Writing Prompts for the Holidays

Many writers are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, so I’m offering you some writing prompts for (hopefully) inspiration and keeping you tapping away at that keyboard. Even if you don’t feel like doing 50,000 words of fiction in a month, maybe you can still find these helpful for devising a new story, looking at something from a new angle, or simply getting unstuck. I need to do all three myself, so I plan to use each of these at least once

1. “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

2. Lots of characters face conflict because they are late for their engagements. What about a character who is always early? How can being early create conflict?

3. What’s the worst that could happen during a nice afternoon chat?

4. Many fight scenes with dozens of combatants occur in a bar or tavern. So, what if a crowd of “normal” people got into fisticuffs in a more unusual place? A museum. An auction house. An observatory. The Louvre. The nearest Village Inn. A train station. Anyplace where you’re not expecting to step on someone’s recently dislodged tooth.

5. How would a big battle scene change in the transition between night and day? Whether they’re fighting at sunrise or sunset, think about the changes of mood, the tactics each side would switch over to, the soldiers having to adapt to the new environment. Contrast the features of nighttime combat and daytime combat as much as possible.

Hope these are of some use to you. Thanks for your time!

In Defense of a “Hobbit” Trilogy

Peter Jackson has made it official, now. The Hobbit will be told through another epic film trilogy in Middle Earth.

For better or worse, I am excited and optimistic about this decision. Most of the internet is rejoicing at the news, but given the smaller, tighter focus of The Hobbit as a book, some are rising up to say the trilogy will feel stretched and boring. Film cynics immediately settled into their favorite act of projecting, stating that the studio “just wants more money.” One or two people have thought themselves exceptionally clever by invoking Bilbo’s quote from Fellowship of the Ring: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Perhaps they will be proven right. The movies aren’t out yet, and anything can happen. But, as an optimist, I refuse to go along with the mourning and bemoaning about this development. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy still is made up of my three favorite movies of all time (heck, I’m watching Fellowship right now).

The man and his creative team sweated blood to respectfully bring the spirit of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to life twelve years ago, and he knew an adaptation of Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain would require the same care and love. I am trusting him to do well with this decision, and I believe him when he says the third movie was motivated not by money or marketing, but by the needs of the story that was coming to life before the camera.

Here’s why I believe him. Tolkien himself once said that his visits to Middle-Earth resulted in “tales that grew in the telling.” Even with Jackson’s films, that was the case with the Extended Edition DVDs, which most Rings fans agree are the superior versions of each movie. Jackson wants to draw on the appendices (published at the end of Return of the King) to supplement Bilbo’s simple adventure story, which he obviously knows doesn’t need three movies by itself. And now that I think about it, my opinion is that three movies are needed, for a simple reason: to immerse viewers in Middle-Earth by showing them a much larger world. Tolkien’s lifetime of work produced a realm that was much more than the adventures of a ragtag group of Dwarves, and later a Fellowship.

No doubt the filmmakers will enjoy even more profits from expanding two films into three, but so what? The richness and depth of Tolkien’s world deserves a better cinematic treatment than a strict, by-the-numbers telling of Bilbo’s side of the story. The films may be part of a trilogy called The Hobbit, but they should show much more than what is seen through Bilbo Baggins’s eyes.

And even if I’m wrong, if the movies are bloated and stretched and Jackson couldn’t quite tell as good a story this time around…well, I would rather have too much of a good thing than too little. Especially when it comes to Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Besides, the more movies Ian Mckellen plays Gandalf in, the better. That’s pretty self-evident.

UPDATE: Here’s an io9 article that helps show why The Hobbit can’t be fully realized in just one movie. If you want to know why Gandalf repeatedly leaves the Dwarves and Bilbo behind, know how the Dwarves started up on this quest in the first place, and have each character become sympathetic and memorable so you actually care about them, the solution is to build your story through multiple films.

Fiction Exercise: Music to My Sunburned Ears

I wrote this for a workshop exercise back in January, a bit of action-oriented sci-fi. Hope you enjoy.


Carter settled in the corner of a ruined cafeteria, where some of the gunmetal gray ceiling still remained to give him shelter. Gunshots and plasma blasts whacked against his ears, the kind of music that would race his heart and sweep him up in the wash of adrenaline. A music that put him at the edge of death, and gave him a stronger sense of life than anything else could.

His dark green trench coat swept dirt and broken glass and flakes of dried blood over the floor, his fingers plucking shots from the bandolier and poking them into the chamber of his Frenesat rifle. Creaks resounded through the wrecked ship underneath him, as if the massive craft were trying to revive itself and leave the battlefield. Fighters shot by like piloted missiles, chasing each other through air that stung with smoke.

“Base, base, come in,” Carter said through his headset, which crackled with static. “Carter reporting, come in.” For an eternity, he only heard the static, behind cover, with only the hours-old bodies of the crew to keep him company. Any minute now an incandescent green streak of wayward plasma could evaporate the bulkhead and end his life before he felt the burn.

“Base-” he shouted.

“Base here, Carter.” One of the lower captains barked into his ear. “Go ahead. You have a sit rep, Corporal?”

“Same as everywhere I’ve been today, sir. SOL. Bad luck’s following me like a lost puppy. I’m on the upper mess hall for the Lightning Revenant. Something tore an awful big hole in its back, after it dropped out of orbit. Could there be any survivors here?” He gave a glance to one of the bodies, a young woman in a green jumpsuit, with very little blood around her. He could have sworn she moved. The ship shook from a missile strike, is all, he told himself.

“We got no report of survivors leaving the Revenant,” said the captain through a momentary flurry of static. “If you got no other orders, you can work your way down through the decks. That spacecraft’s the best shelter out there, in any case.”

Carter stood up, cocking the silver rifle and letting it rest in his grip like a lover’s palm. “Agreed. I’ll continue inside. Carter out.”

Just as his first sprinted step took him out from the scrap of ceiling and bathed him in a bright blue sun, the girl in the emerald jumpsuit moaned. He wheeled around to find her pushing up from the field of corpses on one arm. The other one was broken, awkwardly contorted in its sleeve, and her hands were leathery red from sunburn. She must have lain there the whole time since the Revenant’s crash.

“Help me,” she mouthed, her bloodshot eyes finding Carter’s. “Help me. Please.”

Carter dashed to her and gingerly slung her good arm over his shoulder. A stab of resentment couldn’t be entirely ignored. The battle was no longer his idea of fun, a game, a jungle gym with shrapnel. Now he had to save someone’s life other than his own.