My story won the 15th Night Contest! My story is going to be made into a game and played in middle schools as part of the curriculum in Eugene. The challenge was for writers to come up with a “choose your path” style story that could be turned into a game. This was a blind contest, meaning contestants’ information was removed so the judging would be unbiased.
Inspiration from high school
15th Night organization partnered with the City of Eugene, the Turell Group, and Wordcrafters to put together this contest. The idea behind it is for students to learn about resources in the communit to help homeless youth and for them to learn about homelessness.
Over the years as a teacher, I have worked with homeless youth and teenagers living in difficult situations. It can be impossible for kids to learn when they aren’t getting their basic needs met at home. I have heard horror stories about what some kids’ lives are like. For many of these kids, they become homeless because life at home is so horrible.
One of the things that inspired me to write about the character I did was based on a real-life experience of a fifteen-year-old girl I knew when I was a teenager. This girl was in foster care, was abused and assaulted in the group home, and when she was placed with a family in foster care her foster father was the first person who treated her with kindness and love. Unfortunately, he also was a pedophile and preyed on her. She couldn’t see that what he was doing was wrong, and she was so confused emotionally she tried committing suicide, running away, and I don’t know what happened to her. She had a very dark and turbulent upbringing. I based my character on her, a girl in foster care who wasn’t safe and thought the streets would be safer. As I was writing, I was trying to channel what would be going through her head—without the text being too heavy and dark for an eighth grader.
When the story was accepted and placed as a winner in the contest, one of the edits required was to make changes to the story so that the main character wasn’t in foster care. The reason for this was that this isn’t an experience most teenagers can relate to.
It always is ironic when an editor removes the one sentence or one concept that was the actual inspiration. I don’t hold it against them. Every story I sell to a magazine requires conceptual edits or copy edits. Ultimately authors have to put their egos aside and be flexible, as well as be aware of that market’s readers since the editor usually knows their target market best.
But since I couldn’t share my original inspiration in my story itself that will be played as a game, and I wanted to share it somewhere, I included it here in this blog post. Perhaps it will make its way into a different story when I am educating people on a different topic.
Other inspiration from the resources provided
Some of the accounts from former homeless youth had interesting and unexpected details that helped make their living situations real. One of the details that stood out to me was poop. Living outside and on the street means there is a lack of available bathrooms. Excrement is everywhere. Because I am writing for middle school age students, I had to incorporate that into the story because it is the kind of detail appropriate for that age demographic that would be interesting and possibly lighten the dark mood.
Also, because my brother is a Trimet (public transportation) employee up in Portland, he has a lot of poop stories. Poop being thrown at the bus, pooping on the bus, grocery bags of poop being carried by people, etc. I’m sure that also subliminally had an effect on my psyche because I also included public transportation and excrement. So that is the lighter, funnier inspiration in the story.