Friday, February 20, 2015

School Memories Might Help Your Writing Now

Oak Park-River Forest  High School

This is a photo of a portion of the large high school I attended in a Chicago suburb. Students were told repeatedly what a fine school we had. It didn't make much of an impression on most of us. For the majority, it was the only school we knew. 

We draw from a well of information regarding our schools when writing memoir pieces or even family stories. I could write a full story about my father's visit to the principal of my grade school. Dad was infuriated over my coming home with the teacher's handprint still on my cheek. She'd slapped me for talking in my second grade class. I probably needed to be disciplined but not quite so harshly. I still remember the day she broke a ruler over the hands of a boy named Jack. She taught for only one year at our school. Most likely my father was not the only one to complain about her disciplinary tactics. That was a very small incident in my second grade year but it left an impression and could easily be included in a memoir or a family stories book.

Consider the fact that most of us spent 9 years in kindergarten, grade school and junior high (or middle school). Then add another 4 in high school. That's 13 years of your life--12 if you didn't go to kindergarten. A whole lot must have happened in your school life in that period of time. There are memories, both good and bad, that a writer can draw from when writing creative nonfiction. A novelist might use an incident from school years in a book. The book is fiction but many things in fiction are based on something the author remembers from earlier years. No names used, just the incident itself. 

If I am using a high school as a setting for a story, my mind might take me back to my own large high school that had classes on four floors and a physical education building across the street. An underground tunnel connected the two buildings. I have mental images from the four years I traveled through those halls and the tunnel. It could be easier to use those memories in my setting than to invent something brand new. I could write a chase scene through the school, closed for the night, more easily because I can actually 'see' it in my mind.

Who are the people you remember in the schools you attended? How about the many teachers who influenced you in one way or another? Some positive, some negatively. What about the rest of the school staff? Nurse, janitor, principal, school secretary, lunchroom personnel, librarian--all these people were a part of your school years. 

Can you list the special events or parties your school had? Did you have a Halloween parade through the school? Did your classrooms all have a Christmas tree every December? Did you participate in a musical program at your school? Many of the things those of us who are older had in schools are no longer allowed. Maybe it would be good to write about them for our children and grandchildren. 

Your school years can provide many things that can be included in your writing years as an adult. Ponder on them for awhile. The more you think about this period of your life, the more you'll remember. 


  1. What street is this on? I should walk by there on one of my breaks from the Hemingway House.

    1. Annette--the address given is 201 N. Scoville. It's a block north of Lake St, and about 4 blocks east of Oak Park Ave. Maybe that will give you an idea of where it is.