Category Archives: Writing

I’m not here to make friends

This is an old comedy sketch idea I found in my Evernote archive.

Sketch Title : “Upcoming Reality Shows”

A series of increasingly ridiculous reality show concepts presented as brief sections from each show.

Each section starts with a description of the show, a short clip of the activity, and an interview with someone asserting he’s not here to make friends. Maybe even funnier if it’s the same guy in every competition.

Competitive Origami: People at a table intensely and angrily folding paper cranes

Interview: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to fold paper!”

Competitive Livestock Abuse: Two men harassing a donkey

Interview: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to kick ass!”

Competitive Confessions: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make amends”

Competitive Carpentry: “I’m not here to make friends,” Holds up a pair of wooden bookends, “I’m here to make ends.”

Female-to-male drag competition: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make men.”

Writing contest for the next episode of “Friends”: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make Friends.”

Competitive Networking: “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to … uhh …”

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Write a story about the moment when everything changed

This is actually a small fragment of a novel I’d like to write. Fantasy novels are such undertakings, but maybe someday.

It was the sort of freak occurrence that would have reverberating effects throughout the realm for generations. Imagine a horse falling out of the sky over your head. Now imagine it has razor sharp talons and a beak designed to rend struggling flesh from the bone. Imagine your mother falling down to protect you.

Try to tell that woman’s husband, that child’s father, that this is one out of a whole forest. Try to tell them the role in the ecosystem, protecting us from those who would take these woods for themselves. Tell the frightened, shouting masses to be calm. Just try to tell them to think about what they are about to do.

In the year of the wise man, the dry season, to raucous applause, Alisair Greenwarden overturned millenia-old protections. Laws so old they may well have been written by a congress of demigods and forest spirits. The leaves fell around us, brown and brittle, descending from the swaying trees who may have been young when these laws were first drafted, whose judging whispers we would never understand.

How one tragedy leads to another. That child. That poor, helpless babe whose mother died to protect her. She will never know a time before taxidermied gryphons stood in the sacred hall. Before eager young men wore necklaces of gryphon claws and wove elaborate fables about their latest kill. Before our people turned against our own protectors.

 

Featured Art – http://www.sarina-brewer.com/gallery/taxidermy-art-fantasy.html

 

Prompt Writing – Pill to grant the powers of a god

Since I received such a positive response to my last prompt entry, I thought I would make a series of entries based on my old prompt responses. Enjoy!

Prompt

Give a story about a character who discovers that there is a pill to grant the powers of a god.

Response

“Hypothetically we therefore could postulate the existence of a pill that would grant such powers of said deity.” Professor Werner’s hair stood out from his forehead like a thin, grey halo. My eyelids were getting so heavy I had to hold my whole head up by propping it on my palm. Cryptopharmaceuticals was turning out to be even more dull and pointless than I had imagined, not that I had put much effort into imagining it when I had marked it as my second choice for freshman seminar. Chocolate factory studies had filled up, so I was here learning about hypothetical drugs.

Serene Peace’s hand shot up. She was one of those modern children whose parents had named her an adjective they hoped would describe her. It didn’t. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail so tight that I thought if someone bumped it the wrong way, it would all be torn out. She always looked like her mind was racing at roughly 100 meters per second, which in imperial units means she was crazy. Serene never waited to be called on before speaking. “Professor, do you mean that it already exists, or that it exists conceptually and could one day be manufactured?”

Professor Werner snorted at this. “Hphuf!” He then resumed his lecture. Serene’s eye twitched. Despite painstakingly cataloguing Professor Werner’s broad array of snorts, grunts, and huffs, she had only managed to conclude that not one of them was ever meant to answer her question. Serene shot her hand up again. Again she asked her question without being called on, although I don’t suspect she would be called if she did wait, so I couldn’t blame her. “Professor Werner, has anyone ever succeeded in making a deidryl tablet, or any of the medicines you’ve described in this course?”

“Fffuf!” Professor Werner admonished, “You, Miss Peace, might find you’re better suited to,” and he added an extra harrumph, “Hhhh-applied CccHemistry!”

I happened to know that chemistry was already Serene Peace’s planned major. That was twenty years ago. Now we all live under the benevolent hand of Serene Peace. It’s hard to say precisely what has changed about the world since she developed and consumed the first and only successful deidryl tablet, but its clear that it’s better. I wonder if she’s just changed all of us to have more positive perspectives. Sort of lame to have my free will so roundly and effortlessly disproven. I feel like I would have been grumpy about that once. Deidryl’s one heck of a drug.

 

Worst prompt night

Once upon a time I organized a writing night based around bad prompts. Each participant was expected to bring the worst prompt he or she could think of on an index card, then we would trade index cards and write to the prompts. Today I’ll share my prompt, the prompts I wrote to, and what I wrote.

My prompt

You are an accountant managing the finances of a small chain of delicatessens in the southeastern United States. A shipment of roast beef is on a southbound train starting at one hundred meters per second and accelerating fifteen meters per second squared. One hundred miles to the south is a northbound train accelerating from 50 meters per second at a rate of 10 meters per second squared. When the trains collide and 150,000 lbs of roast beef valued at $5 per pound before North Carolina’s 7.5% tax is lost. If your manager charges you 10% of the losses, how much money do you lose?

This prompt received some consternation, but I was fortunate in that no one actually tried to solve the problem, which I myself had not troubled to solve. Mostly, they just wrote stories about grumpy deli accountants.

Ethan’s prompt

Ethan offered three prompts and exhorted us to pick one. I wrote a prompt incorporating all three.

Pick a card

You’re wearing a great hat, but can’t describe it.

You’re having lunch with your favorite author – describe the bread

My response

I have the loveliest hat. I cannot describe it because I am under a non-disclosure agreement. I can tell you that I am wearing it because it is so gosh darn lovely. “Good morning, sir!” I say to a fellow hat-wearer. I can describe his hat, but I will not. It is less lovely by a substantial margin. Later in the day, I find a three of hearts stuck between the branches of a tree. It is a good sign. A sign that my meeting with George R. R. Martin will go well.

While meeting with George, a stellar fellow, I can’t help but notice the bread. It’s a thick, sour rye so flavorful it does not even need butter. I apply butter anyway, as does George, although I wish he would take better care of himself at least until he’s finished with his books. The bread is sweet ambrosia on my tongue. What majesty! What stellar, divine triumph! Luckier than the three of hearts, more lovely than my – well, let’s not get carried away.

In any case, when all the bread is gone, I open my mouth to tell George how much I appreciate his stark yet compelling portrayal of violent conflict, ha ha, no pun intended, when a waiter comes by with another dish of bread. What is this restaurant!? A spectacular complete loaf of LaFarm signature sourdough easily covers our entire small table. Out of concern for poor George’s health, I snatch it away and begin to, carefully, slowly, eat it all myself.

Lest my chance to speak to my hero be lost, I endeavor to speak between bites. “What is your inspiration?” I ask as I reach the one-quarter mark on my LaFarm loaf. George raises a finger to explain his secret to success when an olive-herb loaf, a pane caesarica, and a french loaf you could pole vault with are all wheeled out. Once again I strive to protect my mentor from early cardiac failure.

George R. R. Martin left that restaurant alive. For that, I am grateful. We shall see if some day I will get to leave, too. Just me, endless bread, and the most beautiful hat never described.

Ilya’s prompt

You discover that your identity was stolen by underpants gnomes

My response

I am underpants. I must be underpants, or else how could my identity have been stolen by underpants gnomes? Yet, how could I still know that I am underpants if my identity is lost to me? What is the nature of the undergarment persona? I call my bank to try and cancel my credit card. Our conversation is brief, exchanging tough security questions and responses like a pair of duelling boxers. Soon a new one is in the mail. I take one last look at my old card, the little picture of me, or is it me? Perhaps it is some person wearing white woolen long-johns who are me. I take it to the shredder.

It wreaks havoc on your life, to have your identity stolen and to be underpants. Those goddamn gnomes. I am locked out of my Amazon account. Even my laundry card is maxed out. Pairs upon pairs of me begin to pile up. With no way to clean them, they are dirty. I am dirty. I am underpants. I travel to the coin laundromat. People are staring at the walking underclothes. I feel exposed. Ashamed. What am I doing wandering the streets!? I should be covered!

I get a letter from the gnomes. They are not cruel. They will return my identity if I wire them twenty thousand dollars. Underpants cannot wire money. I drape myself carelessly over the couch. Maybe someone will find me, and with a curled lip of distaste, toss me into the hamper where I belong. Without my identity I am worthless. I have nothing. I am underpants.

 

Zombie Bloodflies of the Chesapeake Bay

I was on a boat the other day on the Chesapeake Bay.  Water in all directions as far as the eye could see. So where were all the flies coming from? Big black flies flitted from leg to leg, and they bit. These were biting flies.

Fortunately, there was a swatter aboard. I went to work on the flies. Since they were full of our blood, the flies splattered in red goop. If they did not splatter, that was even worse they might return. These bloodflies rise from the dead no problem. We got to the point where we would smack the flies and then stomp on them. If they didn’t end up in stomping range , three or four more smacks to make sure they were in several pieces seemed sufficient to preclude any fly resurrections.

A dead fly, unfortunately, attracted more flies. They continued to arrive from nowhere to feast on the corpses of their comrades, which the smack of the swatter drove into the air to land elsewhere on the boat. The flies’ tricks didn’t end there. The skipper had evidently become enamored with the flies, and suggested that we should respect them instead of killing them. I was tempted to smack this turncoat to see if he himself dissolved into a swarm of carnivorous flies.

Still, the flies kept coming. Soon, we were sure we were under attack by yellow-jackets, but the flies had just gotten bigger and gained yellow and black stripes. We began to worry that in a few hours they would be as big as rats and detonate in showers of smaller flies when swatted, but soon we had made it back to land. We fled into the bathroom and hid until the flies lost interest.

9/10, would recommend.

Opening Lines

The opening line for my novel, the one based on my blog serial of the same name is probably not yet what it should be.

My memory of that day becomes clearer as the events become stranger.

It’s not a bad hook, but I think it’s too vague to serve for the whole novel, which is meant to do more than simply hold a reader’s interest. This line tells the reader (a)  the narrator is remembering things and that her memory is sometimes fuzzy, and (b) the events in the book are strange. (b) is true and worth communicating in an opening line, but probably not sufficient. (a) is utterly worthless, perhaps even misleading. Placing it in the first line suggests that fuzzy memories are a key element of the novel, which they are not.

What is the main theme, though? Robots are becoming as smart as humans, and their motives are as difficult to understand as they are counterintuitively mundane. The protagonist Diane has a dead husband Benjamin of whom she often thinks and whose death is mysteriously intertwined with the world in which Diane now lives.

I should not reveal too much, though. An opening line should not be a spoiler.

How about this?

Despite what people might think to look at me, I personally wasn’t around to see the plains of North Carolina and Kentucky rise into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the wintry glaciers retreat from modern day Wisconsin, the once prolific Montana bison driven to near extinction by a foe it would never understand. It’s the sort of change no one expects to live long enough to witness firsthand.

It all started with a change I may rather have died than live to see. One involving the little library off Old Fayetteville Road.

It’s certainly more epic. It clearly tells the reader “this is about the United States of America,” and I can work in references to the events in this line throughout the book as Diane visits these locations in her journey. It also says “the protagonist is old” and “something big is going to change in the universe of this book.” Also, there’s a library. It is a little odd, though, just how epic it is. I intend my book to describe a historic paradigm shift, but are the behavior of ice sheets, tectonic plates, and large mammals an appropriate allegory?

Despite what people might think to look at me, I personally wasn’t around to see the mule give way to the tractor. I didn’t witness the horse and buggy be replaced by the car, nor did I watch John Henry kill himself in a desperate bid to prove he was better than a drilling machine. A drilling machine that has certainly become ten times more powerful, cheap and efficient since. What I did see starts at a place that I thought would be the end of my story.

This probably has the opposite problem. It may be too on the nose, so to speak. It says “Machines are replacing people.” I don’t want to bash anyone over the head. Let them get into the story, then I can work them towards the more important points.

Probably the best thing to do will be to revisit this several times, especially after I have a first draft written of the whole book. Then I’ll have a clearer sense of how my theme comes together, which will help me craft the opening couple sentences. I also should keep paying attention to opening lines of other books.

The End of a Campaign

Yesterday, the D&D campaign I began on December 3rd, 2016 ended. Generally, it was a success. The players seemed to think so, and that’s really the most important gauge. I enjoyed myself, although I would be hard pressed to tell you I succeeded in creating the story arc that I originally set out to. Communicating a complex story in four-hour-per-month increments while simultaneously keeping action up for players who themselves can and will change that story is challenging if not impossible task. As a writer, I cringe at the mess I made of my own story at times to keep things moving. Abrupt plot shifts, characters dropping all of their internal motives just to say “ok” to whatever needs to happen for a session to end on time, and of course, monsters and villains inexplicably arriving at exactly the right time to make for an exciting battle. It’s ok, though because this isn’t a fantasy novel. Most if not all of the best moments came from my party’s own sense of their characters and personal creativity.

In Asymmetric Information in D&D, I described some of the entirely organic scenes that arose in my D&D campaign. Let me add a couple more. One of my players insisted on looking through a bad guy’s desk I had just put there for decoration. He kept asking me what he found until I told him he found a list of people they were looking for. Then he kept pushing. “What else do I find?” I told him he found some tawdry love letters to an “Esmerelda.” Then when the bad guy showed up, he read the love letters aloud to infuriate him.

Another player tried to seduce the bartender Ilyna with song. The tavern got excited at such a beautiful voice singing for them and started making requests, which he was happy to fulfill. They had such a good time that Ilyna invited him to stay at the inn as long as he liked and enjoy the food and lodgings free of charge, and he said “no.” He was a wandering man. Ilyna said she understood. The world needed saving. She just had to ask on behalf of her customers.

Another time, I was putting a bunch of vultures on a clocktower just to make it creepy and draw attention, and a player said “someone’s been hanged.” I liked the idea and I decided a NPC priest of the D&D god Pelor they’d met before who had been trying to stoke the peasants into a fury against the queen had overplayed his hand and gotten lynched. The rest of his little gang got run out of town at the same time. It turned out to be an exciting way to tie up loose ends and raise the stakes at the same time. The players, some of whom had a personal connection to this NPC, cut him down and had a burial service. I even got to resolve a little subplot another player had created around himself where he wasn’t sure what version of Pelor he was supposed to be following, the kind, loving Pelor, or the angry, intolerant Pelor these NPCs represented. He’d fought with Pelor so much that for a few campaigns I told him he felt his connection to his god weakened. After laying his former comrade to rest and praying for the rest of the day, Tom the Monk finally understood in his heart he’d been on the right path all along and could feel the light of Pelor shining through him once more.

So, what to learn from this? I should spend less time planning D&D modules ahead of time, and just run with the ad-lib, I think. People really don’t mind when it’s simple or there are plot holes. They love getting the opportunity to do something nobody else has thought of, and uncovering something surprising. What’s especially important, and I think I’ve done well with this, is that I must never lose track of the point of a D&D game. It’s not about telling a heart-wrenching story,  making a perfectly coherent world, or perfectly balancing the monsters and the players in combat. It’s about the all the players having a good time. As a DM, that’s what makes me have a good time.