Creative Writing Exercises
by Gwyni L’Pouh Green
Beloved Fellow Writing Fanatics:
The following really difficult writing situations are designed to get you thinking about how to apply the salient plethora of writing tools and strategies you have to various pretend real life writing scenarios. I made the situations sticky, tricky, awkward and hard on purpose. To be effective writers, you must be able to select and apply your writing skills arsenal in ever changing new ways or the skills will be of little use to you. I encourage you to think way outside the box on these writing and thinking assignments. Take risks.
- (Thinking about audience/tone) You have been caught streaking through the Tiger Fountain in the middle of campus during Homecoming Week. Photographs of you in the act of streaking have been published in the campus newspaper. Without question, you are guilty. You did it. Now, working within these assignment parameters, compose a letter explaining your actions to one of the following persons or groups: 1. your pastor; 2. your parents; 3. the president of ECU; 4. your buddies. Then, make this letter a flashback to college where your protagonist met his or her friend who changed everything.
- (Thinking about persuasion) You are a firm believer in extraterrestrial life forms having visited and taken up residence here on Earth. You want to persuade the National Science Foundation that you are correct in your belief, that you are not insane, and that the Foundation should fund your research. Your research is aimed at contacting and exchanging information with aliens. Write a persuasive essay that contains at least three well developed arguments in favor of your contention, one demonstrating pathos, one demonstrating ethos, and one demonstrating logos arguments (if you want to, of course). Note that this has more or less been done since we do have SETI and a continual greeting broadcast from our planet. This prompt was intended as an introduction to a science fiction novel, or a contemporary story about being sane in insane places, the power of belief, the power of staunch disbelief, but it could go anywhere your imagination takes it.
- (Thinking more about persuasion) You are an unfortunate victim of neurofibromatosis, the Elephant Man’s disease. You are lucky because only your face and hands are covered with 100’s of small, marble-sized tumors, which are harmless and not contagious. Other than the superficial disfigurement of your face and hands, you suffer neither discomfort nor disability. However, your most cherished dream is to work as an advocate for a small, remotely located Native tribe called the No-Uglies. You need the tribe’s invitation to relocate to the Amazon Basin where they live. Your degree is in anthropology, and you know more about the No-Uglies than anyone alive. You absolutely love them, and although you have never met any of them in person, the No-Uglies have your heart already. The No-Uglies are a simple and charming people whom, you realize, need your help because their ancestral home, previously remote enough to protect them from exploitation by others, is about to become adjacent to a superhighway. The first obstacle you must overcome is to persuade the No Uglies to hire you in spite of the fact that the No-Uglies believe character weakness and/or demons cause illness and disease and that these same demons or flaws can jump out of one person and into another, spreading flaws and disease throughout the entire tribe. How can they trust you in light of your obvious physical condition? How can they admit you into their living quarters? The second obstacle is that the No-Uglies value beauty and physical perfection above all else and consider physical imperfections extremely unlucky. Thus, not only are you a Typhoid Mary to them, you are also every unlucky omen combined and multiplied by 100. Now, write a persuasive letter of application to the No-Uglies explaining why they should set aside their beliefs and hire you as their advocate and let you live among them. Go anywhere this one takes you! Although it is circa 2006, it reads fresh and resonant today.
- (Thinking about tone/style) You must write a condolence letter to the parents of your best friend whom you accidentally killed in a car accident while you were driving drunk last weekend. Humor won’t work here at all, so don’t use it. Try to puzzle out a unique approach, but if you fail to do so, then write in a serious, heartfelt style that convinces me you are sorry and realize the gravity of what you have done. Only you know that you were drunk as you were not ticketed, so you may decide for yourself how much you are going to tell these parents, whom you have known all of your life. What if the story started there. . . .
- (Thinking about persuasion) You must write to the Dean of Forgiveness for failing to carry a 2.0 grade point average for three semesters in a row. Be creative here and try to come up with solid reasons for all of the failing semesters and for your overall uninspiring performance. Use tone and style appropriate for addressing a Dean who controls your fate at college. Opportunities for irony abound.
- (Obsessively thinking about persuasion) You must write a letter either to a charitable foundation that funds sex change operations or to the Head of the Bureau of Federal Prisons because you urgently need a sex change operation or you will surely die within 6 months for reasons unknown and unchangeable but certainly accurate. However, you have two large obstacles preventing you from obtaining your surgery: First you are imprisoned for importing exotic animals into the US; and second you are blind in one eye and can’t see well out of the other so written communication is especially hard and slow for you. You need others on your side to win your sex change. The Chaplain has said he believes you need the operation while the Warden has said you are just a mental case. The prison doctor is also blind in one eye and nearly deaf, so you don’t know if she has recommended that you receive your surgery or not. Written long before Chelsey Manning was even out of grade school, this prompt doesn’t seem to age, either.
- (manipulation of facts) You must write a Dear Terry (formerly a Dear John Letter) to your fiancé, who is serving min Iraq. Your only reason for breaking up with him or her is that you have been caught seeing his/her sister, and so you know you will be informed on soon anyway. You started cheating even before your fiancé went away for his/her tour of duty. In fact, you were never faithful. You are not a nice or good person, but you are a person who cares what others think of you, so you must find a way to justify your behavior in the letter while at the same time breaking up and making the break-up seem to be your fiancé’s fault. Wouldn’t this make for a rip-snorting romance novel just rife with spins?
- You must write a letter to John Deere explaining why you think they should replace a very expensive tractor you bought from them. Your brother got drunk and drove the tractor into the pond after which it wouldn’t run like a deere anymore. You have no money to repair or replace it. You also honestly believe it is the company’s fault because tractors should be designed for such use and you explain why. Perhaps, in the spirit of Eudora Welty, a writer could use this prompt as a point of departure for a family-centered novel.
End Note: JFYI I originally wrote these prompts for my college students to get them to both stretch their rhetorical legs and to painlessly instill a sense of consciousness about their own writing in them. I was trying for that sweet spot in teaching where you have pushed and peeled just enough to show them what they already know without leaving raw spots of resentment on them. I wrote just the first three or so and took the exercise into the classroom where it was so well-received and effective that I wrote a few more and made them a standard component of my composition sections. Later, I found that they work for all types of writers. I write all of this by way of an apology for the bossy, directive tone.