1. Tell me a story about parents and competition.
2. In How Fiction Works, James Woods discusses writing over character by inserting a "descriptive pause" which draws attention to surface or a texture, an abrupt interruption that changes the pace or movement in a scene. He notes that fiction writer Joy Williams is an expert at this strategy of pinching loose strands from a small rug. Write (or rewrite) a scene using this descriptive pause to experiment with modulation and pacing.
3. Oscar Wilde said the most humiliating moment in his life was when he sat in the rain for thirty minutes at a train station between prisons, pummeled by the jeers and laughs of bystanders. Fingers pointing— being subject to a gaze he could not refute. He felt like rumor incarnate. Write a piece in which the edge between rumor and reality is revealed as a foreskin many do without.
4. In Ron Wallace's flash fiction, "Worry," he develops the following great metaphor: "Worry grew between them like a son, with his own small inconsistencies and then more pressing demands." By personifying worry as a child, Wallace shows how a married couple normalizes and nurtures worry, developing their own intimacy with it, holding it near, carrying it together. Try developing your own great metaphor that turns an emotion into a character. Alternately, write a flash fiction that offers a different metaphor for worry.
5. Justin Hocking describes "fenestrated writing" as writing through a window opening for light. Using his analogy, write two paragraphs, one walled, the other fenestrated, about the same topic. Notice your use of spacing and punctuation. How does white space survive a window?
6. A woman is grocery shopping when she notices a man watching her in the fruit aisle. She feels suddenly self-conscious. “What if he’s one of those men who looks down on women who buy bananas or grapefruits in the middle of June?”, she thinks. She opts to touch a few peaches, feel them out, check the expression on his face. He pretends not to notice. What happens?
7. Revise and edit a recent piece of prose with an eye to Marcus’ view of the chem-trails that emotional artifice leaves across a story.
8. In an interview decades ago, poet Philip Levine said he didn’t have an enemy in Korea, meaning there wasn’t anyone there he wanted to kill. How is this definition of an enemy squared with our easy construction of dangerous others? Juxtapose this with NRA commercials of girls in shorts, spray tans, montage of slaughter weapons.
9. Write a flash about something you did to get attention as child. Or write a list flash of things you did to get attention as a child. If you were perfect, write a list flash of things that other kids did to get attention. And use that as a title without commenting on it—allow the text to absorb and reflect it instead.
10. Self-revelation fails when personal voice doesn’t scrutinize the connection between observer and observed. Just know that. Write it on the inside of your wrist in black pen. Now look up at your family and smile.