I had completely hit a wall in my writing workshop class. Our final story was due in two days and I hadn’t been able to write anything. I begged my friend for a prompt, and she told me to write something inverse, something that starts with a negative photograph. This is the product:
It snows for days without stopping up here, coating the conifers at the ragged edge of the tree line, painting the needles so that they stand out white against the darkening sky, like a photograph in negative. It is night for days and days for nights up here. This far north, the sun doesn’t work the same. At first, insomnia creeps through the blinds, through the bottom of the door, through every centimeter of separation between the curtains. Then the darkness, rolling in like fog off the sea at the end of this long day’s journey, kicking off heavy boots, sitting down at the dinner table, demanding to be fed.
The writing workshop strikes again! This one’s not very long, even for a flash fiction. We did this exercise toward the end of class and ran out of time.
Prompt: Answer a question about a character you’re developing. Fold over the answer and pass your paper to the right. Answer another question without being able to see what the previous person wrote. After all questions are answered, unfold paper and write a flash fiction using the character that has been created.
Question 1. What did your character forget to do this morning?
Question 2. Why does your character think he’s going to get fired?
Question 3. What mistake did your character make that reminded him/her of another mistake they’ve made before?
Question 4. What stupid thing kept your character awake last night?
A few years ago Yahoo coders discovered that removing a forward slash from a strand of redundant code would save them millions of dollars.
“That’s the kind of attention to detail we need in this department,” Mr. Clark huffed. He sat behind his desk with his meaty hands flat out on the tabletop, and Cory couldn’t help but think they looked like two pink elephants that had fallen out of a four-story window.
He wondered how anybody with those elephant-hands could appreciate the notion of fine details. He would think about it while he was polishing the handle of his umbrella for the third time that day, working it over and over until it gleamed.
“This is sloppy,” Clark had said. “You have to pay more attention to detail. A slash, remember? Millions of dollars.”
Cory lifted the handle to the light. He scrutinized it. He wiped away one last, lingering smudge.
Prompt: Create an inkblot. Name 10 things you think it looks like. Write a story incorporating as many of those things as you can. For the title of the story, use three consecutive words from any article in a newspaper.
The tree was lit on holidays and festival nights, when the air was crisp and filling, when families were out past their bedtimes but had never felt more awake.
They carried long colored matches with them and ignited the wicks of candles that swung softly in the sinuous arms of the chandeliers that hung from the branches.
So many were lit that the tree seemed to glow like one giant lantern. The leaves were x-rayed by the light, their flesh illuminated around their bones so that they looked like a shoal of fish changing direction all at once on the breeze. Life was drawn in, the tree so bright that thousands of insects mistook it for the moon.
The children climbed into the branches, hands roughed by bark, daring each other to climb higher and higher until the great tree was holding them only by the tips of its fingers, like people hold onto hopes, to memories.
They broke through the pulsing canopy of light and looked out over the valley of night below them. The stars, those distant pinpoints, threw down darts of fire.
And they lit another candle. And they fired back.
Can I just reiterate how much I love my fiction workshop this semester? These prompts are gold.
Prompt: “S/he had always thought there was…(something about…)…” / “But now…”
She had always thought there was something about having more closet space than she could fill on her own. Something exciting. An opportunity to arrange space.
But now she was also aware that it was something ephemeral. This delicious time to herself couldn’t go on forever. Or at least she had never planned it to. As much as she enjoyed it at first, the longer it went on, the more she recognized the hope — coming to light each time she opened the closet door and saw just the three jackets hanging there, the vacuum she never used, the bleach, the singular pair of rain boots — that it would end.