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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 6.
EJ Swift

Climate fiction: Content dictates form

1. Character and place inform form


Our first exercise this time is a technical one.

EJ Swift says that in her practice, the characters or setting informs form. In other words, we can shape and structure our writing according to the content.

Let’s play with this idea a little, merging it with a few techniques we’ve tried in other episodes.


Start by writing a couple of paragraphs about a busy market square in a place you’ve never been to. It might even be on a different planet.


Describe the sights and smells and sounds. Describe the activity. Include some dialogue.

Pause now and write.




Suddenly, an unexpected event happens. A troupe of dancing elephants might come through; there may be a loud noise, an attack; there may be an apparition of some sort.


Pause now and write.



Now make all the characters – human, alien, animal – disappear. Pause, write and then come back.


Describe the scene. is it silent and still or is something still moving?

Have the tension and pace increased or decreased?


From whose perspective are we seeing the scene? Is it first or second or third person, an omniscient narrator? Who is viewing the scene if there’s nobody there?


Re-read passages from some of your favourite books and consider how the form matches content.



2. Building a nest


Like other writers in this series, EJ Swift plays with temporal structure – she blends time and nests narratives in an ecological context.

To experiment with this technique, outline a story with nested timelines – but not just any story. It needs to have an animal as the central protagonist, describing the how they build their nest.

Consider the onion layers of the story: you might go backwards or forwards in time or generation, going one layer deeper each time, and then coming out again.

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