Ashton Kutcher, among them.
But could any of these funny ideas be transformed into a story? A story worth sharing with college admissions officers?
As a next step, I asked Jenny to outline each idea as follows:
- Where and when does this story take place? List the specific location(s) and time(s).
- Is there a main character in the story? Is it you?
- Do you start in one place and end up in another by the end of the story?
- What HAPPENS to cause you to move or change? Write that down.
She looked first at her Ashton Kutcher idea (she had told her little sister that “Ashton Kutcher” was a swear word).
- Where and when does this story take place? List the specific location(s) and time(s). In the family car and in the living room in front of the TV. At various times in the past six months, but a definite moment in last scene in front of the TV.
- Is there a main character in the story? Is it you? There are two main characters, Jenny and her sister, but this story is told from Jenny’s point of view, so she is the protagonist.
- Do you start in one place and end up in another by the end of the story? Yes, Jenny starts by thinking it would be fun to play a practical joke on her sister, and at the end, the joke is exposed and Jenny reflects on the meaning of the experience.
- What HAPPENS to cause you to move or change? Write that down. A TV show starring Ashton K comes on and Jenny’s sister realizes Ashton is an actor, not a swear word.
Stay tuned for Part 4 to see whether this story can work as a topic for Jenny’s college admissions essay.
Last week we met my client Jenny. You can read the first part of her story here.
“Yes!” I said to Jenny. “You can write about funny!”
She’d already told me a few stories that had me in hysterics. How she kept a Teletubby costume in her locker that she trotted out regularly. How she convinced her little sister that “Ashton Kutcher” was a swear word. How she set up a quesadilla business in her pre-calc class.
A lot of students get stuck at this point,not knowing how to go from idea to words on the page. They stare at their blank screen. It stares back.
The key to getting started? Break down the task into manageable chunks.
“Start by writing a paragraph for each idea,” I said to her. “Right now, don’t worry about grammar or how it’s all going to come together—just get your ideas down on the page.”
I say to students: pretend you’re a potter at the beginning of a project. First, you need to throw a lump of clay on the wheel.
She smiled.”I can write about Ashton Kutcher?”
I smiled back. She was ready to get started.
Our essay brainstorming session was going nowhere until I asked Jenny one simple question.
I looked across the table at Jenny, a new essay client. She wouldn’t make eye contact; there was no energy in her voice. We were brainstorming for a topic for her common application essay, and we were getting nowhere.
Fortunately, I have a big bag full of tricks, and I pulled one out. “How would your friends describe you in one word?”
She looked up from her lap. “Funny,” she said with no hesitation.
Funny? I haven’t seen funny—anything approaching funny—this afternoon.
“Tell me about funny,” I said.
Jenny looked up from her lap and began to tell me a bunch of stories. She was like a different person—someone with life and energy and who could look me in the eye. And she WAS funny. SNL funny.
Between guffaws, I furiously took notes as Jenny talked.
“You know what your essay’s going to be about, don’t you?” I asked when she finished.
She shook her head.
“It’s going to be about funny. We don’t know yet what specific story you are going to write or what the structure of your essay will be, but funny is your story.”
“I can write about funny?” she asked.
High school juniors: Are you already dreading the thought of having to write college application essays? Do you worry that you won’t have anything to write about? That you don’t have a story?
Stop worrying. You DO have a story worth telling. We all do. The key is discovering your spark—the part of you that makes you YOU!
Here’s something you can start doing NOW! Buy a small notebook or create a note on your computer or phone.
Begin thinking about your most positive qualities. Are you creative? Do you love to dig deep into a subject? Are you a good listener? Funny? A loyal friend?
If you have trouble coming up with ideas, ask your parents. Ask a friend or two. See what they say and what rings true to you.
Then in your notebook or on your phone, begin to list some stories—some specific moments in time—that SHOW those positive qualities in action.
Congratulations! You are on your way to finding your spark and finding your story!
Next week: More tips on Finding Your Spark.