Minor apparatus

LIFE, and Death, and Giants
Such as these, are still.
Minor apparatus, hopper of the mill,
Beetle at the candle,
Or a fife’s small fame,
Maintain by accident
That they proclaim.

~Emily Dickinson

I was thinking of another writing prompt, but this poem makes me think not of any specific plot or character idea, but the act of writing itself. There are huge things–life, death, giants–that seem like they’d be the things to focus on in a work of fiction, poetry. But it’s often the small things that writers zoom in on to great effect. An insect, a note, a piece of a larger whole–these are the tiny details that bring a piece of writing to life, that can convey huge sweeps of emotion in small moments.

If there is a prompt in here, then, it is this–take a scene in which something major happens to your main character. Instead of just describing the action, what happens if you focus in on some tiny detail–something maybe that initially could seem irrelevant or incidental? How can the focus on the small expand the story?

Wheat and chaff

I worked for chaff, and earning wheat
Was haughty and betrayed.
What right had fields to arbitrate
In matters ratified?

I tasted wheat,—and hated chaff,
And thanked the ample friend;
Wisdom is more becoming viewed
At distance than at hand.

~Emily Dickinson

I’m in the thick of NaNoWriMo, so how about another writing prompt?

In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker gets more than what she asked for, and reacts badly. What does your character want most? What happens when they are in a position to actually get what they want? Of course the trials and privations in which writers like to place their characters help to reveal those characters’ personalities–but sometimes, getting exactly what we want reveals other things about us. How does someone react to sudden fortune, wealth, status, privilege? What does this say about them?

Monday

FATE slew him, but he did not drop;
She felled—he did not fall—
Impaled him on her fiercest stakes—
He neutralized them all.

She stung him, sapped his firm advance,
But, when her worst was done,
And he, unmoved, regarded her,
Acknowledged him a man.

~Emily Dickinson

Happy Monday! If ever there was a poetic battle cry for a Monday morning, this is it. May you not drop, not fall, and neutralize all Fate’s fiercest stakes. Let’s do this!

Another NaNo prompt

I HAVE not told my garden yet,
Lest that should conquer me;
I have not quite the strength now
To break it to the bee.

I will not name it in the street, 5
For shops would stare, that I,
So shy, so very ignorant,
Should have the face to die.

The hillsides must not know it,
Where I have rambled so, 10
Nor tell the loving forests
The day that I shall go,

Nor lisp it at the table,
Nor heedless by the way
Hint that within the riddle 15
One will walk to-day!

~Emily Dickinson

Today, another prompt inspired by this poem, for all those of you NaNo-ing merrily away out there.

What is your main character’s attitude toward death? Is their attitude toward death in general the same as their attitude toward their own death? How does this attitude affect their actions and interactions with others? What happens when they find themselves in a life-or-death situation?

Happy noveling!

Out of joint

ARCTURUS is his other name,—
I ’d rather call him star!
It ’s so unkind of science
To go and interfere!

I pull a flower from the woods,—
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath,
And has her in a class.

Whereas I took the butterfly
Aforetime in my hat,
He sits erect in cabinets,
The clover-bells forgot.

What once was heaven, is zenith now.
Where I proposed to go
When time’s brief masquerade was done,
Is mapped, and charted too!

What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I ’m ready for the worst,
Whatever prank betides!

Perhaps the kingdom of Heaven’s changed!
I hope the children there
Won’t be new-fashioned when I come,
And laugh at me, and stare!

I hope the father in the skies
Will lift his little girl,—
Old-fashioned, naughty, everything,—
Over the stile of pearl!

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

Let’s do another prompt! Because it’s NaNo season, and that’s how my brain is operating, apparently..

What I love about this poem is the way it articulates a sneaking suspicion that many of us have–that we were born in the wrong time, that our attitudes and priorities are so different from those of the majority that we’re not sure we belong here.

So your prompt is this–pick a character (sure, you could choose your MC, but what if you chose the villain?) and write about their favorite time in history that isn’t their own. Why does it appeal to them? Do they feel like they’d belong better there? What does this out-of-jointness say about them, and how does it affect their actions? dress? attitudes? behaviors? You might unlock something really interesting.

Some perfect year

‘Twas just this time, last year, I died.
I know I heard the Corn,
When I was carried by the Farms —
It had the Tassels on —

I thought how yellow it would look —
When Richard went to mill —
And then, I wanted to get out,
But something held my will.

I thought just how Red — Apples wedged
The Stubble’s joints between —
And the Carts stooping round the fields
To take the Pumpkins in —

I wondered which would miss me, least,
And when Thanksgiving, came,
If Father’d multiply the plates —
To make an even Sum —

And would it blur the Christmas glee
My Stocking hang too high
For any Santa Claus to reach
The Altitude of me —

But this sort, grieved myself,
And so, I thought the other way,
How just this time, some perfect year —
Themself, should come to me —

~Emily Dickinson

We’re in the thick of National Novel Writing Month, so let’s do a prompt! If you’re stuck and not sure what to write, imagine your main character speaking from beyond the grave. What would they say? What would they care about–and whom? Or, if that’s way too far outside the bounds of your story, imagine what they would think about when they think about having died. Do they believe in an afterlife? What kind? How does this impact the way they behave and believe in this life?

Storm: a prompt

IT sounded as if the streets were running,
And then the streets stood still.
Eclipse was all we could see at the window,
And awe was all we could feel.

By and by the boldest stole out of his covert, To see if time was there.
Nature was in her beryl apron,
Mixing fresher air.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com.

Today, a prompt, inspired by Dickinson’s mastery of language. In the vein of the poem above, write a description of a natural event without naming the event itself or using any of the words typically associated with it. Dickinson manages to convey the noise, chaos, and finally the dissipation of a storm without ever using language we associate with storms (dark, stormy, tempest, rain, thunder, etc.). See if you can do the same.