It’s the middle of the first month back at school. The 2015 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest is well underway. Many students are thinking about how to write a compelling story with the hope of getting published. For young writers, developing a creative, but structured short story that has engaging characters and zero spelling or grammar errors might be easier said than done. That’s why we’re here to help. We spoke to Celestial Santiago, winner of the 2014 Short Story Contest high school category and would like to share her experience with you.
Celestial Santiago entered the contest in grade 12 through her Writer’s Craft teacher. The contest was intended as a minor assignment that exercised students’ creativity in writing, but it also helped Santiago hone her skills as a writer.
Every writer experiences the dreaded writer’s block, and as a young writer Santiago is no stranger to it. She faced that challenge almost immediately, during the story planning stage. Her mind was preoccupied with many different things, so it was hard to create something out of thin-air. Santiago recalls staring at a blank document for hours with little success. She then relied on her teacher’s advice for conquering writer’s block: write about your experience or something else you know.
“At the time, I was in my own jungle of thoughts and emotions about university applications and portfolios,” says Santiago. “So I decided the easiest story to write was something I knew the most about, and that was the feeling of growing up.”
Once Santiago overcame what she describes as the hectic brainstorm, the writing process was less challenging than she anticipated.
Celestial’s story “It Takes One to Know One” takes readers on a journey with a first year university student on her first day. Santiago – in high school at the time of writing the story –draws upon her own experiences of feelings of uncertainty, nervousness, excitement being overwhelmed and that all-too-common experience of not knowing where you are supposed to go on your first day of university, as her narrator makes the transition from high school.
“Everything in the story is related to my personal emotions and concerns about my first day of university,” says Santiago talking about character development. “From trying to fit in a new environment to reminiscing about the old one, [the] character based off [me].”
But writing the story wasn’t a solo ride for Santiago. She found inspiration outside of herself too, with the help of friends and peers. In the original draft, Celestial’s character is unable to belong. She is left alienated and alone. During the revision process, Celestial’s peer pointed out the inaccuracy of the story’s ending in relation to what can happen at university. Inspired by the suggestion, Santiago produced a more hopeful ending – despite the character’s wildest fears and perception of reality, the first day of school turned out not to be so bleak after all.
Echoing a sentiment shared in a previous post, an interview with Canadian author Alex Leslie, Santiago advises that especially during the initial stage of story writing – in a writer’s early years – it’s important for young writers to remember their voice matters, and that it can be a part of the conversation of other and even great works of literature.
To jog her inspiration, Santiago would look at other literature. She recalls her own feelings of doubt and intimidation after reading great pieces. “Prior to an assignment of any sort,” she said, “I always find myself online looking at how other writers write. I would spend hours reading amazing articles or short stories, and then begin to doubt my own abilities and creativity. As a result, I started to alter my own writing to fit another person’s voice.”
Realizing that you can still be original while allowing yourself to be influenced or inspired by other writers was a great learning experience. Santiago encourages students to find inspiration from external resources, but reminds them not to be intimidated when stumbling upon great work. Most importantly she says, “Take the opportunity to show the reader who you are.”
Like Edgar Rice Burro said, “If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favour.”
Tell us about your experience writing your first short story!