‘The stuff of great storymaking’

October 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

So, I recently watched J.J. Abrams’ speech on the Mystery Box. Here’s the gist: Grandpa gave Abrams a box and it’s gone unopened for decades. His conclusion? Sometimes the best mysteries are the things you’ll never answer.

For someone like myself, and the generation of kids who were bottle-fed instant gratification, there is almost instantaneous frustration at not having answers at the fingertips. We tear open gift wrap, peek at the endings of books, and google breaking news events to imbibe facts before they’re even verified. Our appetite to know now is insatiable. So, when our first ever mystery class at Scribble Press began with the arrival of a mysterious box, I was not sure how the students would react.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Missing Miss Terious Class

Missing Miss Terious class

With detective pads inside, the package instructed students to begin honing their detective skills in order to solve the mysterious disappearance of Miss Mia Terious and a collection of priceless books from the Library of Congress. That the box and subsequent letters with clues had no postmark did not seem to bother anyone. Instead, everyone has managed to suspend disbelief and join us on our leisurely stroll through a slowly-unfolding story. It’s refreshing. Every week, the kids take out their magnifying glass and examine clues as the adventure inspires their own creative endeavors.

Writing is so amazing that way. It’s a journey that can’t be rushed. Like any good detective, we must unravel the story in our heads before it meanders its way onto the paper. When we make time to let it happen organically, the results are extraordinary. Our mystery writers this semester are thinking critically about how the pieces of the case fit together; at the same time, they are filing away devices that may enhance their own tales. I liken my job to that of Dumbledore – I get to teach the magicians the magic. It’s fun to be a writing instructor.

mystery box

Mystery box!


Of course, next week, there is a box arriving for the kids with the singular instruction that the package NOT be opened until December. Will the heretofore unseen frustration flood our class or will the kids embrace the pace of a story not meant to be consumed in one sitting? Something tells me we’re going to be okay.

Let’s face it. The moments before the wrapping paper is torn away are the best. I intend to help my students milk it. After all, the anticipation, the unknown, the possibilities of what may come – they are the stuff of great storymaking.

Jennifer Sarja

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