This week, we asked one of our favorite writers, Karen Finneyfrock, if she would drop by as Creative Prompt’s very first guest prompter, and she said yes!
Greetings, Rookies! I’m Karen Finneyfrock, and I write poetry, YA novels, and short stories. Here are the opening paragraphs of a short story I wrote called, “Before We Go Quiet.”
“I’m like you. I love my mother. I pick chocolate cake on my birthday. I would take all the abandoned animals and love them to stuffing if I had a house big enough to keep them. I don’t like the news. I don’t like to see plant beds that aren’t watered enough or wide green lawns that aren’t near a river. I see ghosts too. Everything is haunted in some way. The metal chairs that line the gravel walkway, the military helicopters that can function as planes, the jean shorts and fringe tops of the tourists, all full of ghosts, seated or flying or worn as a second skin. Ghosts, everywhere with us. Not that I need to tell you.”
This short story uses two devices. First, I employ the second-person point of view, which is less common than using first-person POV. I wrote this piece to an imaginary “you.” Second, the story is written in the form called slipstream, the literature of strangeness. Slipstream stories usually take place in the known world, around familiar objects. There is a realism or familiarity to the locations, characters, or events. Those elements tend to distinguish the writing from fantasy or science fiction, which often visit a magical setting.
But, slipstream also employs the surreal or the anti-real. Magical elements creep into our real places. Is that a tail swinging under my history teacher’s skirt? Has the air always shimmered inside my father’s kitchen? Slipstream merges the real and the magical, forcing them to live together in an awkward and unexplained truce.
To write your own story in slipstream, try this:
1. Start with a rich description of a real place. Use a place you know well: school, home, the ball field where you’ve burned hours watching your little sister play baseball. Use lots of sensory imagery. What does it look like, smell like, sound like, feel like? I like to go to that place and write there.
2. Next, let the strangeness slip in. Remember, we’re not visiting a magical world like Narnia. Stay in your world but let magic join you in some strange and unexplained way. Let your wild imagination fly. What magic would you like to see come out in the light and make mischief?
3. Now, what mischief gets made? What conflict happens when the magical encounters the real? Show us the conflict.
4. Last, show how the conflict is resolved.
Remember: You don’t have to explain the strangeness when you write slipstream. In fact, your readers don’t want explanation! They want to live in the oddball world of real magic with you. Let them! (And if you’d like to read the rest of the story I excerpted above, click here.)
Thank you, Karen! We’d also like to encourage you visual artists to bring some slipstream-inspired tricks to your work. Get weird with a collage, drawing, painting, or photo. Show us what you come up with (you writers, too!) by sending it (along with your first name, last initial, age, and city) to [email protected] with the subject line “Creative Prompt” by Monday, November 2 at 6 PM EST.
Last week, we asked you to take a hike with your imagination up to the (probably haunted) Hubbard Mansion. Based on what you saw and heard—recounted in extra-creepy detail on the following pages—we are staying the H away from that place.