Thanksgiving Writing/Conversation Prompts

Below, you’ll find 3 questions that can be jumping-off points for writing or discussion in the classroom, or conversation starters for the dinner table, such as: What are your Turkey Day traditions? What are your favorite side dishes? Do you participate in Black Friday shopping?

What are your favorite side dishes?

Source: New York Times Upshot based on Google search data

What do people eat on Thanksgiving in your state? Take a look at the map above, which shows the most “distinct” Thanksgiving side dish by state as determined by the number of Google searches during the week of Thanksgiving from 2004 to 2013, relative to the number of searches in other states. Have you ever tried any of these foods?

What are your Turkey Day traditions?

Every family celebrates Thanksgiving differently. What are your holiday traditions?

How do you and your family or community celebrate Thanksgiving? What does the food you serve or the things you do that day say about where you are from?

Or, read about how the Turkey Trot became a Thanksgiving tradition and then use these questions as a guide to talk about the activities you do on Thanksgiving and in the days that follow.

Students, share a “snapshot” of your most memorable Thanksgiving. What makes that day stand out in your mind?

For 7 more prompts, click the link below, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Source and Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/21/learning/10-prompts-for-talking-and-writing-about-thanksgiving.html

May Writing Prompts Pt. 3

31 Prompts: One for Each Day in May

May 18 – Theme: International Museum Day
There are numerous world-class museums around the world. For example, there is The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Hermitage. There are also some oddball museums such as Museum of Bad Art or the National Mustard Museum.
If you could create a museum about any topic, what would it be about? Describe two or three exhibits that would be in your museum.
May 19 – Theme: Circus Month
In 1768, the English equestrian Philip Astley demonstrated trick riding by trotting in a circle rather than a straight line. His act was named a ‘circus.’ As today is circus day, you have a choice of topics:

  1. If you were in a circus, which performer would you be and why?
  2. Do you like circuses? Explain your answer.
  3. Do you think circuses should feature animals? Why or why not?


May 20 – Theme: National Physical Fitness and Sports Month
Each state requires a specific number of minutes that students should participate in physical activity. If your state requires physical fitness activity for the next 30 minutes, what activity would you choose? Why?

May 21 – Theme: Lindbergh Flight Day
On this day in 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off on his famous flight across the Atlantic. Would you like to learn how to fly a plane? Why or why not?

May 22 – Theme: Older Americans Month
Do you believe that older Americans are treated with enough respect today? Explain your answer.

May 23 – Theme: World Turtle/Tortoise Day
Today is World Turtle Day. Conservation efforts are demonstrating success, and turtle populations are up. Tortoises can live long lives. One, Adwaita the Tortoise (1750-2006), is reputed to have lived over 250 years. What events would a tortoise who lived that long have witnessed? What event would you like to have seen?

May 24 – Theme: First Morse Code Message Sent
A simple substitution code is when you replace each letter with a different letter. For example, all A’s become B’s, and B’s become C’s, etc. I have written the following sentence using this type of code so that each letter of the alphabet is written as the letter that comes after it. What does my sentence say? Do you agree or disagree with it?
Dpef csfbljoh jt fbtz boe gvo.

May 25 – Theme: John F. Kennedy’s Speech About Sending a Man to the Moon
On this day in 1961, John F. Kennedy said that America would send a man to the moon before the end of the 1960s. 

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Why is this speech so significant? Should Americans continue space exploration because it is “hard”? 

May 26 – Theme: National Hamburger Month
On average, Americans eat three hamburgers a week. What is your favorite type of hamburger or veggie burger? Is it plain or with toppings like cheese, bacon, onions, etc.? If not a hamburger, what food do you (or could you) eat three times a week? Describe a favorite food using at least three of the five senses.

May 27 – Theme: Golden Gate Bridge Opens
The Golden Gate Bridge is a symbol of San Francisco, recognizable by people all over the world. Do you have any symbols or monuments for your city or community? What are they? Even if you don’t have a symbol that you can think of, explain why you think these types of symbols are important to people.

May 28 – Theme: Amnesty International Day
The goal of Amnesty International is to protect and promote human rights across the world. Their motto is, “Fight injustice and help create a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.”
In some countries, genocide (the systemized killing of an entire ethnic group) is still being carried out. What is the responsibility of the United States? Do we have a duty to step in and stop these types of human rights violations? Explain your answer.

May 29 – Theme: Memorial Day
Memorial Day is a federal holiday that originated when decorations were placed on the graves of Civil War soldiers. Decoration Day gave way to Memorial Day, the last Monday in May.  After World War I the nature of the holiday changed to honor the memory of all Americans who died in any war – not only Civil.
What are three things that we can do to honor those men and women who died while serving in our military? 

May 30- Theme-Emerald Gemstone
The emerald is May’s gemstone. The stone is a symbol of rebirth and is believed to grant the owner foresight, good fortune, and youth. The color green is associated with new life and the promise of spring. What promises of spring do you see now? 

May 31 – Theme: Meditation Day
A combination of anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that meditation in schools may help improve grades and attendance. Yoga and meditation may help students at all grade levels feel happier and more relaxed. What do you know about meditation and yoga? Would you like to see meditation programs brought into your school?

Source: Writing Prompts for Journal Topics and Writing Ideas (thoughtco.com)

May Writing Prompts Pt. 2

Let’s continue with this month’s writing prompts.

skynesher/Getty Images

These prompts provide teachers a great way to add more writing time in class. Some have two suggestions, one for middle school (MS) and one for high school (HS). These can be simple writing assignments, warm-ups, or journal entries. Feel free to use these any way you wish.

May 8 – Theme: National Train Day
High-speed trains can travel fast with some prototypes with speeds over 400 mph. In theory, a high-speed train could race up the East Coast, from NYC to Miami, in seven hours. The same trip would take a car about 18.5 hours. Should Americans invest in high-speed rails for trains or in roads for cars?  Why or why not?
May 9 – Theme: Peter Pan Day
Pretend you were in J.M. Barrie’s story about Peter Pan, a boy who never grows up and remain eternally young. Which part would you most like to see or do: fly, visit with mermaids, fight the pirate Captain Hook, or meet the mischevious fairy Tinkerbell? Explain your answer.

May 10 – Theme: Civil Disobedience.
In 1994, political activist Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s 1st Black president. Mandela followed the example of the civil disobedience practices used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Consider King’s statement, “Any man who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community on the injustice of the law is at that moment expressing the very highest respect for the law.”
For what injustice would you practice civil disobedience?
OR
May 10: Theme: Postcards
In 1861, the US Post Office authorized the first postcard. Postcards are usually sent from a vacation place or as a greeting card to mark an event, or even just to say “hello”.
Design a postcard and prepare a message.

May 11 – Theme: Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month
Do you have asthma or allergies? If so, what are your triggers? (What makes you have an attack or sneeze, etc.) If not, do you think that schools do enough to help those who have asthma and allergies? Why or why not?
May 12: Theme: National Limerick DayLimericks are poems with the following scheme: five-lines of an anapestic meter (unstressed syllable, unstressed syllable, stressed syllable) with a strict rhyme scheme of AABBA. For example:

“There was an Old Man in a tree,
Who was horribly bored by a Bee;
When they said, ‘Does it buzz?’
He replied, ‘Yes, it does!’
‘It’s a regular brute of a Bee!'”

Try to write a limerick.

May 13 – Theme: Mother’s Day
Write a descriptive paragraph or poem about either your Mother or someone who is a Mother figure to you.
OR
May 13 – Theme: Tulip Day
In the 17th century, tulip bulbs were so prized that traders would mortgage their houses and fields. (provide a picture or bring in real tulips). Describe a tulip or another flower using all five senses.

May 14 – Theme: Lewis and Clark Expedition
William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was able to create a map of the Louisiana Purchase by merely walking through and exploring it. Today Google uses cars with custom cameras over five million miles to develop their Google Maps apps. How do maps figure in your life? How might they figure in your future?
May 15 – Theme: L. F. Baum’s Birthday – Author of the Wizard of Oz books and creator of Dorothy, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Wizard.
Which character from the world of Oz would you most like to meet? Explain your answer.

May 16 – Theme: National Bar-B-Que Month
The word barbecue comes from the Caribbean word “barbacoa.” Originally, barbacoa was not a way of cooking food, but the name of a wooden structure used by indigenous Taino Indians to smoke their food. Barbeque ranks in the top 20 most popular foods in the USA. What’s your favorite picnic food? Do you like bar-b-que, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, or something else entirely? What makes it so special?

May 17 – Theme: Kentucky Derby
(MS) This horse race is also called “The Run for the Roses” for the draped blanket of roses placed over the winning horse. This idiom uses a rose, as do many other idioms. Choose one of the following rose idioms, or any other idiom you know, and give an example as to when it could be used:

(HS) Just before the race at the Kentucky Derby, the crowds sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” The revised lyrics of the original song by Stephen Foster changed the word “darkies”, and substituted the word “people.” Crowds now sing:

“The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home
Tis summer, the people are gay…”

Should songs with questionable lyrics from years ago continue to be used for public events? Are there songs that are so inappropriate that they should be dropped entirely?

Source: Writing Prompts for Journal Topics and Writing Ideas (thoughtco.com)

Note: This year Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 8 and The Kentucky Derby is Saturday, May 7.

May Writing Prompts Pt. 1

May is often a beautiful month, full of flowers and sunshine. May also celebrates a week for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. Many of the following writing prompts for each day of May are written to take advantage of this time of year. These prompts provide teachers a great way to add more writing time in class. Some have two suggestions, one for middle school (MS) and one for high school (HS). These can be simple writing assignments, warm-ups, or journal entries. Feel free to use these any way you wish.

May 1  Theme: May Day
(MS) May Day is a traditional celebration of Spring in countries around the globe, often including dancing and flowers around a maypole. However, May Day is rarely celebrated in the United States. Do you think that Americans should celebrate May Day? Why or why not?
(HS) In Chicago 1886, 15 people were killed during the Haymaker Riot strikes held to protest poor working conditions. In sympathy, European nations, many socialist or communist, established May Day to honor the cause of the worker. 

May 2 – Theme: Holocaust Remembrance Day
Some people argue that the Holocaust is too disturbing for students to learn about in middle school or even in high school. Write a persuasive paragraph explaining why it should be included in the curriculum.

May 3 – Theme: National Day of Prayer is usually observed on the first Thursday of May. This day is an inter-denominational event when faiths from across the country pray for the United States and its leaders. The word “pray” was first used in the early 13th century to mean “ask earnestly, beg.” What would you like to “ask earnestly, beg” for in your life?

 May 4 – Theme: Star Wars Day
The date comes from the catchphrase, “May the 4th [force] Be With You.”
What is your opinion about the “Star Wars” film franchise? Do you love it, hate it? Are there reasons to appreciate the series? For example, from 2015 to the present, the film series has made millions of dollars:

  • “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) over $900 million
  • “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017) over $600 million
  • “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) over $500 million


May 5 – Theme: Cinco de Mayo
Many people across the United States celebrate the day, but they do not know what Cinco de Mayo commemorates. The day recognizes when Mexican Army‘s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, in 1862. Should there be more education on knowing this holiday or other international holidays?  

May 6 – Theme: American Bike Month
(MS) 40% of Americans have a bicycle. Do you know how to ride a bike? Do you have a bicycle? What could be the advantages of having a bicycle? What are the disadvantages of riding a bike?
(HS) Urban planners include more bike lanes to reduce car traffic. The benefits of bicycles in cities are the reduction of car emissions and the increase of exercise. Is this planning a good thing? Or, is this planning something cities should do? Could this planning be like the idiom the says something is needed “like a fish needs a bicycle “?

May 7 – Theme: Teacher Appreciation (Week May 7-11)
What qualities do you think a great teacher must have? Explain your answer.
Do you have a favorite teacher from your school experiences? Write a letter of appreciation to that teacher.

Source: Writing Prompts for Journal Topics and Writing Ideas (thoughtco.com)

Poet Maya Angelou 

I read this quote by Maya Angelou and thought I would share it with you.

realstylenetwork.com

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. – Maya Angelou

Is there an untold story within you?

Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.

Wikipedia

30 Creative Writing Prompts For National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, we’ve curated a number of creative writing prompts to help you cultivate your own poetic ritual. Try one prompt each day for the month of April in service of building a new routine, or skip around to the poetry prompts that inspire you most. I’m committed to following my own advice and will also be writing one poem a day using the thought starters below for creative fuel. 

Creative Writing Prompts To Spark Your New Writing Practice

  1. Describe your ideal day, from morning to night. Where are you, what will you do, and who will you spend your time with (if anyone at all)?
  2. Write a poem about your favorite food using all the senses.
  3. Write a ghost poem inspired by a song lyric or line from a book you love. That is, take the original sentence and use it as the first line of your writing. Then begin adding to it until you come back to the beginning and erase the first line that inspired all the subsequent lines — effectively making the inspiration a ghost.
  4. Describe your favorite color without naming it. Or, imagine your color aura and describe that.
  5. Come up with your six-word memoir. (Fun fact: did you know that a one-line poem is called a monostitch?)
  6. Walk the reader through a place you can’t wait to visit again, sharing all of the sensory details that make it like paradise to you.
  7. Write about your life if you lived in a different period in history. For example, you wake up and it’s 1970, what’s the first thing you’d do?
  8. Confront your fears and write about what scares you most.
  9. Select a piece of art and write an ekphrastic poem about it — that is, a poem that describes the work of art (sculpture, painting, drawing, performance, film, or photograph) in effusive detail.
  10. If you were to host a dinner party, who would you invite, dead or alive? What meal would be served, how would the table be set, and what conversations do you imagine would take place?
  11. Think of a trip or commute you’ve taken many times. Jot down your observations and memory of said journey and recreate it for the reader. Then decide what’s more important to you, the journey or the destination?
  12. Find an object in your home that brings you joy and tap into why it’s so meaningful in a descriptive poem.
  13. Think of someone you had a miscommunication with and explore what would happen if you said everything you wanted to say.
  14. What’s your favorite month and why? Orient it in the season as part of your description.
  15. Write about the emotion you experience the most and list out what situations, people, or things make you feel that way.
  16. Where do you come from? Start a poem by exploring and defining your origin story.
  17. Describe a recent dream of yours in vivid, fantastical detail.
  18. Explore what you’d say to your 13-year-old self, or another pivotal age from when you were younger.
  19. Write about what it’d be like to encounter a long-lost love, years later.
  20. Manifest future you with a poem describing who you’ll be in 5 or 10 years.
  21. Think of the happiest day of your life and write about what made it so magical. Can you capture that feeling in poem form?
  22. What lessons have you learned from your elders and ancestors? Write about the ones that still show up for you today.
  23. Think about all the cities you’ve lived in. Pick one to write about that’s had a lasting impact on your identity.
  24. What’s a youthful memory of a time you were reckless or misbehaved? Write about that experience and what you may have learned.
  25. Identify your alter ego, or someone totally opposite of you and write a poem from that point of view. What would they do that you would never dare?
  26. What is one of life’s biggest mysteries you wish you had the answer to? See if you can come up with an answer in your poem.
  27. Write a poem about a beloved character in a book, movie, or show that you adore.
  28. Personify an inanimate object (such as a crystal, a postcard, or vintage scarf) and tell its story. Where all has it gone before it made its way to you?
  29. Turn something mundane, like a grocery list, into a poetic writing exploration. How can a few creative adjectives and alliterative details make it shine?
  30. Pick someone you’re drawn to, even a stranger on the street or in a coffee shop, and write what you imagine they’re like in real life.

Article by Alison Ives for Brit+Co©

Source: Creative Writing Prompts For National Poetry Month Brit + Co – Brit + Co

100+ Grammar Rules for Writers

Here are more than 100 grammar rules for writers to assist them with better writing skills. Each rule includes a quick breakdown and links to a post that goes into more detail with examples. 

But fear not! We are here to share a plethora of grammar rules for writers that we’ve tackled over the years. If you have a question, we may have the answer. And if we don’t, be sure to share your question in the comments below.

So, let’s dig into these grammar rules together.

Below is our list of grammar rules for writers. We give a quick explanation after each bullet point. But click on each link for further understanding and examples of correct usage.

  1. “A” before consonants and “an” before vowels is not the rule. Rather, the rule is that “a” is placed before consonant-sounding words and “an” before vowel-sounding words.
  2. A lot vs. alot vs. allot. “A lot” is either an adverb or pronoun, “allot” is a verb, and “alot” doesn’t exist.
  3. A moral vs. amoral vs. immoral. A “moral” person knows the difference between right and wrong and chooses the right way; an “immoral” person knows the difference and chooses the wrong way; an “amoral” person has no concept or recognition of the rules at all.
  4. Abate vs. bait vs. bate. Abate and bate both basically mean the same thing: to reduce the intensity of and/or deduct something (or even outright end it). Meanwhile, bait is a verb or noun that’s used to lure something or someone as if it’s prey, whether that’s as dinner or a customer.
  5. Adapt vs. adept vs. adopt. Adapt means to make something fit for a new use or purpose; adept refers to a well-trained person; and adopt refers to taking a child as your own or putting something into effect or practicing something (like adopting a resolution or a new singing style).
  6. Advice vs. advise. “Advice” is a noun, and “advise” is a verb.
  7. Affect vs. effect. “Affect” is usually used as a verb, while “effect” is usually a noun.
  8. Allude vs. elude. “Allude” means to suggest or hint at something, while “elude” means to evade or escape.
  9. Alright vs. all right. “All right” is a commonly used phrase for okay, while “alright” doesn’t technically exist.
  10. Analogy vs. metaphor vs. simile. A “metaphor” is something, a “simile” is like something, and an “analogy” explains how one thing being like another helps explain them both.

OK, I know I should list all 104 of the rules. But do you really want to see them all thrown at you just like THAT? Of course not. So, to view all 104 rules of grammar, just click the link below. And happy grammar Friday to you.

Article by Robert Lee Brewer for Writer’s Digest©

Source: 100+ Grammar Rules for Writers – Writer’s Digest (writersdigest.com)

A Toolkit for Managing the Anxiety of the Publishing Process

While writing may bring us joy, it may also bring us doubt, fear, and burnout. Here, Mazey Eddings has created a toolkit for managing the anxiety of the publishing process.

From going on submission with my first book, A Brush with Love, at the start of the pandemic to debuting during supply chain disruptions and a brand-new viral variant, I’ve had quite a few sleepless nights of panic in the process. But if therapy has taught me anything, coping works best when you have a strategy, and I’ve compiled five tips that have helped me over this chaotic year. I hope they can help you too!

Get the group chat going

I’m part of a group chat that’s aptly named: Anxious Debuters 2022. And we talk every. Single. Day. It can be particularly helpful to develop that type of connection with people in a similar writing spot on the publishing timeline as you, because it’s amazing how similar experiences—and the anxiety they induce—can be. But, whether it’s fellow debut authors, seasoned book veterans, or your mom and her neighbor Susan, finding a group you feel safe to reach out to in the anxious moments is so comforting and valuable.

Celebrate the highs with ferocity

Putting a book into the world is a hectic process, and your attention is regularly pulled in a hundred different directions. With so many moving pieces, it can be easy to barrel through the victories and forget to slow down long enough to celebrate. Take a pause! Revel in every moment of joy!

Whether it’s a DM from a reader saying your story resonated with them, or a soft moment of rediscovering a line you wrote and loved, to something huge and exciting like making bestseller lists or selling rights to a film producer, revel in each one with unabashed excitement. You’ve worked hard for this! Don’t let the wins pass you by.

Consume media that brings you joy

Whether it’s reading, TV, movies, or any other form of art, engage with things that make you happy. Burnout is very real in creative fields, but taking the time to ingest things that make you happy can replenish the creative well and keep you excited as you create your next work.

Take a (small) break from reading in your genre

Comparison is the thief of joy, and it can be very tempting to lose the love of reading and writing by comparing your work to others in your genre. Avoid this at all costs! Consider taking a step back from your genre, just for a bit, and allow yourself to read in a varying subgenre or completely new one. Shifting the lens can help you get out of your head or offer fresh inspiration, and reading of any type strengthens you as a writer, which also helps to restore confidence when you’re feeling a little shaky.

Find a hobby (and embrace being mediocre at it!)

The path to publishing can create an odd head space. It’s the monetization and commercialization of art, and combining those two often-at-odds pursuits can cause a lot of your self-worth to be tied up in both sales and perception. I think it’s so important to find a hobby that you love—whether it’s something creative like collaging or playing music, or something totally opposite like running or kickboxing—to combat publishing anxiety. Bonus points if you aren’t amazing at your hobby!

There’s so much pressure for people to reach levels of success or skill when participating in something, but I suggest doing things for the simple joy of doing them. I’m objectively awful at dancing, (my boyfriend has ample video evidence to prove it), but it’s something I love to do and something I turn to when writing stress gets high. We don’t have to perfect everything we do, we just need to enjoy the process of doing it.

By Mazey Eddings for Writer’s Digest©

Source: A Toolkit for Managing the Anxiety of the Publishing Process – Writer’s Digest (writersdigest.com)

Writing Fiction: Sometimes the Story Writes Itself

Writing fiction can be like dreaming, coming from our subconscious. Cheryl A. Ossola suggests writers need to get out of the story’s way. 

The Wild Impossibility by Cheryl A. Ossola

Writing a novel is a mysterious process. Authors are often at a loss when asked why they made certain choices, or where an idea came from. Sometimes we say we don’t remember, but often we don’t know. We plan story arcs and POVs, but sometimes we can’t explain what happens in the evolution of a novel. In these instances, characters and conflict rise from our subconscious. Sometimes we say the story writes itself.

I believe novelists do their best work when they get out of the way of their stories, which is why I zeroed in on an article in The Atlantic in which Andre Dubus III, author of The House of Sand and Fog, says that “good fiction comes from the same place as our dreams.” Dubus differentiates between “making something up and imagining it,” and he favors the latter. “You’re making something up when you think out a scene, when you’re being logical about it,” he says. “You think, ‘I need this to happen so some other thing can happen.’ There’s an aspect of controlling the material that I don’t think is artful.”

This kind of rigidity in storytelling can block the deviant bursts of creativity that yield some of the most brilliant writing. These bursts come not from planning but from a freer kind of creative process that takes us to unexpected places. One way writers describe this abdication of control is by saying their characters hijacked their story. By this they mean these fictitious beings aren’t toeing the story line; in fact, they’re trampling on it. At such times we can ignore their nudges, or we can let imagination take us beyond the limits of linear thought. Allowing our stories to change in this way is a classic example of characterization driving plot, what Joshua Mohr, author of All This Life, calls “plaracterization.” Characters are “sovereign beings with independent consciousnesses,” Mohr says; given their freedom they’ll dictate the story.

I’m speaking from my own experience too. In writing the first draft of my novel, The Wild Impossibility, I was stuck in the murky middle when my protagonist, Kira—hanging out in the California desert like a sullen teenager on a family trip—got herself, and the story, unstuck. I knew how things should end up for her, but I hadn’t figured out the middle ground. Mumbling, “What the hell are you doing there, Kira?” I put words on the page until the circles I was writing in opened and became a through-line. Why? I had stopped trying to fabricate Kira’s trajectory and focused instead on who Kira was and what she wanted. I withheld what she wanted, of course, which was a controlling act. But it was in letting Kira direct my thoughts—in other words, imagining being her—that the action fell into place.

Other characters are downright pushy. Designated as walk-ons, suddenly they’re clamoring for supporting roles. In The Wild Impossibility, Dustin was one of these. He was to be no more than a means of transport for Kira, who hired this young man to squire her around the desert valley while she traced her family’s past. Soon Dustin took control of more than the wheel, butting into scene after scene until I realized that the flat character I’d envisioned was in fact an essential ally for Kira. The character he became changed the story profoundly. He was my facilitator, the key not only to the novel’s building action but to Kira—her weaknesses, her humanity, and ultimately her strength.

Fictitious beings that acquire agency? It’s a romantic idea, one that transforms a pedestrian act—putting words on a page—into something mystical, something intuitive and brilliant and indefinable. But hang on. Our characters come alive with enough force to change a story because of our doing, don’t they? We work hard to make them sparkle or smolder, and the understanding we gain in the process allows our psyches, perhaps without our recognizing it, to mastermind these changes. In responding to the people and situations we’ve created, we muffle the left brain and give voice to the right. Right?

George Saunders seems to make the argument for both—that writing fiction is partly mystical, partly deliberate. In a 2017 article in The Guardian, he explains that his characters began to “do certain things, each on his or her own,” when he was writing Lincoln in the Bardo. “[T]hey were, it seemed, working together to save young Willie Lincoln, in a complex pattern seemingly being dictated from … elsewhere. (It wasn’t me, it was them.)” A paragraph later he says: “But there is something wonderful in watching a figure emerge from the stone unsummoned, feeling the presence of something within you, the writer, and also beyond you—something consistent, willful, and benevolent, that seems to have a plan, which seems to be: to lead you to your own higher ground.”

That’s an eloquent description of attaining the ideal when putting words on the page. But could this “within-and-beyond-you” phenomenon also account for a strange, seemingly serendipitous string of events that happened while I was doing research for The Wild Impossibility?

Early on I had a plot problem whose solution needed to be true to a time and place tainted by xenophobia and racism. How could a teenage girl in Owens Valley, California, and a boy imprisoned at Manzanar, a World War II Japanese American internment camp, find a way to be together? A fence surrounded Manzanar, as did surveillance towers housing armed guards. The boy couldn’t get out and, with one exception, the girl couldn’t get in—which doesn’t make for much of a love story. My research had yielded no plausible solutions, so I set off for Manzanar National Historic Site.

I’d planned to go alone, but my then-boyfriend tagged along. Manzanar lies east of the Sierra, where trout fishing is big. In our motel room was a fishing magazine. My boyfriend read it. In it was an article about a new documentary film called The Manzanar Fishing Club. The “club” was a group of intrepid prisoners who slipped under the fence at night, fished the Sierra-fed streams all day, then sneaked back into the camp after dark. A possible solution, but I needed to know more.

Once home, I checked the movie listings. The Manzanar Fishing Club was playing at a theater nearby. It was the last night of the run, the last show; the film started in less than an hour. I went. And, along with rich source material, I found a way for my teenage characters to hook up. The love story I’d envisioned could happen.

I could chalk all of this up to chance, to serendipity, to being open and receptive to information because I was searching for answers. But serendipity doesn’t usually happen in wavelike surges, one occasion chasing another in a rush to conclusion. If the preposterous chain of events that unfolded on my research trip had been in a story, beta readers would have nixed it, calling it unbelievable. And I’d have agreed, if it hadn’t happened to me.

What did happen on that trip to Manzanar? The principle of quantum entanglement appears in my book—could it be possible that my characters and I became entangled, enough so that they could nudge me toward what I needed? After all, the complex emotional and cognitive process of writing a book deserves more than a rational explanation. The melding of ideas, thoughts, language, memory, observation, creativity into a story rich in character, complex in action—it’s magical. When we stop writing self-consciously and follow the paths that open in front of us, we let our novels become what they really are—small miracles.

Story by Author Cheryl A. Ossola

Source: Sometimes the Story Writes Itself – Writer’s Digest (writersdigest.com)