Not All Stories Start With Brushing Teeth

In class we are working on personal narratives. Students use strategies such as thinking of a person, place, or thing to remember significant events in their lives. Then they write a story about it.

The climax of the story is the easy part. That is usually the event that pops into your memory first. For example, do you remember what your best friend was wearing at your fifth birthday party, or do you remember that you blew out the candles on the cake and sprayed frosting all over her?

From the memory of the climax, students work on rising action and falling action. Initially, they want to start every story with waking up and brushing their teeth. So a story about a ride at Disneyland starts with getting up, brushing teeth, riding eight hours in the car, getting into the park, having ice cream, lining up for the ride, and oh did I tell you I’m finally tall enough?

In actuality, the story was about the excited revelation of being tall enough to finally ride Thunder Mountain Railroad. It had nothing to do with brushing teeth, so it should not have started there. I guess you could say that every personal narrative starts at the moment of the author’s birth, but to make a great story the author needs to focus the story on the smallest moment possible: a morning, an hour, an instant. The internal thinking that leads up to standing next to the height measurement, memories of past failures, sets the mood. When the author finally gets the go-ahead to board the ride, the reader feels the same exhiliration.

If you always start with getting up and brushing your teeth, the reader is as bored as you are by the details of daily life. Focus on the heart of the story and the immediate emotions and events just before and after it. Then you will have a great small moment story.


On my Kindle: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

69 responses to “Not All Stories Start With Brushing Teeth”

  1. Great post, Linda! One of the other events I find my students are attached to is the ‘then we ate dinner and went to bed’. This immediately pulls the reader out of the story. Just as the beginning of the story needs to lead up to the climax, the ending must connect to it as well.


    1. Ah, You are soooo right, Ang! Great idea for my next post!

  2. Ah, You are soooo right, Ang! Great idea for my next post!

  3. So true. My high schoolers still start their stories in the same place. It’s hard to break the habit. Speaking of habits, how is your writing going?

    1. It’s going well, Koreen. Negotiating a contract for On a Wing and a Dare and about 1/3 through Under the Almond Trees. How about yours? Are you still working on Andropodan? I have a student who would LOVE that one.

  4. This very true. I always start with writing about brushing my teeth in the morning, but i should have always started at the point where the story starts.

  5. That is a great idea, usually i would start with waking up, but now, i should think twice before doing that. Starting up with waking up in the morning would turn out to be a pretty boring story if you think about it.

    1. Unless, of course, it was a story about going to the dentist…

  6. This post was really helpful. I start my stories a lot with me waking up and brushing my teeth. I also end my stories with me going to sleep. I learned that that wasn’t the correct thing to do but it is a hard habit to break. I always try to not think about it but sometimes if I don’t have a story starter I just go with it.

    1. You can always go with it when you are drafting, then edit it out later.

  7. You are right about how you should not write about I got up and brushed my teeth. You should write about the actual action not the 2 hour trip that it took to get there . If you write about that stuff the reader will get bored and abandon the book.

    1. I agree, I would abandon the book too, this would be a boring book for me. Although if you are talking about the day you go to the dentist then I would start the story with getting up and brushing my teeth. This reminds me of when I wrote a story and it started with getting in the car, it was a 3 page story, and when i read over the story I thought wow this is the worst story I have ever read. That is when I noticed to do multiple beginnings and choose from there. It is working very well for me.

      1. Multiple beginnings? What a wonderful idea! I wonder who taught you that….. πŸ™‚

  8. I just got a Spur of the Moment! <( ^_^ ^_^ )> I <3 Kirby(Sorta)

    "What's that?"

    "Huh? Oh, nice Halloween costume, Josh."

    The green-skinned zombie looked like he was degrading. He made a loud moaning sound as his stumble turned into a clumsy dash at the two.

    "What the?" En yelled as it jumped on him, slamming him to the ground and bit into his arm. En let out a scream of pain as the rotten, yellow teeth bit into his skin, somehow piercing the skin with little trouble and sinking down into his flesh.

    En began to struggle, failing his arms and legs around in a wild frenzy. "Help! Help!" he yelled, but his friends ran in fear.
    The zombies were coming.

    1. ‘rotten, yellow teeth’ leads me to think that maybe you SHOULD have started with brushing teeth?

      1. Ahahaahaaa

    2. WOW. ^o^ I love the detail of the zombies, really pro. Do you think the zombie stunk? I would love to read on….

    3. i like the details about the zombies bitting the person

  9. If i woke up in the morning in every single story that i guess i should start making stories with small moments instead of big moments like going to Disneyland or a whole birthday party.

    1. Think of Disneyland as a vast wealth of small-moment stories!

      1. Oh maybe I can do that…

  10. Flip Over
    The wind blew in my face as the excitement kept building up. I was riding faster than a lion (not really) on my bike. This was nothing, not compared to my Dad’s biking. I looked behind me, my little cousins barely trailing behind me, once I had come just around the bend they were gone, out of sight. The next thing I know, this car comes up ’bout 35 miles per hour in a parking lot, PARKING LOT! I squeezed my brakes as hard as I could. That’s when my bike literally flipped over. Luckily, I jumped off onto my feet, but a little bit off the timing. The bike seat got to me and had bruised my, ‘unmentionable’ and it was even hard to walk. I biked home anyway, the bruise kept hurting, stinging into my skin.

    1. WOW I really like that, Julia!! :)! The same thing happened to me(kinda)… Well, I fell off a bike.. And I got blood EVERYWHERE!!
      (\ /)
      ( . .)

      1. sounds interesting……… BLOOD……..
        = ^=

      2. Bunny-stealers… Thieves, all of you. Their Chibi-Ness is incredible.

        Also, I encourage spreading influence of thinking about real-life compared to your stories.

    2. The same thing happened to me but I hit a pole and flew all the way off my bike and landed in sand. Yours sounds a little less painful.

      1. you didn’t get bruised on your, ‘unmentionable’!! >:b

    3. It still hurts alot…………

    4. Julia, this is a wonderful seed idea for a small moment story. Write it in your journal immediately!


  11. I don’t usually start a story about brushing my teeth. But I have trouble on thinking when to start a narrative. This kinda helps me start a narrative a bit.

    1. Chris, you should read my post on Beginnings

  12. When I was young I would do brushing my teeth all the time in the beginning but now I know what to do to start a story.

  13. well… the only story you should put i got up and brushed my teeth was if you havent brushed your teeth in a year and your breath stinks, your teeth are yellow, and there also black from cause there rotten. then you should probably brush your teeth for a hour or two.

    1. Yeah, that’s true, but I don’t think it will clean your teeth at all because your teeth would be greenish-like.

    2. That’s just a description of teeth, not a story. If your story is about going to the pool later, you STILL wouldn’t start with brushing your grss greenish teeth!

  14. Oh wow, when we learned to write in school I would always always begin with brushing my teeth. Later on I learned that whenever I write from starting at brushing my teeth, the beginning is full with description and as I start writing around the middle I run out of words to say. You put on my writing that we did, I think, on the first day of school, it had too much beginning and too little middle and end. I start to rush and rush (I don’t know why) in the mid and end.

    I NEED HELP!! please

    1. Aline, read my post on Beginnings. And don’t worry, we will practice those middles and ends a LOT this year. πŸ™‚

  15. Okay, rewrite time.

    “What’s that?”

    “Huh? Oh, nice Halloween costume, Josh.”

    The walking corpse that once may have looked like the boy known as Josh stumbled to the duo. He stunk suspiciously of applesauce and garbage cans. Liquids of all kinds dripped down his neck as he stumbled, with lack of a better word, step by step to the two, hands raised and a long, moaning sound escaping his lips with no end of actual sounds. The insanity of this beast totally scared the dip as it was totally impossible. It suddenly broke into a mad dash towards En, the boy in front of him, catching him by suprise.

    En, frenzied, gave a mad backhand to the face, but the former shell once known as Josh responded by biting down on the hand. En screamed in pain as Josh’s once-fresh teeth turned into a crumbling yellow as disgusting black liquids flew down from the teeth, entering En’s arm. The black liquid visibly ran up the skin, black soon covering his entire arm. En screamed in pain as the corpse pounced on En, forcing him onto the ground and biting down fiercely on his neck. Greenish-black oozed out of the bite wound as En screamed one last time in desperation, requesting help, but in naught as he collapsed in pain and shock.

    His friends did nothing. They ran, fearful for their lives. Truly, he had faced betrayal- for this is the beginning.

    The zombies have come, and no one is safe – Not even from their closest friends.

    1. When they get bitten by a zombie do they become one? Love the story, reminds me of zombieland……

    2. Don’t get so caught up in your details that you forget there has to be a story under there…I love the beginning. IS this the beginning? or the middle?

      1. It is the beginning, Mrs. Ulleseit. You see, it was setting the stage – The first zombie details with two unimportant generated characters – They begin to spread this way. It’s actually more like a part of the prologue, because its explaining how it all started. I might type this for my NanoWrimo, but its far too gory, so I’ll have to stick with a different subject.

      2. So the actual chapter will most likely start with the main character being assaulted/found zombies. BUt unfortunately, that would, as I said, be far too gory.
        / ) / )
        ( . . )
        c( ”)( ”)
        (Seventeenth review today)

    3. Whoa Albert! That was just amazing! I wish there was more to that!(awesome beginning BTW)

    4. (\ (\
      ( . .) Bunnie Brings You…

      Weird day.
      So I’m doing what I usually do. Walk to school, go to classes, come back, blah blah blah. All that boring stuff. But then, on this paticular journey to school, I see a guy attacking some other guy.
      Now, this is pretty unusual. Our school is a good one, and we rarely actually have bullies. But anyway, I come closer to check it out – We’re kids, who else wouldn’t be drawn by a fight?
      As I near them, I see that one of them looked like a zombie. Now, I never wear costumes for Halloween – I don’t like it much – But even I can appreciate such a awesome costume. It looks seriously realistic, with the stink, and the rotting flesh, everything. So it even has ripped clothes. I come closer, until I spot that black spot on the second guy’s neck. It was spreading. I distantly hear screams, ’cause I’ve got that stuff – uh, I think it was andrelune? No, adrenaline, yeah, adrenaline pumping in my ears, distracting me. I duck and mack a sweeping kick I learned from Tae-Gwun-Do classes. I try for a axe kick, but the…the thing swings its arms up, grabbing my leg and dragging it to his mouth. Desperate, I began to twist and turn, trying to pull myself free, but it was strong…so strong. In a desperate move, I kicked its mouth with my free leg. Its hands loosed for a few seconds- it was enough to yank my leg back and scramble back as quickly as I could. Now looking, the other person who collapsed was rising, with slightly rotten teeth and skin, bite marks clearly visible. It had ripped clothes from some kind of fight or something earlier. It let out a moan and sprinted towards me along with the other.
      I did what anyone else would have done.
      I ran.
      (\ /)
      (^.^) Bunny Productions.(HAHA)

      1. Cute for the bunny stuff
        That’s good! There were lots of sensory details
        ( awesome just like the first one BTW)

      2. I like the part when the zombie fights him(I dono what’s his name…)

    5. (\ /)
      ( . .)Mr. Bunny Brings You…

      Kendo is a fine art.
      It utilizes a blade, the forms containing swift combinations of offensive and defensive capabilities.
      But not even it could prepare me for what was about to come.
      We didn’t have a chance. The school’s Dojo was overrun quickly by the beasts. We knocked them down, only to watch, horrified, as they rose up behind the trails of destruction we crafted with our Bokken, practice blades, and jumped at us, coming from all directions.
      It was terrible.
      I could feel the blood on my face, but I gave it no mind. I was thinking, and moving using only my instincts.
      Duck, slash, back, slash. I ducked under a swipe of the arm of the foul-smelling beast behind me, slashed the monster running directly at me, slammed backwards before the zombie behind me could strike again, did a swift one-eighty and slashed him in a swift sideways blow. My Bokken was made of hardened wood, so it could not cut; but the sheer strength of my blows combined with the impact allows me to burst parts of the weakened, rotten flesh. Despite their incredible strength, they are not very intelligent and their bodies are still degrading and weak.
      This train of thought was interrupted as I sidestepped a toothy charge from one of them. Bringing myself up, I do a small uppercut blow as a counterattack before swinging my blade in a wide arc, bashing back two of them behind me. I could feel myself tiring; absentmindly, I begin a small pant as another one of them charges at me. Groaning and pausing for a split second, allowing my muscles to rest, I counter the assault.
      Tired, but knowing I cannot afford to be hit, I rejoin the fray with my trusty wooden blade.
      ( \ / )
      (>.<) Bunny Productions.

      1. On a side note, Kendo is a Japanese practice of swordsmanship. It utilizes a Katana(a curved, one-sided blade) and is mostly used by Samurai. They teach it at some schools.

  16. Wow. I remember how I used to say that I brushed my teeth. I soon learned that it wasn’t important. You should only write down something that is going to affect the plot of the story.

    1. Exactly. Nicely said.

  17. New Generation
    The warm breeze swept through Mi-Mi’s brown, silky hair as the beggening of summer vacation began. As she started down the stairs of her white porch she bumped into ice- only it wasn’t.
    The fuzzy object soon began to focus, it was her best friend, Lily.
    “LILY! are you okay- why are you shaking?!” she exclaimed, but lily didn’t answer. “LILY!!!” she yelled even louder. Still no reply. Lily gripped her hands on her head and screamed.
    “STOP! I DON’T WANT YOU TO COME IN!!!!!!! STOOOOOOP!!” Lily screamed
    She kept on repeating, her eyes getting wider and wider.

    1. Whoa that’s a LOT of talking! Can u add more later?

  18. 2’nd of new generation
    “NOOOOO!! STOOOPP!” Lily began to Scream even louder now, her voice cracking and getting hoarse.
    Finally, she broke down in tears wile screaming and kicking. “Lily-” Mi-Mi began to say but couldn’t finish her sentence. Lily was fighting herself now, Forcing her arm not to hit her.
    “Stop you little rat! you’re going to lose!” Lily’s voice was dark and deep instead of sqeaky and bouncy.
    Holding her head again, she shook it wildly, like an animal trying to shake off a bite. Then she stopped, her hair everywhere, and her eyes empty.
    “hi Mi-Mi, How are you?” she asked her voice flat and emotionless
    Mi-Mi knew this wasn’t her freind- she just Knew it.
    “Come to my house at 9:00.” she said, voice still flat
    “Okay……” said Mi-Mi trying to play along.

    1. Ok THAT was good πŸ™‚ I like the part where Lily was fighting herself

  19. DO NOT STEAL! I just got a AWSOME story idea from Science Class – Don’t take it, or I’ll sue for story theft! Okay, you know how the Sun’s core is Plasma, and how theres a lot of other stars and systems, right? So its about two empires battling each other that are really, really advanced. Then one paticular empire develops a superweapon that utilizes plasma power from stars, but the stars they have are too hot. So they pick one of the perfect tempature and size – the Sun! So its about in six months when one side of the sun is not able to be seen, they create a gigantic cannon that shoots out powerful blobs of plasma!
    Awsome idea, Right?
    ( \ / )

    1. Wouldn’t they burn themselves?
      (\ /)

      1. They developed a steel that can withstand insane heats, but the older stars are too hot, so they have to use a smaller star, the Yellow Dwarf.

  20. sorry, i made it a little confusing… for those of you who don’t know what’s happening, Lily, Mi-Mi’s best friend, is being taken over by something… something evil.

  21. 3 part of: New Generation
    Mi-Mi drove to Lily’s house, she knew the way, but something inside of her wanted to turn around and never go back- to late. She was already there as Lily stared out the window with wide, empty eyes. “okay,” she thought,”no turning back now…” As she went up the steps she lifted up her hand to knock, only to find that the door was open. “it wasn’t open before was it? And no one opened the door….” Her thoughts trailed off. Mi-Mi stepped onto the dark room. The smell of rotting flesh filled the house. “EWW! Gross! What is that smell?!” Mi-Mi covered her nose with her jacket sleeve and continued to walk.

  22. Continued: New Generation
    She felt a cold hand lay apon her should as she spun around. In shock; she grabbed the hand and bit it, only to find it was Lily’s Lily, in this case had no reaction. she spit the hand you of her mouth. “im sorry, please don’t-” she opened her mouth but no words came out.
    “Why is this house so dark- i thought you were scared of the dark,” exclaimed Mi-Mi
    “I like to keep it this way. and no, i am not afraid of the dark… i have never been.” her voice was flat and emotion less.
    Her stomach dropped. Why hadn’t she told her this before? But wait- Yes, this wasn’t the real Lily. Mi-Mi closed her eyes and blew out her breath so that she could feel her bangs float up. Once she had opened her eyes Lily was gone. she could hear some foot steps running. it stopped and she felt the warm breath of a human-being.
    “Lily- is that you,” Mi-Mi asked as she spun around on the tip of her heal. She saw a flash of silver, then a sharp ridged felling inside her ribcage, she gagged as the warm dark blood of Mi-Mi was spewing out of her mouth. She was choking now- on her own blood.

  23. the real point is, as you see a dark spirit is taking over the world, creating a new generation.

    1. Can’t we just call the Evil Extermination Dudes(JEDI) and get over with it?

      1. NOO!! that was the beggening of the story and i’m not about to change it.

      2. Julia, if evil spirits exist, I’m sure that someone would have found out and discovered a counter to them.

        Plus, Jedi with their awsome flashy sticks of light that can cut anything is kewl. <(^.^)^

    2. Nice…. I had to read the story two times before I could understand what’s happening… The last part was so confusing. What color is the blood? What if Mi-Mi’s blood was blue? I have a LOT of questions.

    3. You do know that this is supposed to be for BEGINNINGS? I created the beginning for multiple different characters, which is what I uploaded – but you are typing up a entire story. It would be better to send Mrs. Ulleseit a E-mail containing the story and make her post it on Your Work.

      1. That was a beggining!!!!!! it’s actually what someone witnised as a stalker

  24. Well, no one thinks evil spirits exist. at least not many ppl

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