Monday Challenge: No One Rides For Free

You can get a lift, but it’ll cost you.

Let’s talk about compromises.

Your characters, if they do anything interesting at all*, will sooner or later have to make deals with other characters. And those other characters will want things in return. Things that your character might not want to give. But, if an agreement is to be reached, they will. Or they won’t, and there’s no deal.

This is about cost. As the old saying goes, ass, gas, or grass: no one rides for free.

It’s especially true in fiction. If conflict is the essence of story, then why make things easy for your protagonist? Don’t give them a free ride. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, anyone who gets things too easily is either boring or hated. Either way, not protagonist material.

What is your character willing to pay in order to get something? What kind of deal will they make? And with whom? Are they sure they can trust that person? And, if they’re not, then why are they making the deal?

Monday Challenge, kiddies: Write someone making a deal at great personal cost. What kind of deal, what kind of cost? Hey, that’s your call. You expect me to do everything around here?

Now, go write.

*And if they don’t, then, seriously, why are you writing about them?

Monday Challenge: Wrong Tool For The Job

WHIRRRRRRRR

Some mornings, the inspiration is thin on the ground. Sometimes it’s just one of those things. Other times, you might have missed all three of the cups of coffee you normally would have had by now and you’re pretty sure that some indispensable part of you brain is now misfiring.

….Guess which one today is.

But writing cannot depend on external stimuli, not even that which comes from the sweet, sweet black death I call coffee. So, despite the dangerously low caffeine levels, I must still get ‘er done today.

Doesn’t mean I can’t cheat outsource it get creative, though.

Remember my post last week about getting with other creative people? Aside from helping you solve those knotty plot problems, they can also be a target of whiny morning texts when you can’t think of anything to write about.

Remember, my little word-goblins: when things just aren’t coming, there’s no harm in calling in a little outside help.

Today’s Monday Challenge is brought to you courtesy of Krys C Wanders, who had the misfortune to still be awake when I started texting her for ideas this morning.

Somewhere between the meme pictures, slashfic suggestions, and gay sex allusions, she came up with this:

Monday Challenge: write a character using something in a way it’s not meant to be used.*

This can be successful or not. For everyone MacGyver-ing themselves an armoured car out of a riding lawnmower and a bucket, there’s someone hammering in a nail with a live mortar shell. For the chick using a guitar as a blunt instrument**, there’s some dude using a cat as a toupee.

Give me your screw ups and your amazing feats of ingenuity. Possibly performed by the same person.

I’m going to try to use this green tea like coffee.

*Come to think of it, this could be slashfic as well.

**Instrument. Get it? Eh?

Monday Challenge: Eye/Nose/Sensing Tentacle of the Beholder

The object of the game was to make the Beholder realize it was beautiful just the way it was.

Ever get weirdly thoughtful about how your cat sees you?

No, I’m not high.

I’ll back up a little.

I was doing some reading the other day on sensory perception. How it differs across species. And across time; we don’t see things the way our ancestors do, and I’m talking about more than having to put up with Bieber’s smug, punchable face sprayed across every magazine I pass. The Ancient Greeks saw colours differently than we do because of a difference in the eye’s ability to perceive; hence Homer’s description of the “wine-dark sea”.

Some scientists believe that it also differs across gender–women see more shades of colours than men, probably due to genetic selection for finding food–and, possibly, across individuals. There’s no guarantee that what I perceive is the same as what you do, even though we might put the same name on it.

It’s about this point that things start to devolve into the kind of thoughts one normally gets from the cataclysmically stoned.

However, for the sober writer*, the questions bear some interesting fruit. Especially for the speculative fiction writer, which usually has some kind of non-human being to deal with. How does that race of aliens see us? Do unicorns see into the magical spectrum? What does the sentient magical sword perceive? What does it think of this scabbard? Is it so last season?

Monday Challenge: write about beauty from the point of view of a non-human being. How would their perception differ from ours? What would they find attractive? A sentient crow, for example, would think more about air currents and thermal lift than we do, and less about traffic. To it, beauty might be movement. A plant-based being would perceive light more completely, so their idea of beauty would take into account spectrums for which we have no words. Metallic creatures might adjust to resonating frequencies, and read their environment in vibrations, leading to the development of the phrase, “Will you listen to the ass on that one?”

Try not to be lazy. If you use another humanoid character, try to make something very different. Infrared vision, extra senses, alien physiology. Stretch yourself. Expand your mind.

And remember that beauty is often in the tentacle of the beholder.

*Contradiction in terms, right? Right? (silence) …I’ll show myself out.

Monday Challenge: Superstition

Is it still good luck if it falls on your head?

I used to be a very superstitious kid.

Maybe it was growing up Catholic–”say this many Hail Marys and Acts of Contrition in this order, and all your sins are forgiven. Also, you might see a ghost appear in the bathroom mirror.”–or maybe it was growing up in province that held on to a lot of the old Irish superstitions, but there were rituals. I still remember my great aunt telling me to take an iron nail when I went out picking blueberries; otherwise the fairies would get me.* And to this day I can’t spill salt without tossing some over my left shoulder into the eye of the devil.**

And then there were the personal superstitions. When I was ten or so, I had a ‘bus summoning’ that would make the school bus arrive faster in the winter when I had to wait outside. There was a certain number of cars of a certain colour that I had to count***, and then a little dance I had to do. I’m pretty sure that it was just a way to pass the time and keep my internal organs from icing up, but I still did it. If nothing else, it served the dual purposes of warding off hypothermia and entertaining the neighbours.

Monday Challenge: write me what happens when a silly superstition turns out to be true. Satan really does hear if you don’t knock on wood; a horseshoe really does bring good luck. Or maybe those lucky underpants you wore when you first got laid really do make you irresistible.

*No cute Tinkerbells in our mythology. These were the stealing, fighting, fucking, murdering fairies. More fun, I think. And way more dangerous.

**Suck it, Lucifer.

***The colour varied by day of the week. Obviously.

 

Monday Challenge: Tech Gone Wild

Cleaning up after robot parties is the fucking WORST.

Hopefully, by the time this is live, my computer will have been resurrected from the dead shell of aluminum and silicon that it’s been for the last couple of weeks.* If not, then hopefully I will have managed to replace it with something. Maybe a brain implant.

Funny how even the near-complete failure of technology recently hasn’t turned me off from the idea of implantable computers. I mean, yeah, it’d probably be even more of a problem if the hard drive in my brain failed, but until then I’d be able to do research by thinking of it. And I could stream movies directly to my optic nerves.**

Until that slightly unsettling day, though, I’ll have to work with this stuff. On the upside, I’ve been learning even more about how my computer actually works, which will be a valuable skill when I someday have to troubleshoot my cerebral cortex.

If I’ve learned anything floating through forums and advice columns and tutorials, it’s that most people know jack shit about how their computers work. About technology in general, really. We use it every day–in some cases we depend on it–but we have no more understanding of it than my cat does of how the fridge works.

Just to be clear, I’m not slagging those who don’t know how to fix everything in their house. I have a theoretical understanding of how my car works, but I still take it to the garage. And I only started learning about computers a few years ago, when I had to. And then, trust me: my cat trying to figure out the fridge was an apt comparison.

She knows food comes from it; she knows you need hands to open it; she knows that if she’s cute, one of the Hand-Owning Giants will open it for her and extract food. Beyond that, she doesn’t really give a damn.

And why should she? It does what it has to, and she’s happy. Just like we are with our technological devices.

Until they fail.

Monday Challenge: write me the failure of technology. What do the characters do? Has it failed, or has it gained sentience? Can they survive without it, or do they need to attempt to fix it? What happens when they do?

I’m going to go back to fixing my hard drive.

*As of this writing. Man, prepping stuff in advance is hard. It’s like trying to figure out the right verb tenses for time travel.

**I wonder if they’re HD.

 

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: Springy

The worst power up ever.

Maybe it’s because my lawn is finally starting to look like something other than the Devil’s frozen asshole, but I feel…springy*.

I’ve been doing a lot of digital cleaning. Mostly because, when my hard drive took a long walk off a short pier, I had to restore everything from a backup. Which took forever. But, being the sunny natured optimist that I am, I found something good in it: I could now reorganize my hard drive. After all, I had to erase the whole damn thing. Since I have a clean slate, it seems like a good time to think about an organizational structure.

I likened it to renovating after a house fire: yeah, I probably could have lived with things as they were, but now that it’s been burned to the ground, I might as well fix the weirdly shaped kitchen, patch that crack that was always in the floor, and clean out the nest of sentient crab spiders that roosts in the attic and throws parties on Tuesday mornings. It’ll improve things in the long run, and it’s not that much extra work compared to the Herculean effort that was already going on.

The result is a digital workspace that is better, cleaner, and more efficient. So the whole ‘my computer shit itself’ week had at least one good outcome: the laptop feels brand new again. And with a fraction of the cost–though a thousand times the work–of actually buying a new computer.**

Monday Challenge: write about something old made new. Spring springing, phoenixes rising, old ladies stealing the bodies of children to continue their quest for immortality, galactic armadas siphoning the power of a young star system to breathe new life into their war machines.

I’ll be over here, digging through the remains of my hard drive like a renegade archeologist looking for the Holy Grail. Or at least some interesting porn.

*To paraphrase Scrubs, ‘springy’ like the season, not like the inside of a mattress.

**Though I wonder how much longer I’ll get out of this machine. Like a double agent that claims it’s really on my side, I no longer trust it.

 

Monday Challenge: I Like My Coffee Like I Like My Stories*

I love you, too, coffee.

Back in the long ago, Krys and I used to spend boring moments—bus rides, waiting room visits, that sort of thing—discussing every possible preference of fictional characters. Favourite drink. Preferred cigarette brand, if they smoked now or ever did. Favourite leisure activity. Sexual preferences. So many things that never make it into the story, but which real people do.

The one I remember most is a classic morning question, asked in diners and unfamiliar kitchens the world over: how do they take their coffee?

Don’t scoff. Anyone who’s ever had to deal with a cup that’s over-sugared or far too bitter knows that, while it might be personal preference, it’s still kind of a big deal. And, for lactose intolerant me, having someone else dump cream into the cup pretty much ruins the experience.

And it’s not just the taste. There was one character that, after much argument, we decided took his two ways. When he was around others, he’d order it strong and black, but when he was alone, he added so much goddamn cream and sugar that it must have been like drinking dessert. Because he had decided that he wanted to be the kind of guy who took his coffee black, even if he didn’t like the taste all that much. Anyone who’s spent time around insecure teenagers pretending to like the taste of beer has seen this phenomenon in action.

So, assuming you haven’t just skipped down to the bold text, you know what today’s writing prompt will be. If you have just skipped down to the bold text: seriously? It’s less than 400 words. If I can write it on the teensy amount of sleep I got last night, you can manage to read it. God.

Monday Challenge: how does your character take their coffee? Black and bitter? Sweet? Floating in cream? Decaff? Irish? One of those coffee-milkshake things available at Starbucks? Do they not drink coffee at all because of an ulcer, or PTSD because of the incident with the carafe and the monkey? Tell me what they’re ordering because that tells me about them.

I’m going to go make another pot.

*Dark, strong, and able to keep me up all night.

Monday Challenge: Chocolate Death Rain

Sadly, the candy coating did not help them survive the explosion of the Death Star.

Just a quick post up today, since I’m in the process of of both cooking a giant ham and cleaning my house so that we can have an easter egg hunt for seven people in their thirties today. Because when you’re too old to look for plastic eggs hidden among your friend’s erotica collection, you’re too old for life.

But I haven’t forgotten you, my sugar-addled little word badgers of doom. Despite it being an extra long weekend for a lot of people, there’s still writing to get done. So here’s my prompt for today.

This is a holiday closely associated with death, resurrection, chocolate, and pastel colours. There’s some cognitive dissonance there; think on it too long and you end up with a chocolate coated Angel of Death in a lilac robe. I don’t know if that would make the end better or worse, but it sure as hell would be a surprise to see it.

Monday Challenge: write something that involves both death and candy. If you have a diabetic character, you can probably get both of those together pretty easily, but work a little harder. Give me your Fondue Pits of Doom, your Pixie Stick of Life and Death,your Big Rock Candy Mountaineering Accident. Make it interesting, make it weird, and above all, make it sweet.

*Ever been whipped with one of the big ones? They hurt.

Monday Challenge: Chicks Dig Scars

Not the scar I had in mind, but judging from the Internet, a lot of chicks dig this guy, too.

I’ve got a huge scar on my right knee. The full details of the incident can be read here, along with accompanying pictures of the original injury, but these days it’s healed into a weird crater-like mark over the bottom half of my kneecap. It still looks odd and as of yet I haven’t regained feeling in the whole thing. Pretty sure I left some nerve endings on the pavement that day. On the bright side, when I inevitably fall down again—because I will—it will likely hurt less.

Scars have stories. Sometimes they’re silly ones, like mine; other times they’re dangerous and daring tales full of adventure. Or, if you’re my dad, cautionary tales related to work accidents.* But there’s always a story, always something that goes along with the mark. Because scars are your body’s notation system. They’re the way you remember to do things, or not do others. They’re reminders.

But for some scars, and for some people, there are two stories: the one that happened, and the one they tell.

We shift things for a lot of reasons. I’ll be the first to admit that I edited some of the details of the above story. Not out of a desire to conceal anything, but because, hell, I’m a writer. I want to make a story out of everything. There has to be a narrative flow instead of just things happening one after another. And sometimes we change the details of our stories because we wished it had happened slightly differently. Or that it hadn’t happened at all.

Your characters do the same thing.

Monday Challenge time, you grubby little wombats: What scars does your character have, and what story do they tell about them? It might be the truth, or a version of it. Or it might be something a little more…colourful. Or less, depending on the provenance of those scars. Sometimes the version we tell is the less exciting one.

Show me their scars and tell me their stories, people. Get to it.

*Lesson learned: never believe the other guy when he says he shut off the air pressure to the valve you’re about to open, because if he hasn’t, you’re gonna lose a finger.