Short Shocktober – 31 horror flash fiction prompts for October ’21

Every year in October, artists gather on the ephemeral planes of the internet to collectively participate in a dark ritual. During that ritual they spill oceans of ink. Besmirch sheet after sheet of snow-white paper. Stab hard at the heart of creativity, to pierce it with pens and pencils and have its black ichor flow forth. An eldritch ritual, known only in the fearful whispers as… Inktober…

Anyway, I love spook-month, and Inktober has always appealed to me, but I’m not much of an artist, so I decided to do my own thing with prose. One of the things that I’m struggling with lately is getting things finished. My current projects are quite long, and I could do with the boost that finishing something regularly gives you. So for that reason, I’m going to use the thirty-one daily prompts, below, to write 500 words of horror flash fiction each day, and post them here. I’m posting the prompts and rules (“more like guidelines than actual rules”, he said, making an ancient reference), because I hope that other people will be interested and join me!

The prompts are deliberately a little obvious for Halloween for two reasons. One, so that someone who’s newer to writing won’t struggle a lot to come up with associations or ideas, and two, so someone who’s been writing a long time will have to really work to come up with something they haven’t done before. They’re also pretty open ended, but if you need more structure to get your creative juices flowing, there’s some optional ‘rules’ below that should help.

Content warnings

If you write something that is gory, violent, obscene, etc, and are posting it online, it’s always worth putting a content warning at the front of what you’ve written. That way, if someone doesn’t want to read something gory, violent or obscene for whatever reason, they don’t have to actually read it to find out it’s in there. It saves people from a bucket of potential upset.

The Prompts

  1. Spider
  2. Warping
  3. Beating
  4. Ritual
  5. Woods
  6. Crawling
  7. Branches
  8. Lullaby
  9. Deep
  10. Nails
  11. Slime
  12. Feathers
  13. Moon
  14. Cold
  15. Pale

The ‘Rules’

  1. Write 500 words of horror flash fiction based on the prompt for that day. Use one or more of the optional rules below, if you need more structure. How am I defining horror? I’m not, you are. Go nuts.
  2. Share, if you want to! Post it online, somewhere. If you decide to take part, I’d love to see what you’ve written, so chuck a link in the comments below, or link to this page on your blog post, and I’ll get a ping-back.
  3. Have fun.  This is the only mandatory rule, and I will be checking. Haven’t worked out how yet, but I will. It’ll probably involve augury or a crystal ball or something. Maybe runes.

Optional Creative Constraints

If you find yourself struggling or bored by the basic format, try one or more of these additional rules to provide some creative constraints to foster your lateral thinking, and perhaps, inspire you.

  • Short and Spooky. Write 250 words, maximum, instead of 500.
  • What’s In A Name? The prompt for today is the name of something in the piece; a place, a person, an object, whatever you like, it just has to be a proper noun.
  • Substitutions. Replace one word from the title of a book, story, TV show, film, etc, with the word for today’s prompt. That’s the title of your piece. Here’s a few examples
    • The Tell-tale Dark
    • The Bones of the Baskervilles
    • The Viscera of Madness
    • Pride and Snapping
    • The Whispers of the Flies
  • But where are all the people? Your story can’t feature humans.
  • Um, actually, that’s Doctor Prompt’s monster… Use the prompt to create a monster and put thatin the flash fiction.
  • Terra Terror. Use a ten sided dice (if you don’t have one, there are plenty of online dice rollers) to pick a terrain/setting from the list below. That’s where the flash has to be set. Either use one for all of the prompts, or pick a new one each time.
    1. The depths of the ocean
    2. An abandoned ruin
    3. A cemetery
    4. A frigid mountain top
    5. The foetid jungle
    6. The searing desert
    7. The stinking sewers
    8. A pristine boardroom or office
    9. The empty moors
    10. A tumble-down castle
  • Hard mod. Don’t use the fifth letter of the alphabet. There’s examples of this type of lipogram here, just scroll down to the ‘Gadsby’ bullet point.

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