humanities literature class assignment

ASSIGNMENT #1: Choose five (5) Maier photos and write three (3) first sentences for each which might serve to possibly start a story. Don’t write the story! Just write 5 first sentences — sentences that could “open” 5 different stories for each photo. In total, you’ll have 15 sentences when you’re done with this first assignment. I know the photos aren’t numbered or identified, so to let me know which photo you’re writing sentences for — please just give a brief description, like this …

Photo of 2 kids eating ice cream

1. They’d asked their mom if they could go along with her to meet the man but she’d said no and bought them off with ice cream cones.

2. Jimmy wanted chocolate, but his brother Timmy ordered first so he had to get vanilla.

3. The only time they were allowed ice cream was when grandma was coming to town.

ASSIGNMENT #2: Write a brief (5-10 sentences) story about something that really did happen to you — and write it in 1st person (I/me/my/mine). It doesn’t have to be dramatic, just something that’s important enough to remember. Think of the “stock” stories you tell people when you first meet them. Maybe it’s about a certain holiday (the Thanksgiving grandma got drunk on punch) or the time you scored the winning points in a game, or the first time you saw your girlfriend/boyfriend. Anything will work. Then … rewrite the story in 3rd person (he/she/it, or give names). You can substitute pronouns, but as you do so you’ll find the story begins to change, morphing into “something else,” perhaps requiring stylistic and grammatical changes.

For instance, maybe my first sentence is “One Thanksgiving my grandma got drunk on punch. She kept asking me to refill her glass, so I did.” When I rewrite the story into 3rd person I’m going to have to do this: “One Thanksgiving Grandma Jones got drunk on punch. She kept asking her granddaughter to refill her glass, and her granddaughter did.” If I want to, I can give the granddaughter a name, like Susan: “One Thanksgiving Grandma Jones got drunk on punch. She kept asking Susan to refill her glass, and so her granddaughter did.” This assignment is good practice for writers, showing you how to switch POVs (points of view). Writers often play around with POVs as they try to get a good feel for the story. Should I tell it in first person? Or third person? Or even second person (sometimes a delicate or dicey challenge)?

Writers also play with TENSE — present or past are usually the choices. Do you want your story to take place “in the now,” in PRESENT TENSE? Or in the PAST TENSE? For example: “Grandma Jones got drunk on punch” is past tense, whereas “Grandma Jones is getting drunk on punch” is present tense, as if the action is happening right now. It doesn’t matter which tense you choose, however, for the most part you need to stick with that tense throughout the story. In other words, don’t wobble between present and past tenses, which is confusing for the reader and makes for tough reading.