Keith O’Brien Author Visit

Many students at Oyster River High School (ORHS) have been working on a story for NaNoWriMo, a creative writing project. The students were lucky enough to have Keith O’Brien, a local, and award winning author, come to the school during flex on November 5th, and explain some writing techniques as well as share his books. 

O’Brien has written three books. His most recent released book is Fly Girls, a book about how five women earned their pilots licenses and competed against men and adversary. O’Brien was hosted by the library and spoke to the students who attended about his experiences as an author, and what it takes to write an effective story using his four main tips. O’Brien jumps on any chance he can get to discuss his writing experiences and books. 

“I love to talk about [Fly Girls] especially to young people, and of course, it’s always a thrill to be able to share the story with my local community,” said O’Brien. 

As O’Brien shared about Fly Girls, he talked about his four main tips that he uses in his writing process including finding the elements of the story, looking for the story, researching the story, and writing the story. O’Brien made it clear that the tips he shared are just what he uses and they may not be for everyone.

“Whatever your process is that helps you get the work done is a good process. There’s no algorithm for this stuff. There’s not a science, there’s no equation to make this stuff work […] whatever works for you is what works,” said O’Brien.

Tip one explained the elements of a story. O’Brien said that it is essential for the writer to know their story. He advises writers to plan out their stories before writing them. After many years of writing, O’Brien feels he has “crystallized” this skill and knows what he is looking for in a story. O’Brien said that stories should be made up of three main parts. It should include an interesting world, antagonists and protagonists, and a quest. O’Brien used Harry Potter and Star Wars as examples to showcase these three crucial factors of a good story. 

O’Brien then moved onto tip two: looking for the story. He explained that reading other pieces of writing is a huge part of writing something on your own and can give readers ideas about what they could write about. 

O’Brien said, “when I read other things, whether it’s in magazines, or newspapers, or whether it’s some other book, I am reading very critically. I’m still trying to understand, […] ‘How did they write this? How did they make this work?’” He added that story ideas and topics are hidden within supporting details of other stories. O’Brien has learned this from his personal experience. 

For example, O’Brien was on a plane when he first came up with his story idea of Fly Girls. He was reading a book about the wives of the first seven astronauts. In the book, background was given about the wives, and one of them happened to be a licensed pilot. This stopped O’Brien and got him thinking about other female pilots. Thinking led to research, which led to writing, which led to his published book

Tip number three is to build the story and research the story. O’Brien started going to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) library at night and reading newspapers, specifically microfilm (reels of film that newspapers are preserved on) to learn everything that he could about his topic. Microfilm allows readers to “see the world,” and by that he means that microfilm brings the newspapers to life. Researching allows readers to help develop and know their story through facts and knowledge. It helps them to develop the world, characters, and quest, explained O’Brien.

After thoroughly researching and collecting as much information as possible, it’s time for step four: getting to work. O’Brien said that stories will not write themselves. Once all the research has been done and collected, getting the writing done is the goal and will take time. It took O’Brien about ten months to research his topic, five months to write it, and three months to edit it.

Mia Hricz (‘21) attended the author visit for one of her classes. In addition to learning many helpful tips about writing, she would now be interested in checking out the book.

“I thought [the author visit] was very informative and interesting. O’Brien was very enthusiastic about his story, and his drive for his topic was very compelling,” said Hricz. Not only do students who listened to O’Brien have another book to add to their to be read list, they have gained insight from an author on the process of writing an effective story. 

Students that listened to O’Brien will try to apply the tips he spoke about to their own writing. Noah O’Hern (‘21) said, “definitely while I am writing my novel for NaNoWriMo, I am going to be thinking about the aspects of the story that [O’Brien] talked about.” 

Kathy Pearce, the Library Media Specialist at ORHS, thinks that listening to O’Brien could help students to become writers, and help them to learn how to create any style of writing better. In the future, Pearce explained that she hopes to have more authors visit and share their stories and information about their writing experiences with students. She even hopes that O’Brien will return later this year.  

“I asked [O’Brien] if he would come back to talk to the kids before they start National History Day because so much of what he was talking about in terms of research and finding […] sources, I think would really help the National History Day kids on figuring out how to find a story in history,” said Pearce. Visiting authors, like O’Brien, allow students to learn how to become more effective writers and researchers, as well as get ideas on how to better write stories.

Using the strategies provided by O’Brien will hopefully help the students when writing their stories for NaNoWriMo. Another author visit would also be beneficial for the students in order for them to see other perspectives of writers, and get even more useful writing tips.