Plot Challenge of the Week

Happy New Year! Welcome to the wonderful year of 2016, in which all of your dreams will not come true and you will find that the future is much like the past in a great many ways. I used to operate under the illusion that each new year would bring with it some magical change of fortune and that this year (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, etc) would be my year in which everything would change. Don’t get me wrong, the last two years have brought a lot of changes–I got into and finished a Th.M. program at Southeastern, I met, wooed, proposed to, and married Alayna, I am applying for Ph.D. programs, and I finally got out of credit card debt–but none of these have happened ‘magically.’ Honestly, I do credit Alayna with a lot of these things. Honestly, if I hadn’t met her I’m not convinced that any of the rest of it would have happened. That being said, I stopped looking to the future to solve all my problems a few years ago. 2011 taught me that. In 2011 I finally landed a teaching job, after four years of applying to various online schools, and I thought–this year is going to be the year where everything changes. It didn’t. That year I was rejected by multiple women (true to form), rejected by a couple of schools (also true to form), and made less money than I ever had in my adult life (in 2011 I made less than $5000 between teaching and delivering Chinese food). I was also kicked out of my apartment because the owner stopped paying her mortgage and went through the driest spiritual period of my Christian life–a time when I truly thought that God had abandoned me and the only time since my conversion to Christianity that I have seriously contemplated suicide. All in all, 2011 truly and thoroughly sucked… of course it also laid the ground work for many other things–while my teaching job didn’t do much in 2011, it has been my longest term, most lucrative, and most thoroughly enjoyable employment. Getting kicked out of my apartment set me up to start living with a group of guys who led me to the apartment where Alayna’s friend would (several years later) become my roommate and introduce me to her (if I hadn’t been kicked out of my apartment I probably never would have met him or her). Also, that incredibly dry spell that made me contemplate suicide… God used it to teach me to seek for a deeper level of spiritual experience and relationship with him than I’d ever had previously, and to begin teaching me the virtue of joy… which I’d never had previously. So, all in all, while 2011 was a horrible year, it was also a wonderful year. It’s interesting how things work out that way, isn’t it? However, it also taught me that a new year doesn’t make old problems go away. Only hard work, perseverance, and providence do that. There is nothing magical about the changing of a year. So, will 2016 be the year that I finally lose some weight… hopefully. However, it’s not going to be because the year changed… it’s going to be because Alayna has inspired and pushed me to start a medically guided diet and exercise program at her hospital that focuses on building sustainable healthy habits, and because God gives me the perseverance to actually do it. Anyway, I do 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:

(Image Source)
(Image Source)

Philosophical Story Challenge

chinese-new-year-3613-hd-wallpapersHey guys, it’s Saturday again so I’m here to bring you another Philosophical Story Challenge. To start us off in the Chinese New Year I’d like us to dissect the idea of bettering ourselves. It seems a common theme throughout history that humanity recognizes its flaws and tries to improve itself as a whole, yet I find it hard to think of where (apart from different religions) we get this idea of a better human race. Are we just projecting our ideals back onto ourselves? What makes them more ideal than the real world we live in? These are some important questions that you should consider as you write your stories this week. The topic itself is this: What does the ideal society look like, in your opinion? As always, please keep your stories under 1,000 words, and good luck!

Scene Challenge of the Week

happy-new-year-fireworksWelcome to 2014, everyone! As we ring in the new year I hope that all of you will take some time to reflect on the year gone by. What was good about it? What was bad? What did you learn? How did you grow? What has changed about you and why? Have these changes made you a better person? I think that introspection is very important in our lives, and often we’re in too much of a hurry to actually take the time to do it well. So, in all of your introspection, I want you to write a short allegorical scene. If you don’t know what allegory is: very simply allegory is a one to one metaphorical comparison from reality to fiction. A good example of allegory is C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In his stories the character of Aslan is a clear allegory for Christ, and the character of Tash is a fairly clear allegory of Satan. J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have often had allegory attributed to them (for instance, the Ring in Lord of the Rings has been considered an allegory for sin, nuclear power, and political power respectively), but these allegories are much less clearly intended, and Tolkien (along with many Tolkien scholars) have denied that any true allegory exists. So, here are the rules for a scene challenge: 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: “A lot can happen in a year…”

Happy New Year! Now Write.

Happy New Year’s Eve! I hope you have some amazing plans which may or may not be remembered in the morning.

The years come and go and we make our resolutions. The gym will be ridiculously busy the next month, so I’ll be going in late at night. People will start their great novel. You know the one, where they’ve started it on January first for the past three years and by January 14th, it’s a leaf blowing in the wind.

Some of you participated in NaNoWriMo. A few of you beat it. You didn’t wait for the new year to say “I’m going to write a novel.” You didn’t spend months writing 50,000 words. You did it in four weeks. That’s how you show a resolution who is boss.

This is all leading up to something that isn’t really advice as far as how to write or develop what you create. It is the one piece of advice I’ve found basically universally useful. I only say basically because I generally don’t like stating absolutes. The one piece of advice, I’m sure you’ve heard it a thousand times, I’ve sure I’ve written it, but it consists of one word: Write.

In this new year, whatever you do, if you mean to become a writer of whatever path, write. Don’t look back, don’t spend all your time planning, don’t give in to making a map for two weeks and getting nothing done with your words. Just write.

I get it. It's Tough Mudder. Same concept, though. Want another fun challenge this year? I highly suggest this.
I get it. It’s Tough Mudder. Same concept, though. Want another fun challenge this year? I highly suggest this.

Want to know why you should write? There will come a point where you look at your words on the page and lift your nose at it. It smells like feces stuck to the bottom of your shoe on a hot and humid day. You don’t write a miraculous first draft. No one does. Once that first smelly piece of dung is out of your fingers, you can riffle through the pile for what’s worthwhile. But make sure the pile is all there or you’ll stop passing your first draft. Because what you find in there, I’m not going to lie, it’s scary. It’s scary as…. Well you get the idea.

I hope you write. I hope you show the world that vision stuck in your head. It’s a lot of work. You will write tens of thousands of words, maybe hundreds of thousands, before something really looks good. But I hope you think it’s worth it.

Happy new year. Thank you for reading the Art of Writing. Hope you’ve learned something and hope you’ve found some ideas and inspiration.

Sunday Picture Post

So, I wanted to find you an awesome picture with which to ring in the new year. Well, from experience, I can now tell you that if you type ‘New Year’s Fantasy’ into a google image search you get a very strange melange of results. However, a few of them are fairly awesome, and this one in particular was pretty, thoroughly amazing! So, happy New Year!… China style apparently…


Scene Challenge of the Week

Skull-and-Crossbones-Spatula_26485-l-1-500x333Well, the theme of the new year, at least for our blog, is new things! Well… that’s my theme anyway. So, the next few months you’re going to be seeing a lot of new variations in the challenge posts. So, yesterday was New Years day, and I hope all of you enjoyed it! If not, well, then I hope today heralds a better start to the new year for you. So, the rules for the scene challenges: 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 for this scene: You must write a scene that is at least 300 words long without using any adjectives. Start your scene with the following phrase: ‘John whipped his spatula through the air…”

Have a ton of fun with this! I hope that the new scene challenges really challenge you and grow your writing!

Confessions of a Crazy Writer, Part 3: Happy Endings are Boring

Captain Ironical himself.
Captain Ironical himself.

Now that all the stress and rush of Christmas is over, I can get back to my series on things in writing that I have trouble with or dislike and how I overcome those issues (you can find part 2 here). Since it’s January 1, 2013, and since the world didn’t end a week and a half ago and the year in general seems to have ended well, I thought I’d kick my posts of for this year with a little bit of irony (I love being “all ironical,” as Captain Malcolm Reynolds would say). So, let’s kick off the start of the year with a post on endings.

As you have probably figured out from the title of this post, I hate writing happy endings to stories. I really, really do. You can ask Tobias, Katherine Jones, or any of the people who are familiar with my work if you know any of them. You may have even figured it out for yourself by now, since most, if not all, of the stories I have posted for y’all to read have been rather on the morbid side (my boyfriend would tell me that that’s an understatement, and he’s probably right). Now, it’s not that I dislike reading stories that end with joyous circumstances; I do. Really….many of my favorite books end happily. I just do not like writing them. I find them dull and boring and difficult to write. Not many people can write them well, either – they usually come off sounding cliched, which I think would also be one reason why I avoid them. The main problem for me most likely is that I’m interested in the Dark Side, so to speak. I like looking at how things would be with darker endings instead of the expected lighter ones (that, and I like torturing my characters, but that’s a post for another week). I also, as I’ve mentioned before, write from a mainly psychological point of view, and troubled villains are just so much more interesting than noble princes who save the day and rescue the girl (plus, as Tobias wrote about so well, heroes are hard, and I just don’t care about them enough to really put much time into working on writing them) . I don’t care about the latter, I’d much rather write about the former, and things rarely turn out well for them. Of course, in my writing, sometimes the villain does win, and that’s where the unhappy ending happens. It all depends on how I’m writing the story. I think I’ve written maybe 5 stories in which no one dies and the final outcome of the story is a happy one (of those, one is an allegorical work, so I don’t know if that even counts). I prefer writing tragedies. They’re so much more interesting.

He's far more interesting than Dudley DoRight.
For example, I’d rather write about Snidely Whiplash. He’s far more interesting than Dudley DoRight.

So, what do I do to resolve the issue? I don’t, really. From my point of view, there’s nothing wrong with writing stories that don’t have happy endings. Of course, as a result, I do have that pesky problem of not being able to write heroes very well in certain stories (I actually satirize myself in one of my longer stories called “The Villain of the Piece” – I can’t share it with y’all yet because it’s part of my thesis. Maybe this summer you’ll get to see it.), but I’m ok with that since I don’t write many heroes. I do try to get better with them sometimes – I write out character sketches and get some of my writer friends to critique them and help me polish them up until said heroes are somewhat realistic. And, on occasion, I write a short story that does end well, just to shake things up and throw my readers off guard. It’s a great deal of fun, that. But anyway, I think happy endings are boring, and I try to avoid writing them whenever possible. What are your thoughts about them? Happy New Year, everyone. I look forward to another year of blogging and reading comments from y’all!

New Beginnings: To Psychology and Addictions

Inside the head are stores of philosophies that drive everything we do and say. Psychology at its most basic.

I had been planning on posting part of a new story I have been writing to celebrate my return back to the blog, but then my reason gave me a knock or two on the head, making me think that my short story may not make a very auspicious beginning to the New Year with its rather morose tone. I have never been a fan of New Year resolutions. But, I do love what the New Year symbolizes – a fresh start, a clean break, a revitalization of the spirit. It is not necessarily the best time for a story about a young girl lost in a world of brokenness and depravity. It seems to me that should come after all of the new resolutions have been broken, not before they’ve had a chance to begin.

So, in the spirit of fresh starts, I’m going to use this post to introduce/reintroduce myself to this blog and its loyal readers and to clue you in on my plans for my future posts in this coming new year. Hopefully, if I tell you my plans now, I will hold to them.

In the past year I have come to understand more fully the meaning behind, “Write what you know.” In light of this adage, I wrote “Asylum.” While I had been writing a page here and a page there on several storylines, nothing really came together quite as easily as “Asylum” came to me. Why?

Because I know pain and chemical imbalances. I know art and music. I am drawn towards darker subject matters, not because of the plots and characters themselves, but because of the psychology moving the characters and causing the plots. Even as a history major, my specialty was identifying causes and effects, tracing chains of events through hundreds of years. For everything, there is a reason. And I love digging into the emotional, and often damaged, depths of those reasons found in the human psyche.

Emily Grierson from "A Rose for Emily"
Emily Grierson from “A Rose for Emily”

I also love short stories, even more so than novels. I still remember reading Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” They were my gateway to short story addiction. Short stories offer the reader only a glimpse of a life as compared to a novel, which can span years. Still, within that glimpse lies a profound and magnified experience that can engage the mind in realm after realm of thought. Whereas a novel gives you a detailed description of point A to point B, short stories often retain a specific focus and minimalized plot which is often enhanced by the writing style.

So, over the next few weeks, and possibly months, I will be using my own writing to explore different aspects of psychology. I will be posting a mixture of informative blogs on various aspects of psychology in writing, short story analyses and summaries, and a few of my own short stories and short story excerpts.

In order to get the ball rolling, for those of you unfamiliar with “A Rose for Emily,” let me be the first to introduce you.  May it be your gateway to addiction.

Long Days, Short Years

I found this Left Behind-worthy picture here...
I found this Left Behind-worthy picture here…Credit to where it’s due.

Since the world didn’t end yesterday, I have the privilege of writing to all of you again. Indeed, with the end of the world behind us, Christmas is just a few days away. New Year’s is a week after that. Where has the time gone? I had an uncle who used to say that you know you’re getting older when days are long and years are short. At first I didn’t understand what my uncle meant, but time has revealed the truth of his saying. With increasing responsibilities and cares, individual days become long and heavy. But looking back over months from the vantage point of a holiday like Christmas or New Year’s, everything seems to have passed by so quickly.

Long days, short years – I think we tend to shrug off sayings like these because we don’t think they have any meaning or relevance. “For goodness’ sakes, they’re just sayings!” Ironically, we think they have no meaning not because they don’t, but because we can’t see their meaning at the moment. Words of advice like this are borne out of years of experience and reflection, and though my uncle wasn’t an academic or trained philosopher, he knew a great deal about life from having lived it.

This saying encapsulates a basic tension in life – a paradox: the tension between the urgent and the important, between the dull and the quickening, between the necessary and the interesting, between the mediocre and the beautiful. All of the foregoing adjectives describe the things that make individual days long and heavy. But all of the latter adjectives describe those things that we celebrate on holidays or commemorative occasions. The great bulk of time is occupied with the mundane, the unpleasant, the humdrum – such as chores around the house, work, school, errands, meetings, driving, riding the bus or subway, and the list goes on (everyone can make their own list, I’m sure). Only occasionally, and oftentimes at the least expected moment, do we experience the beautiful, good moments when life seems to be as it ought to be, when we catch a glimpse of the truth and there is rest – at least for a little while – for our weariness and striving.

One of the all-time best Christmas shows!
One of the all-time best Christmas shows!

Perhaps the goal of life is about finding that rest, permanently. It seems everyone is searching for that same rest in every way imaginable. St. Augustine famously said that we are restless until we find rest in God through Jesus Christ. At this time of the year, I simply affirm Charlie Brown’s complaints against commercialism and hope that this Christmas and New Year’s is more than presents and food and superficial, passing happiness. I hope it’s a time that helps us reflect on life’s goal and purpose; that will reorient our minds on what really matters. Just as Christmas is more than material presents, life is more than the routine and necessity of everyday. On this, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope we attain the rest we seek.

Scene Challenge of the Week

So pretty!

It’s the first Wednesday of the new year…something makes me think that’s important…I’m not sure what…new year…new year ;).  Really though, first Wednesday of the new year means first Scene Challenge of the new year.  I’m sure that everyone knows that rules, but just in case: I provide you with the beginning of a scene (from a phrase to two sentences) and you finish 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 Scene:

“Snow covered the ground, white powder that reminded Zarren of…”