Our curriculum this session at Joaquin Miller was "It’s a Mystery!", and we worked on character development, crafting setting, creating tension, and using concrete details. See some of our favorite excerpts below!

From: The most valuable _______ in the world was stolen!

The Chip

It all started on a very hot, humid day: April 24th at 5am. Joe felt a sharp, heated pain n his face, and suddenly he was engulfed in total darkness. A silent scream emerged from the brown burlap sack. "Be quiet in there," said a gruff and hostile voice. Joe didn't want to get hurt, he kept his words to himself.

Joe woke up in a rusty, dirty building. With his head throbbing in pain, he let out a small groan. It was accompanied by a sharp pain in his chest. "Where am I?" he groaned. "That doesn't matter. What matters is that you give me the potato chip," said the hostile voice. "What chip?" said Joe. "Har har," said the voice, "Give me the potato chip!" "Okay," said Joe, and he pulled out a small, crisp, yellow chip that smelled great. "On one condition," Joe said. "Oh," said the voice, "What is that?" Joe smiled and said, "That you give me a cookie." To be continued...



From: Mystery Prompts: This is the story I’ve never told


This is the story I've never told. I am dead, or at least I was dead, and the only people who know this story are my parents. If it hadn't been for my best friend Juliet, I wouldn't be here today. It all started when I was five. I had a disease that made me not able to run. I kept it a secret, knowing that people would make fun of me. I had tests done plenty of times, but nothing like this: I was at school when I felt someone pushing my back, but it wasn't someone -- it was something, my bones to be exact. I decided to ignore it and keep playing, but it got worse. It started to feel like someone was kicking me in the back. I decided to tell a teacher, and that was when I started to scream I was in so much pain. The next thing I knew I was lying on a hospital bed, drinking cool sips of water and trying to sit up but it hurt too much. I would later learn that my muscle had turned halfway in the middle of my back. My dad told me that I might die. Later, Juliet came and held my hand, and somehow I stayed alive. Just like magic, though if you want to the doctor's version I made an incredible breakthrough.



From: It Was Missing! writing prompt


It was missing... Where is it? Where could it be? Help! Where am I? It is so dark and creepy. Oh... I'm in my room with the lights off doing a puzzle. But it's missing, I have to find it. I've looked everywhere. I turn on a light. The scene is going black and white. A few hours later I see something and pick it up with my very strong fingers. Just as I thought, it's a pig hair. Wait, do pigs even have hair? It's Dr. Dumpling, the stuffed pig. But suddenly, there is a THUD! I look outside and see a big ball of homework, my worst nightmare, coming towards me. To be continued...



From: Creating an unexpected setting (a haunted house that’s safe and fun, a park that’s spooky and scary, etc)

An Unexpected Farm

When Little Jimmy was going to his cabin in Tahoe, he passed a farm that had a blue barn and smelled like rotten hay. Suddenly, as if by coincidence, the car stopped.

"Oh god," Papa Joe said, "The engine blew! Well, I guess I've to fix it. Go play with the chickens, Jimmy."

"Okay," said Jimmy.

Jimmy walked toward the barn. The air tasted wet from mildew. He went inside and heard the sound of horses, sheep, and all the things that were supposed to be on a farm. But when he went further in to investigate, the barn was empty. There was nothing.

"What?" Jimmy asked himself.

To be continued...



From … : Creating an unexpected setting (a haunted house that’s safe and fun, a park that’s spooky and scary, etc)


There was a creepy old medieval castle covered in spider webs with eyeballs dangling in them, and spikes and dark horses inside. I was afraid to go inside, but then in front of my face I beheld the most amazing things: a pink unicorn, round bunnies, fluffy pandas, and a large golden dumpling.



From: Creating an unexpected setting (a haunted house that’s safe and fun, a park that’s spooky and scary, etc)

The Circus

When you think of a circus, you think of clowns, tents, shows, and elephants. But not this circus. This circus is different. The clowns wore only black costumes. You can smell heavy smoke, and the tents are full of dirt and bugs. The only food is vegetables, and that tastes like mud. There are no clean bathrooms, only port-a-potties that look like little abandoned jails. The sky is a dark shade of gray. This circus has the best, happiest name in the world, so a lot of people want to visit it. But right as they come in the gate, they leave. The children think it might be a joke, but the parents all say "Get out of there! It's dangerous!" The word spreads, and the circus tries to advertise all of the good things about it. But the advertising backfires. People complain and complain. Eventually it should shut down, but the circus has a secret that no one knows...




From: Mystery Prompts: Deep in the woods

A Wild Question

Deep in the woods of all woods there lived a mouse. Just an ordinary mouse. She was finishing middle school when she discovered that she was incredibly strong. Over the summer she practiced throwing twigs and could even set her own records. The first record she ever made wasn't very strong, it was four inches. She did six inches the next day. In the morning, she got up at 7am and jumped into a stream to rinse off. She dries off while eating breakfast, usually two blackberries and a pine nut, then she runs to the pond and back. Then she throws a mound of pebbles, until there is only dirt where the pebbles were. To be continued...



From: Broken Fairytales (retelling fairytales to create tension)

Cinderella: A Broken Tale

In a closeby land lived a hideous guy... or was it a girl? Anyway, there was an upcoming hideous pageant and the winner would earn a hideous prince or princess. But the competition was big. Cinderella's ugly, digusting, pimple-faced stepsisters were so hideous they had bought 50 rags with their prize money from last year's pageant. Cinderella wanted to make the worst impression, so she ran a mile in her filthy rags until they had yellow sweat rings. But it wasn't enough. She wondered if she could ever go to the pageant. Then, all of a sudden, her hideous fairy-dead-mother appeared to grant her three wishes with her magic. The first was to make her ugly. The second was to have the most hideous ride to pageant, and the third was to win it all. The fairy-dead-mother warned her to be back by 4pm. Off Cinderella went, but she forgot about the deadline to return. To be continued...



From: The most valuable _________ in the world was missing


The most valuable person in the world was kidnapped. He was either stolen by Dr. DuckBunnie or the evil society called The Kids. The one thing we know is this: it happened at 5:30am in his underground mansion. But Mr. Pebble was on the case. Mr. Pebble was a fat man with a pudgy nose. He had no hair, and his arms and legs were too short for his body. But best of all, he had a power that made him turn into a pebble so he could dodge bullets and disguise himself. Mr. Pebble went to Dr. DuckBunnie's lair to investigate. It was an old shack covered in mildew. When he in, it transformed into an underground mansion. He checked all of the rooms, except one. When he went into the last one, there was a pressure plate, but fortunately he leapt out of the house just before it exploded. Next, Mr. Pebble went to The Kids' society in Austin, Texas. He walked in expecting nobody, but The Kids were waiting for him. They tied him up in a chair. The rope was old and super tight across his fat stomach. Mr. Pebble quickly turned into a small yellow pebble and hopped under the chair. Then he realized what had happened: Dr. Duckbunnie and The Kids had teamed up to kidnap the most valuable person in the world! To be continued...



From: Broken Fairytales (retelling fairytales to create tension)

The Two Little Pigs... and the Sassy One

There were these three little pigs who needed houses. One pig said, "My house will be made of dirt." The other pig said, "Mine will be made out of rocks." The two pigs came across another house that was made of steel. They stared and stared at it, and they wanted to steal it. But they couldn't think of how, so they went home to watch the Cinderella Talk Show. In the meantime, Sally the Sassy Pig took over the steel house and placed a flag at the top. When the first two pigs returned, the wandered inside the house and saw Sally sitting on the couch. "Sally!" they cried, "This is our house!" But Sally ignored them.

In another part of town, Wolf was asking himself what he should steal that afternoon. He happened to go by the pig's house and saw the steel. A light bulb went off: "I can steal the steel!" Wolf thought to himself. To be continued...