Christopher Castellani on Writing About Our Own Lives


—from The Art of Perspective (Graywolf, 2016)

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Craft of Prose Writing Exercise: “The Immaculate Conception of Nohbdy”

In this exercise inspired by Percival Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and nuanced by Odysseus’s encounter with Polyphemus, my Craft of Prose students created a character with a name that causes confusion, a name that is either a negation or a pun, and then crafted a creation myth about their conception and birth in the character’s point of view. Check out Writing Exercise: “The Immaculate Conception of Nohbdy.”

Writing Exercise for Craft of Prose: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove”

After the group presentation on Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, my Craft of Prose class participated in an exercise inspired by Russell’s title story, in which they had to write from the point of view of mythological creatures who are rejecting their mythical powers, innate desires, or supernatural tendencies. Here are some of the creatures about which they wrote:

  • A Kelpie that doesn’t drown people anymore
  • A reindeer that has stopped flying for Santa
  • The Boogeyman who’s decided to open up a daycare
  • A suicidal phoenix
  • Vegan Werewolf
  • Speed-dating siren
  • God on Vacation
  • A magical healer who will no longer heal anyone

“Spin” Reading and Writing Exercise for ENG 2031

For “Spin,” students will be negotiating subtext, rumor, dramatic irony, subjectivity, objectivity, and context in our readings and their own work. Students will discuss the elements of reportage and rumor in their icebreaker text, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and then discern the difference between Rowling’s subtext and the subtext, however erroneous, read into the actions of the protagonists by other characters. Students will likewise watch a clip from the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and identify elements of dialogue, actions, body language, and gestures that reveal subtext, and then they will do a writing exercise in which they describe the innocent actions of a character in public and then re-describe them in the point of view of a law enforcement official, private investigator, reporter, or suspicious bystander who misconstrues, willfully or automatically, the actions of that innocent person.

“Debate” Writing Exercise for Craft of Prose

In the “Debate” writing exercise, students are asked to create two characters—political candidates—with unique syntax and diction in order to debate a phony issue, like whether muffins should actually be called cake, for example. In doing so, they learn how to format dialogue; to progress action through dialogue; and how to demonstrate a character’s values, motivations, and background through dialogue.