Plot Challenge of the Week

Yay for Friday! It couldn’t get here fast enough, right? I know that all of you are suffering from a long week of work and life, but I’m going to make your weekend just a little bit better by giving you something awesome to write about. For today’s exercise I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to use it as inspiration to design one part of the world you’ve started. This could be fleshing out one of the nations that you’ve already come up with or it could be creating an all new nation or continent for your world – also, just a thought, in Kalagrosh, one of the worlds that I’ve included is a world in which sound doesn’t exist – you might try doing something like this. Create a world where things just work differently. The rules of physics are completely different, or something that we take completely for granted (like sound) is non-existent, and then figure out how the world works without it. Here’s your picture:

8c507cce6bdecd1f30355a7c2f7a3daf

The Story of Scars

Scars

The Internet tells me that the idea that “all scars tell a story” is actually fairly popular, but I’d never heard of it before today.

This week I have come to the realization that one should not attempt to take two graduate-level English classes while also working a full-time job. Although I might feel accomplished when I actually manage to turn my coursework in on time, this doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, my brain is completely fried.

So, in lieu of the post I was planning to write tonight, I shall present you all with a writing prompt. During a work meeting this morning, the speaker said a line that really struck me: “Our scars tell a story.”

With this phrase in mind, write a short scene words about a character with a scar (or scars). What kind of story do the scars tell?

Feel free to post your work in the comments section! :)

Scene Challenge of the Week

Wizard BattleSometimes, life is good. Yesterday Alayna played Mordheim with me, which is an old Games Workshop campaign centered warband game (because I’m assuming you’ve never heard of it) that is tons of fun… and a little bit ridiculous, and I think she might’ve actually enjoyed it a little. I love miniatures, wargaming, roleplaying, and storytelling and Mordheim manages to combine all of them in a game that isn’t overly complicated rules wise. So, here’s hoping that it stays fun for her. Anyway, I hope that you are all having a wonderful day! I know that you’re here for a scene challenge. If you can’t remember the rules, I’ll provide them: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  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 rules: You task this week is to write a scene of at least 300 words in sentences of no more than six words. If you’ve been following the blog then you’ve seen this challenge before. Remember to make sure that the scene is grammatically correct, and that it flows well. Again, you might want to give it to a grammar nazi after you finish to make sure that your grammar is solid. Your cue: “‘Garl! Demon on your left!’ Annas shouted.”

“She’s My What?!”: Discovering Character Relationships

Yeah, you know where this is going.

Yeah, you know where this is going.

Character dynamics are a tricky business. I was working on my novel earlier, and I had two characters, who hadn’t previously interacted, about to meet. As I wrote the lead-in, there was something…off about the character whose point of view I was writing from. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but beneath his annoyed scowl and general irreverent attitude towards the situation he was currently in, something strange was going on. Rather than try to figure it out, I decided to keep writing and just see what happened. The scene progressed, the door opened, the two characters came face-to-face, and my narrator took in his first impressions of her, and then I suddenly tuned back in at the moment he was thinking “…because she’s my sister.”

Wait, what?

Nothing has ever stopped me dead in my tracks during a writing spree as much as that little revelation did. Were it not for the fact that I never wrote any sexual tension into their relationship, I am certain that my stupefaction would have rivaled that of George Lucas when he suddenly realized 3/4 of the way through filming The Empire Strikes Back that the male and female leads were siblings.

“Really, guys?” I grumbled in an attractively sulky manner while still maintaining an air of authoritative pique. “You couldn’t have told me this earlier?”

Both of them shrugged, smirked, and told me it was on a need-to-know basis and I didn’t need to know until they officially met on the page. Brats.

Stop smirking, guys.

Stop smirking, guys.

Anyways, the point is that not knowing every detail of your characters’ relationships with each other isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I visualized both of these characters, they had a strictly businesslike interaction based on their duties and social interactions within their caste. The moment they met on paper, though, the relationship changed and there’s now some really interesting tension that adds depth to both of them…and, as I realized while I was working on the next chapter, not only fixes a plot problem I’d been worrying over, but also, through their interactions, revealed a great deal more about the social hierarchies and history of the society than even I was aware of, and I’d been working on world-building for months at that point. As weird or annoying as it may be when you randomly discover such important information as family or relationship connections that far into writing (I’d hit just over 10,000 words at that point), and even if it turns some of your plot ideas upside down (which it did for me), letting some of your character relationships develop naturally and reveal themselves to you on their own can be both fun and beneficial for your story. Since this incident, I’ve had one more surprise familial connection jump up out of nowhere between to highly unlikely characters, but again, it’s solved more problems than it’s caused, and it’s been quite an adventure  figuring out all the political, social, and interpersonal ramifications of this new relationship. If you have any stories of similar discoveries, I’d love to hear about them! In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how my main characters are going to react to this latest tabloidesque revelation.

Story Challenge of the Week

So, a month ago I was posting about how amazingly gorgeous my wife was on our wedding day… You know what, she still is. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s only been a month, but seriously, women go out of their way to look their best on their wedding day, and for a lot of women I bet their wedding day is the best they every look in their lives. However, I would swear that my wife is as beautiful when she gets home from a 12 hour shift wearing (in her words) ‘shapeless’ scrubs as she was walking up to the alter. Now, this is not to say that her wedding dress was shapeless, or her make-up was poorly done at the wedding. Both suited her impeccably, but I think that it does say something about how amazingly beautiful my wife actually is. Anyway, I just wanted to brag for a little bit. So, enough of my sappy love life. You’re here for a story challenge. So, in case you haven’t done this challenge before, I’m going to post a picture. Your job is to write a story about what is happening in said picture. Feel free to flesh it out some, to add things to the picture (you’ll probably have to with this one), but make sure that your story is actually about the picture that I post. For example, if I post a picture of a dart competition in a bar, don’t write a story about slavers selling mermaids. If I post a picture of a sorcerer casting a spell at the top of his tower, don’t write a story about a fist-fighter competing in the ring. So, no that you’ve got a good concept of what your doing, here’s your picture. Remember, if your going to post a story here, keep it under 500 words. If you want to post a longer story on your own blog, feel free to post a link to it here:

You all know that I love all things monstrous. Fortunately, this does not end with the furry monsters.

You all know that I love all things monstrous. Fortunately, this does not end with the furry monsters.

Returning to old story ideas: The Court of Wonders

Hello, internet!

It was nice to see that my post from last week encouraged such vigorous debate in the comment section. I’m planning to write a whole series of posts on the ethics of violence in fantasy fiction, and I look forward to seeing everyone’s views on future posts as well, but – alas –  various things stole my time this week and stopped me from writing an immediate follow-up.

Instead, I hope you will accept the offering of a little glimpse into a world that I came up with a few years ago outside a castle in Germany. I think a lot of fantasy writers will sometimes conjure up an idea for a setting which they love, and which sticks with them, even if they never actually knuckle down and write more than a few stories set in that world. This is one of those worlds, which has been on my back-burner for a while, lurking in a dusty desktop folder with a collection of other half-worlds, tempting me to abandon whatever book or series I’m writing and dive back into it. This little scene is the kind of thing that happens when I do. I hope you enjoy!


Canis Castrum

The court of Sherrington, the self-styled king of the landless masses, filled the valley. March thought that it must once have been a great city of the old empire. The streets were sheltered by a patchwork of many-coloured awnings and tarpaulins, rising like circus tents over the bazaars, but beneath the sea of drapery were the bones of grand old buildings. Whichever country had claimed this city as its capital must have suffered greatly in the war, though few people – if any – still knew or cared which side it had fought on, or why. Such thoughts were very unfashionable in Sherrington’s court. He was known to sit atop a golden throne in a great library, surrounded by trees that had grown in the sunlight which came down through a large hole in the domed ceiling, a hole made by some huge mortar shell during the worst of the fighting after the lines broke and the war ran wild. The landless masses barely noticed the old ruins anymore. They danced in the fallen masonry, read palms and sold trinkets from stalls built amongst the rubble, and slept in common dens in the attics of bombed townhouses after nights of drunken revelry. Sherrington threw famous parties in the former halls of Archdukes and Grand Palatines whose titles had healthily expired.

March felt hungry, but he didn’t know if it was real hunger or mere longing to be in the court again. He strained his senses to compete with the sounds and smells of the Amberline, the throaty beat of her Maybach engines and the synthetic smell of luftgas as Aurélie vented the gasbags, sacrificing precious buoyancy for their long descent towards the aerodrome. March longed for the scent of spice and the nasal sound of gourd flutes, the murmur of mingled tongues for miles around him. Down there, beneath the gaudy covers of the streets below, the light on the old walls and the colours of a hundred faces changed from blue to green to orange with the passing of the hours, as the sun passed through the sky and shone through different sheets of silk. March stood on the portside gondola catwalk, wind in his hair, rapping his cracked knuckles on the railings and itching with impatience. He knew that the crew were as eager as he was to to peel back the rainbow covers and lose themselves in the backstreets of the Court of Wonders, filling their lungs with the sweetness of incense, running their hands over spools of fabrics that they couldn’t afford. Little Minnie couldn’t wait to feast her eyes upon the street dancers, the fire breathers, the sword eaters and snake charmers. Gunny Mac, Wuthers and the other gasbag hands were more interested in the city’s thriving trade in food, wines and women from beyond the Eastern Weld. Aditaya was determined to scrounge some new cam bearings from somewhere, even though she knew that the court didn’t offer much in the way of airship parts. March smiled at the thought of her rifling through baskets of fine cloth in search of treasures smeared in axle grease.

Something weaved between his boots, and March sniffed with mirth. He knelt, hearing his bones creak, and scooped up Nudnik before he had a chance to live up to his name. The Amberline was mere minutes from tethering up and yawing in, and somebody might kick the poor cat overboard during the routine chaos. They were already circling the aerodrome, waiting for one of the monks on the ground to toddle over and run a red flag up the mast, giving his blessing for the ship to approach. March cradled the cat in an affectionate silence, scratching the back of it’s neck in the way it liked, and listening to it purr. Wheels turned in his head. Once the Amberline had tied down and her cargo of ermine pelt was sold, he would have no pressing business in the city. It had been a long flight down from the Rus, with foul weather and sparse comforts onboard. And it had been too long since he had surrendered himself to the warm embrace of chance and joined a band of strangers for a midnight carousel through the court’s innumerable drinking holes. He would dance, he would laugh, he would eat curried goat, perhaps he would even find a willing young man to spend the small hours with. He fancied that he wasn’t too old, yet, for that sort of thing. Not quite. Sunlight would find him in an unknown garret full of scented hammocks and divans, to spend the morning around a hookah pipe, drinking green tea and trading philosophies with new friends. Then he could return to the ship with his spirit renewed, and decide where they would fly next.


Image credit: The Foreign Market by Rhys Griffiths

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

So, I’m teaching a class right now in the philosophy of religion (something that I don’t get to do all that often since I’m more of an ethics guy, but I do very much enjoy it). In the first week of this class an interesting question has come up: what is the difference between spirituality and religion? We talk about these sometimes as though they were interchangeable and sometimes as though they were entirely different. Specifically, one of the important questions in this area is this: how are spirituality and religion connected? For instance, is it possible to have a completely unreligious spirituality? Or a completely unspiritual religion?

There are, of course, many perspectives on this, and normally I would go into some detail explaining the major perspectives to you. However, my computer is about to die and I’m not actually near the plug, so I will spare you for today. I do want you to consider this question though: what do we mean when we use the word ‘spiritual’ and what do we mean when we use the word ‘religious’? How can the two concepts be distinguished and how are they connected?

As always, I want you to write a story of 1000 words that presents and defends you answer to this question.

Plot Challenge of the Week

413HGXT0H8LWell, I graded a ton of papers today, and learned a little (and I do mean a very little) about investment. Honestly, I got a lot of information about investment, but I’m really not at all sure how much I retained. However, I’m sure that this won’t be the only chance that I have to learn about it. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you all. Here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

Preparing for War

So, I have another short fiction piece for you today, just because I feel like writing some fiction and I haven’t had a lot of time for it lately.

***********************************

Bregda looked out over the ocean that spread out far beneath her, one scaled claw digging holes in the thin layer of soft dirt that spread over the stone of the cliff. In the distance three Sgaithan whirled through an aerial dance, spears clashing as the hard wind buffeted them and threatened to cast them down into the ocean. Bregda’s reptilian lips curled up as she bared sharp teeth at the sparring mercenaries. Farther out, she knew, the stronger and more skilled Sgaithan were running through their own drills, though she couldn’t imagine what they might consist of. Each of the winged Baeg’dithi was a warrior skilled in many arts and blessed with very long lives. A little curl of flame licked out of her nostrils in anticipation as she turned back towards the tree-line perhaps two hundred feet behind her.

As she started back Lig’Lianta faded away from the trees, slowly melting from near perfect camouflage into the eight-foot tall warrior that led the Bocan pack which had joined her growing army, and truly her warriors were now an army, not just a tribe or a misfit group of unrelated clans. Lig approached cautiously, probably wanting to avoid angering her with his annoying disappearing acts, but her pace did not slow at all, and soon he towered over her, fully two feet taller than her own squat form, though lean with puny limbs that had always made her laugh. Tall Lig may be, but she could have snapped him in two over one leg with little effort. When they met both snuffed in a long inhalation, testing the other’s scent for signs of unforseen emotions, and then Lig flicked his tongue at her in greeting,

“Lustrous scales to you, War Leader. How fare our skyborn cousins?”

Flames licked her nostrils again as Bregda bared her teeth, “And many fresh kills to you Lig’Lianta. The Sgaithan fair well as far as I can see, though my sight may be foolish and short-sighted for I can only find two of them. You seem to have a purpose?”

Lig’s tail twitched in the air. “I do, War Leader. Your father has been looking for you in the camp with several of your clan elders. I find myself convinced that he has had a seeing, though I have not spoken with him myself. Perhaps the time is right for us to break this long-standing camp and finally hunt our prey.”

“Perhaps,” Bregda replied, her eyes flitting to the tree-line and back as she wondered what her father could need from her. “Though I fear that perhaps this prey hunts us as often as we hunt it. Nonetheless, we are many, and we have numerous sons of Sinnsir Ugh among us to lend power to our deadly arts. I shall speak with the elders and see what their vision has shown them.”

“Wisdom follows you, War Leader.” Lig said as he stepped to one side.

Bregda bared her teeth at him again, acknowledging his gesture of respect, and then started down towards the camp to see what the seers had foretold.

*********************************

Alright, this is obviously just a short scene, and there will be more of it later when I have a bit more time to write!

Scene Challenge of the Week

Well, it’s Wednesday, which means that you get a scene challenge. If you can’t remember the rules, I’ll provide them: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  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 rules: You task this week is to write a scene of at least 150 words that is all one sentence. If you’ve been following the blog then you’ve seen this challenge before. Remember to make sure that the scene is grammatically correct, and that it flows well. Again, you might want to give it to a grammar nazi after you finish to make sure that your grammar is solid. Your cue: “I said that I don’t want any…”

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