Miriam Halahmy is a wonderful novelist, poet and writing teacher whose YA novel, Hidden, has just been put on stage in Paris. In this exercise, Miriam gives us a wonderfully quirky way of building character.
Over to Miriam:
What’s great about this exercise?
This exercise always relaxes people and there is a lot of laughter – a precious commodity in a creative writing workshop. Secondly, it allows the students to take a very familiar character and to write about them in an entirely new way. This could result in something humorous, sinister, puzzling etc.
People have used their wills to do some pretty strange things. On a basic level, it’s a legal declaration by which a person names one or more persons to manage his or her estate and provides for the distribution of his or her property at death. However, wills are sometimes intended to carry out special wishes for the deceased, from throwing a wild party to taking a last jab at someone they don’t like. Wills can be funny, touching, naughty, ugly. See below for some funny famous examples.
Timing: 15 minutes
Choose a famous story character. This could be from legend, a film, a fairytale e.g. Red Riding Hood, Humpty Dumpty, Superman, Frankenstein.
Brainstorm ideas for what this character’s Last Will and Testament would be. Don’t think too hard, just write down whatever comes to mind. 3 minutes.
In the first person (‘I’), write your character’s Last Will &Testament. 12 minutes.
Choose a genre e.g. fantasy, mystery, romance – and write the will with one of these genres in mind. Use the typical stylistic features of this genre.
Choose a character you are working on and write his or her Last Will & Testament. Think about what this teaches you about your character and use this newfound knowledge as you write your story.
Some Famous Examples:
The magician, Harry Houdini, believed in life after death. He wanted to make sure that when he came back to visit his wife, she would know it was him. He apparently was concerned about frauds bothering her. So he left her a secret code – 10 randomly selected words – she could use to corroborate the identity of any spiritual presence. He died in 1926 when his appendix ruptured. She held a séance every Halloween for 10 years. We don’t know if Mrs. Houdini was ever able to use that secret code. But we do know that he left books on magic and the occult to the American Society for Psychological Research but only if the research officer and editor of its journal resigned. He refused and the books went to the Library of Congress.
Janis Joplin, the rock star and blues singer, signed a will just days before she died of a drug overdose in 1970. Most of the will is straightforward. But hidden in Article Eleventh, the instructions to her executor is a provision that allowed the executor to spend up to $2,500 “to cause a gathering of my friends and acquaintances at a suitable location as a final gesture of appreciation and farewell to such friends and acquaintances.” Various reports on the Internet embellish that and say her will provided for a posthumous all-night party for 200 guests at her favorite pub in San Anselmo, California, “so my friends can get blasted after I’m gone.”
Solomon Sanborn, a hat maker, died in 1871. He left his body to science with one stipulation. His skin was to be used to make two drums that would be given to a friend. At dawn every June 17th after that, the friend was to go to Bunker Hill and pound out “Yankee Doodle” to commemorate the anniversary of that famous revolutionary war battle. The rest of his body was “to be composted for a fertilizer to contribute to the growth of an American elm, to be planted in some rural thoroughfare.”