© 2017 PAUL BRIGGS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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The Motherlode of Writing Prompts

September 19, 2017

If you’re a writer and you have not already discovered the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, I highly recommend it. It’s a compendium of freshly coined words for feelings we don’t have words for in English. It’s also the single greatest source of writing prompts I’ve ever seen.

Let me show you a little of what this site has to offer. We’ll start with altschmerz, which the Dictionary defines as “weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had—the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years.”

Lock has a moment of this in Chapter 3 of Locksmith’s Journeys, when he sees a cougar ripping into the carcass of a deer and realizes that even after the climactic fight that ended Locksmith’s Closet, he still has a slight aversion to the sight and smell of blood. Late in Year Five of Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise, Isabel’s frustration with her own irrational, egodystonic guilt drives her to… nope, not spoiling it.

The Dictionary defines anemoia as “nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.” There is a moment in Year Four of Monsoonrise where Isabel feels something close to this:

 

The ORCS was a product of a different America than the one Isabel had grown up in. It was planned and built in an age of big dreams and big projects — the interstate highway system, the Apollo program… the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, come to think of it. It reminded her a lot of the Bay Bridge — massive, strong, purely functional but with a kind of unintentional beauty.


I think an ambitious young engineer like Isabel could hardly help feeling a certain longing for an era like that. (Although, as a bisexual female engineer, she would have had some trouble fitting in.)

Another — and you really should go and read the whole description of this one — is kenopsia, “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.” Locksmith’s Closet and much of Locksmith’s Journeys are absolutely dominated by kenopsia. The exploration of an abandoned world, hour after hour looking at landscape after landscape where people are (to quote the Dictionary) “so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs,” takes something of a toll on Lock’s mental well-being. There’s also going to be a little of it in Locksmith’s War, but for the most part this delicate emotion has to take a back seat to paranoia and terror.

This video cites a house whose inhabitants are moving out as an example of kenopsia, which brings to mind this passage from Monsoonrise:

 

Afterwards, Isabel went through the house one last time, making sure nothing valuable was in here. With no furniture, with nothing on the walls but wallpaper and none of Jourdain’s toys on the floor, the place seemed strangely impersonal. It was as if this house were an elderly relative that had forgotten she was family.


Pretty much every major character I've ever invented suffers from monachopsis, “the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place, as maladapted to your surroundings as a seal on a beach.” (I give you one guess why.) Isabel at a party, Lock in almost any social setting and Irene J. Harris anywhere in the built environment all suffer from monachopsis.

At the end of Monsoonrise, Isabel has an overwhelming moment of nodus tollens, “the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.” Lock, on the other hand, never really expects things to make that much sense, so this isn't so much of a problem for him. 

Finally, here is the usually unflappable Jerome Ross getting flapped upside the head by opia, “the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye”:

 

Rome was normally a big believer in eye contact, but sitting in front of Governor Camberg’s desk tested his faith. Her eyes were warm and brown and gave him the sense that they were watching his thoughts put themselves together before he could even open his mouth. She was like his mom, only smarter. And she had that little smile on her face.


On an unrelated note, Renee Scattergood's novel Shadow Stalker Part 1 (Episodes 1 - 6)(available here) is listed in the fantasy category on the TCK Publishing 2017 Readers' Choice Awards. I'll get around to reviewing this book properly one day. For now, all I'll say is that it manages to take a trope I'm very tired of and do something interesting with it. Vote!

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