I loved writing when I was younger- elaborate stories with lots of characters and endless adventures- which was a problem- I couldn’t end my stories. It’s not as though they got better the longer they carried on, every story would ultimately devolve into some form of 7 or 8 year old stream of consciousness because I could not reach a conclusion.
Imagine the journal of an elementary school kid that followed the writing path of Lost seasons 4 to 6? I owe a heartfelt apology to all of the characters I have left stranded in haunted houses, haunted caves, parallel universes and the Hatch because I just couldn’t figure out how to end it or abandoned the story completely when I came up with a better idea.
In grade 2, we were given a Halloween writing assignment which was part of a contest for the local CBC radio station. There were only two requirements for the contest entries: the story had to open with “It was a dark and stormy night” and conclude “And then Mom closed the door”. The winning entries from different age categories would be read on the radio on Halloween night (this was pre-internet so the radio was still a THING).
It was CBC radio contest in a small town but for a 7 year old whose writing career thus far consisted of writing stories with no endings which were read out loud to bored stuffed animals, it was the equivalent of Shonda Rimes producing your script.
My story was pretty simple (are you listening, producers of Insidious Conjuring of Paranormal Activity 7?)- on a dark and stormy night, a nice family hears a knock at the door and finds a mysterious package on their doorstep. When the family opens said mysterious package, they discover a knife which is (obviously) haunted. Unfortunately for my fictional family, I had no ending so in desperation to reach a conclusion, I had things take a dark turn- the knife goes on a murder spree killing everyone. I have no idea how “Mom closed the door” to conclude the story because she was dead but I’m guessing it must have been her ghost (who, of course, would have then gone on to pass the knife to another suspecting family in the sequel….)
So, you know, standard 7 year old writing.
I figured I nailed this. Spooky “darky and stormy night” atmosphere? Check. Sudden, unexpected ending? Check. Lots of blood to intrigue radio listeners? Double check.
Of course, after reading my story, my teacher (at a Catholic elementary school) asked me to come have a chat with her and the principal (a nun, no less). I was not surprised- clearly they wanted to congratulate me in private so the other kids didn’t feel bad.
I imagine that if a 7 year old submitted this type of story today, the parents would be called in, counsellors would be consulted….but this was the early eighties when kids still walked home by themselves, we got letter grades and if the tether ball hit you in the face, next time you learned to move faster. My teacher asked if I would be willing to change the ending (I imagine there may have been some concern from the school’s perspective of a Catholic school kid submitting a contest entry which was filled with a lot of un-Christian stabbing but I did not appreciate this dynamic at the time).
I’d like to say I stood on principle and artistic integrity refusing to make any changes to please the public. Remember, I was 7? I said sure because it meant I could get back out for recess. Yay tetherball!
It was a quick fix- instead of a haunted knife, the box contained a mysterious black kitten who caused age appropriate mischief (no murder). “And then Mom closed the door” so the kitten wouldn’t run into the dark chasing the ribbon which had come off the mysterious package.
My kitten story won my age category.
What are the lessons here?
First, sometimes kids are weird but even when a kid writes an extremely gruesome story about supernatural murder, it doesn’t mean they will grow up to be a serial killer*- let them be kids and when they need it, give them a do-over.
Second, even before the internet and memes, cute kittens were always winning.
*Editor’s note: to date the author has been convicted of zero violent crimes.