For those who use the term “sock puppet” solely to describe an anonymous email account used for school or dating sites, when I say sock puppets are used for this writing exercise, I literally mean sock puppets. Photos for this exercise were originally posted on Facebook, 2013-11-19 10.03.44where they undoubtedly reached more people than here. However, this is a better place to share writing pedagogy, and some of my writing teacher friends wanted to see the prompt, so here goes:

I have a large plastic bin full of random crafting materials that I used for a previous, composition-centered exercise that used multiple points-of-view (more than two) to show the complexity of an issue. Coming from a multi-generational family of artists and writers, the idea of saving cloth scraps, buttons, leftover yarn, embroidery thread, and keeping certain basics on hand was a lifetime habit. I’m not as obsessed as I have been in the past; at one point in college when I was a fashion design major, I had fifteen bins of fabric and notions ready to go for new projects. Those handy plastic bins didn’t exist then, so I kept my supplies in cheap styrofoam coolers. These days, I am a proponent of It’s All Too Much, but even so, I think a single bin of craft supplies at home or at the office is not going too far. Why? Because you never know when a good idea is going to come along and you’re going to need craft glue or felt. If you have not been saving up all along, here is a starter list.

The Materials:

  • Colored Sharpies
  • Glitter or glitter glue
  • Elmer’s Glue
  • Craft glue
  • Two glue guns and glue sticks for the guns.
  • Googly eyes. These can be found in assorted sizes.
  • Assorted fabric. Buy an assortment from the remnant bin of a fabric or discount store. go for different colors, patterns, textures. and weights. Choice is essential.
  • Buttons
  • Bandanas. Buy when you find then cheap.
  • Felt squares. You need black, red, pink, white, and any other color that appeals to you.
  • Two pairs of scissors. Or three. It’s awful to have a scissor line.
  • Yarn. Lots of yarn. All you knitters will find this part easy, but for the non-crafting world, ask a knitter nicely for leftovers or be prepared to pay the price at the store. Pick some colors that work well for hair and some that don’t.
  • Package of needles, a spool of white thread, and a spool of black thread.
  • Socks. I bought black, white, brown, and smaller ones that were pastel because that’s the way I roll.
  • Something else that you just can’t live without. For example, did you know there are puffy paint pens? And do you always keep manila paper and crayons in your office? No? it’s an idea.

I may have some other things in that bin, but this list should get even the least-crafty writing teacher going. 2013-11-19 10.20.22

The Prompt:

Character in creative writing is a major force that pushes a story–or poem–in unexpected directions if you do it right. Most writers have experienced characters that do the unexpected, the unplanned, and writers who go with it, find that their fiction (or persona poetry) is richer and better for it. The trick is to allow your character to speak to you and, this is the tricky part, to listen to what your character is saying even when it does not fit the “plan” you have for your fiction. [Cue to take out the bin from under the lectern or table]

  1. Make your character. [Note: this only took ten to twenty minutes. I was shocked, but should not have been. Creative writers are used to making choices.]
  2. Once the class is seated again, have them take out their laptops or paper and begin writing about the character. I gave this ten to fifteen minutes. They can and will finish this at home.
  3. Write a piece of flash fiction (or a persona poem) with your character, 100-500 words. Shorter is harder.
  4. Simmer overnight (or for a week). Work on the flash fiction for a one or two weeks away due date.
  5. This is very important: have the sock puppet with you as you write. Some people will even put it on their hand and speak with it when they hit a rough patch. This is no time to be proud. We’re writing here.

I think this turned out well, but time will be the real measure. It will take time for the writing generated by this prompt to fully develop, but judging from past efforts from this particular class, I would be surprised if at least one of them didn’t get a publication out of the exercise.

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