Monday Challenge: Obey Gravity! It’s The Law!

Standing on the ground was overrated, anyway.

Been reading more science fiction lately, mostly in the form of short stories, because 1) my attention span in shorter in the summer and 2) the best way to keep what attention remains is through spectacle. I’m pretty sure that’s the reasoning behind every summer blockbuster ever made, but since I love meaningful explosions, I’m okay with it.

In science fiction, however, especially space exploration, it’s amazing how many planets are just like ours.

Sometimes it’s explained: terraforming, the space equivalent of gentrification, goes on a lot. Other times it’s not. And I get why: you want characters that relate to the (hopefully) human audience, so your aliens need some kind of bridge to make them easier to understand or feel sympathy for. This is the premise on which the entire original series of Star Trek is built.* Go to a strangely earth-like planet, bang one of the locals, leave. Probably with space herpes.

Of course, this is a vast generalization. There’s lots of science fiction out there in which the environments—and therefore those who live in those environments—look so different as to be nearly incomprehensible. That comes with its own set of difficulties: how do you explain the body language of a species with shared bodies? What expression indicates sarcasm in a hyper-intelligent shade of the colour blue? Nevertheless, at least these attempts show that someone’s trying to explore their own imagination. They’re thought of what it would be like if something in the physical world as we know it was different.

So, now you get to as well.

Monday Challenge: Write a scene in which one of the fundamental laws of nature (gravity, the speed of light, conservation of energy, the makeup of a breathable atmosphere, whatever) is different. Maybe it was always different, maybe it just changed in the last five seconds**. Either way, find a thread of change and follow it to see where it leads.

*Well, that and the limitations of budgets and special effects in those days.

**Though if it’s breathable atmosphere that’s changed, that’s going to be a short scene.

Monday Challenge: In Between

No airport I’ll be in will look this cool.

I’m probably in an airport right now. What airport, on what continent, I don’t know yet, since I can never remember the time zone conversions, but if you’re passing through one and you see a woman wearing a giant robot t-shirt sacked out in a departure lounge chair re-reading Harry Potter and the Something of Something for the millionth time, say hi. It might not be me, but she still sounds pretty cool.

Airports are weird places. They’re in between. A place you pass through on your way somewhere else. Which only makes it weirder when you have to spend time there. There’s the distinct impression that you should be moving on.

They’re not the only places like that. Waiting rooms, bus stations, other people’s guest rooms, hotels, highway rest stops…these are places that you inhabit only temporarily. No matter how welcoming, no matter how comfortable, you will leave. That’s the point. Unless you’re that guy from The Terminal.

Monday Challenge: write me an in between place. A place you’re not supposed to stay. What makes it that kind of space? What hints did the builders add in to make it perfectly clear that you have to go? Uncomfortable chairs? Awful paint scheme? Chorus of shrieking demons? And what’s it like when your character has to stay there?

I’m going on the hunt for a power outlet.

 

Monday Challenge: Places and Faces

Can you feel the hate?

Today’s writing challenge is a shameless homage to one I did in a writing workshop a couple of years ago. This post captures the essence of it, but for the non-clickers, it was about writing places. New ways to look at settings. I learned a lot of stuff in that workshop that I still use. When it comes to writing techniques, I am like the little old lady with a pocket full of string: never throw anything away that might, eventually, turn out to be useful.

Usually, when I think of places having souls, I picture urban environments. Maybe it’s the concentration of people, or the very human marks we leave on the landscape, but I just find it easier to put a face to the place. To figure out who that neighbourhood is, not what. But I feel like stretching out today, so let’s look at non-human habitations. They don’t have to be rural or isolated, but the human presence shouldn’t factor in.

Monday Challenge: Take an inhuman landscape and tell me who they would be if they were a person. Discard human furnishings like buildings and roads and nuclear power plants; tell me about the land and the sky.

For example, if I was to look out my window, the backyard thus viewed would likely turn into an icy, cruel, androgynous figure with a smile like a razor blade and long, blackened nails tap-tapping on the glass. Come out, it says. You have to come out sometime.

Like fuck I do.

I showed you mine. Now show me yours.

Monday Challenge: That House Is Looking At Me Funny

This house probably has a panel van it wants to show you. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s talk about places.

If you spend time in a place, you might start to feel like it has…something. Maybe a soul, if you’re feeling like a hippie today. Maybe a spiritus loci. Maybe just a tingling in your spider sense.  But, whatever you call it, some places feel, in your heart and related organs, like more than assemblages of concrete and wood and dust. They have a presence.  It could be the amount of time you spend there, or the people you associate with it, or the things that happen within those walls, if there are walls. Or it could just be a feeling, without logic that you could use to explain it to someone else.

I used to make playlists for writing based on characters. I still have some of those, but lately I’ve been making ones based on settings. The garage where a character works. The garage that she owns later on. The bar where they gather. The lair of the enemy. The streets where a few of them grew up. The smoking crater where the truth finally came out.

Draw inspiration from your own life. Where do you go that has a soul, even if it’s not a very nice one? Maybe your work feels like a grey vampire, stealing your life. Maybe your home feels like a flock of squabbling crows, noisy and intrusive. Maybe your favourite coffee shop feels like a pretty girl curled up in her coziest sweater with a good book, ready to relax.

Settings have character. They do more than just provide a place for your characters to stand while they work out whatever problems you’ve set them. They add tone, they help or hinder, they create a feeling.

And they could use a little love from you today.

Monday Challenge: if a setting—city, street, house, room—were a person, what kind of person would they be? What would they look like, sound like, smell like? How would they act? What kind of music do they listen to, or do they hate music? Are they on your side? What are they hiding in their pockets/under their floorboards?*

What do they want?

*I realize the metaphors are getting mixed now. Though I like the idea of a person with floorboards. Sounds vaguely steampunk.

Monday Challenge: Misplaced

English: A yellow couch on a rocky cliff beach...

Something’s not quite right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am coming to you this morning from a strange location: the couch.

I know: I work at home, so I must fucking live on the couch, right? I must wallow in its cushioned embrace until its corduroy lines are imprinted over my tattoos. Its seat must contain lost pens and index cards and story notes to the point where it will someday be examined by future generations as the only known example of a sentient, book-writing piece of furniture.*

Not the case. I mentioned ages ago that I was switching to a standing desk, but even before that, I didn’t usually write on the couch. For one thing, it’s too goddamned comfortable. Too much time on this thing, especially in warm weather, and I’m down for the Odin Sleep. For another, it just doesn’t feel right. I prefer to work at a dedicated workspace.

In other words: couches are for reading, sleeping, and having sex on. Not for working.

The problem at the moment is that I am in the process of replacing my old desk, a lovely 1940s piece, with a big-ass drafting table that I bought from a friend’s mom. The drafting table had to be repainted, so it’s out on the deck waiting for the third coat of Gloss Apple Red–also known as Really Fucking Red–to dry. The old desk is currently enjoying its new life as a bar. Which leaves me with the temporary standing desk I was using for the last couple of months, but there’s so much junk around from the process of moving furniture and reorganizing that I can hardly fit the computer on between the photos, pellet guns, and brass knuckles.

The point of this complaining is that I am, at the moment, out of place. This is not where I should be.*** And the cognitive dissonance is weirding me the fuck out. I might as well be writing in my bathtub. Or in bed.

Today’s Monday Challenge: write someone who is out of place. They are somewhere they do not belong, and they know it. Where are they? Why are they there? What are they going to do about it?

I’m going to go check and see if my desk is dry yet.

*King of Naps: One Couch’s Perspective on Recliners and Other Pretenders To The Throne by Thaddeus P. Chesterfield.**
**Shit, I think I just named my couch. Now I feel weird about sitting on it.
***I will note that I am perfectly capable of writing in other places outside my home. Those are fine. I mentally categorize them as ‘temporary workspace’. The couch, on the other hand, is resisting all attempts at relabelling and insisting that I must be here for a nap.

Monday Challenge: Scorcher

I

Barbecue

Sacrifice to the burning god of summer. (Photo credit: Seguromy)

do not deal well with heat.

It’s true. For every degree it is above twenty Celcius, I lose about three IQ points. By the time it gets over thirty, I’m in trouble. If it gets to 35, I might as well be brain dead. In fact, I am brain dead. Ask me to do a puzzle and I’ll probably just eat it.

If anyone finds my brain wandering alone of the side of Highway 104, please bring it home to me. I miss it.

I’m not a summer person, as you can tell. All I want to do is find a place with air conditioning and camp out. Which explains why I’ve seen so many movies this month.* But, since I am no longer a student**, summers are no longer free time. There’s writing to do. There’s editing to get done. There’s submission letters and queries and proposals to wrangle into shape and ship off in the night, like packages of ebola.

And I’m not the only one. I note on my newsfeed and my other tendrils of information that there are others out there, slogging away in the heat. Doing Iron Writer challenges. Taking a notebook to the beach. Writing at two in the goddamned morning to avoid the discomfort of your fingers sticking to the keys in humid weather.***

To those people: you’re awesome.

So I’m here with a tall cold glass of inspiration for you on this sun-scorched day.**** The Monday Challenge: tell me how the heat feels. Go outside if you have to, or stay in the shade, but tell me about the sun sliding down the side of the house, the hot breeze coming off the ocean, the smell of the grass withering in the front year or of flowers bursting into bloom. I want to hear about grass fires and BBQs, drought and beaches, sunstroke and tanning.

Love it or hate it, we’ve got to deal with it for at least another little while. Might as well pin it down on the page where you can deal with it.

*By the way, Pacific Rim: you should see it. Unless you hate giant robots and awesomeness.
**Thank all the known and unknown gods. Because of my studies, I still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night, thinking I have an exam the next day.
***All right, this one might have been me. Because that feeling is fucking disgusting.
****Seriously, I’m not going outside unless I’m wearing SPF 1,000,000.

Monday Challenge: Open the Door

Backpackers

We’ve got a long way to go. (Photo credit: garryknight)

We are going on a trip.

Yes, I mean us. You and me. Bare Knuckle Writer and Bare Knuckle Reader. Do you mind if I call you Read? Really? Too bad, I’m doing it anyway.

No, you don’t need to pack. Not even a toothbrush. Where we’re going, you won’t need anything.* Just your eyes and maybe a few words. Because, when we get where we’re going, you’re going to need to tell me about it.

You see, there’s a door. It’s down below. It takes you…somewhere. That’s all the information I can give you. Just somewhere. Probably on this planet. But it might just be a copy that’s been placed somewhere else. A mirror universe, an alternate dimension. There might be another you here. There might be something worse.

That’s another thing: going through the door could be…weeeeeell, it might be a little dangerous. Just a little. Maybe two littles. But no more than that.

Well, unless you open the door onto something really fucked up. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

What? No, of course everybody comes back. Like, ninety percent of the time. Well, ninety percent of ones I thought would make it back. So…maybe fifty percent total. And I’m pretty sure the ones who didn’t return were just, you know, busy or something. I don’t put any stock in the blood on the floor. That could have been from anything. It might not have even been blood. I certainly wasn’t going to walk through the door and find out.

This trip is the Monday Challenge, and here is your task, Read: Tell me where you are. I won’t be able to see it, not unless you show it to me. So use your words. What does it look like? What do you imagine it smells like? What sounds are there?

And why have you been sent here?

Ready? Time to open the door. And good luck out there.

You’re going to need it.

The Secret Door

The Secret Door is presented by Safestyle UK

*What? No, not because you’ll be dead. Fuck, what do you people think I am? You’ll be scarred for life at the worst.

Monday Challenge: Into the Mist

We went hiking on Saturday. The trail we went to is the Skyline, one of the most popular in the province because of its incredibly scenic views.

However, this was what we saw:

Behold the amazing panorama of the Skyline Trail!

Behold the amazing panorama of the Skyline Trail!

Amazing, right? Looks like the inside of a ping pong ball. The weather, which was supposed to clear well in advance of our trek, did not. Weather can be a dick like that. The whole world beyond those rocks had vanished, to the point where we couldn’t even see the cliff edge. Seemed like a good day to stay on the trail, I must say.  

But as we were sitting on the lookout in the middle of a cloud and eating lunch, we started talking about what we would say we saw when our friends asked us how the hike went. Because no one is going to admit they went on a ten kilometer hike known for its spectacular view and admit they saw nothing, right? But if you’re going to embroider the truth, you might as well spray paint the fuck out of it.

So we started passing ideas around. About what could be out there, just beyond sight. And, man, in that kind of fog, it could have been anything. Popular choices included sea monsters, space ships, mer-coyotes*, big ominous rocks, and Narnia.

So, here’s your Monday Challenge, writers: what’s out there?

*Predator of the deeps.

Monday Challenge: Nothing But The Rain

Rain, Rainy weather

Grab your gun and bring in the cat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the rain. The sound of it falling on the roof of my sun room*, the smell, being out in it…there’s something clean about it. I turn off my music on mornings like this one and just listen to it falling, dripping off the edge of the roof, splashing on the deck. It’s as close to being zen as I can get.

Weather is an important part of story telling. Not the most important, maybe, but the right weather creates an atmosphere that can’t be missed. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical ‘rain when it’s sad, sunny when it’s happy’ shit. That’s lazy. I mean the soft fall of snow piling up outside during a funeral, making the hush of the service spread out into the world. The pitiless revealing glare of the sun to someone who has secrets. The never-ending overcast sky of a planet shielded from attack from orbit. The cold breeze against the your skin at the edge of the world.

Today’s Monday Challenge is to write your weather. Go outside if you have to, taste it in the air. Hear the way it changes the street, smell the rain or the dust on the breeze. Feel it on your skin.

Then come back inside and write about it. Tell me what it is, either on your own or through a character.

What do you hear?

Nothing but the rain.

*Yes, ironically named, I know.

Monday Challenge: Player of Games

Trivial Pursuits

After this, we play Battlegammon. (Photo credit: Alice Bartlett)

Everyone enjoy their weekend? Mine was nice. Lots of games, board and otherwise. I played the British Xbox version of Trivial Pursuit and tried to guess who all those ‘football’ players were. Very confusing, and not at all helped by the ever-so-slightly condescending voice of the announcer. And, with a bribe of pie, we learned to play our friend’s Battlestar Galactica board game. I also discovered that I am a Cylon, and, with my fellow Cylon, succeeded in destroying humanity. Oh, and there was some Firefly in there, too. Good weekend.

Leisure time defines who we are. You look at the way someone spends their free time, and you think you know something about them. Based on my weekend (games of all varieties, sketches of tabletop RPG characters, victory brunch after destroying humanity as a frakking toaster), an observant person would correctly assume that I am kind of a nerd, but a social one. They might also notice that I have a penchant for playing the bad guy, but nothing can be drawn from this. Pure coincidence.

Anyway.

The Monday Challenge for this week should really be the Sunday Challenge, because it concerns leisure time, but the Posting Schedule is all-powerful and cannot be denied. Invent a pass-time for your characters. Anyone who watched Battlestar Galactica remembers Pyramid and Triad, the games that survived the apocalypse. Harry Potter fans all know Quidditch, of course. And let’s not forget Tri-Dimensional Chess, first created in Star Trek and later developed into a real game.* Blernsball, Tall Card, Electro-Magnetic Golf, Jiggly Ball, Pod Racing, Double Cranko, Calvin Ball, Sabacc…there are a lot of these. And with reason. People can’t just sit around and advance the plot all the time. They get bored and they need something stupid to do, usually while drinking. Hence the games.

So, what are these characters doing when they’re gathering in the break room? This is not just for writers of alt-world fiction—feel free to make up the rules to Inter-Office Hockey Joust. Or Rebound. Or Guerrilla Catan. And then write a scene in which someone plays it, and then loses horribly.

But remember: choose your stakes carefully.

*A fucking hard real game.