Weird fiction has quickly become one of my favorite literary genres. I was always a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, which led me to Lovecraft, which opened up whole new avenues of weird horror writers.
Though weird fiction is often associated with the past, such as writers like Lovecraft and Arthur Machen before 1940, there has been a resurgence in interest in weird fiction in recent years. Some call this “The New Weird,” including authors like Jeff VanderMeer and China Miéville.
What is weird fiction? Some of the leading authors in the genre have several definitions of it, and some, like VanderMeer, say it usually appears within the horror fiction genre rather than being a separate genre by itself. Weird fiction usually combines elements of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and it often has a distinct macabre feel to it. Many people also point out that weird fiction, especially in the case of Lovecraft’s stories, shows the insignificance of humans within a larger universe with many malevolent forces.
Because I’ve been reading a lot of horror and weird fiction lately, I’ve also been writing several weird stories and poetry. Often, I get ideas from unusual things I read online, sometimes urban legends or bits of strange folklore I read on Wikipedia. Or I get ideas from other lists of prompts online.
So, I wanted to write a list of top weird fiction prompts, some for my benefit and also to inspire others to try the genre. Any of the prompts on this list can be made darker with your imagination, as some of them are just unusual events or occurrences from history. So, do with the list as you like!
One internet rabbit hole I went down recently was reading about the so-called “Forest Grove Sound.” To sum it up, a mysterious noise kept being heard by some people in Forest Grove, Oregon, in February 2016 that one local newspaper described as a “mechanical scream.” Creepy!
Throughout February 2016, the Forest Grove police department was besieged with phone calls about the sound, which led to no shortage of conspiracy theories. The unexplained noise caused a stir that month, and a physics professor at a local university even mapped the locations of where it was heard.
The sound eventually stopped after February 2016, and people moved on. Still, it’s interesting because they apparently never figured out what caused it. A performing arts theater in Forest Grove created a haunted house based on the noise called “Aliens in the Grove,” so some creatives have already been inspired by it. What I found interesting is that there’s a whole treasure trove of information online about mysterious, unexplained sounds.
This makes for an easy prompt. In the vein of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, I imagine something paranormal causing the sounds.
Let your imagination fly!
What are your last words?
Several months ago, I read a strange book on Amazon Kindle that has stuck with me. It described a group of Italian monks in medieval times who kept copious records of the last words of people in their village before they were executed. I tried, but I can’t find the book, and I can’t find any evidence that a group of Italian monks ever did this. But this is fiction, right?
People’s last words are always thought to be profound, and there’s always something interesting about what historical figures say right before they die. For example, Charles Darwin is reported to have disavowed his theory of evolution right before his death in favor of religion, though this has never been verified. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, is rumored to have demanded a drink on his deathbed! It’s a sore spot for people in recovery.
So, how about a prompt about a group of people, could be monks or otherwise, who collect records of people’s last words? They could perhaps use these words as the basis for a new religion or philosophy, studying the profound or not-so-profound utterings as the key to life.
The Paris Syndrome
As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I usually don’t like fictionalized accounts of mental illness. Often, it leads to further stigma. However, the world of mental health and psychology is sometimes a fertile ground for fictional ideas, especially unusual ailments and those taken to the extreme.
I recently read about a very unusual psychological phenomenon called the “Paris syndrome.” This happens when someone visiting Paris for the first time suffers from such extreme disappointment and let down that the city isn’t what they expected, leading to emotional and mental disturbance.
The Paris syndrome is reported by a tiny number of Japanese tourists, though it affects other tourists from Asia, like from China and South Korea. Some of Paris syndrome’s symptoms are intense: delusional states, derealization, anxiety, and psychosomatic conditions like dizziness.
Pretty weird stuff, right? People suffer from this, so it shouldn’t be made fun of. But it could make for a good story if you add a weird-fiction twist to it, such as fantasy or supernatural elements. For example, what if the people suffering from Paris syndrome are seeing Paris as it really is, and the rest of us are the ones who are caught in the grips of a collective delusion?
The Green Children
I’ve always enjoyed reading mythology and folktales, and I’ve been getting more into it in recent months. One of the strangest tales I’ve come across so far is from the 12th century about the Green Children of Woolpit. The weird medieval folk story from Suffolk, England, tells the tale of two kids with green-tinged skin who are discovered in a field without knowledge of any locally known language.
A family takes the children in (a boy and his sister), and they refuse to eat any food, even though they look like they’re starving. Eventually, they figure out the weird kids like harvested beans, so they survive solely on beans until they acquire a taste for bread. The boy gets sick and dies, but his sister survives and eventually loses the green hue of her skin. The sister grows up in the village, learns English, and eventually marries.
The tale gets even weirder when the sister says she and her brother came from a strange underground land called the Land of St. Martin. In this magical land, there’s no sun and only perpetual twilight, and everyone who lived there was also green like them.
What the hell kind of folk tale is this?
Historians have come up with several theories about the folk tale over the years, and some have even suggested the children were aliens. An astronomer named Duncan Lunan has been among those claiming the children were extraterrestrials, making the claims in a 2012 book Children from the Sky.
The retelling of folk tales and myths is always fun, and this is a great, weird story that could be a good one to fictionalize in the modern day.
I love to dance, but I can’t say I’m good at it. However, I don’t think I ever danced for, say, 24 hours straight, let alone so much that I got ill. Yet, in medieval Europe, it’s a well-known historical fact that several “dancing epidemics” gripped towns on the continent for several centuries.
One of these events was the dancing plague of 1518, a noted case of dancing mania that happened in Strasbourg, Alsace (modern-day France). The dancing fever allegedly killed up to 400 people who danced for weeks on end, apparently from July 1518 to September 1518. No one knows what caused it or the other dancing epidemics of the era, and whether or not people actually died from dancing to death has been questioned by some historians.
Nevertheless, the topic is a great one for fiction. This could be more of a darkly humorous tale or, if you’d like, more sinister. One theory about the dancing epidemics was that they were caused by mass hysteria. People in many of the towns were desperately poor and dying from the plague, so the intense stress of daily life may have prompted a mass-induced psychosis.
The aliens: Our saviors?
While this prompt seems silly, it can get pretty dark very fast.
Many people have heard of Scientology, which scholars see as a UFO religion, but it turns out there are many more groups like them. These UFO religions, sometimes associated with Doomsday cults, deal with the alleged communication between humans and aliens.
Many UFO religion proponents argue that major religions are based on supernatural deities, so what’s the difference, right? Most UFO religions believe human civilization can be saved after we’re educated by the aliens on how to improve our society. Hell, they may have a point, because it doesn’t seem like we’re doing such a great job on our own.
The Roswell incident in 1947 is a crucial event in the history of UFO spirituality, though the first of these groups was started in 1930, called the I AM Religious Activity. A cursory glance at the Wikipedia page on the subject shows a whole list of UFO religious groups, too many to name here.
Only go down this rabbit hole if you dare, though. Of course, we all know about the crazy shit with the church of Scientology. But there’s also groups like Heaven’s Gate, a cult that eventually devolved into mass suicide. Yikes.
UFO religion as a topic for weird fiction is a great one, though. You can go in any number of directions with this topic, from dark humor to just plain dark.
Living at the airport
I generally hate flying, and I hate airports just as much. Getting through security in the post-9/11 age is a pain in the ass, though it does probably keep us safe. So, I can only imagine what it would be like to be stuck at an airport and have to live in one for any time.
It happens more than you may think, though. Most times, the reasons people are stuck living in airports are sad, such as asylum seekers, those having trouble with passports, or something like that. A Wikipedia article lists people who have lived in airports before, and some cases are strange.
For example, a Japanese man named Hiroshi Nohara lived for almost four months in a Mexico City airport, living off food provided by curious workers and blankets, clothing, and other stuff.
He developed somewhat of a celebrity status in the media because no one was quite sure why he was there. He said he didn’t have any documentation problems and declined to say why he was randomly living in the airport. He eventually left right after Christmas 2008 to live in a Mexico City apartment with a woman identified as Oyuki.
The ordeal reminds me of the stories and novels Haruki Murakami wrote, and it could be the basis of good, weird fiction.
The evil eye
It seems like no matter your cultural background, you’re bound to have some familiarity with the dreaded evil eye. It’s a supernatural belief in a curse brought about by a sinister glare, usually given to someone who is not paying attention. The evil eye myth dates back about 5,000 years and is most significant in the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths.
I’m an American with some Italian ancestry, so I remember hearing about the evil eye a bit when growing up. In Italy, apparently, there are a variety of unique charms and ways to ward off the evil eye, including the sign of the horns.
The myth of the evil eye is so steeped in history and folklore that it’s an excellent topic for any type of writing prompt, especially a weird one. Start at the Wikipedia page on the evil eye, and you’re bound to find some inspiration.
The serial killer who liked jazz
New Orleans is a weird town, which is why it’s so great. It’s a frequent well of inspiration for many writers, and for a good reason. Who could turn down a land of voodoo and jazz music? There are many strange and creepy stories from NOLA’s past, but perhaps the weirdest is about the serial killer, the Axeman, who terrorized the town in 1918 and 1919.
The Axeman was never caught, and one of the strangest parts of his reign of terror had to do with a letter he allegedly sent to a local newspaper in 1919. The letter said, among other things, that he’d pass over any house in New Orleans on a certain night if they were playing jazz, which was new at the time.
The letter caused a stir, and perhaps one of the biggest jazz nights in NOLA’s history. Scared residents throughout the city played jazz all night, and they played it loud. Some people doubt that the Axeman actually wrote the letter, saying it may have been a hoax perpetuated by jazz musician John Joseph Dávila, who later wrote a sheet music tie-in to the story and made loads of money from it.
Even if it’s not true, it’s a weird story and a good one for a weird fiction prompt. I’m thinking about certain distinguishing characteristics that a serial killer could have to make him a good character. It could be a love of jazz or something else, just make sure it’s as weird as possible.
A mythical femme fatale
The Skogsrå looks like a woman from the front, but if you catch a look of her from behind, she has a hollow back and tail. In myths of this forest nymph, she lures men deep into the forest where they’re never seen again.
As I mentioned, myths and folklore are great sources of creative inspiration. And one of the coolest mythical creatures I learned about recently is the Skogsrå, also known as the Mistress of the Forest. This creature from Swedish folklore appears as a beautiful woman with a friendly temperament, a guise for her mysterious intentions.
It’s sometimes said any man who has sex with her turns into an introvert because his soul remains with her. Other tales say that if the man is a hunter, he may be rewarded with good luck, but if he’s unfaithful to the nymph, he’s punished.
Mythical characters like Skogsrå are a familiar trope in fantasy fiction; many stories have been done about the femme fatale and the mysterious woman of the forest. Nevertheless, it’s fun to try to put a fresh spin on a story like this, maybe in a modern retelling or even something more ancient.
That’s it! Thanks for reading the prompts and let me know if any of these inspired you by leaving a comment below. Happy writing!