Transforming Fear into Fiction

How to use these strange times to propel your words

Photo by Chuck Mallory

Never have we seen such widespread fear in our society.

Yet we were warned. Scientists predicted a major pandemic “someday.” We all coasted along, visiting the world easily, indulging ourselves, our bright future continuing to crawl toward us from the horizon.

These days are so different than just a few weeks ago. We have been hit. We are isolated.

We are washing our hands and mentally wringing them, wondering, do I have it?

Every day I ride the same teeter-totter you’re on

So let’s write. I’m newly laid-off from my day job and stuck in my mountain home (not unhappily). I thought, how can I make the most of this? Here’s how: WRITING!

Take your feelings and pound them into prose. Deep fear, bright optimism, an expectation for transformation, and all the elements that come from today can infuse fiction with depth. Use it. Burnish your writing with this raw emotion.

When I was a young writer, I’d never heard of writing prompts. I went to a small-town school (graduating class, 23 people) and didn’t have the same exposure as big-city students. It was around 2008 or so when I was visiting my son Max at his mother’s and he was doing homework. I saw a list called Writing Ideas.

“What’s this?” I asked. “Writing prompts,” he told me. He was surprised I didn’t know about them.

I love this idea, I thought

I made a copy of it and still use that only that long, luscious list.

Try these! There are two lists below, retrofitted from the original list to work for these times. One list is to help you funnel fear into words, and another is for you who need to feel the shine of hope. The word length or time spent writing on the topic is up to you.

Reach deep

Use this surge of emotion and dedicated isolation time to create the best writing you’ve ever done. Maybe what you produce can be published here. Or maybe it’s something to launch your memoir, novel, or essay.

Use Your Fear

  • What was the first time in your childhood when you felt strong fear? What happened?
  • Use a recurring bad dream, or the worse dream you’ve ever had, making it into a brief story.
  • What would you do if you knew without a doubt you were the only person left living on Earth?
  • What is the disease you fear most? What would it be like if it happened to you?
  • Write a tombstone epitaph for yourself or someone (even imaginary) who died from a terrible bout with coronavirus. Then write a brief story of that person’s life.

Have Your Hope

  • What is the smell that brings back memories or makes you feel safe? What was that safe place like?
  • What would you do with a million dollars right now?
  • What is your most valuable material thing? Why is it the most valuable?
  • Write about what you will be doing 10 years from now.
  • Pick a superpower you’d have (but not the ability to heal, kill, or revive someone). Describe what your life would be like.
  • What is a big something/anything you’ve been looking forward to? Describe it in all its glory.

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Chuck Mall

Chuck Mall

Asheville NC. Former writer for men's fitness mags. Author, The Owl Motel. Writer of middle-grade fiction. Chuckmall.com and @chuckmall on SM.