Story Challenge of the Week

So, Alayna and I are exhausted at the moment. I’m actually sleeping better (meaning that the therapy is working), but I’m not sleeping very long each night. Alayna is at that point where the baby is dropping (or has dropped… or is about to drop… this is our first time doing this) and absolutely everything is uncomfortable, including sleeping… which means that she doesn’t much. Exhaustion makes everyday tasks, like work, reading, or helping a friend, much more difficult and it especially makes stress more difficult to handle. It makes you crankier, more easily frustrated, and less able to take a joke. It also makes it that much more difficult to do something that you just don’t really feel like doing. I bring this up because it’s your topic today. I want you to write a story about exhaustion in a stress-filled situation. You know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic. As before, if it’s in any way applicable, you should use this to try to develop your world a little more :).

Your Challenge: Write me a story about exhaustion in a stress filled situation. This could be a story about exhaustion makes stress more difficult to deal with or how it makes your responses to stress less likely to be appropriate. You could focus on the emotional, physical, or intellectual challenges of exhaustion and the impact that they can have on stress responses. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on exhaustion in a stress filled situation.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

So, Alayna is an absolutely amazing wife. For a combined Father’s day/Anniversary present she got me a pre-order of the new game Total War: Warhammer (which comes out on the 24th). This is a game that I (and a lot of other people) have been waiting for someone, anyone, to make for around fifteen years. I still play a few video games, but I don’t generally play that many (I don’t have time to play that many…). I actually still haven’t gotten around to finishing Pillars of Eternity (though it is an awesome game). However, like I said, this is a game that I’ve been waiting for fifteen years to see someone make. I’m a little bit excited about it. Anyway, on a completely different note, something that I’ve been thinking about lately is American Christian attitudes towards money (on the individual level) and economics (on the societal level). I often see attitudes in the Christian church that do little to reflect the actual teachings of scripture. In general, these attitudes tend to follow the two common secular attitudes towards general economics: Capitalist Christians and Socialist Christians. Now, I should point out first that when I speak of Capitalism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in America, not the economic structures that you find in Columbia or Niger. Similarly, when I speak of Socialism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in Austria, Germany, or Canada, not the economic structures that we saw in Society Russia or Maoist China. A good argument can be made that extreme Communism is a form of Socialism. However, a good argument can also be made that the oppressive ‘free’ markets of South America and Central Africa are a form of Capitalism. So, for a good comparison conservative Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another and extreme Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another: that is that Soviet Russia should be compared to Columbia and Canada should be compared to the US.

That being said, I don’t honestly think that either Capitalism or Socialism effectively presents a biblical attitude towards economics. It is true that Adam Smith’s original theory (Capitalism) did make some use of the Christian concept of providence in the ‘Invisible Hand’ of the market. However, even in his original theory this comes across more as a statement that ‘God is in control so we don’t need that many rules’ (and in laissez-faire capitalism this tends to turn into ‘we don’t need any rules’). However, this seems to be a muted and generally empty conception of Providence, which must be combined with Sovereignty to have any meaningful content. Christian versions of Capitalist theory generally faik to acknowledge that the world is the Lord’s and all that is in it, but attempts to rely on the idea that God guides the unknowable forces of the free market. Instead of actually living in a world that is seen as meaningfully God’s, with all of the responsibilities (social and theological) that come with that understanding, it tends to adopt a Capitalist assumption that economic growth is essentially good (that is in Aristotelian terms that goodness is a necessary component of economic growth such that if it is not good it cannot be called economic growth, this would be opposed to an accidental and contingent goodness of economic growth which accepts that economic growth is good when it stems from good motives and is used for good ends). In extreme forms of Capitalism this assumption is used to justify over oppression and subjugation of vulnerable people groups. However, even in less extreme forms of Capitalism the assumption is present and generally leads to the rejection of regulations that are necessary to effectively guide the market according to God’s principles. For instance, consider the economic laws of the Old Testament such as the Sabbatical Years or the Year of Jubilee, the requirements against the charging of interest, etc. These laws existed to ensure that the economic growth of the nation of Israel protected and provided for even the weakest among them. The economic oppression and subjugation of the weak members of Jewish society was not acceptable under the Old Testament law, and throughout the Prophets this very economic oppression and subjugation is one of their primary condemnations of Israel.

However, on the other hand, Socialist theories tend to attempt to take regulation into the hands of man. They tend to reject the concept of the invisible hand of the market and the concept of providence that goes with it. However, this equally rejects the sovereignty of God. Scripture absolutely supported the equitable provision of opportunities, and this is consistently seen in the Law through the emphasis that the land could not be permanently bought or sold. Every Israelite family had the opportunity to develop their own land and thus prosper economically. However, scripture no where supports the intentional redivision of resources in order to provide equal income. What the Israelites did with their land was on them. Those who cared for their land well and prospered tended to have more and those who neglected their land fell into debt and sometimes had to sell themselves into indentured servitude (I use this term because it more accurately described the strictures of the law than ‘slavery,’ which has specific connotations in America that do not reflect the Mosaic Law). However, even in these cases their masters were to treat them well, and every fifty years slaves were freed and their original land was returned so that the family could start over. So, the idea that a universal $15 minimum wage is a moral necessity simply doesn’t see biblical support, nor does the excessive taxation of the wealthy in order to provide welfare services to those who could work, but don’t. However, the taxation of those who can and do work in order to provide for those who legitimately can’t (i.e. the seriously handicapped or very vulnerable) absolutely sees biblical support. As does the argument that the government has a responsibility to care for the poor (in fact, in the Old Testament it is most commonly the King, Judge, or Ruler who is expected to enforce the laws that provide for the legitimately poor, and it is the wealthy who are expected to leave some of their income in order to supply this provision).

Ultimately, Christian Capitalists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact of greed upon the economic structures of the nation while Christian Socialists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact laziness upon the economic structures of the nation. This is very general and the issue is significantly more complicated, but this seems to be an apt, if very general, description. So, here is my question for you: is there a third option? Some Confucian scholars have pointed to several area in the Far East (specifically Singapore and Japan) that are in the process of developing ‘Communitarian Capitalism,’ which stands starkly against the individualistic and often greed-focused liberalism of Laissez-Faire Capitalism, but stands equally against the thoroughly State-Led nature of Socialism and accepts the general idea of a free market that is, to some degree, self-directing. However, this is effectively experimental and, for Christians, likely falls into some of the same traps as I outlined above. If there is a third option, what significant underlying assumptions would it be founded upon?

As always, write me a story of 1000+ words that gives your take on the issue.

Plot Challenge of the World

Well, very slowly reading is getting done and I am getting used to sleeping five hours a night. However, if you’ve ever done something like this, it isn’t a lot of fun, and it takes some getting used to, so I’m afraid I don’t have a lot left for the blog today. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you today. I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to develop a part of your world based on what you see. It should be a setting that is believable in your world, and that has potential for stories in it. Here’s you’re picture:

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Story Challenge of the Week

Well, my diet is over and I am officially in the maintenance phase of the program… during which I’m hoping to lose another 5-10 pounds or so :P. All told, at the moment I’ve lost somewhere around 32-33 pounds. I have another 15-25 that I would like to lose, but given the sheer amount of stress that Alayna and I are under at the moment everyone agreed that it might be best if counting calories wasn’t a constant worry. So, all in all I’m pretty happy. My goal is to keep myself under 200 lbs for the next 8 months or so and then, once the baby is born, we’ve moved, settled into our new place, Alayna has a job, I’m sleeping normally, and I’m beginning to get a handle on the Ph.D. program, then hopefully I can go back on a more intensive weightloss plan and lose the rest that I was hoping to lose–not exactly the norm for people in a Ph.D. program (usually they gain weight), but hopefully it will be possible. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you and you all should know the rules, but just in case: 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 challenge: Choose one of your favorite scenes from a novel. After reading the scene a couple of times, rewrite it in your own style and voice. The characters and basic elements of the scene should remain the same, but the way it is written should reflect your voice and style of writing, rather than the original author’s. This can be very challenging, so don’t be too disappointed if you need a few tries to go it well.

Story Challenge of the Week

Sometimes, in the words of Forrest Gump (or more accurately his momma), ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Of course, sometimes it’s like rooting around in a dumpster, and sometimes its like a work cubicle: small, oppressive, and boring. You never know what you’re going to get, and you never know how you’re going to react to it. Sometimes, people can have the worst reactions to things that should make them ecstatic, and sometimes people will react to horrible news with amazing aplomb. The key in the midst of all of this is remembering that we live in a real world that is not defined by our feelings, desires, opinions, or convictions. The concept of reality is one that, I fear, the Western world is slowly losing any kind of grip on. It is one of the most important concepts in life because, in the words of a Psychology professor I once had, ‘Reality always wins.’ Time spent delving into fantasy can be wonderful. It can be a time to decompress, relax, rejuvenate both heart and mind, and gain new perspective. However, our fantasy and fiction should also tell us something true about reality. This isn’t the same as saying that we need ‘realistic’ or ‘gritty’ fantasy. C. S. Lewis’ fantasies are far from gritty, but they do tell us something true about the real world. However, it does mean that our fantasy needs to be rooted in reality and that it needs to both offer a temporary escape and lead us back to reality in the end. Too many modern fantasies attempt to replace reality, and this endeavor will never end well. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you today. I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to develop a part of your world based on what you see. It should be a setting that is believable in your world, and that has potential for stories in it. Here’s you’re picture:


Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

So, Fyodor Dostoyevsky argued that if there is no God then anything is permissible. Philosophers such as Friedrich Nietszche and Jean-Paul Sartre generally agree with his general premise, though, unlike Dostoyevsky (who concluded from this that there must be a God), they thus conclude that anything is permissible if one believes that it is right or necessary. However, other thinkers, such as Aristotle, argued that there is a moral reality to which man is beholden, regardless of whether any god exists, and some have argued that any god or gods are also beholden to this moral reality. David Hume argued that moral principles could not be drawn from observations of the natural world (i.e. an ought cannot be drawn from an is–also known as the is/ought problem or the naturalistic fallacy), but also concluded that while morality is thus subjective, it can still be universal because all men are driven by the same subjective passions–even if they do resist or bury them.

So, I’ve had you all write on the idea of moral realism, both theistic and philosophical, before. However, in today’s challenge I want you to imagine that Nietszche and Sartre are correct. There is no God, and because there is no God absolutely anything is (at least potentially) permissible. What would such a world look like? Why?

As always, answer the challenge in a story of 1000 words.

Plot Challenge of the Week

Well, it’s day two of only sleeping 5 hours a night and I seem to be doing alright generally. I can’t say that I’m doing great with it, but I’m surviving and I can still get stuff don, which is good. I even got most of my reading for the day done, though my ability to keep a sharp focus for long periods is less than it would be on full sleep, but still a lot more than if I wasn’t sleeping. Anyway, today I have a plot challenge for you. This one is new, but its related to our challenge from last week. Last week I asked you to develop a metanarrative for a story: the broad, overarching details and plot. One of the major things I asked you to do is figure out what the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story are. This week, I want you to narrow your focus. I want you to choose two of those three points (i.e. beginning and middle or middle and end–not beginning and end) and figure out how the story gets from Point A to Point B. You want to treat this in the same way that you did the metanarrative–just narrower. So, if you choose the beginning and middle, then the beginning is still the beginning, but the middle is the new end of this portion of the narrative, and you need a new middle or middles. Some questions to consider:

  1. What settings are significant for this section of the story? Does it all happen in one place or are multiple settings important? Perhaps characters are traveling?
  2. What needs to change to move the story along? Perhaps a house burns down? A civil war begins? Someone gets fired? Perhaps multiple things need to happen.
  3. Who are the important characters for this part of the story? What new minor supporting characters are necessary? How much of a backstory do they need to have? Consider that none of your characters should simply be flat. Even if a character is just a bartender who appears in two scenes, you should have some idea of who he/she is and what his/her life story is.
  4. How do you major characters need to change between the Point A and Point B and what is going to motivate this change? If you want a masterful example of masterful character development over the course of a novel read Glen Cook’s Shadow’s Linger and pay attention to the character Marron Shed.
  5. What needs to happen to set the stage for the next part of the story? Remember that, once you get down under the metanarrative you’re dealing with parts of an interwoven whole. So, what connects this part of your story to the parts that come before and after it? What needs to happen in this part that either ends story-lines from the last part, or opens story-lines for the next part?

Scene Challenge of the Week

Well, the Capitals lost tonight, which has made Alayna somewhat discontent. However, it was an excellent game that went into overtime, so they fought it hard. That also left us getting home very late and fairly exhausted. However, no big problem there as I’m starting a sleep program for the treatment of insomnia that only allows me to sleep for five hours a night. Woohoo… That being said, I have a scene challenge for you. You all should know the rules, but just in case: 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 Challenge: write me a scene of at least 300 and no more than 1500 words that effectively expresses your take on some current event. This could be a major event (like the US capturing Iranian weapons shipments or North Korea test firing Nukes), or it could be a minor event (like the opening of a new library in your hometown), and what you choose is up to you. This is not to be an essay about your position, nor is it to be a character simply presenting your position in monologue. I want your scene to be vivid, dynamic, and meaningful, but also to give the reader a clear sense of your opinion on the event/issue about which you chose to write. Express your opinion through the way you set your scene, the setting that you choose, the situation in which your character’s find themselves, and the way they interact with one another both verbally and, more importantly, non-verbally. Have fun!

Story Challenge of the Week

It is much harder than you might think to find a good set of Chinese Flashcards that is extensive enough to being preparing one for reading Chinese at an academic level. Most of the sets advertise themselves as including a whopping sixty characters… even the good ones tend to top out at a few hundred characters. I don’t need to learn sixty characters. I need to learn three to four thousand. This is making my life interesting at the moment. However, for you I have a story challenge, and it’s time for my favorite story challenge. I’m going to give you a series of criteria including genre, theme, some character archetypes, etc. Your job is to write a story that includes all of the features required in the challenge. If you intend to post it here, please keep it short. However, the complexity of this challenge often requires a longer story.

Theme: Learning

Genre: Fantasy, Surreal Fantasy, Science Fiction, Modern Fiction

Setting: Your setting for this story needs to be a practical environment. Think learning on the job rather than learning in a classroom. Depending on what learning you are dealing with the setting could be a construction site, business office, home, battlefield, hospital, etc.

Character Archetypes:

1) The Student

2) The Master

3) The Teacher’s Pet

4) The Bad Boy/Girl


1) A Stick or staff

2) An expensive form of transport relative to your genre (i.e. a really good horse, Ferrari, or new space yacht, etc)

3) A signalling device appropriate to your setting (i.e. laser pointer, cell-phone, torch, banner, etc).

On Fans

So, on Thursday I wrote a post on adding nuances to your world in order to increase the level and feeling of reality in your stories. I believe that this is important. Fiction should be rich, detailed, nuanced, and deep, and this is especially true of speculative fiction. However, there is a flip side to that coin: you are not perfect, and you’re world will not be perfectly detailed. Even modern fiction writers and non-fiction writers deal with this. As authors, we get things wrong. Understanding this and being able to deal with it is incredibly important, especially in the modern context. If you look up any popular movie recently (and many popular novels) you can find entire websites dedicated to explaining, in detail, every single flaw in the work. Youtube is currently filled with videos, often a hour or more long, explaining the many problems that ‘destroy’ Star Wars, The Avengers, Captain America, etc as movies, and you don’t have to look too hard to find the same kind of material for historical movies or movies about current events.

Now, what should strike us as odd is that most of these are created by fans of the movies/books in question. For instance, I have a group of friends who get together once every year or two to marathon the Lord of the Rings movies. Of course, they spend at least half the night bitching about everything that was done wrong and how Peter Jackson ‘ruined’ the franchise… which should lead us to ask why they are staying up all night to watch twelve hours of apparently horrible moves for the sixteenth time. Simply put, the modern world is most critical of what it loves the best. If you make a horrible movie that no one wants to watch, such as that terrible dragon/snake war movie that I can’t even remember the title of… it was probably something like ‘Dragon/Snake Wars,’ then chances are that there won’t be any videos on youtube tearing it apart.

So, the first thing you need to consider as an author is that any fan who is telling you everything that you did wrong in you’re novel is 1) way too invested in you’re writing, and 2) actually read your novel and will almost certainly read the next one. We’re specifically critical of the things that we love, but we’re generally critical of the things that we hate. For instance, Daredevil was a stupid movie: bad casting, bad acting, bad writing, bad fight scenes… the cinematography was okay I guess. I feel no need to go into any detail about what I am critical about in this example because I hated the entire movie. I actually avoided Batman vs Superman because they cast Ben Affleck as Batman… which was just a bad idea all around. From everything I’ve heard I didn’t miss anything. Again, notice that there was no specific criticism there?

Now, in the Lord of the Rings Movies it annoys me that the army of the dead are at Pellanor Fields and that there were no scenes with Tom Bombadil or the Barrow Wights in the first movie. In the Hobbit Movies I’m frustrated at the way the relationship between Gandalf and Galadriel is portrayed and the way they handled Radagast the Brown (maybe… at least the poop-face hat thing). Notice how my criticism was very specific here? That’s because I really liked the movies overall and actually have specific criticisms to make after watching them too many times. I don’t think that Peter Jackson ruined the franchise. Actually, I think he did an absolutely fantastic job with all six movies (and yes, I liked most of the stuff that was added into the Hobbit movies… except the elf-dwarf love triangle… that was weird). However, Peter Jackson wasn’t perfect and he didn’t make perfect movies.

When you’re dealing with fans you will have to remember that they are being specifically critical because they liked your work. They are fans, not rabid monsters out to destroy your sanity (though it can certainly feel that way sometimes). When you are being a fan, remember that whatever you’re talking about isn’t perfect because it wasn’t written, filmed, directed, acted, painted, etc by a perfect artist who made a flawless masterpiece. Of course there are plot holes, you signed on for that when you decided to read or watch a work of fiction (or non-fiction… in non-fiction we call them logical fallacies or factual errors). So, consider how you are coming across as a fan. If you are choosing to read a book or watch a movie for the umpteenth time then chances are that you really like it… do you come across that way?