South Orangetown Central School District

South Orangetown Middle School seventh-grade teachers Renee Kegley and Jill Rutherford hosted a publishing party to celebrate the close of their Realistic Fiction writing unit. The festivities also drew sixth-grade and Explore teachers, who turned out to support student-authors who read excerpts of their work. What they heard: Vivid, crisp writing and suspenseful plot development.

But this triumph of well-crafted narratives started as the smallest of seeds. Looking to S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) and John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), whose stories were inspired by personal experience, students have learned that realistic fiction authors do not magically create their stories. Instead, they slow down and pay attention to the small moments in their lives, moments so impactful that they take on a fictional life of their own. “Authors are individuals with an eye for life and deep persistence in their craft,” explains Ms. Kegley. “Anyone can be an author, anyone willing to try and fail and persist to success.”

Over the course of the Realistic Fiction unit, students studied how writers create engaging stories and practiced techniques through their own writing. They read realistic fiction novels of their choice at home and generated their own stories in school. The choice novels, alongside class texts like Rachel Vail’s short story Thirteen and a Half, modeled skills essential to realistic fiction writing: dynamic plotlines, conflicts that build tension, characters who are complex with deep motivations, inner thinking, dialogue, body language, and themes that send meaningful messages. Students learned how to incorporate these literary elements to further craft their story ideas into successful works of realistic fiction.

“We felt that the completion of these stories, born from life experience, subjected to imagination, rendered fictional, and crafted to completion deserved thoughtful celebration,” noted Ms. Rutherford.” Students planned their publishing party, from making the decorations to organizing story bingo and autograph exchanges and, of course, reading excerpts of their work. Classes also compiled an anthology that was distributed on the day of the party.

Ms. Kegley and Ms. Rutherford hope that the end of the Realistic Fiction unit mark the start of some of their young authors’ careers! Here’s how parents can support their writers at home:

  • Prompt your child to pay close attention to life’s little details and ask “Is there a story here?”
  • Encourage your child to look to great published works for inspiration
  • Remind your children to take their time and write bit by bit in order to show vivid scenes with body language, inner thinking, dialogue and imagery rather than speedy summaries

Writing is a process and dedication is key, so celebrate your child’s hard work!

Seventh-grader reads excerpt of his realistic fiction work