Tag Archives: Writing Prompts

Why Writers Should Pay Close Attention to the Insight’s Exploration of Mars

For anyone who hasn’t heard this news yet, NASA’s Insight spacecraft is scheduled to land on Mars today. If all goes well, it will dig sixteen feet down and soon begin transmitting data about this planet that no telescope can possible tell. Scientists hope to learn three things from this exploration:

  1. What material the core of Mars is composed of,
  2. What, if any, seismic activity might be happening on this planet and therefore whether the core is solid or liquid,
  3. The temperature of the core.

(Thank you to The Oatmeal for explaining these points in such humorous and vivid detail!)

Once we have the answers to these questions, scientists should able to figure out if Mars is still warm enough to have pockets of liquid water anywhere on it.

Here on Earth, liquid water is one of those things that is necessary in order for life as we know it to exist. If there are martian lakes, ponds, or rivers there that haven’t frozen over or evaporated yet, it’s possible that we could find organisms of some sort in those places.

I can’t tell you how many sci-fi books I’ve read about life being discovered on other planets, mostly on Mars. It’s a trope that the science fiction community has circled back around to over and over again for as long as this genre has existed.

Writing a post about why this mission is important for the sci-fi community would honestly be redundant. We know why we’re excited to see what this mission uncovers about what Mars was like in the past and how habitable it might still be in the present.

Obviously, this would be something that would quickly make it into the history books if or when it ever happens, but today I wanted to talk about why this possibility matters for all writers.

No matter what genre you’re writing in, I think you should pay close attention to how this story develops today and in the future for the following reasons:

  1. We need more books about characters who try over and over again. Not every Mars mission has been successful in the past. In fact, about half of them have failed. I can’t help but to imagine how all of the people who worked on those missions felt when they realized that a faulty piece of equipment, math error, or a technical glitch had prevented their machines from doing the job it was designed to do. To tie this back to writing in general, imagine how a small misstep that your character took or in the opening scene could have equally serious consequences for him or her down the road!
  2. Doing everything right is no guarantee you’ll win. I keep running into stories lately about characters who are triumphant in the end because they followed the rules. While I understand why this sort of plot is popular, I’d sure like to read more examples of characters who face hardships without the plot intending their setbacks to be a lesson for the audience. Sometimes bad things happen to good people -and characters – for reasons that have nothing to do with what they may or may not deserve.
  3. There is such a thing as multiple heroes. If, and hopefully when, we received word today that the Insight has safely landed on Mars and begun performing the tasks it was trained to do, there won’t be one specific person who can take credit for this success. There are dozens of people who worked on designing, building, and programming this machine. This doesn’t even take into account all of the other folks working behind the scenes to support this team as they made all of the necessary preparations to give the Insight the highest probability of success currently possible. The same can be said for many of the imaginary worlds that writers dream up. Very few parts of The Lord of the Rings would have turned out the same way if the only folks trying to bring the One Ring back to Mordor were a few small hobbits!
  4. History can change in an instant. Yes, sometimes things evolve so slowly that it takes years, or even multiple generations, for people to realize that what they were taught growing up is no longer correct. This isn’t always the case, though, and I think that this unfolding news story is an excellent example of how our understanding of science, biology, and cosmology might change in an instant.

I know I’ll be paying close attention to what sort of landing the Insight makes as well as the discoveries it will hopefully be sharing with NASA in the near future. Will you be keeping an eye on this story, too? I hope you will.

 

 

Holiday Topics I Wish More People Would Blog About

Can you believe it’s November already? It feels like January ended last month, and yet here we are moving quickly into the 2018 holiday season.

As someone who doesn’t observe any winter holidays other than nodding slightly in the direction of the winter solstice since it means the days will soon be filled with more light, this might seem like a slightly unusual topic choice for me today.

I think there’s something to be said for being aware of the things I’m going to mention today regardless of what you do or don’t celebrate, though.

Trigger warning: while I won’t be going into any details, I will be briefly mentioning issues like abuse and grief in today’s post. (I will also be talking about much happier stuff as well!)

Why The Holidays Are Painful for Some People

To give just a few reasons why someone might find this time of year distressing, some (extended or nuclear) families are:

  • Abusive or neglectful
  • Grieving over the loss of one or more members
  • Separated for financial, medical, career, legal, or political reasons
  • Estranged
  • No longer in existence

When someone is in this situation, it can be difficult to be surrounded by so many images of and references to happy, intact families between now and the end of the year.

In no way am I trying to discourage people who have never experienced this from sharing stories of visiting safe, appropriate, and living relatives.

It makes me happy to see all of the joy in their lives, but I’d also love to see more posts from people who have had to limit or end their relationship with certain relatives for safety reasons, who live far away from their loved ones, who don’t have families, or who will not be doing big familial celebrations for other reasons. These stories are important and need to be told if the bloggers involved in them are willing to share a basic overview of why the holidays aren’t a cheerful time for them.

Chosen Families

On the other hand, not all families are comprised of folks who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption. It is perfectly possible to choose to become a family with people you meet long after you’ve taken your first step or graduated from high school.

As someone who is trying to do this, it would be so interesting to read other people’s accounts of how they assembled theirs.

Navigating Health Problems During the Holidays

My various allergies can sometimes make attending certain functions tricky or even impossible. I’ll often eat before going to certain gatherings to make sure I’m not sitting there with a growling stomach and the inability to eat anything there due to North America’s tendency to toss milk products into so many festive foods.

If someone has a cat, I cannot enter their home for any reason. No, not even if they vacuum really well and banish the cat to their bedroom. It has nothing to do with my opinion of their cleaning skills or cat and everything to do with how difficult it is to get dander out of a couch well enough that I won’t react if I sit on it.

It would be so interesting to me to read other blogger’s stories about how they handled their own health problems or accommodated someone else’s medical needs during the holidays. I’m well-versed in allergies, but I know far less about how other health issues can affect someone’s ability to attend or enjoy an event. It would be helpful to hear what should or should not be done from people who are living with other conditions.

Traditions from Non-American Cultures

One of the coolest things about making friends with so many people who didn’t grow up in rural, (mostly) midwestern portions of United States has been getting to hear stories about all of the traditions that exist in other parts of the world.

Some holidays that are widely celebrated here in North America like Halloween are either totally unknown or barely observed in other places. Likewise, I’ve learned about all sorts of other celebrations that my family didn’t know anything about when I was growing up. These range from major holidays like Diwali to smaller, more regional ones like Saint Nicholas Day.

Creative Gift Ideas

I’d be especially interested in reading posts about gifts that are inexpensive and not a knick-knack.

Those of you who are good at buying, baking, making, or planning personalized, meaningful presents have my admiration. That isn’t an easy thing to do….or at least it’s not for me.

Honestly, the more posts that exist about this, the better. It can be written about for so many different ages and types of interests that the possibilities are truly endless.

Reflections on the Past and Future

What were the highlights of the past year for you? What do you wish had turned out differently? What are your hopes and dreams for the new year?

I know that some bloggers aren’t comfortable sharing such personal details of their own lives, and I respect that. If they’re willing to share, I adore getting these backstage peeks into other people’s lives.

Something I struggle with might be effortless for someone else, but they also might find it hard to do something that I’ve always found incredibly easy. There’s something reassuring about seeing examples of how this works while I hope that next year will be better for everyone no matter what this one was like for them.

What topics do you wish more people would blog about during the holiday season?

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Wish People Would Blog About

5 More Things I Wish People Would Blog About

 

10 Pictures That Are Begging to Be Turned Into Stories, Part Five

It’s been a while since I wrote another instalment for this series. Either the world of stock photos is gradually growing less strange or I’m getting used to the wilder side of this world. Fewer things are surprising me these days, so it took longer than normal to compile this list.

If you’re looking for some inspiration today, keep reading.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I decided to start doing something constructive with all of the beautiful, haunting, bizarre, creative, and otherwise unique photos I kept finding on the various stock image sites I had on my RSS feed back in 2017. Every few months since then I’ve posted a list of the most unusual photos I’d found to see if any of my readers were interested in using them for any purpose.

Everything I share for this series is in the public domain. You don’t have to do anything special in order to use them.

In the past, I’ve written descriptions of how I’d use the pictures I share with my audience in this series. As much fun as it is to come up with theories about what could be happening in them, I think I’m going to leave it up to my readers to brainstorm everything this time around. My imagination is so strong that I don’t want to overwhelm your own theories about how these images can be used.

All I’m going to add to them is a brief description of what is happening in each photo for anyone who can’t see the photos I’m sharing for any reason. I look forward to seeing how you’d all react to this list and what you do with any of the images in it. Let me know if you use any of them!

A man wearing a wreath of flowers on his head and a pair of glasses that has a dandelion stuck to the middle of each frame.

A hand and forearm sticking straight up out the middle of a wheat field. It is still attached to the body of someone who is hopefully alive and well. 

 

A person wearing contact lenses that makes their eyes glow and makeup that gives their skin a blue, purple, and red hue. 

A person wearing a red hoodie, white gloves, and a mask that glows in the dark. 

A stylized and possibly long-exposure photograph of a city landscape and sky. Everything is arranged in a circle with the landscape being the centre of the shot and the sky being wrapped around it. 

A long, thin cactus poking out of a banana peel. 

A cattle skull sitting next to a decorated box filled with old-fashioned medicine. 

A long-exposure shot of a dancer. She has a pale, ghostly appearance due to how much she was moving during the shot. 

A bluejay sitting on a polished, wooden table and sticking its head into a metal saucer filled with milk.

 

A naughty grasshopper smoking a cigarette while sitting on a rock and staring out at a field of grass. 

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Three.

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Four.

My Response to Pocket Dimension

My friend, Michael, recently posted a writing prompt about pocket dimensions. I thought it would be fun to answer his questions in the form of a blog post.

Congratulations! You have your own little world. Not just your imagination – this is a physical reality, and you can step into it at will. Maybe it’s a pocket dimension, or your own private little corner of the Fay Realms. Whatever it is, it’s yours. So…

1. What does your realm look like? Is it indoors? Outdoors? A cottage on a deserted shore? A crumbling castle at the heart of a dark forest? A broad lake with a waterfall at one end and beaches around three sides? Something else entirely?

My pocket dimension is indoors. It’s located in the library of a grand, old house that is magically well-insulated. The house is cool in the summer, warm in the winter, never dusty, and always a comfortable place to visit.

The library itself has a large fireplace on one end and floor-to-ceiling windows on the other. The wood floors have been recently swept, and all of the books are arranged neatly according to the Dewey Decimal system. Many of them are about topics humans would recognize, albeit from a strictly faery perspective instead of from a human one. Let’s just say that they weren’t a fan of the Iron Age at all.

With that being said, some of the books aren’t like anything you’d find on Earth. Some of the books have mouths and will have long conversations with you if you ask them the right questions. Others teach you how to fly as you read them, share alternate histories of Earth if one key fact had changed at a particular time and place, and a few might even be portals to other places entirely if you flip to the correct page of the right story and read it’s contents aloud.

There is a washroom and well-stocked kitchen off to either side of the library for anyone who needs them while they’re visiting. I often grab a piece of fruit and cup of tea before I begin reading.

2. Do you keep it to yourself, give a few friends access to it as well, or open it to anybody?

The library is open to anyone I trust who loves knowledge and adventure. They are free to visit it with or without me at any time of the day or night.

3. Does your realm have its own inhabitants? What are they like? Do you ever bring them across to our world?

The house is owned and maintained by faeries, but you might never run into one. They’re quite shy around most humans. Even I have only met one of them, and even that was the briefest encounter you can possibly imagine. She nodded slightly at me, cracked open the door to the library, and then never showed herself again.

I wouldn’t be strong enough to bring one of the faeries back to Earth with me even if I spotted another one and wanted to show them our world. They do whatever it is they want to do, and that’s all there is to it.

4. Does entering your personal world change you? Do you dress differently, speak differently? Are you someone else when you’re there?

You cannot enter the faery library if you’re carrying anything like iron that would hurt the faeries or if you’re harbouring any thoughts about harming them, the house, or anyone else in it. Other than that, you may speak, dress, and behave as you wish.

5. Is time the same in your realm as it is out here? Is there a steady differential, like three days there pass in only an hour of our time? Or is it stranger than that?

Time is different in the faery house. A few hours of reading there generally translates into a few minutes of time in our world, but this isn’t a straightforward rule. As with everything related to faeries, they can’t be forced to follow human rules. Anyone who wishes to visit their library should remember that and prepare for the small possibility of returning much sooner or later than they were expecting.

6. How do you get to your world? Do you have to visit a specific place? Speak a certain phrase? Or is it just a matter of will and desire?

It’s a matter of will and desire. If you wish to read in a quiet, comfortable place, have no ill intentions, and have satisfied whatever nebulous criteria the faeries have for this oasis, you stand a good chance of finding a door to this place.

How would you answer these questions? What would your pocket dimension be like?

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Four

If you’re looking for some inspiration today, keep reading.

A year ago, I decided to start doing something with all of the beautiful, haunting, bizarre, creative, and otherwise unique photos I kept finding on the various stock image sites I have on my RSS feed. That was how this series of posts originally came to be, and today I have another entry in it for you.

As usual, there is a brief description underneath every photo for all of my readers who can’t see the photos for any reason. I’ve also included my thoughts on how I’d use them in a story, poem, essay, or other creative work, but feel free to let your imaginations run wild.

I can’t wait to see how you all react to these images and what you do with them.

This is a picture of a tree stump that’s been carved into the shape of a person. The person’s head is tilted back, and he or she is gazing at the sky. There is a large crack in the tree that is splitting this carving’s neck down the middle.

Step one: carve the perfect sculpture into a tree.

Step two: magically convert all of the knowledge you’ve gained from this project into the energy to carve your greatest work into stone so that it will last for an eternity. When the carving is complete, bring the wooden sculpture back to your home and put it somewhere safe. As long as it is still standing, you will remain alive and well, too.

This is a picture of someone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask looking at a red flower that is sitting on the palm of their hand. 

All I can think about when I look at this photograph are the protests that used to happen in Toronto a few years ago. People wearing these masks often played a large part in those protests. It was fascinating to see how someone behaves (in a totally law-abiding way) when no one knows who they are. Their body language is more relaxed and their movements are freer than one generally sees in a stranger on the streets of this city.

Would you or I behave the same way in that situation? I’d like to think so. Maybe we’d even pause to admire a flower before jumping back into the protest.

 

This is a picture of a young woman whose body is covered in skimpy bandages and whose face is covered in indecipherable writing. She is staring directly at the person who took this picture. 

The first thing to pass through my mind when I saw this was: “why must so many Halloween costumes for women be ‘sexy’?” I have no problem at all with people of any gender choosing to wear revealing costumes on Halloween, but it bothers me that men’s costumes are generally made to look as realistic as possible while women’s costumes are usually made to look as revealing as possible.

As hard as I tried to find some supernatural or science fiction spin on this picture, the only thing it would inspire me to write is a long essay about the intersection between capitalism and sexism.

 

 

This is a picture of two discarded artificial legs lying on a dusty wooden floor. One of the legs is bigger and longer than the other one. 

These legs belong to the same kid. As that child grows up and needs larger artificial legs, they always make sure to pause and take a picture of the limbs they’ve left behind before moving onto the next one.

This isn’t a sad moment to me. It’s a happy one. Look at how much that kid has grown!

This is a picture of someone holding a piece of green moss that has had two googly eyes glued to it. 

After forgetting to buy a birthday present for her preschool-aged son, the main character decided to surprise him with a pet moss. She wasn’t expecting him to love it as he did, and she definitely wan’t expecting the pet moss to grow legs and begin scampering around the house one night.

This picture, titled “Cosmic Winter Wonderland,” is of region NGC 6357 in space. It is a birthplace for new stars. The stars in the photograph are surrounded by large clouds of dust that resemble the clouds made of water we have on Earth.

How did life first begin? Many people have wondered that over the years. I’d like to think it happened in a place as beautiful and peaceful as this one. Perhaps it could even be witnessed by aliens or other beings who were intelligent and long-lived enough to see it all play out.

 

This is a picture of a green parakeet. It is staring directly at the photographer. 

This bird looks slightly annoyed to me. Is it actually annoyed, though? Do birds have a similarly difficult time reading human body language?

If the first sentient aliens we ever met were avian-like, how well would our species be able to understand each other? Would they find us endearing the way humans often squeal over birds on Earth?

Why can’t I stop thinking about this scenario?

 

This is a picture of a barefoot woman who is sitting in a grocery cart. 

I love everything about this photo other than the fact that the subject is barefoot. It seems like such a dangerous place to walk around if you’re not wearing shoes.

Of course, the subject has probably heard this a thousand times before. She no doubt has some sort of invention to keep anything from cutting her feet as she runs around. Maybe she’s a scientist or a magician?

This is a picture of a man who is cosplaying in the forest. He’s carrying an ornate walking stick and wearing a green cloak and other Medieval-esque pieces of clothing. 

Anyone else would have been terrified by the sight of a dragon appearing in the sky and landing in the park one summer day. Marvin had played so many rounds of Dungeons & Dragons, though, that he was sure he could get it to fly home again.

This is a picture of an empty playground that is covered in fog.

What if Stephen King’s The Mist wasn’t just a story? We know how it ended in the parallel universe he tapped into while he was writing, but maybe this is how that tale will begin in our universe.

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Three.