Here is a story I wrote at the age of ten, called I WISH I WERE A DOG. I had completely forgotten this, and I have to say seeing it fresh, I was pretty impressed with my ten-year-old self.
One sunny day a dog named Arto walked up the steps of the house he lived in with a little boy named Tommy and his mother and father. Arto scratched at the door and barked to remind everyone it was time for lunch. Tommy let him in and gave him some dog food. Tommy made a sandwich for himself. As Tommy ate his lunch he looked at Arto and though. Then he went into the other room where his mother was sewing. He said to her, “I wish I were a dog.”
It’s far from perfect, of course. The inciting incident–Tommy looking at Arto and realizing his desire to be a dog–is a little vague. It might have been better to have Tommy stressed out by piles of homework or chores, or getting beat up by the town bully, so that we could really see the contrast of his perception of Arto’s relaxed dog lifestyle to his own–but the MOMENT is there. Tommy thinks (internal) and then he immediately goes and expresses his thought to his mother (external) and he has a very clear and actionable want–which is something that I had apparently completely forgotten how to do between writing this and when I finally went to grad school for writing decades later.
The opening scene of carefree Arto coming home to be fed–is very nice and expressive. It could go over the opening credits, or be intercut before or after Tommy’s trials. Mostly I’m impressed by the the POV transition here from Arto to Tommy. See how Arto trots up and into Tommy’s world?
Later that day, Tommy and his mother went to see the town fairy. When they got there and told her what Tommy wanted she waved her wand and said, “Tomorrow when the sun comes up you will be a dog.” As Tommy and his mother were going out the door the fairy added, “The spell will only last a week, so when the spell wears out if you still want to be a dog I will change you into one permanently.”
A pretty good Act 1 / Act 2 break: When the sun comes up, Tommy will be a dog, and that his dog-ness will last a week. We know that Act 2 is going to be about whether Tommy likes being a dog, and that Act 2 will end at the end of the week. We understand the stakes involved– Tommy might decide to become a dog permanently. We might already have some sense of hope and fear for Tommy– we might want him to get what he wants–to become a dog. Or we might fear that he’ll make a momentous decision that he’ll regret later, leaving behind his awesome mom who takes him to the town fairy and such.
And note the staging: The town fairy doesn’t just have a block of dialogue, it’s interspersed with “business,” She gives us the most pertinent piece of information–that he’s going to get his wish, and then, “as Tommy and his mother were going out the door” she adds more details and stakes.
The end–this is a spoiler– is a little predictable–After a week of misadventures Tommy decides not to be a dog. And after that, there’s not really much of an Act 3–probably because we didn’t set it up in Act 1. My rewrite might include Tommy learning to deal with the bully or his stress levels by using some piece of information he learned while he was a dog.
I look at this and I think–hell yeah, the person who wrote this at age 10, could become a writer, which is encouraging.
But I also kind of wonder “what happened?” How did I get so distracted for so long, and did I burn through the years where I might have been fresher and bolder–and just better? The answer to that is not really a puzzler. The answer is yes. Yes I lost material during those years. Just by looking at journal entries or emails written during that time I can tell you that the voice and the perspective that I had then is not something that I can recapture. It would never occur to me to write I Wish I Were a Dog now, even though I find it delightful. You can’t step in the same stream twice.
The more open question is, what’s left? Is there enough freshness and imagination there–that combined with a great enough degree of craft and skill–it can make the hours that I spend productive for me, and to make what I produce worthwhile for other people?