August 5, 2019

Prompt: The Lives of Characters

Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Films help us visualize fictional characters, like Atticus and Scout, in the plot's setting, but
what about beyond the time and places of the story?


After you read a good novel, do you ever wonder what happens to a character in that future beyond the plot? When I was teaching high school, I sometimes asked students to continue a novel we had read beyond the last chapter.

What happens when your favorite children’s book character grows up and moves out?  An article written for the UnReal Estate series appearing on Apartment Therapy’s website imagines what the studio apartments of characters like Ramona Quimby and Nancy Drew would look like if they designed their homes as adults. Poets & Writers magazine took inspiration from this idea and suggested the poetry prompt of envisioning a favorite book character’s home years after the events depicted in the story.

In the article, is a minimalist, not "trend-forward" but practical without having an apartment that seems outdated. They give her a classic New York City-style loft, with big windows, vaulted ceilings, exposed brick, Scandinavian-inspired furniture and her desk at center stage in her living quarters.

As a model poem, I chose "Fictional Characters" by Danusha Laméris (from The Moons of August, Autumn House Press, 2014) which goes beyond placing characters at home. Her poem begins:

Do they ever want to escape?
Climb out of the white pages
and enter our world?

Holden Caulfield slipping in the movie theater
to catch the two o'clock
Anna Karenina sitting in a diner,
reading the paper as the waitress
serves up a cheeseburger.

The poem also suggests a turn inward because "Wouldn't you, if you could? / Step out of your own story,/ to lean against a doorway / of the Five & Dime, sipping your coffee,/ your life, somewhere far behind you..."

For our August writing prompt, we also broaden the original prompt to a poem that describes a fictional character beyond the time of the story in any way - in their home, office, workplace, or doing something out in their world. It would be best if you hold to the story's timeline. So, Jay Gatsby is dead at the novel's end and not an option, and Jean Louise "Scout" Finch is 6 in 1933 and would be 60 in 1987 and 92 in you set her in 2019. Use period details, so homes and offices should include the furniture and things of that time and the poem's "plot" should reflect upon how your understanding of the character’s personality and narrative arc.

Deadline: August 31, 2019


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