Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | March 19, 2013

Write (in) a classic!

Looking back over the years to a time when the writing wasn’t anything more than a school assignment to be done reluctantly and with plenty of complaining, I remember an assignment my high school English teacher gave the class.

We were to write a new chapter in the book that we were reading at the time.  Our chapter could be inserted between two chapters (like chapter 24 1/2) or be at the beginning or end of the book.  But the most important thing was that it was in the author’s voice, and the story was continuous with whatever came before or after.  It could not disrupt the already existing storyline.

We were given this assignment twice, and the books were Huckleberry Finn and Dante’s Inferno.  I looked forward to doing the assignment with an enthusiasm that I had never felt for writing before.  And I was surprised when I found out later that most students didn’t really care if their chapters “read” well.  I labored over my assignment, and making it fit within the original story was very important to me, not just because of the assignment’s instructions.

After scoring highly on the first assignment (Huckleberry Finn), the teacher actually asked me how I was able to do so well on it.  My marks in English were average at best, and none of my writing assignments fared much better.  The teacher may have been wondering if I had any help, etc.

I just told him that I had probably read Tom Sawyer about a hundred times, which may have been exaggerating but only in number.  I really had read it more times than I ever counted, so I knew Mark Twain’s voice and writing style well.  I told the teacher that I could have kept going and that I really enjoyed it.

If the teacher had any doubts to my sincerity they were erased after I scored just as highly on adding a chapter to Dante’s Inferno.  I didn’t have the history of reading Dante over and over like I did with Mark Twain, but I did have such a history with some compilations of Greek mythology I had read when I was younger that I thought may have helped me out at the time.  Maybe it did and/or maybe it didn’t matter.  I really liked Inferno, and there was a part of me that was eager to add to it.  This same something was what drove me to write later in life.

So, if you’re interested in a little creative writing assignment, either for a break from your regular writing or something to spark your creativity, try your hand at adding a chapter to any book of your choice.  Choosing a classic is a good idea, especially if there’s a substantially different voice and writing style.  The rules are short and sweet: your chapter can be anywhere you want but it has to make sense and read well.  Pay attention to: voice, setting, point of view, dialogue and especially the characters (and what you might have them do that’s different from what the original author did).

[For those who want to replace the last chapter because they want a different ending to a book, I’d say knock yourself out if that’s where the creativity takes you, but I think it’s more important to stick to the story that’s there first because it’s a good exercise in discipline during revision.]

The chapter you add to the book is a possible segue into another storyline altogether.  You might consider thinking about a character you want to see more of, and have your chapter introduce a larger storyline for that character.

And finally, while you want your chapter to read well, the point of this is creative writing.  If you want to make some dramatic change in genre to a book that would change it so much it couldn’t read well, say where Huck Finn meets up with wizards from Hogwarts, go ahead.  Enjoy yourself and enjoy your writing!


  1. Matt, this is an intriguing exercise. I’m saving it for when I’m not under deadline! Thanks for the great blog. Not many can make you think!


    • Thank you for reading…and we definitely don’t want anyone to miss deadlines. 🙂


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