One of the unique aspects of City Year is that City Year corps members are not just tutors; they also form “near-peer” relationships with their students. The day of a corps member starts before the first bell rings in the morning and ends after the last student leaves the after-school program. Corps members are not just tutors; for some they become like big brothers and sisters, and mentors. Students share more than their day with the corps members -they share a chapter in their lives together.
In this Starfish Story, a mutual love of zombies and Resident Evil brings Chris, a City Year Seattle/King County corps member to share a love of creative writing and explore how to bring a story to life with Colin*
Three of my passions in life are creative writing, watching films, and thinking about zombies.
Incidentally, these three interests proved especially useful during a recent brainstorming session with one of my students. Tasked with writing a sci-fi/fantasy story, Colin, one of my focus list students, decided to tell a futuristic tale of the zombie apocalypse. The story featured the charismatic leader of an elite commando squad. The squad leader had to battle through the hordes of undead who overran the city and try to find the evil scientist who was the mastermind behind the events.
Sometimes, Colin struggles with writing. He’ll devote limited time to the exciting, juicy parts of his narrative, instead dwelling on the background information. He has a great imagination, but his pacing of the story will feel wrong, or his descriptions won’t grab tightly enough.
On that particular day, I focused on pacing, so I told Colin to think about any zombie films he had seen (usually this is more effective than asking for examples in literature). I asked him to consider how these movies begin.
From there, we talked about where the movies go next, until we arrived on the notion of climax. Where did he want his story to end up? “Think about when the Licker appears in Resident Evil,” I said. “On the train.” He nodded. He knew what I meant – he got it. “And then the mad scientist will escape at the end, for the sequel” he said.
It was my turn to nod.
This exchange reminded me just how eager students are to share themselves through writing. I can relate.
During college, I took several fiction workshops, and my teachers helped me transform promising ideas and enthusiasm into full-fledged stories. They showed me examples in my work of what was successful and what could be improved.
I knew they were genuinely interested in my creative potential, and that was the key.
While some writers grow discouraged at any perceived criticism, Colin was extremely receptive. He knew that my suggestions came from a place of encouragement. After all, we both wanted the same thing: a good story.
*Names have been changed to protect the children with whom we work.