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.
Telling stories: Psychoanalysis and alien invasion
1. Let’s talk about colonialism
In this interview, Tade Thompson says that alien invasion stories are a pure metaphor for colonialism – this is a powerful metaphor that invites an empathetic jump. Entire cultures are appropriated and erased; languages and appearances are disguised; people are stolen, their homes appropriated.
There are countless alien invasion stories available told for every angle – and often these centre on technological dominance. On a related note, Thompson also says he doesn’t identify with stories that spend too much time on technological and logistical minutiae at the expense of character.
I’m short of a dialogue prompt in this series, and maybe getting characters to talk to one another rather than invade each other will be a good idea.
For this exercise, try to write a passage of pure dialogue – just speech and a minimum of associated description – between an invader and an invadee. It’s up to you what they talk about. There might be barked orders and protestations, or the conversation may become cathartic.
In addition, to honour Thompson’s feelings on technology, let’s detechnologise the scene – there should be no technology in this scene.
Consider how the restrictions have affected your vision.
2. Editing your own narrative timeline
Thompson’s psychoanalytical background and his interest in character above all recalls several strands in therapeutic creativity –Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way or Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones or Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead are just some examples of writing or creativity guides that take a therapeutic approach to creativity.
One of Julia Cameron’s key exercises is the ‘narrative timeline’ – telling your own personal history as if it’s a story. This helps us identify important themes and arcs in our own lives.
For your final prompt, write your narrative timeline – or just a brief segment of it.
Then edit it, retell it, reframe it in any way you like.
You might like to pause now and return when you’ve written the exercise.
Consider the following:
How have you retold your story?
Do things get better or worse in your new version?
In the new story, are you someone completely different or recognisably the same person?
Do you live in a different place and do different work, have different levels of influence?
Are the changes to the story small and subtle or sweeping?
Did you avoid the hard stare inside and describe someone else?
If you wrote the note in the opening prompt after Lauren Beukes’ interview, look back at your note now.
Do you feel any more or less inspired to write?