Story Challenge of the Week

thinking_monkeySo, first of all I have to make a correction. In my Saturday post I said that, in Aristotelian terms, Reformed theologians believe that for any act to be good God must be its formal and final cause. However, this was a mistake, I should have said that God must be its efficient and final cause. Aristotle outlined four causes for any movement: efficient (i.e. the first or original cause of the action), formal (the immediate substantive cause of the action), material (the direct cause of the action), and final (the ultimate cause or goal of the action). So the efficient cause is that which first sets a thing in motion, such as God’s will that I do such and such; the formal cause is the immediate non-material cause of the action, such as my affirmative response to God’s prompting; the material cause is the material capability for the action to be performed, such as my ability to walk, hold things, or step on a gas pedal; and the final cause is the ultimate end of goal of an action, such as my intention to please God and bring him glory. I tend to get them confused because I am not sure that I really understand formal and material causes yet, and while I understand the concept of the efficient cause I often confuse the terminology with that of the formal cause. Anyway, on to your challenge for the day! So, 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 confusion. This could be a story that seeks to express the difficult of understanding a difficult academic subject (like Aristotle’s four causes), or it could be a story about frustration over being lost in the woods, or an intentional attempt to confuse someone.. You could focus on the actual experience of an individual’s confusion, or you could try to show how someone becomes confused in the first place, or how confusion and be used as a weapon. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on confusion.

Write, but Don’t Write for the Money

2c9cb67So, my fiancee just beat me horribly at a game of monopoly… seriously, my luck in this game was just plain pathetic… and I might have made a bad trade call that effectively ended the game… still, with better luck I could definitely have pulled it out. Anyway, I was low on money, and even mortgaging my properties wasn’t going to pull me out of the hole I was in. A lot of us have been at this point in real life as well. I know I have… honestly, most of my friends are tired of hearing my story about the time I could only afford to eat a can of green beans (which I got for free) a day. It was rough, and when things are rough it’s easy to put your faith in stories. As writers, most of us have heard about how J.K. Rowling was living on the British welfare system until the first Harry Potter novel brought money flowing in, or we hear about some self-published author who’s making a living wage off of one book that sells for $.99 a copy. Now, I’m sure that there’s more to each of these stories than we often think. I have no doubt that a lot of sweat, tears, and yes, possibly even blood went into the books that sent these author’s into the literary stratosphere. However, even if you are willing to put in the work, which most of us generally aren’t, and have the skill, which most of us probably don’t, something similar still probably won’t happen to you.

Consider that Rowling is a truly excellent writer. Of course, there are plenty of published author’s whose works I pick up and the first thing I think is ‘I can write better than this.’ This is the first lie that we tell ourselves – 1) even if it isn’t a very good author, if I’m honest I can probably write as well as that author, but maybe not better. We all tend to exaggerate our own skill, especially when comparing it to someone we don’t like reading very much. The second lie we tell ourselves is ‘this will happen to me.’ Note, we often phrase this as ‘this could happen to me.’ However, I have to admit that when I decided to self-publish my first book I did a lot of research. I knew the stories of several self-published authors whose work took off, but I also knew that most self-published books were lucky to sell ten copies. Even though I knew that, there was a little part of me that said, ‘I’ll be the exception.’ My book will sell, people will love it, a publisher will find out about it and beg to give me a huge contract to write a series, and soon stickers will be put on my books that read ‘2 Million Copies Sold’… …my book sold about a hundred and thirty copies, give or take ten.

tumblr_lv4ndj59en1qi5zdvPublishers receive tens of thousands of manucripts a year, and even with an agent (and your chances of getting an agent for a first novel aren’t incredible), you book isn’t likely to get published. Further, even if it does, most works of fiction don’t stay on the shelves for very long. The books that stay on the shelves are the ones that sell. Often the ones that sell are the ones that 1) are written by household names or cult favorites, and 2) the ones that are advertised out the wazoo and receive stellar reviews from influential critics. So, even if you do get a book published, don’t expect to make a living off of it. I met an author a couple of years ago who was a good writer… he’d written over 150 books and most of them were out of print. When I met him he was working on two different projects just to keep a reasonable income. On top of this, even if you book does sell fairly well, it’s likely that you’ll never receive royalties that overrun your forward. If you do publish a book the company will generally pay you for the right to publish it and make money off of it up front. I’m told that this is usually about $5000 for new fiction authors. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it… how long did it take you to write that book? Now consider – most people make over $20,000/year, and you’ll probably never make more than that first $5000 off of your book.

So, with all of these challenges, why would anyone write, much less try to make a living writing? Well, first of all, the majority of authors in the world don’t make a living writing. Most authors have a day job and write because they love it. They don’t expect to live off of their income from writing and this is actually less true now than in the past. Further, most writers who do make a living writing actually write non-stop, and they’re good at it. I remember reading a passage from Terry Goodkind… he pointed out that he generally spends 12-14 hours a day writing. Also, many writers who write for a living are journalists, not fiction authors. Writing magazine articles is a lot different than writing novels. So, as a writer, don’t expect to make a living off of your writing. Keep your day job (at least until you’re making enough to live on).

1090078Second, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, writing is worth it even if you don’t make money. The point of all writing should be, in the words of Aristotle in Poetics, ‘to entertain and to educate.’ If you make a little money along the way, that’s great. However, the best works of fiction are those with a point. Think about Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Herbert’s Dune, Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Asimov’s I, Robot. Here we have two works of moral philosophy, a work of philosophical theology, a work of theology, and a work of speculative science and philosophy in the guise of fiction. Truly great books have something to say and what the author’s are trying to say is more important than making money. Now, this isn’t to say that we should sacrifice story for message, but it is to say that writing for money masks the real purpose of writing – to say something meaningful to the world.

Third, writing is catharsis. I mentioned this as well a couple of weeks ago. The book I wrote was, honestly, as much for me as for anyone else. I think it’s a worthwhile novel with a worthwhile message, a good story, a strong voice, and an original world. Those who’ve read it seem to agree. However, it also helped me deal with some serious questions I’d had, and with a difficult time in my life. Write for yourself and your message first, money is a bonus.

Philosophical Story Challenge

ARISTOTLE-VS-PLATOHey everyone, I apologize for the late post but I was really tired last night so I decided to wait until this morning to post. Anyway, Saturday has rolled around again so its time for another Philosophical Story Challenge. This week’s topic goes all the way back to the days of Plato and Aristotle: identity. What makes you who you are? What makes anything that particular thing. How can we look at a horse and know that it is a horse even if it’s missing a leg or has some deformation? Where does identity really lie? Plato’s view, or at least the view that has been derived from Plato’s works, is that identity is entirely within the soul. To him, there is a level of distrust of the physical world because our senses are so clearly fallible. On the other hand we have Aristotle who argued that all of our knowledge and experience comes from the physical, observable world. It is important to note that Aristotle is not denying the existence or importance of the soul, but rather denying that our identity could be so completely contained within it. In his view, your identity is as much a part of your body as it is your soul. If your soul were removed from your body we would no longer say that your body was you, and Aristotle would also argue that your soul isn’t you either. A human is a body and a soul; take away one and while the other may remain it is not that person in their entirety. Conversely, Plato would argue that your body, because it is physical, is a hindrance; your real being is that of your soul unshackled to your body. Your challenge this week is to write a story that explains identity like Plato or like Aristotle. As always, please keep your stories under 1,000 words if you want to post them on here, but feel free to write more!

Prescription vs. Description: Teaching and Delighting

Quite a good read, actually.
Quite a good read, actually.

So, as I mentioned last week, my next few posts are going to deal with “Poetics” – what makes a piece of literature good or worthwhile. After reading each of the multitude of texts assigned for  this Poetics class, we invariably end up in a long discussion about prescription vs. description: what the author says good literature SHOULD be as opposed to what he or she says good literature IS.  This week, I want to talk about that issue in regards to the precepts of “teaching and delighting.”

Several literary critics, particularly from older eras, note in their works that literature must teach and delight – a worthwhile book imparts a lesson in some form or another while still entertaining the reader. Aristotle was one of the first to offer this particular description, and his example was followed by Sir Philip Sidney and Longinus, among others. It should be noted that these authors do not necessarily advocate for a heavy-handed moral lesson, as seen in many works from the Puritan and Victorian eras of literature; instead, they believe that any good literature will have some form of lesson to be learned, whether it be overt or subtextual. And, of course, literature should entertain. Aristotle quite plainly says that literature without teaching has no real purpose, and that works without the entertainment factor are dry and dull and are just as worthless. The main debate, at least  for my class, comes in the form of Is vs. Should Be. Are Aristotle and company saying that all good literature DOES teach and delight, or are they saying that good literature SHOULD do these things? In other words, are they saying matter-of-factly that worthwhile prose and poetry actually already do exhibit these traits, or that literature must have those traits in order to be considered good. Personally, I hold to the latter – I think they were being descriptive. What do y’all think?

Tribute to Freedom Chic Part 4: A Conversation with Time

This is our last tribute post to Cassandra Clifton.  We will miss her, and wish her all the best.  Hopefully next week we should have a post from a new author (…as long as she gets me the draft on time…).

There are times in everyone’s life when one moment changes everything. Many times we ignore this moment and condescendingly pass over it, deeming it too insignificant to spare it thought. And yet, these moments, small as they seem, change everything.

If I could have a talk with Time, I would probably spend my time alternating between yelling at him and begging him. As for his part, Time would respond with a mixture of paternal advice/concern/amusement (after all, he’s not called Father Time for nothing) and a slight air of condescending philosophical jargon. I mean, what can you expect from the guy who lived through Socrates, Aristotle, and Nietzsche?

Me: Do you have any idea how much you trouble you’ve caused me? Really, would a little warning be too much to ask for?

Time: My dear girl, as much as the thought that you are in trouble grieves me, what would have changed if I had given you warning. Yes, you may have evaded trouble for now, but your entire life would have taken a different path.

Me: That’s the point! I want my life to take a different path. Please, turn back time and let me get off this dead end road.

Time: And, where exactly would you get off. Any single point will result in a complete restructuring of not only your life, but of you. Could you really pinpoint one specific second that you would change compared to another specific moment?

Me: Of course I can? I’m not talking about a second here, just one decision I should have said no to.

Time: Ahhh, I see. But, in all respects, why go back to that specific decision? Why not go back to before you were forced to choose; why not go back to your life before you got “caught up” in these affairs? And if that’s the case, why not go back to the time before that? Can you remember single moments, single decisions in each of these points that led you to the next phase?

Me: Single moments going back to the time before the time? Are you crazy? How could anyone understand what you’re talking about, let alone remember a moment of a time before a time.

Time: As I thought. And that is my point. There in a way, every second in a mortal’s life is a significant turning point. Every second can be a defining moment. Such being the case, one moment runs into the next moment, blurring the lines of significance.

See, any of these spots on your timeline could keep you from making your decision. But, you must realize what you will be giving up if you go back to any of these single moments. Friends you met will disappear. All other decisions you have made, whether good or bad will be forgotten. In fact, they will not exist. None of the things you have done in your life since that point will exist. This will, in turn, change the very nature of you. Are you willing to change you in order to undo one insignificantly significant moment?

Me: Oh, just forget it. I should have known better than to talk to a mythological figure designed to symbolize man’s need for control of his situation. I think I’ll go find Santa Claus. At least he has presents and a jolly laugh.

Unfortunately, not even the entirety of Santa’s magic could solve my problem. And, Father Time was right, even if our conversation only took place in the deranged recesses of my mind. How could I pinpoint only one spot on my timeline to reverse?

God, how could I have let Father Time mess with my head? I was perfectly content to let him take me back in time to that one point, and now I can’t even decide which point would be best. That’s the thing with mythological figments of your imagination. They are there because you dreamed them up out of a need, but inevitably, they go around changing your entire belief system until they have you convinced that they dreamed you up, and your entire life is dependent upon them.