Row Story

In my senior year of high school, there was a recurring, in-class creative writing assignment: a row story. Each student in the row had a specific part of the story to write: set the scene, male character, female character, action, and if five students sat in the row, a conclusion.

The teacher would give a basic overview and off we were, writing for 20 minutes. the end of class was the reading of the pieces together to tell a Mad-Lib-esque story.

Mad Libs
Are these still a thing? I loved them!

The part I always dreaded was setting the scene. One of my worst writing samples ever came from one of these stories. It was set in a park where the male and female character were supposed to meet, and my scenery description was along the lines of  “The grass was green. The sand was tan. There was playground equipment that included a jungle gym, a swingset, and jumbo tires.” It was a horrible example of telling rather than showing.

As I listened to all the creativity behind the rest of my row’s contribution, I was embarrassed and tried to hide behind the excuse that I’d given my imagination away in the fifth grade. It didn’t help.

Strangely enough, it never dawned on me how I could have made it better. I simply prayed that I was assigned a different role on other writing occasions.

Hillary and I were talking about row stories several months ago, as she wanted to see how they used to be set up so she could use them in her classes. It must have planted a seed.

The other night I woke up with an idea on how to do that monumental fail of a row story better. My mind is admittedly slow, but this is 25 years later! If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to redeem myself for that assignment now.

Row Story Redemption – Describe the Park Scene

High pitched squeals filled the park as children took turns swinging a bat at a bird-shaped piñata.

Bird Pinata

Draped over a nearby tree, the paper mache creation was raised and lowered thanks to the efforts of the birthday girl’s dedicated father. The yellow, orange, and red plumage was starting to tatter after the occasional glancing blow of the bat.

Children at other picnic tables whined to their parents for permission to participate, especially when a successful party-goer decapitated the bird and the candy spilled out, the body crashing to the ground with a thud.

Sitting on the swings, completely unnoticed by the excited children or their exasperated parents, sat a woman. She was alone and mindlessly rocking herself back and forth. If anyone had looked at her expression, or noticed her at all, they would have instantly known that she was miles away.

Slowly a man approached the swing set from behind, stepping carefully to make sure he was not heard.


Have you ever been haunted by an assignment you did poorly? or Are piñatas now nationwide or are they still a regional thing?

4 thoughts on “Row Story”

  1. Oooh, great redemption! I always have a hard time doing anything on the spot or on command. Twenty-five years seems like a fair amount of time to me to come up with something. I’d have taken at least that long. 🙂


    1. Thanks for your support, Andrea!!!! For all that time somewhere in the back of my head was this failure, and suddenly, the solution! I think it’s sad that it still took me a couple months after I was reminded of the writing assignment before I came up with a better way to approach it!


  2. I’d say you’ve sufficiently redeemed yourself. Much better on the second go. It can be hard coming up with stuff when you’re young. I should know, I’m a writing tutor and I see kids write stuff like your description every day. They just haven’t been shown how to write better, more descriptive sentences. At least you caught on though – that’s what matters.


    1. Thanks, Steve! I’m glad to know that my epic fail was more indicative of my inexperience than my inability to express myself.

      What I think got me was that in my head describing the scene did not involve any action or movement. My 12th grade self would have balked at what I did above saying it wasn’t allowed. Yet just now I thought of a way that I could have described the park without anyone in it that still would be a show not tell method. I’m on a roll!!!! It’s amazing what 25 more years of life experience (and reading!) will do for a person.


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