Persona poems adopt the voice and characteristic of someone other than the author, usually someone quite different, and frequently even a famous or well-known individual. Poems of this nature often allow us to re-imagine the figures and to hear their voices in a new way. What if Plato drank Budweiser on a midwestern roadside—how would he see the world? What if Odysseus didn’t really want to go home? What if Edgar Allen Poe came back to the present and witnessed the daily horrors in this culture? These poems allow us to see differently.
Choose a person from literature, history, or contemporary culture to write a poem about. Use the third person “he or she” to capture the character. Place them in a specific moment in time, whether it’s the present or a crucial moment in their lives or a totally mundane one. But try to tap into what makes that person “them” and how they interpret the world.
Think of a place you have been that is located somewhere other than either Ann Arbor or your hometown. Next, think of a person you saw at that place—a friend, a family member, a traveling companion, or a stranger. Isolate a particular incident or action that somehow encapsulates or is representative of that place and that time. Now portray the overall experience in the form of a prose poem utilizing these elements. Remember to focus on capturing and translating the sensory or emotional experience in images. Let your reader see with all his or her senses.
Fiction Prompts for Character:
“Solving for X” from Ron Carlson
Write a short story with the following conditions: It is exactly 26 sentences in length. Each sentence begins with a word which starts with one of the letters of the alphabet—in order. For example: All the excuses had been used. By the time the school doctor saw me, he’d heard everything. Coughing, I began to tell him about the lie which I hoped would save us all. AND SO FORTH…Also, you must use one sentence fragment. And one sentence should be exactly 100 words long and grammatically correct.
It’s All About Character:
- Describe your protagonist in three different ways. First, make a list of adjectives. Second, describe the character only through action—use no adjectives, adverbs, or physical descriptions. Third, describe the character using only the physical—facial expression, clothing, posture, gait, hairstyle—to convey not just what the character looks like, but what s/he is like
- Think of the worst thing your character has ever done. Describe the event as though you are a detached narrator, in either the second or third person. Then, in the voice of your character, write a journal entry describing the same event. How do your character’s feelings/perceptions/interests alter the way the event is described? Now write a letter to someone else that describes the event. How does the description change when your character is presenting him/herself to someone else?
- Write a dialogue between your protagonist and a secondary character in which each has a secret s/he is hiding from the other. Do not reveal the secrets but make the reader intuit them. Write only dialogue—no narrative description, no markers like “she said” or “he asked.” Try to suggest the situation only through dialogue, without violating the idea that these two people are speaking only to each other. In other words, a husband would never say to his wife, “Well, Dolores, as you know, I’ve been extremely upset since I lost my job as vice president of the bank here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when my jerk of a boss, Frank Patterson, fired me two weeks ago Sunday, only three days before my fifty-first birthday.” Work on conveying information and emotion to the reader in dialogue without resorting to awkward and unconvincing exposition.
- Briefly describe your character’s home—both his/her residence and the larger community—from a detached third person point of view. Then pick two states of mind—angry, content, grieving, nostalgic, in love, etc. From your character’s point of view, describe his/her home twice, first in one mood, and then the other.
Think of a ritual that is important to you, whether traveling to your family’s summer cottage each summer or mowing the lawn every Sunday. Now close your eyes and bring to mind a specific time and place this ritual was performed, or imagine a typical occurrence of this ritual. Let the ritual play itself out in your mind until you know where the action is taking place, what sights, sounds, and smells the ritual entails, and who is doing and saying what. Without losing your mental movie of this ritual (you might try to imagine it being projected onto the computer screen or page before you), get the ritual down on paper. Don’t worry about grammar or mechanics right now. You don’t even need to write in complete sentences. If you want to tell us what you are thinking or feeling as you observe or participate, that’s fine, but also remember that good writing conveys what you think or feel about an event through the words you choose to convey it. Be specific and engage as many senses as possible.
Put your characters (2, maximum 3) on a trip, but keep them in a confined space like a car or a train or a plane. What can you reveal about someone using only dialogue to illustrate the way they think, they act, and view the people around them. Remember, you want the dialogue to do double work: character and plot development.
 Poetry and Drama prompts from Jeremiah Chamberlin’s Intro to Creative Writing course at the University of Michigan
 Fiction exercises from Judith Mitchell, University of Wisconsin-Madison
 Non-Fiction Prompt from Creative Composition, edited by Pollack, Chamberlin, and Bakopoulos