This persuasive essay prompt is inspired by the book: The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived by Alan Lazar, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter. If you choose to use this prompt, I strongly recommend you buy the book. It is a collection of 101, short argumentative essays justifying how and why characters of fiction, film, mythology, folklore, and legends have shaped American society. The essays provide excellent models of how to write persuasively with reason, voice, and wit.
Due to copyright and respect to Lazar, Karlan, and Salter, I cannot upload sample essays from the book, but I have provided my prompt (with a grading system for the writing process and final copy using the AP 9-point scale) and an outline to help students draft their own essay justifying why a character, albeit fictional, has had a significant impact on American society. I have students select a partner to work with to write a persuasive essay using the same character. One partner justifies the character's positive influence, while the other partner justifies the character's negative influence. This helps students recognize, concede, and refute counterarguments, but it is completely optional to add this collaborative component. The list of all 101 characters students can choose from is linked on the prompt. It is free for all to access. I have also included a warm-up visual analysis activity for students to analyze Mickey Mouse's transformation over the years so they can draw conclusions about how and why fictional characters reflect a society's needs, fears, desires, etc.
I have used this prompt for on-level 11th grade English and AP Language and Composition.