Philosophy Challenge of the Week

C. S. Lewis, among others, argued that God was outside of time. Some have argued that God exists entirely within time, and that he must exist within time because there can be no meaningful concept of a being without fixed temporality. However, Lewis and others argued that if God was a temporal being, then God would be beholden to and controlled by temporality, which would make him something other than God, and thus Lewis argued that God must have a sort of timeless existence. Aquinas put forth the same idea in somewhat more philosophical terminology by arguing that God, if he was God, must exist in a true eternity which had no beginning, end, or progression. Man has all three: we begin at birth and progress through life to our end at death. Angels have two of the three, because though their existence is apparently indefinite, they had a clear beginning when they were created, and thus mark a progression from that beginning. God, however, has none of the three: he had no beginning and he will have no end, and thus he cannot progress from anything or to anything. Thus, for God all of eternity must be simultaneous, which can explain how God could know the future and how the distant past could be as yesterday for him. However, others have argued that such an existence is nonsensical, that any being that interacts with creation must interact with it in some form of meaningful progression, otherwise how could God distinguish between creation, crucifixion, and judgment. They argue that though God is not ‘beholden’ to time (i.e. trapped within it’s dauntless progress), he must meaningfully progress from point to point in order to distinguish them in a meaningful way. So this is my question for you today: assuming that a perfect, monotheistic God exists, how would such a being interact with time? I’ve given you three meaningful interpretations to work with, but if you have other ideas feel free to present your own.

As always, write me a story of 1000 words that presents and defends your answer to the question.

Your civilization did not survive 1000 years

I’m all about the details. There are few things in writing that irk me more than, “The kingdom began a thousand years ago.”

It hit me real hard with Elder Scrolls Online. “And we were here a thousand years. And them. Those guys were only 500 years, but they’ll be virtually unchanged by Skyrim which is in a few millennium.” It really hit me when people were complaining that the city of Mournhold does not look the same as its Morrowind counterpart. The events of the Nerevarine took place a thousand years later. These same people said how great it was the cities of Skyrim were incredibly similar. This set me off.

The question is not why does Mournhold look different. The question is why does everything else look the same? When I noticed this, I realized this happens all the time in fantasy. To give legitimacy we say, “It’s been around a thousand years.” That’s not realistic.

The longest lasting true dynasty was Chinese, around 500 years. I apologize, I cannot remember which dynasty it was.

“What about the Egyptians, Paul? They were around for three thousand years!” This was brought up. It’s a lie.

Egypt had countless dynasties, empires, kingdoms, and downfalls. For a few centuries in that three thousand year period they were even on the low end of the totem pole, fortunate to just be on the totem pole in an age when the utter destruction of your foe from the history books was common.

“But Paul, China. I mean, they were thousands of years.” Constant turmoil. China is one of the greatest examples of how decentralized government is a disaster. People came in and out of power quickly, and it was miraculous they held the longest lived dynasty.

“Rome.” Nope. Rome went through countless transition, often spurred on by the poor, and a fear the poor would actually demand rights from the rich. Eventually this led to Caesar, which then led to an incredibly weak Rome which was often sacked by folk who were bored and liked their victims witless and unarmed.

I get these are over simplifications of what actually happened, but the essence is there, and there are history books calling your name if you’re curious.

Those are the great and massive examples of how time wipes everything away, without mercy or discrimination. How about something smaller?

If someone from a century ago was thrown into New York City today, they would have no idea where they were. Skyscrapers reach the heavens, layers of old city create the bedrock for today’s modern vision. Rome has only a few landmarks that even slightly resemble its rich past. Cities, countries, societies all change.

For those familiar with NYC, this isn't quite what it looks like anymore. This is 1901. Buildings grew a little. Copyright probably Irving Underhill, currently in the United States Library of Congress (c) 1901
For those familiar with NYC, this isn’t quite what it looks like anymore. This is 1901. Buildings grew a little.
Copyright probably Irving Underhill, currently in the United States Library of Congress (c) 1901

For society, a hundred years ago we didn’t even have welfare. Today approximately 50% of the country benefits in some way through it. Practically overnight, Christians went from 300 years of being used as living lanterns to becoming the state religion. In under a century Islam went from one guy to conquering northern Africa, Arabia, a touch into western Asia, and the Iberian Peninsula, with sights on France and beyond. The world changes rapidly.

For your own fantasy setting, keep static establishments short. Even if ideas, religions, cities, and so on are centuries old, they are rarely ever the same as they once were.

Writing versus Editing: The Eternal Struggle

Which is more important: writing or editing?

Obviously, that’s an unfair question. To a serious writer in any type of writing, the answer should be “both.” The act of writing itself is essential because it gets you into practice and gives you raw material to work with. While your first draft probably won’t be great the very moment you put it down on paper, at least doing so gives you a draft that you can revise and improve later on. That’s where editing comes in. Even if your first draft is crap, editing lets you refine it and hone in on the good parts while weeding out the bad. Editing and revision, especially after you’ve gotten some feedback or taken some time to come at your work with a fresh perspective, are what can turn a decent story into a good one, or a good one into a great one.

Image taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Image taken from Flickr Creative Commons

For a good writer, writing and editing should of course go hand in hand. Without the act of first writing something, editing wouldn’t exist at all. And without the act of editing and continual revision over time, writing couldn’t be nearly as good as it is. So it seems impossible to answer the question of which one is more important.

And yet, nonetheless, I’m still trying to answer that question now.

Well, maybe I’m not asking which is more important–just which one I should work on now. Here’s why.

If you’ve read some of my other posts on this blog, then you might know that, with some exceptions, I haven’t worked on writing novels in a long time. Two years of grad school and other responsibilities will do that to you. Yes, I’ve still been writing throughout all this time, and not just for school. But since my free time has been sparse for a while, I’ve focused my attention more on shorter works, such as poetry, blogs, articles, parodies, and maybe one serious short story. While I once dreamed of writing best-selling novels (or even halfway decent ones), I’ve barely worked on any for at least two years–probably closer to three, really.

But now, all that could change. I finished my graduate degree last month and, for the first time in about two decades, have absolutely no intention of continuing my studies in the fall. It’s summer and I have plenty of free time to catch up on reading, Netflix, and perhaps even writing. I have at least a few friends (and/or family members) who are using this summer to work on novels, and I want to join them because at least a part of me misses it.

But there’s a couple of problems. First, I’ve been out of novel-writing for so long that I’ll really have to re-cultivate my motivation for it if I’m going to make any progress at all. Secondly, there are two different large projects that I’ve wanted to work on, and I don’t know which one to start with or to give my attention to first. And that’s where my conflict between writing and editing comes in, because one project is a full novel that needs editing, and the other is an unfinished novel that needs writing.

I’ll give you a quick summary of both:

My full-length novel is a superhero story, tentatively titled Fractured Heroes (although I’m still not fully satisfied with that

This is a cover I made for Fractured Heroes a while back. I commissioned the drawing from my friend Sharon and made the text designs myself.
This is a cover I made for Fractured Heroes a while back. I commissioned the drawing from my friend Sharon and made the text designs myself.

name). It follows an ensemble cast of seven main protagonists, all superheroes or crime-fighters of some sort, with various personalities and character flaws. Some are brutal and violent; some are cold and detached; some use the outlet of heroism to seek redemption from a past of guilt and shame. But when they uncover a dangerous super-drug and a plot to destroy their city, this disjointed group of heroes has to band together and rely on something greater than their individual selves. I wrote this story throughout 2010 and 2011 (it was long enough to be two NaNoWriMos, and then some), and it’s gotten good reviews from a few friends and online forum readers. At some point in 2012, I had a trusted friend read through it and make comments or suggestions about how it could be improved. So I have a large document full of my friend’s comments…and I have made very little progress since then in going through those comments or revising my story at all. However, I would love to revisit it and get it good enough to send to a publisher one day.

And the other story I’m working on is a futuristic, dystopian one called The Joining. A couple centuries into the future, society is built almost entirely upon romantic relationships and physical pleasure. On their eighteenth birthday, everyone is expected to choose a partner and be joined with them for life. But one seventeen-year-old boy doesn’t fit into his society’s customs and doesn’t like feeling rushed to commit so soon . What is he to do with his Joining ceremony fast approaching? I started working on this story sometime in 2012. I outlined the entire plot, so I know more or less what I want to write. And in all that time I’ve written a walloping two chapters, about ten pages or so. I’ve got a story in me and I want to get it out, but I just haven’t had the time!

Of course, I want to work on both of these projects eventually, so maybe this dilemma is a bit redundant. If I really planned it and worked at it this summer, then I could certainly do some of both. Still, since I haven’t done that yet, I’m a little torn, and I’m opening it up to input.

Which one do you, my faithful readers and fellow writers, think I should focus on more so? And why? Is it better to get a new story idea out of my head or to hone the one that’s closer to a finished product? Which story sounds more interesting to you? And do you have any wise advice for a long-dormant novelist trying to get back in the game?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Philosophical Story Challenge

The-clockHey guys, it’s Saturday once again so I’m here to bring you yet another philosophical story challenge. I want to keep this week’s challenge fairly simple so I’ve decided to give you all a topic that we’ve touched on once or twice before in past Philosophical Story Challenges: time. Philosophically speaking, time is a very interesting and confusing component of reality. Not only is it a somewhat arbitrary concept that would have no foundation outside of a solar system, but according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, it is also relative to speed. So we are faced with a sort of existential problem; our lives revolve around time and our concept of its passing, and yet it seems as if the only reason it exists is because we say it does and it is a convenient way of understanding our observations. So your challenge this week is this: write a story involving an absolute time. That is, instead of our arbitrary concept of time based on the revolutions of our planet on its axis and around our sun, create a setting in which there is an absolute time that holds true anywhere in the universe.

Philosophical Story Challenge

ImageHey everyone, welcome to the first Saturday of 2014! Hopefully it’s a good one so far. It’s time for another philosophical story challenge so for this week’s challenge I’ve decided to do the topic of time, which seemed apropos given the recent passing of another year. From a philosophical perspective it is easy to argue that time is completely arbitrary. If there were no sentient minds to count its passing then time as a unit of measurement would cease to exist. Sure, the sun would still rise and set and the moon would make its orbit but without anyone there to measure it, and without a fixed means of keeping track of it, time would hold as much value as the paper money we use in America. So your challenge today is to write a story involving a world or society in which the concept of time does not exist, or if it does exist, it does so in a way very different from our own concept of time. As always, please keep your stories under 1,000 words if you want to post them on here, but feel free to do more for your own personal writing. I hope you enjoy it! 

Time is(n’t) on your side

I saw on a site that there are a lot of issues writers need to overcome. One of them was time. And lets be honest, almost everyone out there comments on the issue of how writers don’t have time. I want to tell you why they all say this: it’s true.

I work from eight to five if I’m lucky. Otherwise I have business dinners, early mornings to prepare for meetings, friends who want me to play board games, brothers who like playing video games, working out so I don’t die of cardiac arrest, dating (this doesn’t take a lot of time for me, but some are luckier in love), reading, and numerous other activities. Some of you are in sports. Others crochet. Perhaps you like putting more than ten minutes into cooking so it tastes like something.

At the end of the day, we don’t have time. JK Rowling wrote on napkins in a cafe when she could. Stephen King was a high school English teacher, writing manuscripts in his free time. If you know what it takes to teach, I have no clue how this man did it and remained married and employed. I wrote my first draft while teaching, but it was only capable due to a break up. My family kept saying they were worried about me because of how much I kept to myself. I was writing. Check out other awesome steampunk wallpapers. Check out other awesome steampunk wallpapers.

The moral of the story is you don’t get to have time for the first book. You might not for the second, third, fourth, or any of them. Writing is sacrifice. You are pouring out your soul, and you either truly want to pour your soul out for all to fall in love with and rip to shreds, or you want to give into the desires of this world. That was a little over dramatic, but we are writers for a reason. However, it is true to a point. If you want to get that first book finished, you need to make sacrifices.

Prioritize what you want. If writing is what you want, make an hour or half hour for it each night, whether you’re writing, plotting, planning, creating in some facet, you need to give yourself that time. So this is a short motivational kick in the pants. If you want to write, you need to give it your time. It will be frustrating, like working out. It will be exhausting, like having a child (I exaggerate again). It will wear you down and chew you up. But you love it. That’s why you do it. And if you can’t give it this time, then you don’t love it yet. But don’t worry. Writing isn’t just a fling. It’s a committed relationship. The love can come with time.

Write well. I hope your NaNoWriMo is going well. I should be at 40,000 words by the time this publishes (or 42,000 if I’m really on pace for what I’m hoping). I haven’t won NaNo for the first three years in it. Now I’m in love. You can be too.

Dealing with Time

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

Neal and I have been talking about world building lately, and specifically about building magical systems for fantasy worlds. One issue that I’ve been dealing with recently in my own world-building is the issue of time. I’ve always avoided dealing with time-travel, or any serious kind of time magic, simply because it raises a lot of questions that I don’t honestly want to answer. However, I recently worked on a project for a friend (I really can’t say much more than that) that focused heavily on both time travel, and on blending the mystical/magical with the scientific. This project forced me to actually deal with issues of time-travel in background writing, and all of the problems that come with those issues (and trust me, there are plenty). However there are two common ideas that you may want to work into your own worlds that focus heavily on issues of time.

1) The World with Alternate Time: We all know the story of Rip Van Winkle, the man who went to sleep in a fairy circle, and when he woke up twenty, or a hundred, or two hundred (depending on who’s telling the story) years had passed.  For the record Washington Irving’s original story had him asleep for twenty years, and while he was asleep the American Revolution happened. However, while this idea is traditional in fairie stories, and a lot of fun, in broader fantasy worlds is causes innumerable problems. For instance, if time moves faster in Arcandia than it does in Bolan, then (when Arcandia and Bolan go to war) what stops Arcandia from sending wave after wave of freshly trained soldiers into Bolan. After all, if twenty years pass in Arcandia for every year in Bolan, Arcandia can grow an entire new crop of soldiers before Bolan can finish training their first. Arcandia’s soldiers can retreat, get a day of rest, and return before the Bolanian soldiers have had a chance to catch their breath. Similarly, trade between the two worlds will be equally problematic. Arcandian resources will be gathered much more quickly than Bolanian resources, Arcandian food crops will easily dominate Bolanian food crops, because in Bolan, the Arcandian crops will appear twenty time a year.

This piece is done by Peter Balogh. If you'd like me to take it down, just ask, but I hope you don't. It's kind of awesome.
This piece is done by Peter Balogh. If you’d like me to take it down, just ask, but I hope you don’t. It’s kind of awesome.

These issues aren’t entirely debilitating. For instance, perhaps the portal between Bolan and Arcandia only opens once every Bolanian year (i.e. once every twenty Arcandian years). Perhaps the inhabitants of Arcandia don’t care about Bolan, and thus don’t want anything to do with the Bolanians, or see them only as playthings (i.e. similar to the traditional Fey). Or perhaps the portal is brand new and these issues are things that you actually intend to make part of your story. How will the Bolanians deal with the much greater Arcandian global ‘metabolism’? This could make for a very interesting story in itself. However, these are issues that absolutely must be dealt with if you want to have differences in the passage of time. So, don’t run away from them.

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

2)Time Travel: We all like stories about time travel. Whether its Back to the Future or Timecop stories about time travel are interesting and fun. They spark the imagination, and make us wonder about possibilities. However, whether the travel is accomplished through magic or science, it causes problems. For instance, how do you deal with paradoxes? Do changes to the past actually, seriously impact the future? Does stepping on a butterfly in the cretaceous period actually make the human race into lizard people in the present? Every story answers these questions differently. For instance, Doctor Who plays with time at will with no apparently significant change on anything. In some X-Men comics we learn that every major event creates a new timeline, and thus changing the past doesn’t actually change your future, it just creates a new one. In Michael Chrichton’s Timeline we see that changing the past, even minor changes, directly influences the future.

Celebrity CityFor instance, perhaps the Romans used magic to go back in time in order to invade the Babylonian Empire, and were rebuffed. However, in doing so they inadvertently started the iron age, that then led to the invention of steel, which the Romans used to invade Babylon, thus starting the iron age. This is not a paradox, but a temporal circle. A temporal paradox would theoretically happen if a man went back in time and killed his grandfather, before his father was born. Thus his father would never be born, and he could not be born, and not being born he could never go back in time and kill his grandfather. Doctor Who deals with this issue using a ‘Paradox Machine’ that keeps the paradoxical events stable. However, when the machine is destroyed, the paradox never happens (see the series finale of Series 4 of the new Doctor Who). Thus time cannot allow a paradox to happen. Other examples (Star Trek for instance [see the series finale of Next Generation) theorize that a paradox could cause the end of all existence. Ultimately, time travel forces you to both keep track of your timeline, but also keep track of how time travel affects your time line. Think through this issues, deal with them one at a time, and make sure that you are consistent.

One of the beauties of alternate time and time travel is that it’s never happened. We have no idea what it would actually look like, or what might actually happen. There are lots of guesses, and very little actual knowledge. This means that, as long as you are sensible and consistent, fans will let you get away with a lot simply because there is so much room for you to play with. So, be sensible, be consistent, and think through your issues.

Write ALL the Things: Finding Time to Write with a Busy Schedule

"Writing" should be in there somewhere...
“Writing” should be in there somewhere…

Well…it’s mid-March, which means that right about now is a busy time for everyone, especially those of us who are pursuing higher education. Spring break is over, midterms and major papers are piling up, and shenanigans abound. I just finished all of my midterms and I’m currently trying to complete my thesis and several research papers that are all due around the same time. Plus I’m headed across the country this week for a 5 day international conference where I’m presenting part of my thesis to a room full of people I’ve never met. In other words, life is crazy. With my calendar so full, it’s really hard to find time to get any writing done, and I know many (if not all) of you have the same problem from time to time. So today, I’m going to talk about the importance of making time for creative writing, as well as some tips and tricks for finding said elusive time.

First of all: why do you need to make time in your very busy schedule for writing? There’s many reasons, of course, but I’m going to focus on just a few of them. To begin with, taking a break during extended periods of work/studying/research is good for your brain. Instead of watching TV or surfing the internet during this break, you should keep your brain engaged by working on fiction/creative non-fiction. You’ll keep your mind busy so that you won’t have quite as hard of a time getting back into the swing of your actual work, but you’ll be refocusing your energy into a different channel, exercising a different part of your brain while the overworked areas rest. Plus, if you’re like me, creative writing is actually fun, so you’ll be doing a form of work that you enjoy and will help you relax. Finding the time is also important because it keeps your ideas alive and prevents your creative writing skills from rusting. Writing is a skill, and like any other skill, if you go too long without using it, it’ll weaken. You have to find time to practice it so that you don’t run into difficulties when you finally have the time to “seriously write” again. Practice keeps your writing alive, people. Don’t kill it! Finally (for purposes of this post, anyway), creative writing is a good stress reliever. One of your teammates irritating you? Write them into a story and vent your frustrations that way (more on this in another post). Midterms freaking you out? Write a story incorporating some of the things you’ve been studying to reinforce what you’ve learned in addition to calming yourself down. Writing is quite honestly one of the best stress relievers I’ve ever come across – I’m convinced that I passed my Literary Criticism midterm because of it. But that’s besides the point. FIND TIME TO WRITE. *ahem* Anyway…

See this? Do it.
See this? Do it.

It’s easy to tell yourself that you need to write – the hard part is actually making the time, especially when you’re swamped with other work. Here’s some tips I’ve discovered over the past however many years it’s been since my life started going crazy:

1) Use writing as a reward. I don’t know about y’all, but when I have a ton of work to do, I have to motivate myself to get it all done by using the rewards system – finishing the 7th revision of my thesis = half an hour to do something fun, for example. So I use this time to get some creative writing done. It’s only short bursts of time, of course, but hey…I’ll take what I can get.

2) Work on shorter projects – leave the novel plans on the back burner. I’ve found that if I try to work on my novel when I have so much other work to do, I very quickly get either frustrated by not having enough time to work on it or I end up spending too much time on the novel and the rest of my work suffers. Instead, I work on shorter pieces of writing. I don’t completely abandon my novel – some of those smaller projects involve brief character sketches of the dramatis personae in my book, or a short tale covering the backstory of something important. Mostly, though, I write short stories. I get my writing practice without the frustration of the novel.

3) You don’t always have to write fiction. I was having a really stressful day last week, so I took a short break to write. I didn’t have a story in my head at the time, so I wrote some creative non-fiction, a short piece describing some of the thoughts in my head (maybe I’ll post it here later). I got the writing time, stress relief, and creative expression I needed, but I didn’t have to worry about an actual story. This method may not work for everyone, but it does for me.

4)  Carry a notebook/writing stuff with you everywhere. I’m at college, so I ride a bus a great deal. I also have short periods of time in between classes while I’m waiting for the professor to come in. I use those times to write down ideas or to flesh out characters. Again, it’s not much time, but it helps me relax and I get some creative work done.

Well, that’s all I have for today. I hope this helps some of you who may be struggling with finding the time to write. Do any of y’all have any tips or tricks for finding time?

Scene Challenge of the Week

It’s Wednesday yet again.  I know, it seems repetitive but really, time is always repetitive isn’t it? It just kind of goes round in circles. Of course, this could pretty quickly turn into a discussion of whether time is cyclical, linear, or… you know… a big mass of timey-wimey stuff. … …But we’re not going to do that! So, instead of debating the nature of time, I’m going to give you a prompt about it. You probably know the 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: ‘It had always confused him, the way everything seemed to run together, but the more John thought about it, the more he realized…’

Okay, have at it!

The Need to Let Things Fester

This isn’t nearly as gross as the picture that I wanted to use, but that one was licensed.

Sometimes writing takes time.  Actually, one of the most important parts of the writing process is giving stories/poems/whatever the time they need to form.  I’m sure that we all have a different way of expressing this, but in me… stories fester.  Many of my friends find this incredibly hilarious, which I’ve honestly never understood.  I think that the word fester perfectly sums up the writing process.  I know other authors who use words like ‘percolate’ or ‘ruminate’ to describe their writing, but these words cannot bring across the shear frustration that an unformed story can cause.

For instance, I am currently writing a story that is very late… almost two weeks late now, and it simply refuses to be written.  I’ve tried everything and the story still stymies progress.  It needs time to fester (of course, I don’t have that time at the moment… …).  A festering story is just what it sounds like.  It gets under your skin, into your brain, and just sits there, building like a pussy sore, taking up more and more space.  If you poke and prod it too hard it hurts, a lot sometimes, and trying to force it out can be excruciating.  However, when that story finally pops, and all the built up pussy fluids come bubbling out to leave only healthy flesh… well, that feels pretty amazing!

I promise you, there is nothing quite like finishing a work, especially one that’s been giving you trouble.  It’s an amazing feeling, to finally have everything out! Especially if it’s a story that’s been festering for a while.  A story that won’t right is like an infection, it’s painful, frustrating, and you just want to keep poking and picking at it until something breaks.  A finished story, well – that like finally being healthy again.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Anyway, I wrote this post at a friends request, and I think I’m going to leave off now.  I’m sure I’ve disgusted everyone enough… especially with that photo.  Smiles! Hopefully next weekend I’ll be back to world building tips.