My creative-writing class is weird. My students and I have spent the semester encouraging each other’s weirdness, so instead of a conventional final exam, I handed out Barbie dolls, along with three prompts involving a Barbie who had attained self-awareness.
The kids were required to choose one of the prompts and write a scene using some or all of the techniques they’d learned this semester to show (don’t tell!) Barbie’s situation. Their choices:
Prompt 1: Barbie lives in a Dream House owned by a 9-year-old girl with affluent parents and a bad habit of losing small objects. Barbie has several housemates who may or may not be sentient. She has a crush on one, and another is incredibly annoying. She has access to a Corvette, Jeep, and RV. Despite her luxurious surroundings, Barbie is dissatisfied with her life and has resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms. She views the 9-year-old as a destructive monster, benevolent deity, or obnoxious landlady (your choice).
Prompt 2: Barbie lives in a crude dollhouse lovingly constructed from a cardboard box by her owner, a precocious 9-year-old girl from a working-class family. Barbie is the girl’s only store-bought toy; everything else is a hand-me-down, yard-sale find, or something homemade. Despite her meager surroundings, Barbie is satisfied with her life. She and the child are each other’s only friend. Barbie wants to help the child, who is being mistreated, but is hampered by the limitations of being a plastic doll.
Prompt 3: Barbie is living rough in a city alley after falling out of a dumpster that was being emptied into a garbage truck. Once a 4-year-old girl’s favorite toy, she was separated from her owner through some tragedy and is now fending for herself. She either desperately misses the child or is grateful to be rid of her. She is in mortal danger from some threat. She has no survival skills and is learning on the fly, acquiring or creating her own shelter and other necessities in whatever way you deem appropriate for a small plastic doll.
I’m not sure this prompt would have worked as well with a roomful of girly-girls who aspire to be Barbie when they grow up, but this class is mostly sarcastic fangirls who occasionally miss school to attend comic cons. They’re clever and cynical and fully capable of turning Barbie’s perfect pink fantasy world into a biting commentary on modern capitalism, a dystopian hellscape, or an existential nightmare.
If you have a group of bright, witty kids who are likely to appreciate an unconventional final, I recommend this strange little writing exercise.