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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 7.
Ken Liu

National myth: Rewriting America and China

1. ‘Realism’ is not a default; it’s a choice


In this interview, Ken Liu reminds us that realism is not a default – it’s a series of choices. This links back to points other writers in this series have made about realism and the place of magic in everyday life.

To test this assertion, let’s become conscious about the decisions involved in trying for neutral realism.

In a realistic way, briefly describe yourself pouring some water to drink, sticking to the facts as far as possible


You might like to pause here, write the description, then come back


Once you have written your description, think of where your scene is set – is it in a kitchen, an office, a restaurant, in the countryside? First, think of the surroundings you choose not to describe.

consider how your water source –  a tap, a bottle, a well – and your container – a glass, a cup, your hand – may be different from five other people’s

Did you follow the instruction and write about yourself or someone else or did you opt to rebel and write a character?

What narrative perspective did you choose? – first person, third person?

What does the environment and narrative voice and surroundings say about the protagonist? –

Did you deliberately choose to cast them in a certain light? Did you choose details that would illuminate their character?

How much detail did you put in? Was the scene deliberately overwritten or badly written? What does this say about your view on realism?

Even trying to be as neutral and factual as possible, you have carefully curated your description.



2. Literalise a metaphor


Liu is drawn to stories in which metaphors are presented as true.

For this exercise, literalise a metaphor.

Choose a favourite or striking metaphor. ‘My legs were jelly’, ‘my head nearly exploded’, ‘there’s an elephant in the room’

Now write a very brief scene in which this is literally true.


Often this simple exercise can unlock a lot more story – we crack open a door to a whole new world where anything is possible. Does the prompt loosen your imagination? Can you imagine a few more scenes in this story?

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