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Prompt: Not What It Seems

17 January, 2014
Huntsman spider grey bg03

Huntsman spider (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A  hot summer’s day here. I was hanging out the washing. At the end of one of the metal arms of the Hills Hoist was a gray spider, the size of  a raisin. Taking a closer look, I spied an even smaller black spider, about the size of the head of a pin. I was thinking that the bigger one was probably the parent, when suddenly it snatched the little one. Not parent after all, but predator.

And the spider shown in the above photo may look vicious, but it is a harmless Huntsman.

Much in life is not what it seems.

Illusion as a writing prompt offers many possibilities. Start with the phrase,  Not What it Seems, and see what you come up with. Some ideas to get you started.

  • Look into your past

    If you tend to write personal accounts, look into your past. Did someone or something—a social group,  political or social ideal, way of life, leisure activity, job, lover, teacher, music group, habit—turn out to be very different from you first thought or expected? In what way? What happened as a result?

    Sometimes we do not understand the deeper currents of ‘not what it seems’ until weeks, months, even years later.  Here’s a famous quote, ascribed (probably incorrectly) to Mark Twain:

    When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

  • Be in the Now  

    Apply the prompt to some aspect of your present life. Is the ‘not what it seems’ elements humorous? Poignant? Or . . . ?

  • Go beyond the personal

    Consider what is not what it seems in your world—politically, socially, ethically. Maybe it’s a major issue, such as global warming, refugees, conservation. Or something local or particular to a specific group.
    Is it tragedy or comedy? Or something else?

  • Get into make-believe

    Fictional stories often rely on change, something that turns out not to be what it at first seemed. Whodunnits have red herrings. Sci-fi often subverts expectations. In the classic book, Day of the Triffids, the triffid plants were originally considered to be odd but harmless garden plants. They turned out to be killers.

    Is the ‘not as it seems’ element in your story  an invitation, holiday, gift,  promise? Does a relationship change? Or does a character shift in terms of  appearance, habits, likes and dislikes, or the sense of what’s right and wrong?

    Even fairy tales can be subverted. What if it is the three pigs who are the tormenters? What if Goldilocks, grown up, is an overbearing TV host of a house renovations  program, who sets out to completely change the three bears’ home?

  • Find your poetry muse
    Writing a poem is often a freeing way to to respond to a prompt.  Perhaps focus on a single item:  an incident, season, relationship, or an object that is not what it seems.
    Or try a list poem, throwing in lots of elements that fit this topic.
    Or try a different perspective, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, e.g. a head of a country, teenager, helper in an aged care centre, petty thief. Set your thoughts out in poetic form. It does not need to rhyme.
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