Short Story Sunday: “Format” [309]

Short Story Sunday 309: "Format" | Flash Fiction | Creative Writing | RachelPoli.com

Mae had seen a lot of things in her many years of teaching. She had students put in more effort than what was expected from them. She had also seen some children put in way less effort than they should have. Some kids had a good excuse for why they did this or that and others… well, they lied through their teeth. There was one student who almost didn’t get caught at all. Mae was impressed by their elaborate lie with full eye-contact and serious tone of voice. However, they were caught in the end and Mae had to pretend she wasn’t impressed at all and was, in fact, upset with her student.

There were some students on the other hand who seemed to take everything literal or they didn’t understand the directions no matter how clear Mae thought she was. She would ask a question in class and some of the kids would overthink it, thus coming to the totally wrong conclusion.

This was how some of her rubrics went when she assigned essays to her classes.

Mae had always been particular with a certain format for her essays. It was a creative writing class, yes, but there were some essays that needed to be written when it came to the “rules” for writing. These essays weren’t necessarily formal content in the case that the essay topic had a right or wrong answer. She was always curious where each one of her students was when it came to various pieces of writing advice.

With that said, there had always been a generic format for when it came to submitting your work of writing to a publisher, agent, or magazine. Mae knew a lot of her students had already begun submitting some of their short stories and poetry to different websites, magazines, and contests. She wanted to help them through that process by showing them how to submit each piece in the proper, professional manner.

Most submissions were wanted in a certain font such as Courier New. The font size should be around nine to 12-points with double line spacing. There were never any cover or title pages. The first page was the same page the story begun, but not until halfway down.

At the top left corner of that page was the student’s name and contact information. Of course, for the sake of the class, Mae always had the students write their name, which class day and time they were part of (she taught five creative writing classes and each semester got more difficult to tell them all a part), and the date as well as their school email. At the top right corner they needed to write the exact word count of their piece, excluding the heading and the title of the piece. Halfway down the page, centered, was the title of the piece. Then the story began.

Mae always thought she was pretty clear about those instructions. She wrote it all out in the rubric and she even included an example with her own information on it. It was the first page to an actual short story she had submitted long ago for publication.

Now she was at a loss. Mae had always looked forward to reading the various works of all her students. They wrote such an array of pieces and genres. She had a few poets, some who wrote in different genres such as different areas of fantasy, mystery, drama, general fiction, and more. She enjoyed every bit of it and she certainly loved seeing the various levels of creativity come from her students. Mae always got a smile whenever she noticed an improvement from one piece to the next from some feedback she had given her students.

Of course, feedback was always taken with a grain of salt. That was something Mae had always drilled into her students’ heads. Feedback was helpful and needed, yes, but in the end, it’s their story. They should listen to the feedback but the final decision for what’s right for the story is always up to the author.

So now Mae was reading some of the stories her students had submitted to her. This was their final project for the semester. They had been working on these particular stories since the beginning of the semester with smaller projects here and there as well as working on draft after draft of their longer story, their final project. Peer editing and self-editing have all been part of the process as homework and group projects for grades. She was eager to finally read these pieces since she had yet to look at their longer works. She always wanted to save these until the end so she could read the final works as not just a teacher but also a reader and truly be surprised about what was to happen at the end of whatever her students came up with.

The format for one particular student, however, stuck out to her like a sore thumb. Not only was this their final project as a huge grade for the class from the whole semester, but Mae had drilled the format into their heads and… well, now she wasn’t so sure if this was a mistake or if one of her students had given up after a semester of working hard.

The example Mae had given the class was her own information for a short story she had submitted a long time ago. She had students in the past input her information instead of their own believing they were meant to do so. Mae didn’t understand why some of them thought a magazine would want their teacher’s information rather than the actual author’s, but that was an entirely different conversation.

This student did not do that. No, they forgot to plug in all their information. Instead of their name, they had written, “[Name]” on their paper. They didn’t even fill in the day and time of which creative writing class they were a part of. (Now Mae needed to do some trial and error. She had to save this piece of work for last and figure out which student hadn’t been corrected yet so she could give it a proper read knowing which student wrote it.)

Mae had been teaching college level creative writing classes for quite a few years. In all her many years of teaching, she had never seen a student pass in a short story with a format such as this one. Surely, the student knew their own name and their class day and time so there was no need to put placement text. She didn’t understand the logic behind it.

She moved the story to the side not wanting to read it quite yet. She’d move onto the next story and, when she figured out which student forgot to input their own information, she’d roll their story up and bonk them on the head with it.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Please feel free to share this post.

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