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December's Book
Clear Springs
by Bobbie Ann Mason
Writing Prompts

The following suggestions for classroom writing projects related to the works of Bobbie Ann Mason are from the teacher’s guide to KET’s Signature series showcasing contemporary Southern writers.

  1. Bobbie Ann Mason keeps a notebook in which she records interesting bits of overheard conversation, descriptions of unusual people she sees, and other fragments. “Then, when I get ready to write a story,” she says, “I might glance through my notebook and pick out some stuff.... I use it as a catalyst.” Try this method yourself as a means of starting stories. You can start with a line of conversation, an image, a place.

  2. Mason’s story “Love Life” opens with a description of a retired teacher watching a music video on television. The video’s images seem comic, even absurd, when described without reference to the music. Turn on MTV with the sound off and, without naming the band or the song, write a one-paragraph description of what happens on the screen.

  3. Pick a town corner or shopping mall near you. Go there and sit and watch what takes place in one of the stores or the public walkway. Without naming the people or place you’re observing, write down what you see.

  4. The next time you’re watching TV with other people, notice any conversations they have while watching it. Record those dialogues in your notebook, without mentioning that they’re taking place in front of the set. What sense does the talk make on paper? What can you add to it? Start a story from it.

  5. Mason has often spoken of her effort to write objectively about people, without condemning or condoning the choices they make. “I have a very detached view of things,” she says, “so that I observe things [without being] strongly opinionated or involved in ego. I like to look.”

    Try writing a story from this perspective. Think of a big problem you or someone you love is facing, perhaps one for which no answer has been found. Writing in as neutral a tone as possible, describe what some people may have done to cause the problem; then describe their efforts to escape or solve it.

  6. In In Country, Sam Hughes learns about Vietnam despite the apathy of some folks in her community. Think of an instance when you got at the truth of something, or achieved something, against the odds. Were there people who encouraged you? Others who didn’t? Write your story.


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