Walking Among the Dead

Posted February 22, 2012 by kate in Character Development, Inspiration, The Writing Process, Writing Exercises / 0 Comments

Inspiration – Assignment #1

Walk among the dead.

No, I’m not talking about hanging out with your local zombies. I’m talking about taking a stroll through a cemetery–preferably one that’s old and full of history.

As you walk, read the names on the tombstones, the dates that defined their lives, the inscriptions of hope and faith  that their loved ones carved in stone. The minute one of them really grabs hold of your imagination, start writing.

Write anything. Jot down your impressions in a 15 minute free writing session, write a poem, start a character sketch for a short story, write a back-story for the person buried at your feet. Just go with whatever form your creativity takes at that very moment. You might be surprised at the result.

Several years ago, I did this exercise in a secluded, nearly forgotten cemetery in rural Southern Indiana. I walked for probably half an hour before one of the tombstones really caught my attention. It was small and simple, a tiny marker for the grave of a six-month-old girl who had lived and died in the late 1800s.

So, what about this particular tombstone inspired me? Two things. The first was that the little girl shared the same unusual first name as my sister. Second was the inscription on the headstone, which I found utterly heartbreaking.

It was such a visceral reaction, I grabbed my notebook and let my thoughts and feelings flow. In the end, I captured my intense emotional response in a poem narrated from the mother’s point of view.

The poem was published a few months later.

So, go ahead and give it a try. Walk among the dead for a little while and see what they have to say. You never know where your stroll through the past could eventually lead.

Happy writing!

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