March 30, 2013
Book Review: INSTIGATION by Michael A. Arnzen
INSTIGATION: Writing Prompts on the Dark Side by Michael A. Arnzen from Mastication Publications
“Where do you get your ideas?” Since it’s not cool to say, “From fantasizing about strangling the living shit out of you,” I’m telling everyone, “From Mike Arnzen’s Instigation: Writing Prompts on the Dark Side.”
Michael A. Arnzen, PhD, is an award-winning author of horror fiction (four Bram Stoker awards), an English professor at Seton Hill University, and a mentor in their Writing Popular Fiction MFA program, of which I’m an alum (with an MA).
Over a decade ago, he began writing a column for Hellnotes journal called “Instigation,” which provided not only creative—but darkly creative—writing prompts for writers. He continued this tradition at Gorelets.com and in his Goreletter (totally worth subscribing to). Arnzen has expanded his original collection of prompts and revised, updated, organized, and supplemented it into a terrific resource for creative writers on the dark side.
I recently downloaded INSTIGATION and gave it a spin. I’m so glad I did.
In “Here Comes the Fork: An Introduction,” Arnzen discusses writer’s block and creative desiccation, and how writing prompts can get the imaginative juices seeping again.
One trick to getting started is to sidestep the burden of coming up with ideas or a plot first. That’s what a prompt does — it challenges the writer to respond without having to worry too much about premise or plot. It hands you a deck of cards and maybe even the rules too and encourages you to simply start dealing them out.
Yet for the writer of dark fiction, most writing prompts fall short, providing only inspiration. “Rarely,” he says, “do they push you to do something truly weird, taboo, goofy or unthinkable (ergo, original).” Sure, your plot and writing may follow typical form, but Arnzen believes that “the best genre fiction always marries convention with invention.” And that’s where his envelope-pushing prompts slither in.
Arnzen suggests successful usage in “How to Use This Book,” while advising that, when writing, the best counsel is, “Do whatever works.” This may involve journaling or freewriting.
“365 Sick Scenarios” lists a story starter for every night of the year, with prompts like: “Create a numbered list: ‘Rules for Human Hunting'” and “Clot a wound or make a tourniquet with an unexpected object.”
“Spurs: 31 Turns for the Worst” includes prompts for works in progress—when you need a jab in the flank by your demon rider to “take things in an unexpected direction.” Like “Torment with temperature” (a creative way of saying turn up the heat on your character).
“Resurrections” are prompts that will help bring your story “back from the dead” during revision. This will come in handy for me soon.
“Memoir Mayhem” is a collection of journal prompts to inspire you beyond the realm of dark fiction.
The D.I.Y. section, “The Devil Made You Do It Yourself,” enables you to customize his prompts or come up with your own writing exercises. I particularly like “The Monster Mash” and “Weird Sins.”
All these sections are numbered with a scheme so that you can do a random search to pick a prompt out of the skull cap.
INSTIGATION concludes with a few short articles to help you overcome writer’s block. (Which makes me think of a chopping block. “Stick your neck out and write, or just stick your neck out.” How’s that for inspiration and encouragement? You only have me to blame for this prompt, I’m afraid.)
Arnzen encourages INSTIGATION users to write their own material and drop him a line to get a link to their work posted in his “Instigation Showcase.”
My favorite phrase from the book: “sloshing, galumphing breasts.” To find out what that’s all about, writer, get your copy of INSTIGATION: Writing Prompts on the Dark Side by Mastication Publications, providing “Unusual Ideas to Chew On.” Ebook formats include Kindle (.mobi), Nook (.epub), and PDF. Only $3.99.
Then incise an artery and start writing.
Mike Arnzen is also the creator of “The Refrigerator of the Damned” magnetic poetry kit. Take down your kids’ drawings and post a horrific poem about how they cried. Get your kit at Raw Dog Screaming Press.
I describe how Mike Arzen has inspired me in How Arnzstigation Set Me Free.
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