Story Challenge of the Week

I love classic fantasy. Honestly, much as superheros, giant robots, and space battles are all cool, none of them compare in my book to some good swords and sorcery. This is one of the reasons that I’ve been upset with the rampant abuse of sexuality in the Game of Thrones series. It’s a good show, based on great novels, with interesting characters, a well-developed world, and a strong story. Still, I generally try to avoid watching it (obviously, I don’t always succeed) because of the sheer number of naked people. Don’t get me wrong, I think my posts here have shown that I’m not against graphic material when it serves a good and useful purpose (something that I think Martin generally handles very well in the series). However, most of the skin in HBO’s version of Game of Thrones does not serve a good and useful purpose. It’s just naked people prancing around on the screen for no good reason. It’s distracting. So, here is your challenge today. Consider the picture below and write me a story that explains the picture without any unnecessary distractions:

Sunday Picture Post

Well, happy Easter, everyone! I hope that you have a wonderful resurrection day. If you are a Christian, he is alive! If you’re not a Christian… well, that may or may not make sense. Anyway, since it’s Easter, I wanted to put up something… you know… Eastery… and not overly photoshopped. I hope that you enjoy!


Philosophical Story Challenge

shutterstock_10314562_crop380wHello again, Saturday has returned, and with it comes another Philosophical Story Challenge. For this weeks challenge I want to us to focus on a concept that all of you should be familiar with, even if you don’t know it by its name: the Cornelian Dilemma. The Cornelian Dilemma occurs when a person is forced to make a choice between two options which are both negative. A great example of this would be in The Dark Knight when the Joker put a group of criminals on one barge and a group of civilians on another; each with the trigger to destroy the other barge. He gave the two groups of people the dilemma of choosing to save themselves and kill the others or save the others and condemn themselves. Neither group wants to die, but neither group wants to be responsible for killing the others–there appears to be no choice that is both moral and desirable; thus the dilemma is formed. Your challenge this week is to write a story involving a Cornelian Dilemma of your own creation. As always, please keep your stories under 1,000 words if you want to post them on here, otherwise feel free to write more!

Plot Challenge of the Week

Elven Mountain CityAnd then the Ogre ate the monkey… The End. Heh, my all-time favorite line from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is: “And then they made me their chief.” Sometimes, it can be as much fun to just hear the tail end of a story as it could have been to hear the entire story. So, today’s exercise is a setting challenge. You’ve all done setting challenges before… unless you’re new to the blog. So, I’m going to give you a set of general guidelines, and your job is to create a setting that fits those guidelines. Within the guidelines provided you’re free to do whatever you want with your setting.

So, you’re setting guidelines:

1) Your setting must have at least three major cities with at least minimal demographics.

2) You must have at least one nation-state (this could encompass all three cities or you could write three separate city-states).

3) Your setting must be fantasy.

4) Your setting must include a dragon of at least human-level intelligence (thank me later :)).

5) Your setting must be politically unstable, perhaps on the verge of war.

Archetypal Heroes: The Willing Hero

3514028-captain-america-the-first-avenger-4fe203cd661b7-captain-america-3-the-death-of-steve-rogersHey guys, it’s time for another post in my discussion of the different archetypal heroes so for this week I’ve chosen the opposite of archetype I chose for my last post–the willing hero. Unlike the reluctant hero who tries to ignore his heroism, the willing hero knows his own heroism and accepts the responsibilities of it. Two obvious examples of this would be Spiderman and Captain America; heroes whose unwavering senses of virtue and justice compel them to be heroes even when that means going against their own personal desires. This archetype is often paired with a character flaw of varying degrees such as pride or overconfidence which delay the fulfillment of the quest and must be overcome. This is, in my personal opinion, one of the more difficult archetypes to write well; it is abysmally easy to create a hero that is a turn-off because of their willingness. On the other hand, though, some of the most successful hero stories reflect this archetype.

It is difficult to effectively write this archetype because the easiest way to do so is to give the character a flaw. This is a problem because often I see a lesser flaw over-accentuated to compensate for the abilities and willingness of the hero–simply put, it becomes unbelievable. Nevertheless, it is tempting to do this because we can’t give the hero a flaw that would make him unwilling, yet we must give him some sort of flaw because a perfect, willing hero is a boring hero. So, in our attempts to create a balanced and willing hero who is also interesting to read about we choose to forgo a requirement of character development in favor of a more interesting character at the start of the story; I don’t think I need to explain why this doesn’t work well. It makes a better story to develop a boring character into an interesting one than to create an interesting character and have nothing interesting to do with it.

All in all this is usually not my favorite heroic archetype, although it does bring a lot to the table and it when it is done well it can be very successful. I consider it to be a high risk, high reward character archetype.

Scene Challenge of the Week

eyesHave you ever found money that you’d forgotten you had? This happened to me. I found a check that I’d stuck in my wallet and then completely forgotten about. The timing was propitious as I’ve been wanting to buy a computer game called Blood Bowl, and now I can. If you’ve never heard of Blood Bowl, take the Warhammer fantasy world (Orks, Goblins, Elves, Trolls, Ogres, etc) and add in the game of American football… with the twist that the players are all trying to kill each other. The result is Blood Bowl. I think it should be fun. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you. So, if you don’t already know the rules: I give you a prompt and you write a scene off of it.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your prompt: “Burah’s gaze was riveted. Even as he spoke, he couldn’t tear it away. ‘Is that his head…”

Your Grimalkin

You learn early in life that there are benefits to having a cat who can see faeries. When they come to steal your sister, for instance, there’s Grimalkin to stand over the cradle and yowl until your mother comes to pick up the baby and relight the lamp that’s been blown out to provide convenient shadows for hiding. When they sneak into your room at night to tie knots in your hair, they find Grimalkin lying on your pillow – very much awake and ready for them. You have only had the cat for a month when his presence makes the faeries decide to leave your house alone. You are six, and although you don’t know yet that they were faeries, you’re quite grateful that the things that move around in the dark are gone.

When you are fourteen, and beginning to realize that your cat should be looking much older than he does, you take him to the hedge witch across the brook and ask her to examine Grimalkin for signs that something’s amiss with him. He regards you with untroubled yellow eyes as the old woman looks him over – he’s never spoken to you, at least, but he often seems just on the verge of it. There’s a distinctness about his face and manner that implies there is a person of some sort in there. You’ve looked enough cats in the eye to realize that they generally do not possess this air. The hedge witch tells you that he’s a special one, unquestionably, but she can’t figure out exactly why. As you carry him home, he is most definitely smirking at you. That is when you make it a life’s goal: understand your cat, who cannot possibly be only a cat. You tell him as much: “I will puzzle you out.” And he blinks in the languid way that says he is as unimpressed as a creature can be. (This, at least, is something he has in common with other cats.)

By fifteen, you have run out of resources. The hedge witch has died; her successor is too young to know much yet, and says only that “he’s a handsome devil, ain’t he, with that dappled coat.” The priests will have nothing to do with cats. The keeper of the village books has no record of any such ageless creature as Grimalkin seems to be. No one else in the village seems likely to possess any insight on the matter. You are near despair – but you will not be beaten by a brown and white tabby who snores when he sleeps. When the peddlers come in the spring, you bring Grimalkin to their camp. They’ve seen more of the world than you have, and surely one of them must know something that would help.

One of them does, after a manner. You’re seated by the fire, your whiskered enigma sprawled across your lap, listening as the oldest of the peddlers begins to spin the evening’s stories. He tells of an unearthly court, a realm whose borders touch your own and whose ill-behaved inhabitants sometimes wander beyond their native demesne. The others who listen are only half doing so, but you are rapt. You question him when he is finished: do faeries steal children? Do they cause mischief in houses? He answers, though it is plain he does not believe the tales he has told. You believe him. You believe in the laughter you once heard beneath your bed, in the light footsteps that haunted your young dreams and ceased soon after Grimalkin arrived.

You bring your cat home and stare him in the face. “Whatever you are, you frighten faeries. I’ve learned that much.” He only looks back, one ear turned sideways. He is infuriating. “Shall I go ask them about you?” you say to him. “The faeries? Since they seem to be the only ones who might tell me.” The other ear twists back momentarily; it is the most perturbed you have ever seen him look. That, more than anything, decides the matter.

The village is nestled in a satisfyingly-thick wood which seems to fit the bill for faerie habitat as described by the peddler. On the following day, you shut Grimalkin in the house and leave just as the sun is setting. Your family will have your hide for leaving your day’s work unfinished, but you cannot spend another moment with that cat while he remains inexplicable. You have never ventured so far into the forest as you do now; perhaps being lost will help you discover the creatures you seek (or help them discover you). The blue spring night begins to settle among the pines as you wander along. Should you call for them? What name should they be called by?

It is as you are wondering this that you catch your toe on a root and go sprawling to the ground. Over the resulting streak of foul language, you hear the faintest strain of giggling. It’s them – it has to be them. You lift your head slowly, but you can see very little in the gathering dark (a darkness which has descended surprisingly quickly, hasn’t it?). There’s a flickering just beyond the edges of your vision that might well be your imagination…mightn’t it? “Begging your pardon,” you say, spitting out pine needles, “but I’ve come to ask about my cat.”

The giggling persists. It isn’t particularly nice giggling, you’ve realized. It makes your skin prickle. You look around for its source, beginning to feel that even an inexplicable cat might be tolerated if it meant getting away from that sound and from whatever is making it. There is a sudden flash of eyes in the dimness. You cry out and jump to your feet – and then realize that you know those eyes and the small silhouette they are attached to. Grimalkin circles your legs once, hissing out into the trees around you. The giggling cuts off abruptly on a harsh, crow-like sound. Faint footsteps sound from every direction, retreating hastily. How many of them were there? You are very cold all of a sudden, except for where your cat is leaning against your ankles.

A voice sounds – from that same place. “Idiot. Do you know what they do to the humans they catch?”

You are not in a state of mind to be surprised by much. “Now will you tell me what you are?”

“No. Pick me up. You have a lot of walking to do.”

“I locked you in – you don’t even have thumbs—”

“I also have a diminishing quantity of patience. Do you want to get home or not?”

You pick him up, and he directs your way in tones that are exactly as scathing as you imagined a cat’s would be. At your family’s demand, you offer the truth: you were lost in the wood, and Grimalkin brought you back. From your pillow, he gives you that languid blink again, saying nothing. You glower at him briefly before climbing into bed, but you have determined that he can keep his secrets so long as he keeps the faeries away. When you fall asleep, his purring lingers in your dreams.

Story Challenge of the Week

Ok, really... we all knew I wasn't likely to put up a picture of a woman in labor.

Ok, really… we all knew I wasn’t likely to put up a picture of a woman in labor.

As all of you know, I’m a comic book nerd. Honestly, if you haven’t figured that out yet, then either you’re new to the blog, or you just haven’t been paying attention. So, I’ve been watching Marvel’s Agents of Shield, which started off as a pretty iffy show at best, but has turned into a pretty awesome show. I’m watching the latest episode and it is not only strong, but actually surprising (well, sort of), which is a nice change of pace. However, today is your story challenge. So, you’ve all done this one before: I’m going to give you a theme prompt, but I want you to write this story in a genre that you don’t normally write in. If you usually write fantasy, then make this story a modern day romance. If you usually write romance, make this story a thriller. The key here is to get out of your comfort zone as a writer. Do something new.

You’re Theme: The birth of a hero… …literally… if you want some interesting idea fodder I suggest reading some Hindu mythology.

Sunday Rest Day

Well, here we are, it’s Sunday already. As you all know, we take Sunday’s off here at the Art of Writing. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be at church most of the day. I’m actually in a one act play based on the painting “The Last Supper” tonight. If you’ve never seen the painting it shouldn’t be hard to find. However, I did take some time to find you something… different. I hope you enjoy this piece, I had to brave some new wilds of the Google Search engine… the things my eyes have seen!

This piece was done by Michael Leger for a Pathfinder rulebook. You can find it here.

This piece was done by Michael Leger for a Pathfinder rulebook. You can find it here.

Philosophical Story Challenge

photo-mainHey everyone, Saturday has come around once more which means it’s time for another Philosophical Story Challenge. For this week’s challenge I want to focus on the idea of possible worlds. If you don’t already know, possible world philosophy essentially says that there are many things that need not be the way they are; things that could have happened differently throughout history and throughout our lives. Thus, for every thing that could be otherwise, there is a possible reality where it is. This has a variety of interesting implications for logic and was a huge inspiration for David Lewis’ Modal Realism, but that’s beside the point. Imagine, if you will, one world in two separate realities. In one reality Hitler won World War II, and in the other there was never a World War II and Hitler is a famous artist from the mid 1900s. That’s the idea of possible worlds, and for your philosophical story challenge this week I want you to write a story involving two or more possible worlds that collide in one character’s life. As always, please try to keep your stories under 1,000 words if you want to post them on here, but feel free to write more on your own!


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