In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.
The scene: An American girl is visiting a part of Italy called Cinque Terrae with her aunt and an Italian girlfriend. They hike along a beautiful row of cities built into the steep cliffs that hang over the Ligurian Sea. The cliffs are so steep that there’s no flat, open space that’s large enough to play soccer except in the village square in front of the church. The girl, who plays goalie back in the States, notices that some boys need another player to even up the teams. She wants to play. Her friend says, no. Italian boys aren’t used to playing sports with girls and they won’t like it. She plays anyway and… tell what you think happens next.
Here’s how I wrote this scene in Ragazzo Quest. Did your version go something like this?
Nine guys were playing soccer on the only flat surface for miles around—the cobblestone piazza in front of the church. Anne Marie stopped in front of the ball-eating tree to watch the game.
A blocked kick sent the ball skittering toward her. Now she knew how a ball got in the tree. Without thinking, she dropped into a classic one knee position to smother the shot with her body.
Eighteen eyes stared at her. Nine mouths hung open as if one of their grandmothers had made a save.
Yeah, guys, Anne Marie thought. I’ve got a couple of moves. She stood and chipped the ball back to the oldest guy who looked like the captain of the short-sided team.
“Grazie,” he said, checking her clothes. Then, deciding she was American, he added, “I am Mario. Thanks you very much.” Then he nodded to a slender boy, about ten years-old, wearing a torn tank top and pointed toward the goal. The little guy shook his head, stamped his foot. Anne Marie couldn’t hear the discussion but it was obvious that he didn’t want to play goalie. He stormed away for a few steps, paused then marched over to Anne Marie. Dragging his forearm across a sweaty cheek, he locked eyes with Anne Marie for a moment. Then he pointed from her to the empty goal, two backpacks set ten feet apart. Portiere? Holding up first one hand then the other, fingers spread, he added, “Cinque contro cinque.” He wants me to play goalie and even the sides five-to-five, Anne Marie realized. Then she smiled, he also wants to get out of goal. Smart kid.
“Come ti chiami?” Anne Marie asked.
“Nico,” the boy called over his shoulder as he ran back to his team. The young men gathered in a tight circle. Hands waved in a flurry of gestures. They all stopped talking at the same time, turned, gaped at Anne Marie.
Anne Marie stared right back. From what she had seen this was just a neighborhood pick-up game. It might be fun to play for a few minutes, she considered. It would give Aunt Josie a chance to rest. But I’m not that good and what if I screw up and look stupid? These guys will think American girls can’t play.
Betta touched Anne Marie’s arm, “You no play football. Girls, here, no play. InItaly, only boys…football. Boys don’t know girls playing.”
Maybe she’s right. Maybe I ought to pass on this one, Anne Marie deliberated. Then she noticed two guys in the back snickering and smirking at her. One of them, heavy set and older looking than the other flapped his wrists mocking a goalie catch. Anne Marie’s jaw tightened. She felt her fists clench. They thought she was a joke. That a girl couldn’t possibly play even-up with them. She marched onto the cobblestone pitch.
“Anna, no…” Betta called.
Anne Marie waved a dismissive hand behind her back. She had something to prove.
Mario introduced Anne Marie to the remaining two teammates. The guys bowed awkwardly. Smiled. Nico grinned broadly—out of goal at last.
Anne Marie bounced up and down a few times. “Betta,” she called. “Ask them to take a few shots to warm me up.”
The first player glanced at his buddies and rolled an easy shot toward Anne Marie. She snatched up the ball and kicked it back at him twice as hard as he had kicked it. The next guy shot a nice rising, slicing ball. Anne Marie snagged it. Mario lined up for his kick and booted a screamer to Anne Marie’s left. She scooted over, clamped two hands on it and dropped to one knee. The boys looked at each other—not bad.
“Looks like I passed the test,” Anne Marie muttered.
She made several routine saves over the next five minutes. It was fun watching the guys showing off their best moves, trying to impress her. A couple of them were pretty good, especially Nico. No wonder he hadn’t wanted to be stuck in goal. He was a great defender and a natural striker on offense….
Her meandering thoughts were interrupted by a one-on-one rush. Somehow the heavy-set player had got past Nico and Mario and was barreling down on Anne Marie like a semi on a downhill run. Up to then she had faced straight, hard shots but not a breakaway. She automatically ran out to cut down the angle. Closing on the player, she saw him smirking again. Contempt. He wanted to blast it through her. Have something to brag about to his buddies for days to come—he had put down an uppity Americana. No way, Anne Marie resolved. She kept coming. The heavy-set player flashed a look of surprise just before she slid in front of him to knock the ball away. The big fellow stumbled and fell, landing with a ground-shaking thump and a loud whoosh as air rushed from his lungs.
The guys crowded around watching him open and shut his mouth trying to breathe. Frightened that their friend was dying, one player ran for a priest. Another whipped out a cell phone and yelled “Pronto soccorso!” calling for an ambulance.
Anne Marie elbowed into the crowd surrounding their fallen comrade.
“Sorry, but I wasn’t trying to hurt him. It was just a clean tackle.”
No one listened or understood.
“It’s no big deal,” Anne Marie continued. “He just got the wind knocked out of him. He’ll be all right in a second,” she said. ”Here, let me show you,” she said, reaching to grab the downed player’s belt to lift his diaphragm. Mario stuck his arm out to stop her. The other players glared at her, then turned back to their teammate as he finally began making sobbing sounds, sucking-in ragged gulps of air. Nico edged over to her, tugged her arm gently, leading her away. He glanced back at his friends, then to her and made a brushing gesture — get out of here.
“Okay. Okay. Va bene,” Anna Maria mumbled as she slid away, joined Betta and Aunt Josie and scurried out of the piazza.
“I told you, no,” Betta reminded. “They not know…to play with women. Now, this man is umiliato…”
“Embarrassed.” Aunt Josie translated.
“They all laugh to him for long time.”
“Well, he wanted to do that to me,” Anne Marie explained, “Besides, it was a clean tackle. And I got hurt too,” she added, as she bent to pour bottled water over a skinned knee. “It’s all part of the game, right?”
“Honey, sometimes there are games within games,” Aunt Josie remarked.