Kathy fish, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Day 22 Prompt: Face the Strange: The Uncanny

From Wikipedia: “The uncanny is the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar, rather than simply mysterious. It may describe incidents where a familiar thing or event is encountered in an unsettling, eerie, or taboo context.”

As to the use of the uncanny in fiction:

“There’s a power and weight to this type of fiction, which fascinates by presenting a dark mystery beyond our ken and engaging the subconscious. Just as in real life, things don’t always quite add up, the narrative isn’t quite what we expected, and in that space we discover some of the most powerful evocations of what it means to be human or inhuman.” ~Jeff VanderMeer, “The Uncanny Power of Weird Fiction,” The Atlantic

“The uncanny freaks the reader out because it isn’t quite right – it taps into our understanding of the world and patterns around us and renders them slightly ‘off’.” ~Robert Wood, in this great article. 

Read “Day of the Builders” by Kristine Ong Muslim in Weird Fiction Review, which opens eerily like this:

“This happened long before the initial signs of sickness from the outsiders rippled across my village. You should understand by now how my people were easy prey because most of us were trusting, greedy for finery, and readily distracted by new things or any semblance of finesse.”

I’m struck by the world-building of this story, how familiar it feels, while at the same time so uncannily “off” in every way. 

So much of our world, our once familiar landscape, our interactions, have taken on an uncanny quality during this pandemic: The eerily deserted streets of the big cities, for example. People wear protective masks in the supermarket. A man pours wine out his apartment window into the glass of a woman leaning out her window on the floor below. Goats roam free in villages. We can draw on these uncanny images, this unsettled feeling, in our writing. 

Today, I’d like you to face the strange in your flash fiction. Explore something that is oddly and unsettlingly familiar. What happens when a normally benign event takes an eerie or inappropriate turn, for example? Challenge yourself to take a subtle approach with this.

Consider how Hitchcock uses the uncanny in his films, for example, the “uncanny double” of Marion and Norman in the film, Psycho:

If you need a nudge, try using these below (from Psycho) to get you started:

shower curtain

owl

cash

mother

“We all go a little mad sometimes.”

Kathy fish, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Day 20 Prompt: Three Songs, Three Decades

This is a prompt I used in one of my Fast Flash Reunion Extravaganzas (this summer will be my 5th anniversary of teaching Fast Flash!).

Songs are hugely evocative. You know those songs you hear the first few notes of and are instantly and vividly transported to another time in your life? Here, I want you to find 3 songs from 3 different decades of your life. If you’re still in your twenties, get out of here! No, I’m kidding. If you’re still in your twenties just find three songs that were recorded during your lifetime.

I want you to write a one paragraph flash for each song. The songs may serve as the titles for each one paragraph flash, they may be mentioned within your one paragraph flashes, or they may just serve as inspirations for your one paragraph flashes.

Go HERE to find what was the #1 song on the day you were born (Mine was “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis Presley).

The result should be a trio of microfictions that feel somehow connected. If you want to give the trio an overarching title, go ahead.

Also, you may approach this as fiction or memoir or some hazy blend of both. Try to write these very tightly, for a total of fewer than 500 words if possible.

Rock on, my friends. xo

Kathy

 

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Day 19: Bonus Sabbatical Prompt–The Rite of Spring

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

~Cynthia Occelli

I love this quote. And, in the midst of everything happening, we might be forgetting that it is spring! Even if we are still in a strange spring hibernation, our bodies and mother nature is turning on the spring switch. And growth–whether it’s the seed or our own internal growth–is usually messy.

Another spring story I find fascinating is the one about classical composer Igor Fyodorovich Stravinksy, whose Rite of Spring ballet/orchestral piece, which takes us through the eruption of spring (and which you may recognize pieces of), prompted riots–actual riots!–when it premiered in Paris in 1913–and Stravinsky was actually run out of town! The audience was completely unprepared for the primal drums and the slicing of violins–even though that is what is happening right now under the ground…

Your prompt today is a musical prompt:

Listen to The Rite of Spring (about 35 mins–I mean, what else do you have to do today?? Ha.)

Then write.

PS: If you aren’t used to listening to classical music, I suggest not watching the video–just listen and allow the waves of sound to move your emotions in that mysterious and wordless way that only instrumental music can.

rite-of-spring_5_tanztheater-wuppertal-pina-bausch_pc_stephanie-berger

xoxo Nancy

Kathy fish, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Day 18 Prompt: Write a Letter

Dear Friends,

Years ago, I lived in Australia, long before internet and email. I missed my family and friends back home terribly and while my little ones napped, I’d sit down and write long letters. One of my friends said she kept my letters in her purse and would sometimes read parts of them to her co-workers. I should add, this was before I fully recognized that I was a writer. 

I recently received a letter from one of my writer friends. A real honest-to-goodness handwritten letter. It brought me such joy. It made me feel more “connected” to another human being than I’ve ever felt on Twitter or from an email. The letter was newsy and rambling and kind and funny and warm, filling every inch of the notecard it was written on.

Communication is so quick and easy now. Personal events and news are frequently shared, even as they’re occurring. Everyone knows our business. What’s the use of a letter anyway?

Well, that’s my prompt for you for today: Sit down with paper and pen and write someone a letter. No, I’m not asking you to write an epistolary flash fiction (though you can if you’re so moved!). Look around you. These are strange days indeed. What has changed in your community, your neighborhood, your family? Think of the odd details. The other day on my Next Door app, someone had posted: WHYYY IS THE ICE CREAM MAN STILL COMING AROUND??? 

Share your hopes and fears. Or just something funny or exasperating your kid did. Because this is a writing prompt, I’m going to nag you to employ your writerly skills of observation, include strong, concrete, specific details, and engage the senses. Does it seem like the stars are shining brighter, for example? Is the local wildlife getting bolder? 

Pretend social media doesn’t exist today and reach out to one person. And hopefully you have a stamp because I don’t want anyone going to the post office. I’d love to hear if anyone out there actually does this prompt. Let me know. 

With love & affection, ❤

~Kathy

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Day 17: Bonus Sabbatical April 1

Today’s prompt is specifically for those of you feeling creatively stuck and needing to just crack the ice and get your fingers moving. And it makes for a great warm-up on a regular basis, too.

Your prompt:

Open a book by a favorite author to any page. Then retype that page, word for word.

This exercise is great for not just warming up or getting you in the chair and typing, but there is also a lovely intuitive understanding of language and style that happens on a cellular level when we’re entwined with someone else’s actual syntax. Like osmosis.

Biggest hugs!

Nancy

xoxoxo