Friday Fictioneers -They will understand

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The world laminates into four: my warm candle-lit table; a receding hall of empty places; beyond the window, the eaves of strangely pitched roofs that do not belong in this place; and, finally, a lowering sky, purple with distant menace. There are no people. Anywhere.

I wait.

The message arrives, as I knew it would, a blur of white slicing the air like an assassin’s blade—”Do it.”

With trembling fingers, I unwrap the package. They will understand. Won’t they?

.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

168. Loab is coming

Who is Loab? An older woman with sunken eyes and unhealthily red cheeks. She seems to inhabit the same space in our collective unconscious as ghosts, ghouls, giants and elves.

AI-generated image of a woman with rosacea

@supercomposite/Twitter

Loab was summoned into our world by an AI-artist called supercomposite. Is she a demon haunting the internet? A creature from our subconscious transferred in millions of images to artificial intelligence? No human created, or even named, Loab. She was conjured from a hitherto unaccessed space in the internet, discovered rather than created.

The “spell” was what’s called a “negatively weighted prompt”. Supercomposite instructed an AI to produce an image as far away as possible from Marlon Brando. It spat out an image of a city-scape. What, supercomposite wondered, would happen if she asked the AI to produce an image as far away as possible from the city-scape? Would it loop back to Brando? It didn’t. Instead, it tracked all the way to the edge of nightmare and produced Loab, even naming her.

Using Loab as a prompt for similar images, supercomposite found that Loab is very persistent and adjacent in virtual space to some very gory stuff where she appears with headless people and macabre children.

Does Loab tell us something about the fears and biases underlying the images on which the AI was trained? Or something about the weird and impenetrable operation of computer algorithms? Or something, as the modern mythmakers would have it, about the cryptids that haunt the internet, virtual bigfoot or Nessie? The truth is out there, but we so much want to believe.

Friday Fictioneers – Accident

PHOTO PROMPT © Alicia Jamtaas

Umm. There’s been a little bit of an accident. Not my fault, you understand. You know I was supposed to charge up the batteries on the space station with the ground-to-space laser beam? Well, there was a bit of glitch. Long story short, the space station’s gone, vaporised. But on the plus side, I think I know what caused it, so we can recalibrate the beam. These things happen, okay?

.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Signatures

PHOTO PROMPT © Trish Nankeville

Stooping, I examine the flowers. They are like…sea urchins, but growing from green stalks; or a constellation of arcing plasma in solar storms; or cells scurrying about their business in the dark hallways of the body. And, they are like themselves—fractal self-similar images in a hall of mirrors.

I know they bear secrets. What cryptic signatures do they carry of the ailments they cure? Why do these blooms fill me with terror? That too is a signature, and I hurry on.

.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Big Rain

PHOTO PROMPT © Lisa Fox

He scratched his head and patted his belly, as if playing that kids’ challenge of combining two different motions. Obviously, he wasn’t convinced, so I redoubled my efforts.

“Some will be saved,” I said.

“Like Noah and the Ark,” I said.

“The waters will recede,” I said, “And the earth will be cleansed.”

“Praise the Lord,” I added.

A long silence followed, in which he shuffled his feet awkwardly. At last he said, “I think Noah had a bigger boat. An inflatable isn’t going to cut it.”

.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

167. Past or present tense? Which to use?

Whether or not to use present tense is ultimately a stylistic choice. Despite what I say below, there is nothing that a gifted writer can do in one tense that they can’t accomplish in another.

The present tense is often said to add “immediacy”, a sense of being in the narrator’s present moment , like a movie. This can help to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Younger readers, brought up reading novels like The Hunger Games, may come to expect the present as the normal tense for writing. Older readers, brought up on a tradition that used to favour past tense, may find the present tense irritating or contrived. An analysis of submissions to #pitchwars found use of the present tense was more common in YA writing.

For those who think the use of present tense is an annoying modern fashion, it’s worth remembering that Charles Dickens Bleak House, published in 1852, is written in present tense.  Neither past nor present tense are inherently right or wrong. But there are consequences to the choice of present tense:

  • Apart from flashbacks, the use of present tense constrains you to follow the flow of events. This need not be a problem but structures that play with time become harder or impossible. You’re prevented from anticipating and making use of the future (since you’re carried along on the stream of the present) and it’s more difficult to make use of non-linear time, breaking up the sequence of events. The inability to manipulate time can lead to characters who are simpler than they need to be, because the reader has less sense of the past which determines choices and actions in the present. HOWEVER, like all writing strictures, a gifted author need not be limited by this, as shown by the discussion of Sally Rooney’s writing below.
  • Creating suspense becomes more difficult, because the narration can’t take into account things that have not yet happened or are outside of the characters’ current awareness. The “little did he know” device is unavailable.
  • Unless you’re careful, you can feel forced to overload the present moment with trivial events and sensations that have no real bearing on the story, just because such events would happen in the natural flow of time.

I would suggest that, apart from impulses of fashion, you let your characters’ situation determine the choice of tense.

  • Does your character live in the present moment? Joyce Carey’s novel Mr Johnson is written in the present tense because the central character lives in the present moment.
  • Does the past fill the present for your character? Have you ever noticed historians have a habit of talking about the past in the present tense? (“Churchill is now facing his defining moment as Germany prepares for invasion.”) If the past fills the present for your character in this way, then present tense may suit you.  Matt Bell talks about the reflective present tense, as being “the way in which memory and trauma often work.”
  • Are you using an unreliable narrator? Unreliable narrators deny the reader full information by reporting incorrectly or missing out key details. Present tense can work well here and intensify the surprise when the truth is revealed.
  • Are reflection and insight important aspects of your story? Past tense may be better suited here because it allows the story to be told from the distance of time.
  • Does your character have a complex and important backstory? To avoid lots of jumpy flashbacks, past tense may provide a better choice.

And yet. Sally Rooney explained in a 2019 interview that her choice of present tense was driven by a grammatical preference: her characters’ frequent reflections on the past would have had to be written in past perfect if she’d been writing in past tense. and she found past perfect ugly.

He feels his ears get hot. She’s probably just being glib and not suggestive, but if she is being suggestive it’s only to degrade him by association, since she is considered an object of disgust. She wears ugly thick-soled shoes and doesn’t put makeup on her face. People have said she doesn’t shave her legs or anything.  Connell once heard that she spilled chocolate ice cream on herself in the school lunchroom, and she went to the girls’ bathrooms and took her blouse off to wash it in the sink.

Sally Rooney, Normal People

Friday Fictioneers – Control

PHOTO PROMPT © David Stewart

I decked him with a single blow.

Of course they arrested me, but there was justification and surely the court will understand. It went down like this:. last year I enrolled in a genetic survey. Dr Franklin told me I carried a hereditary predisposition to obesity, so I joined a gym. Hour after hour of weights. How I hated those workouts!

Today, Franklin revealed it had all been a joke—or, as he put in, I was in the control group that received a fake diagnosis.

Wouldn’t you have decked the bugger?  

.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Waiter, there’s a man in my soup

PHOTO PROMPT © Brenda Cox

“Waiter, there’s a man in my soup.”

I could see him contemplating completing the old comic one-two. Except the man next to me at the counter really was collapsed face down in my plate. The waiter looked around anxiously. Was he worried the goulash caused it, and checking how many patrons had noticed?

I nudged the fellow. “Oi, mate, you okay?”

No response. But he was breathing.

The server brightened—someone else had assumed control. I batted responsibilty back to him and asked, “Can you call an ambulance? And bring another goulash, please.”

.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Footprint

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

There’s a footprint in the rock, and a tingle as I tentatively step my own foot into it. The fit is perfect. A long stride, and then another—this person was running. Towards something, or away? In hope or in fear? I’ll never know. Their tracks are here, fossilized across millennia, but the emotions have dispersed in a puff of chemical breeze.

“Ben,” I say, wanting to share this ache of ignorance with him. And then I stop, looking at him in a piercing moment of loneliness. I have no clue what this living, breathing man is feeling either.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Astro-archaeology

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

Someone went to considerable trouble to build this. It had a purpose. There are projecting shelves, enclosed areas, and a solid base. Was trade transacted here? Perhaps this was a wet market, or maybe citizens shared beverages and faced each other across gaming boards.

Without knowing what these creatures looked like, it’s hard to guess. Assuming they sat at these shelves, they may have been a little under three metres tall. Why no skeletons, not even a scrap of clothing (if they wore clothes)?

Where did they all go? What might this lever do if I…….

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here