Writing Prompts

steampunkskyline

Create a world from a picture.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or so I have heard. Occasionally I find myself at a loss for how to proceed in a given story, and I have found that sometimes a little writing prompt can help to get the creativity flowing again. Sometimes it involves looking at websites that offer writing prompts for those truly in need of inspiration (this includes me far more often than I’d like); sometimes I set up “what if?” scenarios in my head, and try to write my way into or out of the situation I create (Once I successfully got myself off of an imaginary deserted island); But the type of writing prompt I enjoy the most is the simplest: find a picture and write about it.

I find a picture to be the easiest way to get into the heads of my characters. I can more easily develop them if I can relate to them. I am more easily able to relate to them if I can visualize them. Or, at the very least, their world. This photo gave me a bit of inspiration earlier today, because it shows a world that is easy to create, to imagine; a world of two levels.

The first level is the easiest to see. It is a world of rooftops. Bridges and walkways connect the tops of the buildings, allowing a society to exist that may never need to visit the world below. Airships fly so close above the people, that they can almost reach out and touch the hulls of the ships as they pass overhead. It is not such a stretch of the imagination to envision lush rooftop gardens, forming lovely parks for those that live up above to spend their days, enjoying the fresh air. It is an existence available to those that can afford it. Tycoons and politicians overlooking the city, quite literally. It is an enviable life. However, this type of lifestyle belongs only to a privileged few. For the rest of the city, a darker existence awaits.

On the ground is the undercity. The laborers, the impoverished – they live here. It is a perpetual dusk, due in part to the shadows of the buildings that tower above them. Thick black smoke from factories contribute to the darkness of the world below. Men go from home, to work, to the local pub, and finally back home each day, their only respite from their bleak existence in the bottom of a mug. Women that can afford to, stay home, venturing out into the noxious dark to purchase the goods needed on a daily basis. Those that cannot afford to stay home go to the work houses each day, toiling away at machines from dawn to dusk.

The sooty fog that persists in the undercity obscures the poorly maintained buildings, the illicit activities of those not fortunate enough to find a legitimate means of earning a living. Law abiding citizens keep their heads down, try not to draw attention to themselves. What law enforcement there is spends most of their time following the more suspicious characters that stick to the alleys and quiet streets.

Those that live above are blissfully unaware of the suffering of those that live below. They don’t see the thick smog that flows through the streets below, nearly a liquid, it is so thick. No, the people above see themselves as living so high in the sky that they are looking down at the clouds below them. It is an existence that is to be envied, and they cannot imagine any other type of life.

The visual of the picture gave me some great ideas for stories, I may actually use a couple of them as I continue writing. Does anyone have any other writing prompt ideas they use when they need to help get the creative juices flowing?  I’d love to hear them.

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So Many Books, So Little Time

I just returned from a week-long trip to Maine on Sunday. After weeks of 80+ degrees, it was nice to pass the time in the woods by a lake where, at best, the temperature barely broke 65 degrees. It was heaven!  I was even able to get a little writing done. I would have gotten more done, but I made the massive mistake of bringing my Kindle.

I feel bad for her. I’ve downloaded who knows how many hundreds of books and short stories, yet I rarely have time to sit down and do any significant amount of reading. But I decided I would make my way through my “novels I’ve been dying to read, but due to my short attention span, will probably never get to” list.

The first order of business was finishing The Scarlet Letter. It was a bet I made with myself over a year ago. The book, to me at least, is tedious. But I finally made it through. After that, I decided to treat myself with something I’ve wanted to read. After years of waiting, and watching some of the T.V. series, I cracked open (figuratively) the Song of Ice and Fire series. As of This afternoon during my lunch break I am a two-thirds of the way through A Game of Thrones. I was worried, because my last attempt to read epic fantasy was The Wheel of Time novels. That did not go so well. I am pleased to report that I am eagerly anticipating finishing the first book by next week, and shortly thereafter beginning book 2. Alright, GRRM, bring it on, I can take it.  By the way, for the fantasy fans, have you read these books? If so, what are your thoughts?

On the writing front, both of my major projects are humming along…slowly (I know, huge shock, right?). I’ve also been working on couple of short story ideas when I am having trouble, creatively. They are two Sci-Fi shorts, and are wonderful for getting the creative juices flowing. Whether they will ever see the light of day, or be expanded upon, I cannot say, but they let me put some of my crazier ideas down, get them out of my system, so my projects don’t get too silly.

I’ve been playing around a bit with some of the settings in Scrivener, which is my writing platform of choice, and I think I may have it customized nearly to where I like it. While I love a lot of its features, I miss some of the other features I had with my previous writing software, WriteitNow. I have the newest version of WriteitNow (WriteitNow5) in the shopping cart, and have been contemplating making the purchase, just to see what the new version offers, and if it is worth the switch back. I may do a compare/contrast post in the future, should I decide to make the purchase. For those of you that use either/both pieces of software, what are your thoughts?

It has been a long first day back to work, but I figured that while I still had a little energy, I’d put a post up. It has been a little while, and I miss updating the blog. I have another update planned in the next couple of days, so check back soon.

World Building – Rules part 1: Magic

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Magic can have a place in many genres. Does it have place in yours?

The pitcher of lemonade hovered in mid-air, rotating Ina a lazy circle a foot above the table. Mademoiselle Bernadette Durand stared,  her eyes wide,  as the woman before her stared placid at the pitcher. If it were not for the light sheen of sweat on her forehead and the tiny circular movement of her index finger,  it would have appeared as though she was staring intently at the proceedings.  But she was not just a bystander.  She was a witch.  And the hovering pitcher was her doing.

She was younger than Dette had expected.  The image of a witch that filled her head was that of an old crone,  bent and twisted with age and corruption,  sitting at a cauldron brewing a vile potion.  But the woman was far from old.

She was no more than 10 years Dette’s senior.  Her long hair was still a lovely honey color, piled high upon her head.  Only a few strands showed signs of gray, only the faintest of lines crinkled the corners of her lips when she gave one of her ready smiles. More than once Dette’s had been tempted to return one of Lady Nathalie’s smiles –  only to remember her mother’s warning; never smile at a witch.  To do so is to invite them to take your immortal soul.

“You must forgive me Mademoiselle Durand,” the witch said, placing a hand to her forehead.  A display of my talents  often leaves me a bit thirsty.” She lifted the pitcher,  this time with her hands,  and poured a large glass of lemonade, taking three large,  and undignified sips. “For any exertion  of magical force,  there is a cost.”

Dette kept her icy blue eyes on the older  woman. ” And what,  Lady Nathalie, is the price you pay? “

Lady Nathalie Bingham smiled, a sad curvature of her lips. ” Only my life, Mademoiselle,” She responded,  “nothing important at all.”

From the outset,  I knew that I wanted to include some more magical elements in my books.  Monsters are a staple of many steampunk stories,  so I figured  could magic.  But like monsters,  magic needs to have an in-universe logic.

Even in stories where anything is possible with magic (such as the Harry Potter series),  there is a logic that was put into place to not only explain and display its possibilities,  but also to make clear its limits.

Some stories make magic a type of exertion on the part of the user.  Energy is used each time a spell is cast.  Some magic drains so much that the practitioner must rest after they complete their task. Others are drained of their life force as they use their magic,  rapidly aging as they grow more powerful,  ultimately facing the difficult choice of quitting magic,  or finding some way to prolong their life.

I chose a hybrid option.  The magic in the world of Mademoiselle Durand is draining on the user in both energy and a bit of their life energy. It will not make you older,  but it will make you more vulnerable to physical attack and illness.  Both remedied by more magic,  but equally risky to the well-being of the magic user.

I toyed with the idea of the use of some sort of charmed item,  like a wand or staff,  but with Lady Nathalie in particular,  I felt a physical item would be too distracting for me as the writer. 

I like the idea of setting these rules into place early on.  Lady Nathalie makes it clear that there is a limit to what she can do. She knows that every time she uses her magic,  she loses another piece of herself.  So parlor tricks are not something she enjoys. But to convince poor Dexter,  she chose to make an exception.

For the writers out there,  do you use magic in your writing? If so,  do you have hard and fast rules,  or do you let your characters wield greater control and power.  I’d love to hear what people think.

Steampunk Weapons

     One of the many things that sets the steampunk genre apart from straight Victorian novels or from the average Science Fiction novel is the creativity required to place advanced technologies in the hands of people who historically had limited access to anything more advanced than a shotgun.
     Science Fiction allows for advancements based on Technology we have, and is usually set far enough in the future that one does not need to suspend too much disbelief in order to appreciate the technologies that are available.
with Steampunk, a little more effort may be required. You need a pistol for your hero to protect himself from an attacker? No problem, pistols and revolvers were available in the Victorian age? You need a laser blaster for your pirate to protect cut down a group of automatons? it is 1824? No problem, you just need to invent it, and make it feel believable within the reality you are creating.

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This, and a few other photos of steampunk pistols inspired me to create Zeus, an energy weapon used by one of the main characters in my Adventures of Mademoiselle Durand series.

     That is the beauty of the genre – you can make nearly anything you want happen in your story. The only thing that is truly necessary is to justify the existence of each outlandish item.
     I have been a bit obsessed with the weapons as of late, mostly because in Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates, the main characters are under attack throughout the story, so weapons are necessary. Given the time period, pistols are more prevalent than other weapons, but I must admit I like swordplay as well.   

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   A combination gun/sword for fighting close range or from afar. An interesting idea that I’ve seen mentioned in a few different works.

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     A dagger that could easily be concealed, and looks sufficiently “steampunk”.

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     This combination axe/pistol is a new one for me. I actually like the design. I could easily see a wood cutter fighting off hordes of the undead with one of these. Or, your character can chop down a tree AND participate in a shootout!
     A common theme to many of the steampunk weapons you can see online is combining long range and close range into one item that could, in theory be equally efficient in both situations. While I question how effective they would be in a real fighting scenario, the creators all get an A for effort. Especially the creator of the Axegun.
     Not being much of a physical builder, I find these pieces to be quite inspiring. I wish I had the physical coordination to make some items like these. But I can admire them, and use them as inspiration for weapons in my stories.
     Sometimes, the weapons are more realistic, simply invented in the reality you are creating before they were actually invented in reality. Steampunk machine guns for the war effort, in an American Civil War entering its tenth year would be a bit fantastical, but entirely possible in an arms race to end a war that has torn a country apart. Or maybe a rocket launcher to bring those pesky Union airships out of the sky.

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     So, writers, do you have any fantastic weapons (Steampunk or not), that you like to include in your stories? I’m attempting to become more knowledgeable on the subject, myself. My search history must look awfully strange to the outsider. But, that is the life of a writer.

Jump Starting Creativity

Last night I sat in front of my laptop preparing to pick up from where I left off the last time I wrote. At first, I reread the last paragraph. For some reason I could not think of where to go from the last sentence. Then, reading turn to rereading, then to staring blankly at the page, as if trying to will the plot to unfold for me. Now I know that I’m not suffering from writer’s block, because I have plenty of ideas for stories. But from where I left off in this particular story I was having some difficulty finding the best way to proceed.

In an effort to try and jump start some creativity on this story, I thought about different methods of exercises to boost creative thinking that I’d read about in the past. I tried a couple to see if I could get those creative juices flowing.

At first I tried simply to write about something from my past as a means of just getting something down on paper, so to speak. I dug deep in the road about 500 words about a birthday party that I had when I was 5 years old. I tried to remember as many details as I could- from the weather, which was cool and a bit drizzly, to the location, my grandparents house that they had recently purchased and we’re in the process of renovating.

This exercise helped me to think any more visual way. But when the exercise was done and I was back in my project, I still wasn’t feeling creative. I decided to set this project aside and see if maybe trying to write on one of my other projects would help. So I opened up my work in progress folder and searched through the files to see if I could find one that appealed to me.

I skimmed through, thinking how ridiculous it was to try and write for a different story when I was having trouble with the one that I was currently working on. But as I scrolled down, I happen to see one of my projects that I started years ago. It was a scifi story that I began with a lot of passion. But I lost confidence in it somewhere along the way. I don’t think it was because it was a bad story; in fact, I remember thinking that the basic plot was actually pretty good, and I really enjoyed some of the characters I created.

I open up the file and scrolled through the story. It was a little over 40 pages long. And although I saw a few things that I definitely would like to change, I started to see something close to what I saw when I first started putting the words down. So I went from skimming the manuscript to actively reading it. Reacquainting myself with the plot as I had written it back in about 2010, I started to get some ideas on how to improve the current content, as well as how to continue the story to its conclusion. Once I reach the last paragraph of what had been written I immediately begin typing. In the end I worked on this project for about 3 hours, and somehow 1000 words more. And during this time somewhere in my subconscious, my brain was working away at how to continue with the project I had issues with earlier.

Once I reached a natural stopping point for my scifi story, I decided to put some words down for my current work in progress. I  must have ended up in the zone or something, because I ended up writing another 500 words. And now it looks like I have three works in progress now: my sequel to Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates, my as yet unnamed companion story to the Mademoiselle Durand series, and now my long abandoned science fiction story tentatively titled Cruising the Universe with Buddy (this will likely change).

Has anyone else rediscovered a story that they had abandoned while trying to jumpstart their creativity? Did it lead anyone to new ideas for both stories? I love to hear about other writers’ experiences.

Welcome!

So, I guess I should start with a confession: I have tried to blog before. Twice. Neither time went very well. To be fair, it seems that both times I attempted to keep a blog during tumultuous times. Once while attempting to finish school, and once during a big move and ensuing job search. Those times are behind me, thankfully. Now I can focus on things that I find most enjoyable in life.

The most enjoyable thing in my life is my writing. As long as I have been able to speak, I have been telling stories. As long as I have been able to write, I’ve been writing those stories down. I have notebooks full of stories that I’ve written over the years. Some of them decent enough, but most of them the roughest of rough drafts.

In 2013 I decided to do something about my desire to be a writer, and self-published on Amazon.  My first attempt was a short story called Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates. For a first effort, I was pleased that it received a few downloads. I was even more pleased when it received a couple of favorable reviews.

Currently my focus is on completing two projects that have been in process for some time now.  The first project is a direct sequel to Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates, which is as yet untitled. The other project is a kind of companion piece. It takes place in the same “universe” as Mademoiselle Durand’s adventures, but features a different cast of characters. Although the writing process has been slow going, I am pleased with the direction and progress each story has made.

It is still early days for this blog. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll proceed. I would like to do some reviews, share the progress I make with my writing, and just generally put my ideas down so I don’t lose them.  To all those that have stumbled upon this site, I wish to say thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say, and I hope you will visit again.  To those of you that have read my work, thank you. If you enjoyed it and are looking for more, I will have a couple of announcements in the near future. If you didn’t enjoy it – unfortunately, there will be more. I’m on a roll, and am addicted to writing. I cannot wait to see how it all turns out!