If given the option, I could much easier describe a crimson leaf that is heralding the approaching season, then picking the words my character, Kate Dinsmore, uses when talking to her sister Ginny. It feels as if there are no rules when writing my story. Of course there are reams of guidelines and lots of books on how to write fiction. But until I write my unique story that is taking place in Charlotte, NC in 1950, it has never existed before.
I can’t describe how my character looks, the clothes she wears, or her peculiar mannerisms until I create her. I can’t predict how she’ll react to getting snubbed at cotillion because it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know what Kate will say when she meets Lillie, the light-skinned African American granddaughter of her grandmother’s cook. How (and why?) would they develop a friendship? What obstacles will they meet? If Kate visits Lillie in her home in Griertown, what will happen there? All of these are unanswered question because very simply, the story isn’t written yet. No rules. No road map.
It’s frustrating, exciting, and challenging—all in one. And that’s why I’m a huge fan of students learning to write fiction. Imaginations are stretched as young authors build their own mini-world in which original characters lose a soccer game, compete in a difficult karate match, fail a driver’s test, or do any number of things which make for an interesting story. And the author must plan the story so that events build to a satisfactory and logical conclusion.
Of course there are rules. One of most important ones for students to learn is that the imaginary world they have created must be believable. That means that very few 12-year-old girls take full charge of 5 younger siblings when their parents die or very few 16-year-old boys save the world single-handily from nuclear destruction.
For me, it means finding out what happens when a 13-year-old Caucasian girl who doesn’t fit in with the upper-crust society she is thrust into, and a 14-year-old light-skinned African American who feels different than the rest of her community--meet.
Stay tuned. I suspect I may discover this story just a step ahead of you. And in the process, I hope I create a story as beautiful and unique as these flaming red leaves in Crossville, Tennessee.
No Rules, Griertown, writing fiction, teaching writing
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