Writing Mini-Lessons: Annotated Student Historical Fiction Samples

Historical Fiction is a new genre for us. As a result, we do not have any samples from students at our school, and other samples of this genre were few and far between.  The best samples available, despite the fact that over time, we aspire to even stronger writing, came from the Achieve the Core website.  Except for one, these samples are responses to “write on demand” prompts and contain any errors the student made during writing.

Deadly Ink: Queen Elizabeth I

One tiny black leg gracefully sweeps forward. Then five more identical legs immediately follow. The distance covered is just slightly over a mere quarter of an inch. Carried on its face is no discernible expression. The same face carried from the first introduction to oxygen. To freedom. To life. The little bug pauses shortly from its purposeful stride.

Yes indeed, there is much happening outside in the country of England. The year is 1587, and the month February. Everyone still wishes me to be married, but I do not think it a wise idea. Should I hand my country over to someone else who will recklessly run England? No. I owe it to my subjects to keep them safe as long as possible, and for as long as I am alive. I also at the moment need to keep my country safe from France and Spain who seem to be plotting against me, planning to take over this country.

However, my attention is focused on the bug. Such a frail, helpless looking character.

The task at hand requires only a signature from me. My name, written identically countless times before.  The consequence of signing this paper are far bigger than any paper put forth in my past existence, unfortunately. This time my signature means the death of a fellow human being. My cousin, Mary, the Scottish queen.

The bug continues its deliberate march forward, this time coming closer to the figure standing across from me, the woman reading the paper. It seems to glance upward at my huge figure looming over it. Threatening, but at the moment sitting still.

There is no question about what I must do. Mary has been kept in many different prisons here after being accused of plotting her husband’s murder and after escaping prison in Scotland to come asking for my help. I had no choice but to keep her here. I have kept her here for over twenty years. I could not leave her helpless.

Now, however, Mary is guilty of high treason. She was found to be communicating with France and Spain. She has been devising plans with them to take over England. To let her live would be wrong. Nevertheless, she is a relative of mine. In addition, she is a queen. How can I put to death royalty? The hand belonging to none other than me has to sign the paper for her death. Is there a special term for me giving approval to Mary to be killed? Regret? Shame? Murder?

A hand seemingly unnoticed by the bug raises into the air.

My signature is the task at hand. My signature is Mary’s death. The tip of my quill pen finds its way to the paper. My heart beat finds its rate speeding up.

I look up just in time to see the hand of one of my guards falling, slicing through the air. A foot away from the table. Half a foot. Two inches.

The little bug looks upward at the hand falling above its back. It panics. The frail legs start to move as fast, and almost faster, than the bug knew it could. Not fast enough.

A cold chill runs down my back, causing my hand to shake at the impact of the other hand hitting the table. Of the other hand hitting the bug. I look down at my signature. Elizabeth. In the middle of the “z”, there is a tiny fault where my hand slipped. The bump is hardly noticeable to those who would glance at my signature in the future. However, engraved in my mind is my name holding the mistake in the “z”, holding the bug’s death, and holding Mary’s death.

Black Mountains of Dust: On-Demand Writing

I was sitting at a park bench when I saw the endless black heading towards me. "Mom look!" I screamed. My mom turned around and faced me. A look of pure horror was painted across her face.

"Margaret come on we need to go now!" she shouted.

We ran across roads and dried up crop fields. We did not dare look back. Suddenly I wasn’t running away from the black cloud. Instead I was face down in the dirt. Oh no I had tripped over my shoelace! I slowly looked up where was my mom? The cloud loomed closer and closer. I choked feeling the gritty dust in my throat. I tried to crawl forward but needles shot through my legs. Oh great in a time like this my legs fall asleep! A whiff of dust blew toward me, burning my eyes and making everything blurry.

"Mom!" I screamed. "Mom!"

I tried to yell again but was choked by more dust. "Mom" I whined. Where was she. I started coughing from all of the dust in my lungs and throat.

"Margaret! Darling come on!" My mom motioned me to get up but I shook my head.

My mom flung me into her arms and ran, soaring farther away from the storm. After what seemed forever, my mom stopped running. Screams and yells echoed off walls. I covered my ears.

A person right in front of us said: "Get inside quickly!"

My mom answered "Okay," and then I was carried into a building that looked like the town hall.

My mom set me down in a corner in the town hall and sat next to me. "Mom?" I croaked.

"Yes, Sweetie?" she said in a sweet voice, almost like honey.

"Is this going to happen ever again, this storm?" I asked, my voice still thick with dust. She did not answer, and I knew that she knew this wouldn’t be the the last time the black mountains of dust attacked the plain states.

Dust Storm: On-Demand Writing

My family thought our lives were absolutely perfect. My twelve year old mind thought so, too, until our Sunday paper arrived. I heard the clunk of the mail slot, and sprinted to get the first peek of the paper. People on the first page were being interviewed by frantic news reporters, wanting to know reasons for our year long hot weather. I thought they were crazy, until they were right.

Days went by, and the hot temperatures got worse. Hot baths were long gone, replaced with iced cold water. We had all ate the cold foods we could eat, no more ovens or fires, if you were rich enough. Our family had a fire, and a pan. We stopped doing that yesterday. I slipped out of my thoughts as my younger sister, Leesh, yelled out names. "Mom! Dad! Mary! Come see this!"

The yell was far distance, followed by a scream so high pitch, I sprinted outside, into the woods to find Leesh. Mom and Dad followed, pale with panic and worry. I smelled my own blood, from all the thorns in our woods. I felt the trickling on my legs, my bare legs, and arms, lucky my sundress hasn’t yet ripped. "Leesh! Leesh – where are you?" I saw our fallen treehouse, and something a little beyond the trees.

"Mom, Dad, get Leesh down. I think I see something beyond the trees!" They opened there mouths to say something, but they were lost for words, as I ran. Tree branches, sticks, thorn bushes, and stumps were my obstacles. I noticed the animals all ran the opposite way, with fear and shock in their faces and eyes. I got to the end, staring in shock at the terrifying sight in front of me.

Over the hills, rather then sun and clouds, I saw it. A big, pitch black cloud, thousands and thousands of feet tall, making any tree look like action figures. It moved with the wind blowing its way towards me. It came up the last hill, the one I stood on. The dust cloud swallowed me, and it whipped me in the face, stinging me like needles piercing every inch of my helpless body. I still sprinted, as fast as my legs could take me, swallowing the dust in my mouth, nose, and burning eyes. I wheezed, coughed, and barely breathed. I felt myself suffocating, remembering my name, will myself I would make it. You can do this Mary, you can get out of this. I opened my mouth to scream, instead filling myself with gallons of dust in my throat and lungs. I realized I was finally back in the woods, almost reaching my terrified family. I took huge rock, and wrote with saliva and dust. My vision blurred and I tripped over tree branches, rocks, and anything in my way. I tumbled, over my head, crashing on the ground. I felt myself suffocate before my head hit the rock, never seeing light or dust, as my body shut down.

Daydreams of a Migrant Mother: On-Demand Writing

The cool afternoon wind brushed against my face. I watched as the kids played with a rabbit they had found in the woods. All around me the sounds of the camp faded in my mind. The sounds of babies crying turned to a soft wail. The yelling of the kids turned to quiet murmurs as I drifted into my mind.

For the past few weeks since we left Oklahoma, I’ve been worried. It’s been really rough living on the road without a proper home and I just really want the best for my family. The kids have been going to a public school just two miles from where we’d been camping. They’ve told me that the kids have given them ugly looks and said awful things about them calling them "Okies" or saying they were retarded. I couldn’t stand any of my kids having to go through this misfortune. I focused my vision on my two kids Annie and Joey. They were laughing and shoving some grass in the rabbit’s mouth. I didn’t want them living like this but there was nothing I could do. I felt useless and weak.

The wind blew again and I went back to my daydreaming. My husband had been out for three days looking for any job available. We had planned to be at least in a home that put a roof over our heads but we accomplished nothing. Most of our close friends that had traveled with us already had a job and housing. The feeling bothered me. I looked around and saw some of the families huddled under their tents. I don’t want to be like this anymore I thought. But yet again there was nothing I could do. Sometimes I felt angry with myself. As if I wasn’t trying my hardest, but eventually it would just turn to sorrow.

My thoughts were disrupted by Annie and Joey running up to me smiling. I looked down on them and smiled, wondering how lovely childhood must be with no worries.

"Ma, when are we going to eat, I’m starving?" asked Joey.

Even I didn’t know the answer to that question; we had completely run out of food. I pondered on how I would say this to them. I gave up and just said, "I don’t know Joey."