At the end of the semester, I always like to include a wrap-up exercise for one final creative writing task: “It’s a Wrap” – which also seems to be a fitting way to say goodbye to the American Studies Blog this September. Here’s how the task works:
- Select endings from novels or short stories without revealing the original source. These are some of my favorite choices:I really, truly wish he hadn’t said that. I keep thinking about it. I can’t stop. I don’t have anything else to add. I just wanted to make sure I had the last word. I think I’ve earned that. (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn)
“It’s because I’m concentrating on my thesis, I don’t worry about other stuff. Nobody asked if Freud checked the use-by date on the milk.” “They didn’t have use-by dates in the early twentieth century.” It was incredible that two such dissimilar people had become a successful couple. (The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion)
Through the windows a strange subterranean light was rising, barely distinguishable from darkness. I felt change far beneath me, moving deep beneath the surface of things, like the plates of the earth blindly moving in their black traces. I found my bag, and my car keys, and I let myself silently out of the house. (Transit by Rachel Cusk)
…Also I’ve begun to feel he’s the only person who knows anything about me. Maybe because I’ve never hit anyone else with a bottle, so they never got to see that part of me. Neither did I come to think of it. It did make a mess; but then, I don’t think I’ll ever be a very tidy person. (Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood)
- Ask participants to write a piece of short fiction (350–700 words) using the selected ending as a prompt for beginning their stories.
- Keep your promise and reveal the original literary sources to your participants once they’ve completed the task.
In the following story, “Who’s Getting Crowned,” the ending from Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader inspired me to create a meeting between the Queen and her most loyal subjects. Enjoy!
Who’s Getting Crowned?
By Maryann Henck
“Oh, did I not say that?” said the Queen. “But … why do you think you’re all here?”
Candy, Whiskey, and Foxy tilted their heads as the Queen spoke. She had never taken them to a playground as impressive as this one. It was a plush, paw-friendly area full of gleaming obstacle courses under a canopy of stars – the perfect place for a nocturnal gambol with their strict, yet agreeable mistress.
“Are you paying attention to me, my little darlings?” The trio pricked up their ears and moved closer to the Queen.
“Now it’s time for some fun and games. Let’s play leap chair. Whichever one of you can leap the highest over this big red chair will receive a prize.”
She opened up a bag of treats, and the tempting smell of dried beef began wafting through the air. The Queen lined up her corgis and motioned to Candy to take a leap. Candy, named so due to her sweet tooth, hobbled over toward the red chair and attempted to jump but only managed to crash into the armrest. Years of pilfering shortbread from the royal tea table had added pounds to her frame – pounds that she could no longer walk off. In spite of her failure to accomplish the task, the Queen rewarded her with a yummy treat and a pat on the head.
When it was Whiskey’s turn, the Queen had to rouse him from his midday nap. He was the lazy one of the bunch who enjoyed lounging in front of the fireplace as the flickering flames lulled him to sleep. He made a half-hearted attempt to complete the leap chair task and was proud to have hit the velvet seat cushion. It was so comfortable that he decided to settle in and continue his nap until the Queen gently prodded him off the chair. Whiskey found himself back on the ground, giving the Queen the paw in no time. He received not one but two treats. Candy shot Whiskey a look of pure food envy, which Whiskey simply ignored.
Finally, it was Foxy’s turn – he was so excited that he began running circles around the chair, leaping deftly over it before the Queen could bat an eye. Although she rarely smiled, she could not suppress doing so this time.
“Well, I daresay that I believe we have a winner, my fleet-footed little corgi,” the Queen proclaimed as Foxy bounced over in her direction and gobbled up the three treats he received as tasty reward.
The Queen picked up Foxy, set him on the throne, and placed her crown upon his head. It wasn’t the best fit, but it would have to do for now.
“So, now you must know why you’re all here,” said the Queen, pausing to take a deep breath. “The truth will out: Not only am I tired of being the Queen after all these years, but also no royal human is fit to sit upon my throne – at least for today. Foxy, you’ve won the competition and will receive Mr. Johnson with me later this afternoon. I have to be diplomatic to that buffoon of a Prime Minster and need the perfect accomplice. You see, Mr. Johnson is a dog person.”
Foxy shook his furry head, and the crown tilted a bit to the left. The Queen readjusted it. Then Candy and Whiskey nodded in approval, gazing up at the Queen longingly.
“So be it. Then it’s all of us against him. Ever since that Afghanistan incident where he decided to evacuate pets before people, Mr. Johnson has made his allegiances clear. Well, at least we have that in common – that we prefer pets to people. We’ll have him wrapped around our fingers – or should I say paws – in the blink of an eye.”
Before the Queen could snap her fingers, Candy, Whiskey, and Foxy were at her feet and ready for duty as they proceeded to follow her out of the Throne Room.
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