As part of teaching creative writing we sometimes get students to write a ‘statement of intent’. It’s a planning tool and can also be very helpful when giving feedback to a student on whether or not they’ve achieved what they set out to do. I wrote an example, then wrote the accompanying story, to show the class what I meant:
Type of writing: descriptive character piece
Idea: describe the reaction of a shy teenage girl to hearing some mean bullying of a transgender student
Statement of intent
I am going to write a short story from the POV of a shy teenage girl, reacting to transphobic bullying. I want to describe the inner conflict of not knowing how to help, the indignation and anger at injustice, and I want to highlight the idea or issue of transphobia. My target audience is teen readers, teachers and parents. I want to make them think about ways they can help show support for diversity, even if they are not ‘brave’ or tough.
I’m in a hurry and every year 9 in the school is in my way. The corridor is as crowded as a Tokyo subway as I push my way past shouting, shoving boys and make a beeline for my locker. Mrs Jenkins isn’t going to be happy if I’m late for English but it’s been an emotional morning and my mascara has run. I need to get wipes from my locker, and maybe grab my brush so I can fix my hair. Shakespeare has been dead for four hundred years. Surely he can wait a few minutes more.
I grab a compact mirror and flip it open to check whether I can get myself sorted here or if I need to make a trip to the bathroom. My eyes are still a little red – reading the end of The Fault in Our Stars in the back of Biology class wasn’t my best idea ever – but my mascara is not as bad as I feared, and my hair is almost normal. A quick touch up and I should be fine to go to class. The manic traffic in the corridor is starting to thin out as teachers herd students into classes.
I’m running a brush through my hair when Jesse walks past. She slips past me and opens the door to the single-stall unisex bathroom. The one they changed from a teacher toilet to a student one when Jesse arrived and the old system of boys and girls didn’t quite work any more. She gets changed in there for PE too. Nobody complained about her using the girls changing room but she knew some of the other girls weren’t comfortable about it. How could she not know? I watch in my mirror as her long, dark hair disappears into the bathroom. Her head is down and she holds her arms close to her sides as she walks, makes herself small. The door closes and I look back at myself, my blue eyes lined with dark mascara. Jesse’s lashes are longer than mine. That was the first thing I noticed about her.
“Do you reckon she pees standing up?”
For a second I think Matt is talking to me and I want to throw up – not because Matt is horrible or anything, but because I have no idea how to answer a question like that. I turn around and he’s standing beside the toilet door, talking to Cody.
“I dunno, I mean, I heard he was a dude at his old school. Who knows if he’s…” Cody raises his hand and makes a scissoring motion with his fingers.
I cough, stage-cough loud, and try to shoot lasers at them out of my eyes. They ignore me.
“Why does she get a bathroom all to herself anyway?” Matt asks. He reaches down and tries the handle, but it’s locked.
What are they planning to do? Do they even realise Jesse can probably hear everything they’re saying?
I look around the corridor and realise that we’re the last three people here. Of course we are – it’s class time. I flip my compact closed, shove it back in my locker, slam the locker door and hook the padlock back on.
“I mean, it’s weird if you ask me,” Cody says, leaning against the wall.
I cough again. Matt and Cody look at me, then back at each other. Their expressions don’t change. I might as well be invisible.
My stomach is tensing up and I feel a tightness in my throat. This isn’t the bittersweet emotion of a sad novel, this is hot fear and anger rising inside me. I want to slap both of them but I can’t move. I stand there watching them, waiting to hear what they’ll say next, unable to step in but unwilling to walk away.
The toilet flushes. There’s movement inside the bathroom.
“You should ask him.” Cody says, throwing a fake punch at Matt’s stomach. Matt shies away and smiles.
What are they doing?
The door opens. Jesse steps out, right in between Matt and Cody. She’s tall for a girl, but not as tall as Matt or Cody. She’s broad-shouldered too, but you wouldn’t notice it from the way she holds herself. Her hair is thick and wavy and beautiful and those lashes. It’s unfair. It’s ridiculous of me to think it but I can’t help myself. And her makeup is neater than mine.
Cody laughs, and Matt sniggers. Jesse glances at me and I shrug, try to look sympathetic. Why can’t I speak?
She smiles back and her shoulders seem to relax a little. She looks up at Matt and flutters those lashes at him.
“Did you want to ask me something?” she asks. She makes eye contact with Matt and doesn’t let up. He squirms but doesn’t look away.
“I, uh, not really,” he replies. He throws her a weak smile.
Cody laughs and she swings around to look at him. She takes a step toward him, a step closer than he looks comfortable with. “How about you? I heard you waiting out here.”
Matt’s backing away slowly, leaving Cody on his own. I still haven’t found my voice but my feet have started moving. I fill the space Matt was in, the space behind Jesse. I look up past her shoulder into Cody’s face, and see his nerve falter.
“I gotta go, ladies. Matt, see you later, yeah?”
Matt and Cody clear the corridor in opposite directions, their steps unhurried. Neither looks back.
“We have English?” Jesse asks.
“Yeah,” I reply. “Shakespeare.”
“A rose by any other name, right?” she says.
I can’t work out the emotion in her voice, but I’m glad to be standing beside her.