Week 18, May 2017. Tool: RESEARCH based on PLANT LIFE. Consider the environment/setting where your story takes place. Research the plant life in that environment. Learn about at least one plant that could enrich the symbolism and meaning in your story. Is the plant classified as a tree, an herb, fruit, vegetable, grass, moss, etc.? How does this plant reflect the state of the environment? Can you relate that to your characters directly or symbolically? Another approach could be to practice blending the characteristics of the plant and its seasonal changes with your character's body and her/his seasonal changes.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Research a plant that you could relate to the state of the environment where you live and write an essay based on the research. Explore the qualities of a specific tree in a particular season for a poem.
For journaling, is there a plant that symbolically connects to your family or that you can trace throughout your life? Why do you think that you are connected to this plant? What do you know about it and could you learn more from studying it/reading about it? How is the plant a representation of you and/or your life?
Week 10, March 2017. Theme: ROUTINE. Give your character a mundane task or chore that they must repeat and one that you describe in the story. Make this routine, mundane chore suddenly be a moment or event of significant change and/or awareness for your character. Create a surprising twist on the character's approach to this mundane routine and one that resonates through many more aspects of the character's life.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Have you been surprised during a routine occupation such as folding laundry, making coffee, serving someone at a restaurant job, walking to the store on your usual route at the usual time, and/or standing in line at the post office or the bank. Write about an extraordinary moment and/or awareness that happened during a routine.
Week 11, March 2017. Theme: BASIC MOBILITY. How do your characters stand? How do they walk? Are they incapable of walking/running/jumping for some reason? What does their stride look like if they run? Do they have a particular stance and is it altered when they are nervous or lack confidence? What kind of shoes do they wear? Experiment with basic mobility in your story.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider writing about your feet and/or shoes. Do you have a preference for bare feet or keeping your feet covered for some reason? Do you remove your shoes when entering someone's home? Is this related to a cultural stigma or reasons of cleanliness?
Week 16, April 2017. Tool: COLOR. Time for revision, again. A regular practice of drafting scenes in your story will allow each section or chapter of your story to shine.
For week 16, find a scene in your story that needs a little more attention. Revise by focusing on color in that scene. You could emphasize tones of one specific color and relate that to the mood of the scene and/or the overall story. Consider a larger emphasis on subtle details using color throughout your manuscript (clothing, hair color, objects in the environment). Overall, how does your character use or feel about color(s) in his/her life? Do your characters prefer earth tones or bright spaces?
Consider photographs in your story. Could you use black and white or faded photographs in the story to add details and to tell additional stories and histories within your manuscript?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider keeping the language and structure simple with a piece like "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, while emphasizing the use of color. Or, write about the cultural implications of color and consider a poem like Robert Frost's "The Vanishing Red".
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Week 12, March 2017. Theme: SENSE OF STYLE. Let's look at your character's style. Consider how your characters would dress, groom, and otherwise present their physical body to the world. Is your main character superficial in some ways? How? Does your character make a statement or try to shock other people with their appearance, or is your character more concerned with fitting in? Are your character's choices about appearance motivated by cultural demands or restrictions? Are they using appearance to be rebellious and/or political? Does your character care about social, humanitarian, and economic issues regarding industries related to physical appearance?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider writing about appearance by focusing on the social impact of trends in an essay or a poem. Think about a specific trend and how that could define people who participate in that trend. On a global scale, write about demands on peoples' appearances based on cultural standards and traditions.
Week 17, April 2017. Theme: RITE OF PASSAGE. Does your character undergo a rite of passage? How old is your character when she/he first realizes that they will experience a rite of passage? Or, is the experience a surprise or shock? If they know about this experience in advance, is she/he excited, nervous, afraid, etc? Does the character's life truly change after the experience? Does the character feel satisfaction, disappointment, both? Is the rite of passage related to family, culture, religious or spiritual practices, etc?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Explore two different rites of passage in your life--one that you had knowledge of before you experienced it and one that was a shock or surprise to you in some way. If you don't have two experiences, consider comparing one of your own rites of passage to that of someone or something else, perhaps noticing the historical or cultural shifts as one way to approach the theme. For another perspective, consider what it would be like if you were an animal to experience some of the rites of passage that we expect of/ enforce upon animals.
Pictured: "Glass Bridge" by Siah Armajani located at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens on the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail. Nashville.
Week 14, April 2017. Theme: LETTERS. Experiment with the epistolary form in your story. Create a situation in which your character must send and/or receive a letter. Try out the old-fashioned form of snail mail, and/or use more modern methods of sending letters/communications (emails, texts, social media posts & responses).
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Consider how your written communications have changed over time. Can you discuss/show how your way of writing to someone has changed, as well as the medium you use to deliver your communications (pen and paper, envelopes, cards, texts, emails, social media posts and responses)? Do you have any letters from the past that you could borrow from in order to create a unique expression of your written correspondences?
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Week 13, March 2017. Toolbox: REVISION using ACTION VERBS. Find a scene in your story that needs speed/momentum in the tone. This scene might not contain action in the typical way. The momentum could only be in the mind of your character. Choose verbs that will propel the scene forward, even if only in the character's mind (for example, fear and anxiety-laden moments where no real action occurs). Practice using strong action verbs.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Focus on time in your life when you created more momentum and action in your mind and then realized that the events didn't measure up to the scenario in your head.
Write a poem using words that invoke action and/or momentum. Consider how words sound when choosing them.
Week 15, April 2017. Theme: MAGIC. Bring in an unexpected moment of magic into your story. Perhaps this magical moment is created by the character being in a special place and/or someone they meet imbues the story with mysticism, mystery, or an otherwise magical presence. Allow this situation to be enchanting and, in some ways, mysterious. The character's life may "go back to normal" afterwards, or the magic could inspire a change in the character or their way of life.
If your character or narrator is on the cynical side, this moment of magic creates something unexpected for the character and the reader. It could reinforce the cynicism in the end, or it could create a contrast that reveals more about the characters.
Magic doesn't have to refer to "hocus pocus." You could use magical realism as a style in part of your story. This means giving magical and/or spiritual qualities or powers to ordinary descriptions and details. Try this approach to your creative nonfiction and/or poetry, if you are not writing fiction. This could also be a time to experiment with blending different genres.
Pictured: Permanent sculpture, "Crawling Lady Hare" by Sophie Ryder part of the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville.