Okay, again, apologies that this post is going up late. However, I do 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:
Okay, I do have a story challenge for you, 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.
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Modern Fiction
Setting: Your setting for this story is very open. I cannot be a Science Fiction setting, and like last time it must be a practical setting (i.e. a setting in which the characters actually need to make wise decisions). However, other than this you can do what you please.
1) The Angry Dwarf
2) The Mystic
3) The Bandit
4) The Naive Pilgrim
1) A seashell
2) A sword
3) A book of high literature
Have you even noticed that women get something of a short shrift in the sci-fi/fantasy world? Whether it is in comic books, novels, movies, etc women are often depicted as oversexualized objects or playthings or as overpowered and interminably alone (because no one can match them) or as overdependent and incapable of any significant action of their own. Now, this is not to say that all science fiction and fantasy depict women in these ways, and there are some very good female characters in science fiction/fantasy works, but a lot of it does depict women in these ways. There have been many theories about why this is–the most popular is generally that so much of the science fiction/fantasy world is dominated by men, but the fact that female authors generally portray female characters in the same ways seems to discount this. I think that it is more likely that the American view of women as a whole simply varies between unhealthy extremes of dependence, use, and conquest rather than seeing women significantly as whole people who struggle, need, provide, and triumph. However, this is just my theory so, take or leave it as you will. Anyway, let’s get into the exercise. You know the rules: I give you a picture and you give me a story of 1000 words or less (at least if you want to post it here) that explains what is happening in the picture. Remember the lesson from last time, stay true to the picture. Let the audience know what is happening in the background of the picture without actually altering any of the picture’s own details. Enjoy (and try not to fall into the above tropes):
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
We had Alayna’s baby shower this past weekend, which is why we had guests in. It seems to have been a smashing success (though I wasn’t there for culturally obvious reasons), and Alayna thoroughly enjoyed herself. I’m also eagerly following the Fragged Empire kickstarter. Again, if you enjoy either Role-Playing Games or miniatures, this would be a great one to follow and contribute to. They have very reasonable rewards levels, and the game itself looks to be extremely well put together. For this week’s story challenge I am going to give you a theme and you have to write your story on that theme. However, I am also going to give you four words (a verb, a noun, an adjective, and an adverb) and you will have to use each of those words in your story. The goal in this exercise is to write a story that includes these words in a natural and meaningful way.
Your theme: Curiosity
Well, I spent the afternoon yesterday painting more miniatures. Also, I got a spear for my birthday (my father made it), so I’ve been looking up Sojutsu techniques for the past couple of days. I’m going to take some time and actually learn how to use the thing properly… this makes me very happy. Anyway, let’s get into it. You know the rules: I give you a picture and you give me a story of 1000 words or less (at least if you want to post it here) that explains what is happening in the picture. Remember the lesson from last time, stay true to the picture. Let the audience know what is happening in the background of the picture without actually altering any of the picture’s own details. Enjoy:
In Tuesday’s post, I talked about how video games can be fertile ground for inspiring your own writing. Today I’m going to talk about how you can adapt your in-game experiences into unique stories which can stand on their own legs outside of the context of the game world.
My motivation for wanting to talk about this is that I feel like there might be a lot of imaginative gamers and writers out there who love coming up with their own complex internal narratives while they’re playing through video games, and then get frustrated because they feel like they can’t turn those narratives into written story material without it being fan fiction, set in a pre-existing universe. If that’s the case, then I hope I can prove otherwise, by taking you through the sort of process that I go through when a video game inspires me to write something original.
So I’m going to give you an example of an in-game event that inspired me to write something, and then describe how I might go through the process of removing it from the game world and adapting it into a story. I’m going to stick with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, for the sake of continuity.
I’ve played a lot of different characters on Skyrim, including a stealthy assassin and an erudite Argonian fire-mage who liked to try and find diplomatic solutions to his problems. But I wanted my latest character to be more of a classical warrior hero, drawing on headstrong figures from epic poetry, like Beowulf and Odysseus. So I created Throdnar, a full-blooded Nord with a strong sword-arm and very few motivations beyond the acquisition of treasure and personal glory…
…who got spotted by a hungry dragon while I was trying to get a decent screenshot of him…
…and ended up getting the flesh charred from his bones.
I won’t be adapting that particular episode into prose any time soon. Throdnar probably wouldn’t want his embarrassing defeat to be remembered in song and stories. He’d probably prefer to be memorialised in tales of his cunning and warrior prowess.
Usually, the kind of incidents that inspire me to want to write stories are a lot less exciting than being burned to death by a dragon. While I was playing a few days ago, I accepted a fairly simple bounty contract to kill a giant who’d been eating local livestock. I stole a horse, rode out to the giant’s camp, and used a technique that I like to call “giant-baiting” to wear down the giant’s health with a bow and arrow, riding away from him on horseback and leading him on a merry chase, until he was dead and I could ride back to collect my bounty.
For those interested, it works a little like this:
Step 1) Shoot a giant and incur his wrath.
Step 2) Gallop away, pursued by a giant.
Step 3) Stop, turn, and shoot the giant, enraging him further, but slightly lowering his health
Step 4) Gallop away, pursued by a giant…
And so on until the giant is dead, never allowing the giant to catch up and hit you with his club, however tempting it might be to linger and get off two or three arrows each time you stop.
Already here I’ve invented something that isn’t actually an inherent part of the game, which I can then use in one of my own stories. I have no idea if other players use the same technique (but if you’re a regular Skyrim player and you hadn’t tried this yet, it’s a great way of getting your hands on a lot of mammoth tusks). Giant-baiting is just something that I’ve come up with while playing in Skyrim’s sandbox, so I can insert the term, and the technique, into a fantasy world of my own creation. If my fantasy world has giants who prey off the land and steal livestock, then I can imagine that giant-baiting is a practiced rural way of life, like poaching or deer-stalking. I can extrapolate that it’s an art with seasoned practitioners who know all of the best ways of doing it without getting themselves killed. An old giant-baiter is necessarily a good giant-baiter because he’s avoided being squashed into jelly by an angry giant. That’s quite a good basis for a character, and I certainly enjoy imbuing Throdnar with those characteristics when I’m baiting giants in the game. I can imagine the thoughts going through his head, the calculations of a veteran giant-baiter doing what he does best.
But it wasn’t actually the giant-baiting that inspired me to write a story. Believe it or not, it was the part before the giant-baiting, where I had to steal a horse.
I could have bought a horse, but that didn’t seem like the sort of thing that Throdnar would do. He seemed like the sort of cunning adventurer who would prefer to steal a horse and pay off his bounty later. But more than that, I’d have preferred to have the option to try and work out a deal with the groom at the stable – I’d have liked it if Throdnar could use his wits and his sharp tongue to steal a horse without just crudely making off with it in broad daylight. I wanted him to be able to say “I’m doing the Jarl’s work and going to hunt down that giant that’s been eating livestock – can I borrow a horse and leave 500 gold with you as insurance that I’ll bring it back?” Whether or not I brought it back would have been another question. But it was one of those instances where my options were limited by the game’s programming, because that wasn’t a dialogue option I could choose. There’s almost certainly a mod that I could download if I wanted to have that kind of option in game, but that’s not the point. My frustration with the game’s limited options didn’t make me want to alter the game world, it made me want to write a story where a character could have that kind of conversation. So I started writing.
I didn’t want to write a piece of Skyrim fan-fiction, so I needed to strip the world away and create a new setting for this scenario to happen in. That meant changing things like place names, environmental conditions, the general aesthetic of the world, and anything else I could think of to distance myself from Skyrim and make me feel as though this story was happening inside a world that I’d created.
One thing that I decided to change right away – simply because it was easy to do so – was the animal involved. Why have my character steal a horse when they could be stealing something more interesting?
My first thought was some sort of unicorn, and a brief internet research session revealed that historical legends about the unicorn might have been based on a real-life extinct species of megafauna called the elasmotherium.
I thought that it looked pretty cool – I can definitely imagine it domesticated, saddled up, and turned into a formidable beast-of-war, especially with that horn – but I didn’t think “elasmotherium” was the kind of name that would be used in everyday conversation by hardy Northern giant-baiters in a medieval fantasy setting, so I dug deeper and found out that the elasmotherium might also have been the inspiration for a mythical Russian beast called the indrik. “Indrik” has a nice ring to it, and a brief Google revealed that it hasn’t been widely used in any other popular fantasy media – only for one card in Magic: The Gathering. So I felt safe using it.
So now I was writing a story about Throdnar using his wits to trick a groom into giving him an indrik for half of what it was worth. But what else could I change, to really make it feel like I was creating my own story, set in a world of my own creation?
I decided that my story was going to take place in a bleaker Dark Age fantasy world rather than a generic medieval setting. That meant downgrading technology: replacing brick-built houses with mud bricks and drystone walls. Remembering to make sure that Throdnar only used weapons and tools that had been invented by the time of the 8th or 9th century. The landscape that I’d been riding over in Skyrim was a craggy plateau of rocks and hot springs. I decided to set my story in a forbidding moorland, with rolling hills covered in bracken and goarse. And to fit the bleaker setting, I decided to change the weather. Here, I drew on another encounter that I’d had in Skyrim – I rode out to clear an abandoned fort that had been occupied by bandits, and rain had started falling in sheets by the time I found them. I remembered fighting them in the driving rain and ending up standing my ground in a deep pool, whirling my horse around in the water and hacking down at the bandits as they tried to attack me. That had been a dramatic fight, and I decided to steal the weather, applying it to my fight with the giant, which had happened while the in-game weather was bright and sunny.
Finally, I wanted to make sure that I depicted giants in an original way. Giants in Skyrim are dull creatures who don’t seem to have human levels of intelligence, and they spend a lot of their time herding mammoths. One easy way of differentiating my giants was to cut the mammoth-herding aspect, and I also decided to make my giant a little more cunning. I’d already decided that Throdnar is a warrior who likes to rely on his brains as well as his brawn, so I wanted to give him a more challenging opponent who could match his wits.
I also changed the outcome of the fight. But to find out more about that, you’ll have to come back on Sunday, when I’m planning to post at least part of the story.
I hope this post has given you an insight into what I do when I’m inspired to adapt my video-game experiences into prose. And my assignment for you today is go and try it yourself! I wish you happy gaming, full of moments that you can harvest and insert into your stories.
In Thomas Aquinas’ virtue ethic confidence is a part of the virtue of fortitude (as opposed to a sub-virtue like Magnanimity or Courage). Specifically, confidence is the measure of hope which drives us to attempt those great things that are in our power. If we think of fortitude as a motor boat then confidence is the engine that makes it run. I bring this up because it’s your topic today. I want you to write a story about confidence. 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 confidence. This could be a story about confidence towards a task, about over-confidence, or the problems that come from a lack of confidence. You could focus on the challenge of developing confidence, the power that confidence has, or the relationship between confidence and capability. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on confidence.