Transforming Fear into Fiction

How to use these strange times to propel your words

Never have we seen such widespread fear in our society. Yet we were warned. Scientists have predicted a major pandemic. 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. We have been hit. We are isolated. We are washing our hands and endlessly wringing them, wondering, do I have it?

Our society is upended, and though we cannot see it — yet I demand to hold it — there will come some good. Maybe we will be smarter about the next pandemic, and surely we will know better how to sequester ourselves and share resources.

Meanwhile, I will write. Newly laid-off, stuck in my mountain home (not unhappily), I thought, how can I make the most of this?

Some days my fear grabs my core, searing my flesh, making me imagine the death of all those I love

Other days it lets up and I know I am doing the right thing. And I feel safe.

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

Then there are the exhausted times, when I simply want to make a pitcher of martinis and sing along with a 1960s song of defeat, Is That All There Is? by Peggy Lee — accepting the inevitable and waiting for death.

I decided to take these emotions 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, l’d never heard of writing prompts. I went to a small-town school 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, taken from the many prompts on my full list. One list below is for you to funnel fear into words, and another is for you who need to feel hope. The length or time 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.

Use Your Fear

  • What was the first time in your childhood when you felt strong fear? What was it about?
  • 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 would 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 present tense, in all its glory.

About Chuck Mallory

Author of middle-grade fiction. Former writer for men's fitness magazine. Book "The Owl Motel: And Other Places Where You Are Not Welcome" available on Amazon. Avid cook and gardener.
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