Friday, June 17, 2011

Alice in Wonderland Creative Writing Prompts with Dr. Katy J. Vopal

I'm so excited to bring you this week's guest prompter Dr. Katy J. Vopal!  Not only is Dr. Katy J. a talented writer, passionate professor and a totally awesome person, she is also a dear friend of mine.  She has put quality time into the writing prompts for this weekend, and I'm confident you will get a lot out of these if you take the time to apply your creativity with an open mind.  And if you have fun with these whimsical prompts, well, I'll bet you'll get even more out of them.
 Running with the theme of the Mad Hatta, Cheshire Cat and that curious girl named Alice, these writing prompts will keep you busy creating throughout the weekend and beyond. 
I expect these to be especially poular with teachers, so teachers, please take note.
And for now, all mad hats off to Dr. Katy J. for being our guest--THANK YOU!
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
We’re All Mad Here
Creative Writing Prompts by Dr. Katy J. Vopal
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedldee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
While my taste in literature and my own writing have always seemed to dwell in the realm of realism, I always loved, been drawn in, and inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”  For the unsuspecting reader used to the film interpretations, these two novels can seem like an impermeable collection of nonsense that begs the question, “What does this all really mean?”  The beauty of the novels is that there are so many things --  dreams, games, puzzles, questions, commentaries, fantasy, and simple fun.  The narrative is intertwined with lyrics and poetry, many of which infamously stand alone, “Jabberwocky” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”  Wonderland is a landscape of unforgettable characters, many of whom the reader will only encounter for a couple of pages – the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, the Doormouse, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. 
Carroll’s Wonderland is popular for a multitude of reasons, and I can only speculate that the main reason is because of the risk he took to simply play with the manuscripts.  He did not follow conventions.  He took a risk, a risk all writers can learn from -- we should craft our writing not as we think it should be, but as our writing thinks it should be!  Taking this risk does not mean that our writing needs to be as surreal as Carroll’s work, rather trusting the path and pattern of our creativity; it does not need to be a mold nor does it need to copy anybody else’s writing. 
Here are some prompts to inspire you … let the writing lead.  When we do so, our stories, poems, and characters take us in directions we never knew existed.  The possibilities are endless.  Don’t be afraid to follow your piece “down the rabbit hole” and see where it goes!
Warm up
"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all."
can make words mean so many different things."
In most writing situations, we are restricted to the meanings of words that are dictated by the rules of our language.  In a free-writing warm up exercise, craft a short paragraph or poem where you choose a word and assign it different meaning.  Explore it, expand it, play with it.  Be descriptive.  Make the word and its new meaning central to your piece, the spinal cord, the thread, the yolk.  Here’s the catch, don’t explain to your readers exactly what your “new meaning” is, practice showing them through exploration and description.  This will build the ever-important skill of “show, don’t tell.”
“I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly: “but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

“Explain all that,” said the Mock Turtle.
“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.”
I truly believe that our souls are meant to grow and evolve throughout our physical lifetime.  As we journey through life, we become different people.  Alice’s statement is truly prophetic, and the Gryphon in his wisdom speaks of good writing.   Write a unified, flowing flash memoir piece that artfully juxtaposes who you were “yesterday” and who you are now.  Focus on the important moments and the “energy” or psychological feelings of the transformation.  Avoid too-long explanations. Challenge yourself to write about such significance in less than 500 words.
'Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice; 'but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!'
There are curious things all around us – moments, people, situations, places, objects that are magnificently rich inspirations for our writing, especially fiction.  As a fiction writer, I am constantly on the lookout for situations that I can weave into my stories.   I challenge you to collect at least five “curiosities” and weave them together into a piece of fiction – an overheard conversation, someone wearing an unusual piece of clothing, someone’s strange quirk or habit, an odd item on the shelf at a flea market.  The strange truths of our lives inspire our fiction all the time.
“It seems very pretty,” she said when she had finished it, “but it's rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn't like to confess, ever to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don't exactly know what they are!"
Alice spoke the words above about the poem Jabberwocky after she read it in the looking-glass book.   It is celebrated as one of the most popular “nonsense” poems ever written.   Read “Jabberwocky” in its entirety (found in chapter one of Through the Looking Glass or many places on the Internet, including here: 
Let Carroll’s poem of nonsense inspire a poem of “sense” and follow the flow of inspiration.  Many years ago, I was considering the “vorpal sword” used to slay the Jabberwocky; I also found it curious that this word was one letter off my own last name – take out the “r.”  My last name was shortened when my ancestors came to America from Czechoslovakia, and as I thought about this connection, I produced two poems about the haunting of “unknowing” when they traveled across the world.  
‘It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, 'when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole — and yet — and yet — it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I'll write one.'
This is a great quote to end my contribution to Anjie’s wonderful blog.  You are always in the middle of a novel, a story, a memoir, a poem and might not even know it.  Experiment, play, push your writing boundaries.  Don’t be afraid to follow them.  So many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Katy J. Vopal holds a PhD in English – Creative Writing and is on faculty at Gateway Technical College ( where she teaches English and Communication.   She also teaches creative writing courses at Ottawa University ( and workshops for Redbird – Redoak Writing Studio (  While she primarily writes novels for middle grade and young adults, her short fiction for grown-ups has appeared in a number of publications, including Inscape, Upstreet, and Dan River Anthology.  Other publications include numerous articles from her time as a newspaper reporter, essays, and one poem.  In case you were wondering, her favorite Wonderland character is the Cheshire Cat. 


  1. Thank you! I just tried the warm-up and flash memoir. Exactly what I needed to jump start my writing day.

  2. I, too, love the flash memoir idea. Can't get to it now but it will be the first thing I write next time I'm prompt writing!


I only ask that all comments be polite and constructive.