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!
I like to think of May as one of the most amazing months – not only because it’s National Pet Month, but also because May 20 is National Rescue Dog Day in the United States. Let’s face it: Pets are so much more than just cute companions – they are fluffy family and friends as well as endless sources of comfort, joy, and hope. But what about all those animals out there who don’t have a human to look after them, love them back, and maybe even save them from horrible fates?
As an American writer living in Berlin, I strain to understand and express some of the differences between my two homes. So many exceptions to any rule, no broad-brushstroke of a short essay is going to begin to capture anything but the most basic generalization. Still, let me try. Here’s a story plucked from memory.
What exactly is a travelogue? Or, asked differently, what is it not? A travelogue is not an advertisement that tries to sell specific destinations to its readers. A travelogue is not a guidebook with a list of the top 10 best restaurants or massage places. Rather, a travelogue is a creative narrative of someone’s experiences while traveling.
Travelogues focus on and celebrate the differences in traditions and customs around the world; very often, they’re conversational in tone and filled with funny details (see, for instance, Bill Bryson’s Stories from a Small Island). Good travelogues contain vivid descriptions and sensory details; unexpected, maybe even transformative experiences; and accounts of interactions with local people. Travelogues can also combine fictional and factual elements, as one of the greatest travel writers, Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989), beautifully demonstrated (e.g. the stories dealing with his trip to Australia, The Songlines). Fictional or non-fictional, funny or not – above all, a travelogue must tell a story.
The following two travelogues, written by creative writing students in the fall semester 2022/23, each tell a story. One takes place in the Ecuadorean rainforest, the other in Venice.
When I first read George Saunders’ fable-like tale, Fox 8, I initially felt amused, then sad, and finally outraged. I also felt a blog brewing – not of the book review variety but of the teaching tool/creativity corner variety. For starters, Fox 8 is less of a charming bedtime story for children – who will no doubt enjoy it – and more of a darkly comic cautionary tale for adults. The titular first-person narrator takes the readers on a journey through his life as a fox who lives and forages with his fellow foxes in the forest. Fox forest life is running smoothly until Fox 8 has his first confusing encounter with humans, which results in conflicting feelings.
Vignettes are wonderful! Sometimes described as a slice of life, vignettes can be so short that they take away the fear of ending up with a white page. Unlike a short story, there’s no defined beginning, middle, or end with a cast of characters, multiple conflicts, and the ultimate resolution phase. Instead, the vignette’s impressionistic scenes focus on one moment or give a particular insight into one character, idea, or setting.
The Mexican American author Sandra Cisneros is the unchallenged queen of vignette writing, and her collection of 44 vignettes, (1984) is a must read.