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“It is no surprise that many fiction writers turn to their own family history for inspiration when it comes to creating characters and stories,” says instructor Austin Smith. “But, once we decide to draw from an ancestor's life (especially an ancestor who lived and died before we were born), how do we make sure we do so with respect and dignity? How much leeway do we have when it comes to following the facts of their lives and inventing events and traits that may heighten the drama of our story or novel?”
Our work together will involve researching at least one ancestor using tools such as Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com. In the process of researching and writing about this ancestor, we will practice various skills, including how to write about a different historical period, how to flesh out what might be only a glimmer of a story, and how to transform an ancestor who may be personally important to us into a character capable of eliciting more universal sympathy and interest. Most class-time will be devoted to writing exercises, discussions, and workshops.
By the end of the course our goal will be to finish a draft of one short story based on our ancestor. But perhaps more importantly, upon the conclusion of the course we will have connected in a deeper way both to our family history and to our craft as fiction writers.