Karen Russell is a novelist and short-story writer. Her wildly imaginative tales are full of humor, horror, the surreal, and the supernatural. Her works include multiple short story collections, including her critically acclaimed debut novel Swamplandia!, the story of one girl’s mission through the Florida Everglades’ swamps to save her family’s island home and alligator-wrestling theme park. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, she now resides in Portland, Oregon.
Writing personal narrative or memoir can be a powerful way to excavate truth and build connection. It requires, however, that you face the page with courage and vulnerability, that you be willing to dig back through your memories— good and bad— and share your heart and life story with others. When most people think of a memoir or personal narrative, they often think of a book that’s written in prose, but personal narratives can take many forms: poems, graphic novels, or traditional prose. A wise teacher of mine once said: Let your story take whatever form it needs. Keeping this in mind, use the following prompts to create a personal narrative of your own— in whatever form is most inspiring to you.
Prompt 1: HAUNTED GROUND:
Choose a setting that you think is haunted and freewrite about it. What does it look, smell, sound like? It could be a cemetery at midnight or a sunny playground or a motel swimming pool or the inside of a Starbucks coffee cup (maybe Venti size, so the ghost has some room). Describe the location that is haunted by your ghost.
Prompt 2: A GHOST TELLS ITS OWN STORY:
For this prompt, see what happens if you write from the ghost’s point of view. Is your ghost a plant, animal, or human? How long ago was your ghost alive? What forces are keeping it chained to this particular spot? What does your ghost want? Is there some violence in the past that has never been addressed? Is there a secret that the ghost must bring to light? Unfinished business, or unfulfilled potential? Or is your ghost, like the one in Kevin Brockmeier’s wonderful story, simply lost and in need of directions? Write in the voice of a ghost telling its story to a living human, and making some request or demand of them.
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