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Narrative Futures Writing Prompts

Recently, I presented a series of writing prompts and exercises linked to the eight brilliant interviews of Narrative Futures, a series created by Chelsea Haith of The Oxford University Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH), featuring interviews with leading authors and editors in speculative fiction genres from around the world.


I originally delivered the writing prompts after each episode of the podcast; and here are the full writing prompts for you to share and enjoy. Click on the episode number at the top of each prompt for the full interview audio and transcript.

Choose your prompts

1.Beukes / 2.Mashigo / 3.Shah / 4.Murad / 5.Shurin / 6.Swift / 7.Liu / 8.Thompson

Episode 2.
Mohale Mashigo

Afrofuturism: For who?

1. The end of your world


In Untitled 3, Mohale Mashigo re-imagines her home city of Johannesburg in an apocalyptic time.

Writers and film makers are very aware of the pleasure of destroying our home towns.


For your first prompt, describe an end to your home town, city, neighbourhood or village.

You might like to write a few paragraphs of key description and action and then write some brief contextual notes. As always, the word count is up to you – but for the purposes of this exercise, I’d like you to keep it local.


Imagine an apocalypse in a place you know intimately; maybe even to the extent of boredom. It may just be a few streets or a familiar field. Or it may be an entire city centre you can commute with your eyes closed.


Remember that apocalypse isn’t necessarily complete destruction. What does apocalypse mean to you?


You may like to pause now, and come back when you’ve written.




When you’ve written your apocalypse, ask yourself:

What have you chosen to destroy? Why?

What have you chosen to change? Has anything grown or prospered?

What have you chosen to describe? Has your focus been on buildings, nature, people or anything else?


List up to five ways your familiar place will be worse. List up to five ways life there might be better.



2. Biddle, mend and eginning



Mashigo says she doesn’t know how to write a linear narrative. ‘There is no before or after,’ she says, ‘only during.’ This interplay between linear and non-linear and nested narratives is a common theme throughout these interviews.


For your second prompt, practice playing with temporal form. Take the Genesis myth – or any other famous linear, cause-and-effect plotline – and rewrite it in a non-linear way.


I often think of Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians in Slaughterhouse 5 when I think of non-linear narrative. They teach Billy Pilgrim to become ‘unstuck in time’. They see humans as stuck on a railway car, travelling in the same direction at a constant speed, looking only in one narrow direction, whereas Tralfamadorians can visit any part of the temporal net at will.


Mastering Tralfamadorian time would allow us not only to write stories in an interesting new way, but also as a by-product releases us from the concepts of fate and destiny which one might argue have caused a number of problems in the world.


How would the creation of Adam and Eve and Original Sin look different if cause was unlinked from effect?


Consider the technical – and philosophical – repercussions of being unstuck in time.

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