Me — New Prompt Challenges

I’ve had a fun idea for writing stories that are based on one-on-one interactions with people. I’ll just tell you about it now and then talk about it.

Ask somebody to give you a writing prompt. Anything it all. Could be one they Google, or just random words. Doesn’t matter. You also ask them to give you a number up to 200. (You can tell them that that’s your word count, but if you want to keep it hidden you can.)

Then you spin that into a micro-fiction story. That’s it. That’s the whole challenge.

I think this is neat because it does a lot of things all at once. First, it can tell you something about the other person. How they get this writing prompt and what they tell you will inform you a lot about their personality. If you ask them for a specific word number and they say “2” rather than “152”, then that tells you something else.

I’ve done this twice, and already I’ve come up with two interesting stories. Forcing yourself to change gears so drastically is a cool switch, because the number is really important for how you approach telling this story. The first friend I tried this on gave me a prompt longer than the word count he gave me. It was as follows:

Prompt: The fictional city of Leshburg is controlled by three crime syndicates/mobs. Upon waking up on December 14th, each mob boss has developed schizophrenia overnight. This is the story of mafioso Don “The Collapser” Delucci. 25 Words.

Story:
His rivals slain via tommy gun,
The city had fallen, “The Collapser” had won.
He asked his voices, “Am I done?”
They responded: “Yeah sure.”

It’s almost more poem than story, but that’s just it. I obviously don’t need to worry about backstory or context because the person I’m writing it for is the one that gave it to me.

When I’m writing these stories, I try to throw in the additional rule that I need a punchline. I think that’s what really makes this challenge work. With such a short story, I needed the rhyming aspect because the punchline is the sudden subversion of the rhyme. Obviously, with more words you can set up something better and, arguably stronger.

But I’m honestly having a lot of fun with this. I’m enjoying asking people for a prompt and word count because I learn a little bit about them, and then I get to spend the next few hours thinking about a brand new story. I might start doing this as a birthday present of some sort, I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that it’s been a blast so far, and I’d highly recommend it for flash fiction writers that want to challenge themselves.

I’m going to try to do one of these a day, but I highly doubt I’ll post them on the blog. I think by nature the prompt and the subsequent story is a private interaction. It means more to the individual than I would to the world, so publishing them would dilute the value, and obviously reading a random prompt and story wouldn’t feel nearly as good as giving a prompt and reading a story written for you.

It saddens me a bit, though. If I were more confident in the viewership of this blog, I would ask for people to comment with prompts and word counts. If that happens enough, maybe I could even make a weekly post based on four or five micro-fiction prompts people commented the week before.

I don’t ask for comments a whole lot, but if this is something that interests you, feel free to leave a comment with a prompt and word count (up to 200 words), and I’ll write you a story. If I get more comments than I expect, then we’ll turn this into a real thing.

Me — Working On An Outline…

So, a few weeks ago I wrote a story set in Nacre Then, a universe I haven’t written in in over a year. I hated the story, because it was just so… empty. Unfortunately for me, however, it also had the side effect of demanding that I write the story properly. The whole thing, not just one tiny scene.

And that’s how I ended up working on arguably my first “real” project since I put down Spear Gate indefinitely earlier this year. This isn’t without it’s challenges, of course. I’m seemingly inept at writing a full length novel since the first book I wrote nearly six years ago now. I wouldn’t consider this story I’m working on to be a full novel, but so far it’s looking like it’ll be between 10-20,000 words, which is daunting for the current Kollin.

I retired Nacre Then a while ago because it’s too full. I have every rule of magic, every cultural custom, every major event either written down or locked away in my head, because it was my first universe. I thought about it every day for years, and now it’s so full it has no room to grow. I can’t invent new characters because if I put them in a world with the others, the others will inevitably be more important. And I can’t write the stories in this universe because I’ve told myself them so many times I’m bored of them.

But this new story is something of a spin-off. The tragic backstory of a character that toes the line between minor and major. I’ve been exploring her past since I wrote that one little story, and it honestly intrigues me. The only problem is now I have to weave all these snippets into a cohesive story without stepping on my own toes anywhere else.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. I’ve published very little in the Nacre Then universe, so just tossing away what I don’t like would make the most sense, and that way I can work in the space I want to. As I always say, though, creativity is the ability to justify through constraints. If I just threw away everything Nacre Then has been, I’ll be left with nothing and not know where to go. And I can’t just ignore some things because I won’t know what to let go of. In fact, the only reason I can even explore this story is because it takes place in somewhat uncharted territory, so I’m already as free as I could be when working in this universe.

I’ll be honest. I’m scared. I don’t want to get bored of this story like all the others. I’m getting pretty frustrated with my inability to maintain interest. I just write something and then I start seeing plot holes and I ignore them until they get too big to ignore, and then I find something else to work on. It’s the same thing every time.

I know that part of it is just that I’m busy and I don’t have the energy to devote myself to a full story, but I can’t let that be my excuse because that’s just the way life is always going to be. It isn’t like grade school where every trouble and responsibility is gone when school is over.

They say nothing worth doing is easy, and I hate how right that is.

Me — July ’18 Update

With the onset of summer comes a few disappointments, mostly in plans that didn’t come to fruition. It’s all good, though. The heat wave hasn’t quite reached, (though it’ll be over 100° F next week) so I haven’t yet hit the threshold where it’s too hot to hurt my productivity.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Okay. Minor blog changes! I touched on this a bit ago, but I finally have a plan. Posting all of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday isn’t working for me anymore. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have zero free time to be writing, as I’m either at work, at my writer’s group, or at D&D for basically 100% of those days. I was originally going to rework the schedule entirely, but really it’s only the Wednesday posts that are troublesome, given my lack of free time the night before. So while I’m not going to change the content of what I’ve been putting out, I will be pushing the Wednesday posts to Thursday. That way I can use the free time I have on Wednesday nights to write instead of twiddling my thumbs. That’s it. I also can’t promise I won’t continue being late on the fiction posts. I still don’t have that spark of creativity that makes writing compelling, so it’s hard to actually force myself to write. I will continue to try my best to post fiction every week though.

Speaking of that, it hurts a little bit to have writing plans be one of the main categories of things I talk about in these monthly updates when I have had no writing plans for months. I don’t intend to remove it from the list, though. I think it’s important for it to stay there.

Video games are also pretty simple: I’m still playing Heroes of the Storm almost exclusively, but in all honesty I don’t have a whole lot of time to be playing video games right now. Working full time means that when I do finally get home I’m super tired and I either have to write or go do something else. As much as I’d like to be playing stuff, it just doesn’t have priority. Not to say that that’s a bad thing.

When I do have free time, I’ve been listening to a new podcast I’m not sure I’ve mentioned on the blog before: No Such Thing as a Fish. It’s a weekly British podcast where all the hosts each bring a fact on any topic, and then they each spend ten minutes talking about things tangential to that fact before moving on to the next topic. The useless information is interesting, and their commentary can be really funny. As a side note, I’ve also been watching West Wing with a friend. We just finished the first season, and I might do a review (on just the first season) soon.

Also, some unfortunate news about school. My summer semester class was cancelled, and since I was taking a big fall semester, I was planning on graduating at the end of the fall. Without that class I needed, I’m going to need to take another spring semester—something I was trying pretty hard to avoid. But, when all’s said and done, it’s only a few extra months. So, not currently in school, but hope to be mostly out of it soon.

Other things. Well, the only other thing I have to talk about is D&D and all my plans that never happened. I intended to run a new campaign just over the course of the summer. One with super weak commoner characters, but that never happened. I do have an entirely new idea for a campaign, but this inkling is small and needs time to grow. I also intended to write a weekly journal of my character’s adventures in this new campaign, but in all honesty that would be a lot of writing I’m not all that interested in. Instead, I think I’ll keep the tales of Taldarrin of the Twiceborn in my back pocket until I have some good ones to share.

P.S. When looking for the picture to post with these monthly updates, I always just type in the month name and find the first picture without words I like. With July, though, it’s all America and fireworks. Did the USA single-handedly commandeer the month of July because of one national holiday, or do search engines base searches off of country?

Me — Writing at the Last Minute

I’ll admit it. To the surprise of nobody, I’ve never been amazing at writing these posts in advance. There have been occasions where I wrote the next week’s worth of post all on Sunday, but the last time that happened was (I don’t know how many) months ago. In fact, for the past two weeks or more, every single post has been written at most 6 hours before it’s scheduled to post, and multiple times I’ve been late on posts entirely.

Probably, the fact that I’m working full time is to blame. I’m not home and showered before 6pm, and usually not settled before 7. By that time, I’ve been out and about for nearly 12 hours and writing is not the first thing on my mind. I want to unwind and take a break, and this ostensibly leads to me relaxing for the next 4 hours and suddenly I need to go to bed and haven’t written yet.

It sort of sucks because this means that all of my posts have been “Oh my gosh I want to go to bed but I need to churn out 500 words”. Not all of them have been bad, of course, but with these normal blog posts especially I don’t usually even know what I’m going to write until I write it. Free form isn’t bad, necessarily, but I do think it leaves the quality of my work at a tier below that which I expect of myself.

With posts like this, I don’t mind so much. I mean, this post is my 635th on the blog (remembered when I tagged them in multiples of 5? Yeesh.) So with all the subcategories and these random, general posts being the most common, there are 3/400 like it. What I don’t like is that, for the Sunday fiction posts, I usually don’t write those until Saturday night, and even then I probably don’t get started until past midnight because I’ve been up playing games with friends. It’s really hard for me to commit to writing a longer piece (even if it’s only 1,000 words) the morning after a long week of hard work.

What this tells me is that a reorganizing of the blog schedule is in order. Especially since Wednesday posts are tough—with my writer’s group I rarely get home before 9pm, and at that point I still need to shower and eat. It’s doable, sure, but I just wish my schedule would gain some consistency and that all the weekly things I want to be doing all happen at the same times every week! (The troubles of being a working college student, I’m afraid. You take the classes you need at the times you can afford.)

I’ll try to give all this some serious thought before Monday, when the monthly update posts. I don’t like making bigger changes outside of those posts if I can help it, especially if they occur near the beginning of the month. So, stay tuned. I don’t expect my post frequency to change, but maybe I’ll take a look at my fall semester and figure out a neater blog schedule that doesn’t frontload my work week and can be consistent for the rest of the year.

Me — My Love for Brainstorming

So, even with my conspicuously missing spark of inspiration, and my consequential lack of fiction writing, there is quite a lot of aspects to stories I do enjoy, which is why I’m so confident I’ll find my career somewhere in this giant field. I’m pretty good at editing when I’m really doubling down on it, and I’d say I have a pretty solid grasp on story structure.

What’s weird is that as much as I dislike outlining stories I plan on writing, I love outlining and brainstorming stories. A friend and I have been working on the plot to a story for a few months (totaling to about two and a half real discussions), and the outline is coming together very well.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, listen to an episode of Rocket Jump’s podcast Story Break. For those of you that don’t want to take the time to do that, I’d describe it very simply as taking a simple idea and fleshing it out into a story, randomly spitballing until you get that spark of “Oh, that’s cool”, and then writing that down and spitballing again until you find something that thematically ties in to what you’ve already got. You repeat this process over and over and by the time you’re done you should have a full story plot complete with strong themes, recurring symbols, and dynamic characters. Or at least it looks like you do on paper. Then you write the first draft and it turns out to be crap.

But that part’s an altogether different story. Right now I’m just talking about being in the headspace of brainstorming. The mental office in which you have no clutter, no restrictions, no rules, no anything. You just have a blank piece of paper and a giant bowl of primordial essence with which you can create this masterpiece. Plus, since it’s all just in your head, it’s automatically perfect. Converting concept to product is never as simple as fun. At least, not for me. When I’m creating something new I don’t want to spend time thinking anything other than what’s cool and shooting for that.

And you know, the funny thing about writing blog posts like this is that you sometimes discover things about yourself. I often tell people that creativity is the ability to justify things under constraints, and that it’s pretty much just a muscle that you need to train (you know, just like literally everything in life). But writing about this now has me realizing that the thing I love most about creating something new is the lack of restrictions other than the ones I impose on myself.

With most larger concepts I start with the one idea I like and then throw in the opposite of it. “The Cool” and “The But”, as I’ve begun to call them. (Maybe I should do a dedicated post on finding the Cool and the But sometime in the near future.) Once I have those two things, I spend the rest of the time marrying them in a way that looks like they were meant to be together from the start, and often I’ll find some neat things along the way.

So, I don’t know if there’s any occupation that is literally just brainstorming, be it plots, scripts, worlds, whatever, but if there is, I could totally see myself doing that all day every day for a living.

Me — Am I a Writer?

I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. Admittedly, not that long, compared to most people, but that’s… oh gosh, that’s almost half my life at this point. Point is I’ve always loved medieval fantasy and the games and stories that surround that genre. From high school onward I was uncommon in the fact that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

A lot of people go through college and change majors and just struggle with their own identity until they’re in their late 20’s and suddenly discover who they are. I feel like I’m sort of the opposite in that I used to have such a solid idea of who I was until very recently.

I haven’t gotten excited about any new story in months. Actually, the first revamped Lisa Stenton short was the last thing I could hype myself up for before I wrote, and that was January. Everything after that was written because I required it of myself, and I don’t know if you can feel that while you read it, but I can remember feeling it in my heart just by reading the title to those stories.

It’s not that I’m having a panic attack, or any dramatic crisis or anything, just that I’ve… lost interest. I’m working full time, and when I get home I don’t want to write of all things, I just want to relax and play video games with my brothers/friends.

One thing I’ve noticed about this is that it can be very difficult to judge the line between discipline and overworking oneself. I think that for me, that line was crossed these past few months as soon as writing became a chore. It seems ridiculous to write stories and expect people to enjoy them when I forced myself to create them in the first place. And yet, I’m hyperproductive, so requiring one flash fiction piece a week doesn’t seem too bad, and hey, even if I’m forcing myself to write them, nobody’s forcing you to read them. I just don’t like the idea of twiddling my thumbs for months having nothing to show for the passage of time.

I’ve been told I need to branch out more, like take up drawing or pottery or something. I still don’t know how to feel about that, but honestly that doesn’t sit well with me. Even if I could, theoretically, pursue my passion of medieval fantasy through writing, I know that drawing isn’t the way my life is going to go.

I can take solace in the fact that I’m content in my current emotional state. I want to move out of SoCal, and I still have other personal troubles, but things are fine. I think I’m mostly satisfied in the fact that I’m always busy with school, work, and other commitments, so any time to myself I do have playing video games is earned, not wasted.

If I were to make a prediction as to what the near future of my life looks like, I would say that I’ll somehow find that spark of writing again, whether it be months from now or years. Hopefully I won’t live here anymore, but I hope to have a steady job (like the one I have now) and am enjoying writing on the side in an apartment or something in Oregon or Washington.

The future. Hindsight. You know, whatever. The questions I’m struggling with are basically just problems for future me, so it’s not a big deal.

Me — June ’18 Update

Well, here we are. I’d like to thank the academy for this astounding accomplishment. Spring 2018 semester is over. The Summer (and hopefully my penultimate) semester is fast approaching. I have big news (for me), too. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my friend’s apartment in Oregon, after having flown for the first time in seven-ish years. This is the first “vacation” I’ve ever had to myself, but I’ll get to that.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Alright, I finally have some blog news: I will be resuming the weekly fiction portion of my blog! Every Sunday I’ll be posting a flash fiction based on an image writing prompt. I intend to also record them and upload these videos to YouTube around the same time they post to my blog, but we’ll see. I don’t intend to be posting chapter excerpts of anything, though. Just the weekly flash fiction. Plus, that way, you won’t need to have read anything else of mine to enjoy them.

As for writing plans, well… that’s why I’m only posting one thing of fiction a week. I’m still not really devoting any effort to any larger project. Lisa Stenton has once again found herself in a muck of irreconcilable conflicts too large for me to enjoy writing her stories. I just… don’t know how to make technology and urban fantasy marry without copying other writers or making it stupid, and frankly it’s hard to hit the exact right chord I was going for with her stories. I think “The Last Laugh at the Lake of Lava” was pretty good, though. Spear Gate’s new outline is still on the to-do list, but it’s honestly not that interesting to me anymore. ‘Cause, you know, that’s what new writers do. We love something until it’s hard and then find a new passion project. So, as for now, still no bigger project. Oh well.

Lately I’ve been playing almost exclusively Heroes of the Storm and World of Warcraft. Less so HotS because I’m kind of burnt out on it, but I did calculate that in about 600 games (or about 200 hours) I’ll have reached level 10 with every hero in the game. Problem is, all the heroes that are under that cap are because I don’t enjoy them much. So instead I’ve been playing WoW, mostly as a way to pass the time while I listen to podcasts.

Speaking of podcasts, I’ve finally caught up on Story Break! This means I’m caught up on six of the eight podcasts I’m interested in. After that I intend to listen to podcasts I have no hope of being caught up on. Ones that have hundreds upon hundreds of hours of content. I also have some unread audiobooks on my phone, so I still need to dive into those.

As I said, the Spring semester is over. I’m almost done getting two Associate’s Degree’s though. I just need about six classes total, so that’ll be great. I have tentative plans for what I’m going to do after, but nothing concrete. So after the Summer and Fall, I should be done… ish.

Okay, so Oregon. I’ve only been here for about 18 hours as I’m writing this, and roughly half of that has been asleep, but oh my gosh. So many trees. Living in So Cal means that I’m used to sky lines being rocky mounds of… you know, rock. But Oregon is swarmed with trees, I’ve never seen so much green in my life. There’s just… so much. It’s honestly pretty much the same (it’s less than a thousand miles, after all), but at the same time, so different. I’ll talk about it more later.

One thing I didn’t account for on this trip is the fact that I’m introverted. Being around friends for nearly 72 hours straight is… well, let’s just say I’m tired and it’s taking a lot out of me. I want to have fun, but it’ll be a struggle to keep my mental energy running for that long without burning out.

Also, the Tuesday and Wednesday blog posts will be late. I won’t be back home until late Tuesday night.