Prompts and resources:
Susan Cooper is a novelist who also writes screenplays. She's a journalist who also writes picture books. But she's perhaps best known for being a writer of fantasy. Writers of fantasy, says Cooper, deal in "myth, legend, folktale, the mystery of dream and the greater mystery of Time. With all that haunting our minds, it isn't surprising that we write stories about an ordinary world in which extraordinary things happen."
The haunting in her mind began early. As a very young child, she soaked up fairy and folk tales. She also had plenty of real life excitement — Susan was four when World War II broke out and ten when it ended. Living in Buckinghamshire, near London, during that time was noisy and exciting, but all seemed normal to Susan as she'd never known anything different. She kept mostly to herself and kept busy, reading, biking, writing and absorbing the history of the places around her.
All these layers of living and learning fueled an imagination that she's channeled into her writing. Her gift for creating compelling images out of both unusual and everyday things inspire these Exquisite Prompts.
Prompt for grades K-2 (Level I)
Susan Cooper pays attention to her dreams. For her, dreams add to her imagination, and along with her life experiences, is what she draws from for all her writing. Write about a dream you had. It could be a daydream or one you had at night. What kinds of pictures in your mind did you see in your dream? Did this dream feel real? Was the dream fun, boring, scary, or strange? Where did the dream take place? Did you dream things that weren't possible in real life? Dreams are sometimes confusing and may not have a beginning, middle and an end. Some people write down their dreams in a dream journal. You can write your dream in a journal format and if you like, explore and write what you think your dream means.
Prompt for grades 3-5 (Level II)
In a lecture at MIT on the writing of fantasy, Susan Cooper said, "When I first gave Margaret McElderry the manuscript of The Dark Is Rising she said to me, 'Susan, don't you think this book has too much weather?'" But the extraordinary weather plays a major role — an incredible blizzard is used as a weapon by the Dark to instill worry and fear. Write a news story about an unusual or extreme weather event. It can be a real weather event from history or one that you experienced yourself. Describe your weather event. Was it a hurricane, tornado, dust storm, blizzard, hail storm or heat wave? What effect did this weather event have on individuals, communities, businesses and travel? Remember, you're not writing a weather forecast but a news article that answers the questions who, what, when, where, why and how about a weather event.
Prompt for grades 6-8 (Level III)
The places where Susan Cooper sets her books, particularly the titles from The Dark Is Rising series, are in many ways as important as the characters. The descriptions of the mountains, valleys and farms of Buckinghamshire, Cornwall and Wales are so vivid you can practically feel the very ground beneath the characters' feet. The brilliant imagery of these landscapes comes from the author's abilities and talents to remember and describe the very places she walked and played as a child. Compose a piece of descriptive writing about your favorite outdoor place. Think about this place and picture it in your mind before you write. Tell what you can see in the place, what you can hear, and what you can smell, taste, or touch. Write what makes this place different from other places and why you like this place. If you can, visit the place you describe. Remember, you're not telling a story about this place. Your job is to make reader feel like he or she is experiencing the place as you have.
Prompt for grades 9-12 (Level IV)
Getting characters to talk to each other is one way that writers tell stories. After she completed The Dark is Rising series, Susan Cooper began working on telling stories through plays and scripts. In a play, the audience expects something to happen between the characters on a stage and much of the story is often unfolded through what the characters have to say. Write a dialogue between two characters. One of your characters has just discovered that he/she can travel through time and has just returned from a visit to the past. He/she must convince the other character that time travel is possible and share what he/she learned while time traveling. Have your time traveling character reference at least two historic facts about the time period visited.
Start your entry with your cast of characters. You should have two fully described characters including physical description and age, disposition, special talents, and relationship to other character. You also need to set the scene with a brief paragraph on the setting and when the dialogue is taking place. Since you are not writing a narrative, you do not need to use dialogue tags to keep the reader from getting the characters mixed up. Use character tags instead to indicate which character is speaking by centering the characters name (in all capital letters) above his/her line of dialogue.
More about Susan Cooper
More about dreams
More about extreme weather
- Extreme Weather and Climate Events
- Weather and Natural Disasters
- Galveston Storm
- The Fall of Fleecy Flakes. St. Paul Daily Globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) 1884-1896, February 28, 1893
- Newspaper Stories: Weather
More about descriptive writing
- Childhood Places We Remember
- Descriptive Writing with Virginia Hamilton
- Free Writing with Sensory Stimuli
More about dialogue and plays
- Collaborating to Write Dialogue
- Voice: Your Sound as a Playwright
- Acting Out by Avi, Susan Cooper, Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLachlan, Katherine Paterson and Richard Peck