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!
Do you love going to the movies? Do you enjoy watching ‘Behind the Scenes’ clips and documentaries? Do you like a good novel? If you can answer any of these questions with yes, you should at least consider putting Tom Hanks’ debut novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, on your to-read pile. If you can answer all of them with yes, you should probably go and read it right now. (But finish this review first.)
What does the novel Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce (1882–1941) have to do with American Studies? The answer is simple: Bloomsday is an annual literary festival celebrated in many U.S. cities, around the globe, and particularly in Dublin, the setting of the novel. The event is named for one of the novel’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom. The novel takes place on June 16, 1904, the day that James Joyce met his later wife, Nora Barnacle. Celebration activities include dressing up in period costumes, readings, theater performances, film screenings, and art exhibits associated with the novel and Joyce’s writings and life. The liveliness of the festivals testifies to the fun of reading Ulysses, especially if it’s read aloud. The novel is often mistakenly described as inscrutable for the average reader, but it is perhaps more accurately described as surprisingly readable.
In honor of Bloomsday, I’ve imagined a tongue-in-cheek letter of condolence from Milly Bloom, now fifty-two, but at the time of the novel the fifteen-year-old daughter of Leopold Bloom and his wife, Molly, to Mrs. Joyce (born Nora Barnacle). The letter is dated 1941, nineteen years following the novel’s publication and thirty-seven years following that famous day in Dublin in 1904.
If you want to go where no man has gone before, why not try your hand at collaborative writing? The idea is simple: Combine various types of writing in an elective course with a deep understanding of a specific theory. The seminar, “Where no man has gone before: Women and Science Fiction,” was my attempt to have students not only apply various forms of writing but also gain a deeper knowledge of intersectionality using social science fiction – with a dose of creativity. Just look at these student-produced project covers!
The day started with a cold waft from a freezing night in the middle of March, as the warm light from the slowly rising sun filled the old but well-kept house of Mr. Parnell with brightness. It crawled from the kitchen sink over every cupboard to the empty wooden dining table and the flowered armchair in the lounge, paved its way to the frayed carpet in the small hallway and revealed the outlines of the main door, an inconspicuous iron gate, covered with branches and tendrils.
Although the house included a few more rooms, you could never see through the heavy drapes behind the windows, falling gravely from the curtain rods. Neither Mr. Parnell nor his little girl ever used the rooms, which were filled with antique furniture, old paintings, sculptures, and various collectables. Every little piece had its proper place, well ordered but in their sheer multitude simply unfathomable. The narrow basement, which was mostly used as a storage room for groceries, had another tiny window, but it was nothing more than a vent and way too small to let any light in or out.
What makes a piece of fiction successful, apart from a good portion of luck? Well, some writers deem the craft of ‘plotting’ essential for creating fiction that goes somewhere, while others prefer to write from the seat of their pants and are likely to dread the prospect of their art being anything less than inspiration, talent, and vision.
Let me introduce you to two writing guides that might offer some perspective on the initial question. First, let’s visit someone who claims that both ‘pantsers’ and plotters are on the wrong track because …