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reading and writing

Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Creative Contests  >  Creative Writing Contest
17th Annual Creative Writing Contest, 1998  -  Becca Nations - 1998 Grand Prize Winner
By George Bryson « Prev   Page 2 of 2  

Anchorage Daily News

It began with a history class discussion on the Salem witch trials. That piqued the student's interest. Then came an English class assignment -- to write a fictional story at least three pages long. That provided the impetus.

Most of the rest was 13-year-old Rebecca Nations' doing.

What the Palmer area eighth-grader (who goes by Becca) proceeded to do was write a prize-winning short story for this year's University of Alaska/Anchorage Daily News Creative Writing Contest -- one that combined her newfound interest in the Salem witch trials, her research skills on the computer, her love of literature and writing, and particularly her willingness to revise and improve her work again and again.

The result was "The Courier," which preliminary judges awarded first place in the 7th-to-9th grade fiction division, and final judges awarded the Grand Prize, citing the story as a remarkable effort for a young writer.

"When you're a kid and you like to write, you write a lot of these, well, just stupid little stories," says Becca, poking fun at her own previous efforts. "And I got sick of it. . . . I wanted to write something that would make people think."

So instead of easily dashing off a three-pager to fulfill her assignment, Becca logged onto the Internet and found "SalemWeb" -- an Internet site that provides historical information on Salem, Mass., including a link with transcripts from the town's famous witch trials. She also found the true-life record of Bridget Bishop and took notes.

Then on a single afternoon, she wrote a 13-page story that focused on the life of Bishop, using her imagination to fill in the gaps, producing a work of historical fiction.

"One of the things that drew me so much to choose Bridget Bishop as a character is there wasn't a lot of information about her," Becca says. "So it wasn't as if I was changing facts that were already there. Because I couldn't find a whole lot."

Then she showed the story to her English teacher at Colony Middle School. Lura Hegg is used to receiving excellent school work from Becca Nations, an honor student with interests that stretch from science to orchestra to acting. "She's a real talented child," Hegg says. "She loves to write."

Becca starred on the state champion Colony Middle School science team that recently traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., for the National Science Olympiad. Competing against some of the top science students in the country, she and classmate James Grand won eighth-place for solving a water-quality problem.

Still, the witch trial story caught her teacher by surprise. "I told her I thought it was just wonderful," Hegg recalls. "And I said, 'Do you want to put some high school or college-level techniques in there?' And she said, 'Yes.' "

So "The Courier" became a semester-long project for Becca. History teacher Joe Nolting, suggested she research the subject in greater depth by reading Arthur Miller's famous play, "The Crucible." Hegg talked to her about controlling the vocabulary of the story, choosing only words that contribute to the mood she wanted to create. About foreshadowing to build tension. About the power of "showing, not telling" by giving readers sensory details that help them create pictures in their minds.

What she didn't do, she says, is take control of Becca's story.

"You can be assured she's a very independent child," Hegg says. "If I make a suggestion . . . she doesn't write down what I say. She reworks it. She's able to take the spirit (of the suggestion) and then make it come real for herself. She can make that jump."

Becca credits a home environment that encourages writing on the computer. Her parents, Scott, a land surveyor, and Andi, a special education teacher, have always urged their two daughters (including Lara, 11) to reach as high as they can.

How high will that be for Becca? Right now, she says, she's contemplating a career as a neurosurgeon.

But don't count out a possible future in the literary arts as well, her English teacher says.

"We're going to hear more from Becca," Lura Hegg says. "She's going to be good."

 
About the Author: George Bryson is editor of We Alaskans.
 
Pages:  1  2 


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