We are halfway through our month of prompts–thank you so much for letting us serve you this far–and today in our writing we are going to name the elephant in the room:
Often when we are developing a character, getting to “know” and understand a character, we do exercises like “put that character in a bar/grocery store and see what they buy” or “make a list of all the things in that character’s refrigerator.” Whether you like these exercises and use them or not, the impetus behind them is the same: our characters are different from us, and we have to get to know them, as we would a new friend.
Well, my friends, there is a new character in town and it’s time to talk to them.
Allow Coronavirus to become a character. If Coronavirus were a character, what would they say and do? Talk to Coronavirus; ask them for their wisdom.
P.S. Your prompt today might be better done in a journal, at least at first. I wouldn’t limit yourself to 1,000 words, and I wouldn’t insist on writing a story, unless one naturally arises. You and Coronavirus might have a lot to say to each other.
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.
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:
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.
This prompt will be easier if you allow whatever delightful or disturbing weirdness ensues and resist the urge to explain it. Enjoy!
(Note: Lisa will now be joining us in France for our French Connection Retreat in June.)
Hi Lisa, first question, have you ever visited Costa Rica before?
Never been to Costa Rica but it’s been on my list for years. I’m attracted to the geography, the people and their politics. If I can learn Spanish, I will consider retiring there. If I retire.
What are you most looking forward to in our upcoming retreat?
Learning something new about writing/flash. Getting inspiration, tips. Sight seeing/R & R, meeting new and interesting people.
What do you find yourself writing about? What themes and/or writerly obsessions?
I’m presently engaged in planning/writing a series of “cycle stories” in the fashion of Ellen Gilchrist about the life and times of a young to elderly lesbian named Hazel Currie whom I’ve been collecting notes about since I was about 20. I have drafts of 2 stories from that series and notes on more. I think there might actually be 2 books worth of short stories, but one never knows how these things turn out. I dictate notes on Hazel in a Day One journal throughout the day as I have thoughts about her.
I have a small series of flash stories that come to me as I do my work with people with serious mental illness in crisis. These have social justice themes and are about hurt, broken people making their way in this world. I’m very careful about writing these stories because I do not want to turn their lives in to entertainment, and because some of the stories are so distinctive that I have to be careful about violating HIPAA laws. I work with a writer/writing coach who is also a trauma expert/therapist, Kay Morgan, PhD, to help me navigate these issues. So far, I’m more worried about it than she is. The best of those stories, “A Day’s Work,” I had published in a little ezine junoesq which is now defunct, It’s about a homeless mentally ill man, Janik Muro, who works various strategies to get off the street for a few days because someone is killing homeless people in the camps around the city. It has morphed into a not bad short story that needs more work and gave me ideas for a novel based on the main character in the story. That project is fermenting and I’m not actively working on him right now except for the little notes I dictate about him into my Day One journal when thoughts occur to me.
I might be obsessed with using technology to organize my very busy thoughts about my characters.
Respond to this quote:
“When I think of the wisest people I know, they share one defining trait: curiosity. They turn away from the minutiae of their lives-and focus on the world around them. They are motivated by the desire to explore the unfamiliar. They are drawn toward what they don’t understand.” Dani Shapiro Great quote and I agree with it wholeheartedly. I hope someone says this about me someday!
Would you like to share something about yourself that is interesting, moving, weird, funny, unusual?
I’m a lifelong writer/journaler, having focused on poetry in the past, but for the last 1-2 years exploring fiction, which was my original goal. I was derailed into poetry after a Centrum Workshop where 7 beautiful woman poets performed their work each morning back in the days when they held the performances first thing in the morning. When I got home, I was thinking in verse and wrote poetry for many years. I think that writing poetry improved my language and has made me a better fiction writer. I have many pets, am an avid ballroom dancer, and my idea of camping is Motel 6. Still wake up excited to get to my job every morning and don’t plan to ever retire. I once had a dream where I was disembodied, out among the stars, with a spotlight on me, and a deep voice boomed “And Lisa Trigg is the Homecoming Queen of the Universe!” I’m pretty sure that Hazel is going to have this precise dream sometime during the travails of her 20s.