Weekly Prompt: The Flowers
Every post in this series will include a weekly reading and a list of prompts in response to that reading. Some of them will be focused on craft; some will ask you to evaluate content.
This idea was born from an MFA course I took that focused almost entirely on emulating the style of other writers and then reimagining that first draft into something that was our own but still had echoes of the original. It's also inspired by the heightened sociopolitical reality so many of us come face to face with each day.
Writing can be for pleasure; it can be cathartic; it can be used as a tool; it can preserve memory; it can foster connection. Whatever it may be, I hope this series helps you find what you're looking for out of your practice.
Week of November 16
Craft element to note: Extended metaphor. When writing about an event that is not universally experienced the same way—a Black child confronting the reality of lynching, in this case—one of the best ways to open the writing up is to use imagery. For three-quarters of this story, the reader is watching Myop gather flowers, seeing how much joy they bring her, and this is a universal experience: gathering a plant because it's beautiful. When Myop discovers the noose, Walker could have given us typical notifiers of emotion. Myop could have gasped, for instance, or stepped back, or run away. Instead, she lays her flowers down. This is powerful because we've seen how much she loves those flowers, but it's also powerful because it's a conscious movement. The flowers are a metaphor for Myop's childhood innocence and how she loses it, mourning the loss—signified by the act of laying flowers down, as one does on a grave—in the process.
- Walker ends this story with the haunting line, "And the summer was over," which underscores the end of Myop's unawareness of lynching. Write a piece about the end of a character's innocence, using the seasons to indicate change.
- We learn about Myop through her relationship to the land—how comfortable she is on the farm, how curious she is in the woods, and how joyful she is among the flowers. Write a character sketch of someone equally defined by their environment.
- Walker uses dramatic irony—the technique of introducing a situation in which the audience grasps the full significance of a character's words/actions but the character does not—to build up tension. At first, Myop is curious about the bones, examining them to figure out the sort of person they belonged to. As a reader, though, we know her interest in the skeleton is going to lead to a painful discovery. Write a scene that relies on irony for building tension.
- Extended metaphors work particularly well with static items, because we can see a character's relationship to them change. Think of an item in your MC's life and write a few pages chronicling how their relationship to that item evolves.
- Part of the reason this piece is so powerful is that it's so succinct: we're seeing a very small snapshot when Myop's understanding of the world dramatically shifts. Using no more than 500 words, follow your MC as their worldview changes.