New Year, New Feature: a Speculative Fiction Writing Prompt

I wish you all a wonderfully creative, happy, healthy, and safe new year, full of laughter and love.

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After 5+ years of blogging, I thought I’d try something new… finally. How about a Monthly Speculative Fiction Writing Prompt? Sue Vincent was the inspiration for this idea since I’ve loved participating in her weekly prompts (check out her extremely popular feature here.)

If you’re interested, here’s how it will work:

On the first of every month, I’ll post a speculative fiction prompt from Pixabay. These images are attribution free so you can use them on your blog without worrying about copyright restrictions.

Throughout the month, I’ll reblog your prompt-inspired stories, poems, reflections, writing. And on the last day of each month, I’ll share a complete round-up of all contributions with links to the original posts. Visiting the blogs of participants is a great way to meet other speculative fiction writers.

Below is January’s prompt. On or before January 24th, post your response on your own blog and link back to this post with a pingback, so I can reblog your post as well as include you in the month-end round-up. There are no word limits or style restrictions, but please keep it somewhat family friendly.

If you’re unsure of how to create a pingback, Hugh has an excellent tutorial here. If you prefer, you can copy and paste your link into the comments of this post.

Above all, have fun.

January’s #WritingPrompt

by Stefan Keller

Dusk: #writephoto

photo from Sue Vincent

I dreamed this story Saturday night in response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Something a little different.

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I can’t remember much bout that time, cept for the crazy animal fear. Like you weren’t in yer body but thrashing around outside yer skin, a thing gutted and clawing at some god to lift yer sorry ass outta there. Bombs pounded on our camp, and the screaming lay over the roar and rumble like I was trapped with a flock of gulls, and a pack of wolves were tearing at our throats, only it was worse than that.

And the reek of all them loose shits and us pissing in our pants, including mine. We were burrowed deep and bunched like rabbits, and it was blacker then death with yer eyes pinched shut. Already buried alive, I think. A funny thing how that situashun was better than being out there—tho I weren’t laughing. No, not at all.

Mason kep talking in that flat, butter voice of his thru the whole thing like he was telling lullaby stories come lights-out. I think Mason’s stories saved our asses on those days. Powerful stories bout life after the Reclamayshun, after the killing is worn out and we can go home.

Then my ears is ringing, and I’m breathing dust like I’m drowning. Some little kid’s keening so shrill it slices thru the exploshuns. And my heart is jumping on my ribs hard, and I know I jus gotta get out a there. It’s real bad, that feeling. My mind is so beat on like an old rug that it comes to me clean and clear—I got no choice in this life but where I’m gonna die. And I don’t wanna die jammed in a hole.

Then it all stop. All of it stop. The bombing and screaming and coffing up dirt. Mason makes us sit for seems a week until we gonna die from jus sitting still, already buried in our grave and starving to boot. When he say to give it a go, we dig out, and the world don’t look the same at all. It’s a hell place like the devil took a shovel and turned up the whole land for spring planting.

Mason stands atop the wreck and stares up at the dusk sky. There ain’t one single bomb raining thru the air. Little white puff clouds look fresh-washed and soft on that gold and blue, like a summer dress on a pretty girl. The world ain’t all broken up after all, and I think maybe Mason was right when he was telling us stories and promising hope.

Worldbuilding Part 4

Back in December, I finished up a world-building series at The Story Reading Ape. Then the holidays invaded and things got a little crazy! I’m delighted to finally share Part 4 here. I hope you enjoy. Happy Writing!

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Many thanks to Chris for letting me chat about world-building. It’s been a pleasure to hang out, and in this final post of the series, I want to share thought-starters for each of the major systems that make up a world.

Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, in a discussion about world-building, stated that writers don’t need to completely change every major system in a world. Pick a few big elements that are linked to the plot and then dabble with the details on the rest. Let your imagination run wild.

The Environment

Whether designing a natural or human-made world, give it personality – strengths, weaknesses and quirks, and a complex diversity of elements that both support and sabotage the characters’ efforts. Don’t forget to account for food, water, air, and shelter, and to employ all the senses in descriptions. Think outside the box. You may have longer or shorter days, worlds without seasons, animals or plants capable of communicating, a parallel spirit realm. Your world may exist only in dreams.

Create a map, for your reference, at least. Maps physically “ground” the world by establishing terrains, distances, and regional resources, locating population centers and geopolitical borders. Not building a planet? Map your city or space station.

History

If you look at our current “real” world, ancient history still has a huge impact on identity and choices. Robert Jordan went back about 3000 years in his world-building – a long time, I know. But going back 300 to 1000 years isn’t uncommon, particularly if there’s been ongoing tension between groups or a common past that has splintered.

Create a time line. In the distant past, simply outline major events. As the timeline moves closer to the present story, increase the level of detail and shorten the gaps. Consequential events may occur daily in the last months or weeks before your book actually begins.

Government

Even a gang has a government. Someone is calling the shots….

Continue Reading:  World-building: Thought Starters – Guest Post by Diana Peach…

World-building: Common Mistakes in Speculative Fiction – Guest Post by, Diana Peach…

Just in case you didn’t get your fill of World-building, I’m over at The Story Reading Ape’s blog with another installment. Swing on by if you want to learn about what can go wrong! Happy November!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

World-building is a balancing act between alien complexity and Earth’s familiarity. If authors make characters and settings too alien, they risk confusing readers and interrupting the reading experience. But the other side of the coin – applying Earth qualities, standards, and cultural norms to non-Earth planets and societies – isn’t any better.

We’re so used to Earth and the way we live and behave, our customs, values, and social rules that they become invisible to us. They become the “givens” of human life, and often, we attribute them to other non-Earth worlds and cultures. Our ways of life are rooted in thousands of years of history. Other planets have different historical trajectories that produce alternate ways of life that feel normal to the characters.

Here are seven things to look out for when world-building:

Your society doesn’t “function”

Did you ever read a book where none of the characters work…

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World-building: From Imagination to Reality – Guest Post by, Diana Peach…

For those fans and writers of speculative fiction – here’s another dive into worldbuilding! I had the great pleasure of guest posting on The Story Reading Ape’s blog earlier this month. If you missed the post and are all broken up about it (ha ha) here’s Part II. 😀

(Some of you are so lovely to leave comments at both sites. Please, no need, unless not doing so gives you hives; your time is way too precious. I do check both and reply at both. Hugs.)

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

World-building is an important part of any writer’s preparation, and the speculative genres offer some wildly fun opportunities. There are no boundaries. The imagination is unleashed. The setting of the story can be as “fantastic” as the writer desires.

But fantastic also has to be relatable and plausible.

Relatability is a must when it comes to the main character(s). If a reader can’t relate on some emotional level to the protagonist, a book is going to struggle. Why do I mention this with world-building? Because in speculative fiction some or all of the characters may not be human.

There are no limits to alien design from physical features to intelligence to social and cultural norms, and writers can stretch those limits to create some unusual encounters and conflicts. Aliens that completely baffle us are fine, but rarely are they protagonist(s). The main character(s) needs to possess some “human” emotional content…

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Scattered: #writephoto

Thanks to Sue Vincent for a beautiful photo prompt. I went a little off-world on this one. Hope you enjoy.

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“I’ll take the risk.” Captain Galles scratched the stubble graying his jaw. “If something happens to me, Corso’s in charge, not that you’ll have any decisions left.”

No one argued. What was the point? Forty chrons without food and water, we ran shy of options. We’d searched the black bowels of the alien freighter, a salvage operation by the looks of it, and found nothing but twisted and charred metal, every scrap incinerated clean. Our damaged shuttle lay on its side amidst the sea of relics.

The exception to the vast darkness was a panel of fractured light, a patterning of sublime beauty suspended over a polished dais. Our mechanical captors had wedged the unit against the compartment’s grated wall shortly after we found ourselves prisoners. Primitive cyborgs, the aliens lacked facial articulation and translation capabilities, the robotic language in all forms indecipherable. All our words and gestures proved futile, and our captain’s demands for basic sustenance went unheeded. They’d installed the contraption and left, its function a mystery.

The eight of us stood at the fringe of light as Galles stepped onto the dais. The array of lights above him hummed in a slow spin and increased in speed until they appeared to hurl backward. His mouth gaped in a silent wail, eyes pooled with terror. He struggled to escape the machine, hammered fists against an invisible barrier he couldn’t break. The lights blurred into a white star and he froze like a holograph set on pause.

His body began to disintegrate, clothing and skin breaking apart and floating like mist, then deeper, his whole shape loosening and scattering. He dissolved into swirling vapor, a haze of bright particles. A burst of blue current blinded me, and when I opened my eyes, he was gone.

I gasped and licked my parched lips, stifling an urge to vomit. Someone to my right heaved a dry sob. We sank to the floor where we’d stood, doomed. A day or two, we’d all be dead.

***

Amak studied the monitor. An unexpected reaction. It appears they are unfamiliar with teleportation. The fear response was extreme.

They are primitive. Rohla absorbed a wave of compassion emanating from the companion. They lack translation capabilities and do not understand the most basic of trinary languages. Their arithmetics are rudimentary. We have no means of communicating with them.

They choose death over the unknown. Amak shared the bafflement, their logic incomprehensible. Are we certain of the teleportation coordinates?

Without question. They were retrieved from their ship’s logs prior to processing.

Thoughts?

Rohla’s aura went silent, and Amak ceded to the desire for contemplation. Once completed, Rohla opened a channel and set the dilemma forth. Either we honor their choice as sentient beings and let them die, or we defy them, apply force, and save their lives.

Trump’s Bone Walls

pixabay

pixabay

This post is dedicated to Donald Trump and the many walls he attempts to build between us and within which he resides. An excerpt from my post-apocalyptic book The Bone Wall, it’s an oral history told by a disabled woman named Shy who keeps the stories of the People.

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“In ancient days,” Shy begins, “old books told of gods and angels, devils and deceivers, of the making and breaking of the world.” Her small hands glide though the air as she talks, as if she would paint for us a picture of the words she perceives. She appears not to blink, the light voice of a child smoothly echoing an ancient tale imprinted in her memory long ago. “Prophesies came to pass, books burned to ash, gods and devils long ago dead.” She pauses to swivel her misshapen head, her eyes goggling at Riverwalkers and descendants alike.
*
In the beginning, the greatest of gods created into the formless and empty void, the heavens and earth. Of his eyes, he made the sun and moon, which he set among the white stars that he might behold his creation by light of day and dark of night.
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He toiled to set the clay to spin, the sky to blue and storm. Of his blood, he spilled the rain to carve the rivers and sate the sea. Of his body, he sowed the seeds of life and from his flesh burst a fecund world of plant and tree, laying over the land between the seas a verdant green. He gazed upon the work of his hands and saw it was good.
*
With his breath, he breathed life into the waters of the sea and set it teeming. Breathed life into the winged birds of the sky. Molded with his fingers and breathed into the living creatures that roam the land, each according to their own natures. He gazed upon the work of his heart and saw it was good.
*
And of his thought, he created man in his likeness and woman that he might live in companionship. To them he gave the seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees. To them he granted mastery over the fishes in the seas and birds in the sky and every wild creature that crawls and runs upon the land, that they might shepherd this new world. He gazed upon the work of his dreams and saw it was good.
*
Thus in seven days the heavens and the earth were fashioned in all their vast array.
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In the beginning of the end, what was done would be undone.
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For man in his covetousness forsook the gifts of the great god and bowed to the deceivers who feared not to speak evil of grace and charity, believing themselves their own deceivings. They with feigned words made man a slave of his desires, promised him liberty, when they themselves were the servants of corruption.
*
In pride and greed, man closed his eyes to the shelter of the sky, thus the sun was set to scorch with fire and the moon to chill with ice. In gluttony and sloth, man poured his foul in the rivers and springs of water that flowed to the sea, and every living thing in the sea died and the land dried. In envy and lust, man scourged the life of the fields and forests, and disease broke out on man and beast; thus the land was plunged into plague.
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In wrath and fear, the deceivers shouted their righteousness into the air. Forsaken and astray, zealous with false beliefs and dread to hope, man took up sword and shield. Flashes of lightning rent the sky, peals of thunder shook the mountains and the great cities of the nations crumbled. Every island drowned as the seas rose up in mighty tides. From the sky, huge hailstones, fire, and ash fell on the People.
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Thus in seven days the heavens and the earth were broken in all their vast array.
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The deceivers, laden with plunder, sought to escape the pollutions of their creation. In secret voices, they whispered among them: “Let us build these Gardens and stand walls around them. The glory is ours, for we are the righteous and chosen of God; rewarded with license on every side. Why else be blessed with such bounty, but by God’s desire.”
*
Then in slow procession, one for every ten thousand men entered within the walls. One for every ten thousand women abided within the walls. One for every ten thousand children sheltered within the walls. So they found peace within their walls and security within their strongholds, no violence in their land, nor ruin or destruction within their borders.
*
Beyond the walls, the tens of tens of tens of thousands trembled, for terror and fear lay upon the whole land. The fields went fallow, and beasts bore no calves or lambs. The rivers ran with fire, and seas belched up their foul and bloated bodies. Plagues and pestilence befell man and his descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering wars. And the people came to the Garden walls and begged for entrance.
*
And so said the deceivers onto the gathering hordes: “Mighty God, bless us. Saved are we by our devotion to your laws and renunciation of the wicked. We offer no succor among the righteous but cast the sinful from our gates. We deny the tainted and corrupt safe harbor within our moral ranks. We are the merciless sword of your justice, keepers of the covenant, the Saved.”
*
The people in the parched and broken world rose up in fear and desperation, and descended onto the Garden gates. A great horde of fury marched on the mighty walls, those in back pressing blindly on those at the fore until bodies leapt in screaming pillars of flame. They could not save themselves from the power of the walls; just as fire consumes the forest and sets the mountains ablaze, so were they devoured.
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Ten-thousand times a thousand men blazed upon the walls. Ten thousand times a thousand women flared upon the walls. Ten thousand times a thousand children perished upon the walls. And the white bones clattered and rattled and formed mountainous bone walls around the Gardens of the deceivers so they would be reminded of their own ruination.