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Writing Workshop Blog: Creating a Believable Past

In the Right Situation

October 2, 2012: We dipped into the story starter jar this week to warm up and produced the beginnings of a wide variety of stories. One writer turned her prompt into a quotation from a character’s story. A few writers steered their stories away from the prompt in a fantastical direction. Others made their stories more mysterious.

We then turned to our historical fiction stories and talked a bit about developing the plot and theme. Rhona Martin wrote in Writing Historical Fiction, “If you have chosen the right characters through which to tell your story, and have set them down in the right situation, they will largely take care of the plot.” I brought in several references to help writers fill in details about clothing, important events, and daily life in their time periods. We discussed the importance of having a theme to frame the story and brainstormed several possible themes.

Each writer then set to work on building a story, and I met with each writer to ask questions about the characters, the writer’s intention for the conflict, the setting, etc. It is very challenging to visualize life in the past and to figure out what you need to learn about the past in order to portray it convincingly. We will continue to examine the details.

At the end of the independent writing period later, several people wanted to share. One had started drafting her historical fiction piece after spending time earlier consulting the references about pioneer life in the 1840s. She is writing her piece from the point of view of a family’s horse as the family prepares to set out on the Oregon Trail.

Another writer, inspired by a piece she had read in Stone Soup, continued working on a story with a very suspenseful beginning. It takes place on the planet Secle, which is to the left of the earth and closer to the moon.

Four writers continued to make progress in their Harry Potter fan fiction story. They took turns writing and worked on their own writing projects while they waited for their turn.

Everyone was energized during sharing to hear how each other’s work was progressing. I continue to be impressed with the rich vocabulary and sentence structure that the writers in our workshop have gleaned from reading books that they love—a topic for a future post, I am sure.

-- Paige

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