Teaching Students to Write Autobiographical Fiction by David Lee Finkle

Teaching students to write autobiographical fiction image

Once, I produced a science fiction epic film.

Well, I attempted to.

I was in junior high school in the early 1980s. Armed with a Super 8 camera, styrofoam spaceships, cardboard sets, and homemade robot costumes, my friends and I managed to film about four minutes of the two-hour saga I’d envisioned.

Sadly, my friends moved away, and my movie studio collapsed - literally. My father, drunk at the time, rammed the garage that housed my daydreams to the ground with the family car late one August night.

The science fiction story we attempted to film before the studio destruction wasn’t great material - but the “making of” story surrounding it was. I knew, even at the age of 14, that I would need to write about it, but I wasn’t sure how.

But with inspiration from daydream stories like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes I eventually wrote a novel, Making My Escape. It is the story of a boy named Daniel Finn who tries to produce a sci-fi epic and his braver alter-ego Zack attempts to escape an evil cyborg.

It was published in 2002. I have taught it to my students for many years and used it to encourage their own creativity by having them write their own autobiographical fiction.

From what I’ve seen, fiction writing isn’t encouraged in many schools, but I would argue that fiction writing is more rigorous and requires more thought than the essays about fiction we have students write.

I teach fiction writing for several reasons:

  • narrative writing is important in many contexts (college essays, for example)

  • it’s in the standards, even if it’s not tested

  • it develops students’ creativity, and

  • it forces students to think about fiction differently, which allows them to analyze it better.