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For the course project, you will write about a historical event between 1865 and the present day from the perspective of a historical figure who participated in the event.

You will need to research not only the event, but also the historical figure, and write the paper "in character."

This is my thesis statement:

The brilliance, the mystery, and the consequences of the atomic bomb as seen through the eyes of Julius Robert Oppenheimer (J.R.O.) “The father of the atomic bomb."

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I'd personally love writing something like that

Anways, you're gonna have to do a lot of research. Maybe read some biographies and (if you can) watch the Oppenheimer movie. You need to learn what he's like. What were his thoughts and feelings on the bomb, for example? Basically you just need to really get into Oppie's mind and write something that he'd definitely write.

I can't tell you how to write your thesis, but the above is probably a good starting point for you.

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I notice that the assignment does not require you to use a particular form of document. This gives you a lot of leeway. You could envision "what would Oppenheimer write for a historical retrospective." Or op-ed. Or private diary entry. Or a lecture.

It might be advisable to pick a form he actually used, and that you can get copies of. This will let you get a good feel for how Oppenheimer wrote about things.

Then you need to consider what he would put into it. It would express his views, not yours, in his language, not yours, and use facts that he knows, and omit all facts that you know and he wouldn't have.

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  1. Think about how one of your friends would tell you what she did on the weekend. ("Yesterday me and my mom went to visit my grandparents.")

  2. Now imagine you would write a story about what your friend did on the weekend. ("On Sunday, Julie and her mom took the car to visit Julie's grandparents.")

  3. Replace Julie with Oppenheimer and the weekend with whatever scene from his life you want to recount. ("Oppenheimer sighed as the President left the Oval Office.")

  4. Ask your professor what they mean with "in character". Some of the commenters below believe that "in character" might mean that you are supposed to write in first person ("I sighed as the President left the Oval Office."). Ask your professor about this. If you write in first person, try to imagine what Oppenheimer would see and feel and how he would tell you about it. I believe you can write "in character" in third person, too (example under 3). Imagine you were standing by Oppenheimer's side and observing what happened and what he did – including his thoughts (as if you could look into his mind from outside). Describe it like a witness.

Since you are not writing a biography of Oppenheimer but only a short paper, limit yourself to a clearly demarcated scene from his life. Choose a scene that is representative of what you want to illustrate.

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  • "In-character" means in first person. Third person (limited or otherwise) isn't "in-character". (Cf. role playing games.)
    – Laurel
    Nov 17, 2023 at 20:30
  • @Laurel I'm not a native speaker and didn't go to school or uni in an English speaking country, so I'm not familiar with that meaning of in character. Could you link to a source for that definition of the phrase? The dictionaries I consulted (e.g. collinsdictionary.com/de/worterbuch/englisch/in-character) give the meaning "typical of the apparent character of a person". According to this meaning, a third person narrative can be in character as well.
    – Ben
    Nov 17, 2023 at 23:08
  • It's definition (b), which mentions an actor being 'in character' (behaving as though they are the person they are portraying). Nov 18, 2023 at 9:22
  • @KateBunting That's about acting not writing. I find many sources that mention third person narration in conjunction with "writing in character", but indeed most sources that use this phrase are about screenwriting and epistolary novels. I think OP should ask their professor what they should do.
    – Ben
    Nov 18, 2023 at 10:48
  • I was thinking of an actor remaining in character after they come off the stage/the camera stops rolling, perhaps because they have to go on again very soon. Similarly, writing in character is writing as though you were the person in question. Nov 18, 2023 at 12:39
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Writing a piece 'in character' means you are expressing the views, reactions, and emotions of the POV with an intimate narrative distance.

The most intimate narrative distance is 1st person. But, 3rd person can be as intimate. It's harder to use effectively but benefits from being variable. Meaning that the 3rd person narrator can simply state a date and a location and the situation that faces the character

e.g. It was 1944 in the New Mexico desert at the absurdly named Trinity, there was nothing holy about this blotch of sand. To the contrary, it would soon boil and froth like Hell itself.

Getting those details in 1st person always reads awkwardly. For instance, how many times do you think of the date or the time or how you are dressed? Those setting details need to be slid in slyly in an effective 1st person narrative.

For third-person, in-character writing, you can start with a distant narrative, then move in close, in steps, until you are inhabiting the character's skin. The opening paragraphs of Stephen King's 'Fire Starter' illustrate this method very well.

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    "For instance, how many times do you think of the date or the time or how you are dressed?" —— Every time it is relevant to me. A person going to a date or job interview will think about their dress. Observe how often some people look in a mirror, check themselves in a shopping window, or look down to make sure their clothing is in order. And most people working who have a schedule (and don't do the same unchanging single thing every day of the year) will look at the clock and/or calendar regularly to not miss a meeting or deadline or to know what they need to do next.
    – Ben
    Nov 20, 2023 at 8:20
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    Also, in first person narration, you don't only tell what the person is actually thinking about in their conscious mind, you also tell what they are aware of and know. For example, when I meet John I might not think the word "John" and yet know that it is him. So the narration would state that I saw John even if I didn't think his name. Same with time and dates. I might not think "It is Friday", but I'll certainly know it and go through that day with another feeling compared to the other weekdays, so the narration will of course state that it is Friday.
    – Ben
    Nov 20, 2023 at 8:25
  • It will be different in stream of consciousness, but general first person narration is much like you would tell things to a friend: "It was 1944 in the New Mexico desert at the absurdly named Trinity. I felt there was nothing holy about that blotch of sand. To the contrary, I knew it would soon boil and froth like hell itself." There is nothing awkward about this.
    – Ben
    Nov 20, 2023 at 8:29

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