Kathy fish, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

The Power of Juxtaposition & Creative Alchemy: A Microfiction Prompt

Choreographer Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit, encourages creatives to keep a journal of the things we see (hear, taste, smell, etc.), especially when they are juxtaposed in interesting ways that draw our attention, be they intentional or accidental. 

It’s tremendously useful to keep a journal of the things that particularly draw your attention in your daily life. Maybe the idea of writing lots and lots of pages of your inner workings every day doesn’t appeal. But you can jot things down. And when you’re stuck, go back and look at them again. I have these odd notes on my phone: snippets of overheard conversation, a phrase from a song, peculiarities of the natural world (or of my neighbors down the street). Lots and lots of photos. Collect images and ideas you’re attracted to. Put them in your phone or folder or spiral notebook, whatever. Just don’t rely on memory!

Doing this, coupled with some daily “down time” (even if only for 15 minutes) will work magic on your creativity. 

It’s about openness and receptivity to, well, a sort of creative alchemy. 

Via: Giphy Flying Rene Magritte GIF by Feliks Tomasz Konczakowski

Juxtaposition is defined as: “the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect.” (Merriam-Webster)

Poets are great at juxtaposition. Haiku writers and mosaicists specialize in it. They jam two or more very different ideas or images together to create new meaning and associations. It’s why we so often get an “ah ha!” experience from reading poetry. Filmmakers and photographers and visual artists of all stripes also make powerful use of juxtaposition.

But flash writers can (and should) make this a part of their toolbox as well. 

In Joy Williams’ collection Ninety-Nine Stories of God, (a book I highly recommend), there’s a flash called “Veracity” that manages, in a scant couple of hundred words, a brilliant juxtaposition of church pews, a birthday bounce house, a dog, and a ’64 Airstream Globetrotter. And every single one of these elements feels necessary and significant. 

My flash, “Foundling” (below) uses a similar jamming together of elements in a very short space:

Foundling

They discovered the baby in the grass, under the snapping cotton sheets. The clothesline spun and creaked, throwing light, then shadow, on his face, his wee head smooth and curved as a doorknob. The woman didn’t bend, only drew her hair from her eyes. He smells like Malt-o-Meal, the little girl said, hoisting him. Support his neck, the woman told her. It’ll snap like a pencil. Christmas Eve, her husband had packed and left for Cincinnati. Now, as raindrops dotted their arms, and the woman’s skirt flicked her calves, he came rushing through the gate, holding a newspaper over his head, calling Margaret! Margaret!

 

The exercise below will have you bumping together disparate objects / images / ideas in micro form to see where it takes you, what surprises you, what you unearth. You may discover new meaning is created when juxtaposing two disparate objects, ideas, or images. Forcing yourself to do this in a very small space actually serves to ramp up the power of juxtaposition. Very little room is left to “explain” yourself. You must allow what your unconscious delivers to you. The results are often delightful or disturbing, but always surprising.

Microfiction is variously defined by different word limits. For our purposes, let’s say 150 words or fewer. Microfiction often resembles prose poetry. The line between flash and prose poetry is wafer thin at times. But please set aside any need to categorize your work at this juncture. Allow whatever emerges. 

So! Your prompt:

  • I want you to combine two or more disparate elements as compactly as you can, bump them up against each other, in as tiny a story as possible. 
  • Don’t worry in this first draft about “making sense”…your unconscious has a tendency to make its own kind of beauty and sense. It’s what we are wired to do, after all. Find the patterns. And if we can’t find them, we create them.
  • Choose ONE from List A and ONE from List B and get to work!
  • Try to keep to just 150 words or fewer if you can.

List A

tangerine 

ghost

disco ball

Isaac Newton

surgeon

List B

Saturn

Marilyn Monroe

fortune teller

continental drift

funnel cloud

This prompt will be easier if you allow whatever delightful or disturbing weirdness ensues and resist the urge to explain it. Enjoy!

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