Writing Prompts and Challenges posts

Writing Spark #85

A sparkling burning firework.

Could this be the start of your next adventure?

****

There is a landline in your home, though you’re not sure why you bother; it came with your internet connection. It’s hooked up to an old phone that you tuck out of the way for emergencies. You’ve never given the number to anyone.

It rings one day, startling you. You answer it expecting a cold caller.

“The blackbird is over the wood,” a voice says hurriedly on the other end of the line. 

“What?” you ask.

“The blackbird is over the wood.” They sound out of breath. “And the fox is loose. Where are the horses?”

“Uh…” You would ask more, but the person has hung up. 

The next day, the phone rings again. More nonsense phrases are whispered down the line to you, and they hang up before you can say anything. You start to write the phrases down. You’re still half convinced that this is some kind of prank.

After the third call, you begin to suspect this is not a prank, but more likely your number has been mistaken for some kind of spy connection.

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Altered Dimensions: Challenge #5

Just joined this Asylum? Start from the beginning!

You and your character have experienced four different worlds today. So far, there has been no solid proof of why this is happening or how, though your character may have some theories. Perhaps it’s time they find out what’s really going on.

After spending some time in the world of wastelands, your character is transported again. This time when they arrive at the destination, they are in the centre of a room, surrounded by people all staring at them. None of these people seem to be surprised to see your character appear; in fact, they are quite businesslike about it. 

Your character can’t tell much about where they are, except that it’s futuristic compared to their original home world. There are no windows and the people present won’t answer any questions about the year or location of the facility. They refuse to answer any questions at all, but they do give reassurances that everything will be explained in good time while they hurry your character off to decontamination.

After a fresh change of clothes (whatever they were wearing in the last world probably had to be burned) and any medical treatment your character required, they are taken to an office with a person waiting to speak with them. 

This person begins with an apology. It seems that there was a critical malfunction in a complex, advanced system with an improbable name, which resulted in your character’s fractured journey across different dimensions and versions of Earth. Your character was not the only person affected; there were several others who were transported around the multiverse, and this facility has been tasked with cleaning up the mess they made. This includes scooping up those dimensionally-dislocated people and sending them back home again. 

There is a glitch, however. Because your character has spent time in multiple dimensions, the facility can no longer tell which one is their original home. They either don’t want to spend the time trying to figure it out or they don’t care; after all, they have a lot of other people to sort out after this minor (it probably wasn’t minor) dimensional disaster. Whatever their reasons, they leave your character with an important choice.

Of the worlds they have experienced, which one would they like to return to to live out the rest of their life? This is a final, irrevocable choice; there will be no way to take it back once it’s done. 

Is their home really the place they want to go back to? What is important to them now? What have they learned in their journeys that will influence their decision? Is there a place where they felt most comfortable or at home? Which world will they choose?

Tell us about your character’s decision and give us an insight into how it goes. 

Your extra challenge for this one is: branching paths. Put in as many references to paths branching and diverging as you can. Good luck!

Finishing up

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Altered Dimensions: Challenge #4

Just joined this Asylum? Start from the beginning!

Your character has spent between a week and a month in the future. Perhaps they’ve enjoyed the comfort and privilege of technology and the advancements that accompany it. Perhaps their stay has been less comfortable. 

Either way, their time in a science fiction world is about to end. The portal is coming for them again, snapping at their heels, and it whisks them away to a different time and place. It’s time for a whole new orientation.

In the next place your character finds themself, something terrible happened. Not recently; it has been a few years now, enough time for the initial dust to settle and for the breadth of the devastation to become clear to those who survived. That destruction covers all the known world; which, considering how difficult it is to communicate across large distances, is not that wide from where your character finds themself. 

The cataclysmic event – or series of events – left cities in ruins, infrastructure fractured and inoperable, and ordinary people forced to figure out how to survive. The land teems with problems and dangers for those wandering outside unprotected and alone.

It’s up to you what might have broken this world, and it’s up to you what kinds of challenges it presents for your character. What sort of situation do they arrive in? What type of people do they meet first? What do they notice first, and what do they do next? Do they try to band together with locals or strike out on their own?

What does their ability mean in this world? Does it help them deal with this place’s particular challenges, or is it useless to them as they figure out how to survive here? How hard is it for them to make their way here? What’s the biggest challenge before them when they’re facing the end of the world at they know it? Do they meet themself here or hear about their legacy?

Tell us the story of how they find their feet in a post-apocalyptic setting. Do they sink or swim? How do they scrape by or soar here? It’s up to you.

The bonus challenge for you this time is: hungry. Put in as many descriptions of hunger as possible.

Go to the next challenge!

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Altered Dimensions: Challenge #3

Just joined this Asylum? Start from the beginning!

So your character has spent a few days in a magical medieval land. Have they come to terms with what’s going on? Do they suspect they have travelled between worlds or are they convinced it’s all a dream?

Whatever truth they currently believe, things are about to change. That occurrence that happened to them and took them out of their home? It’s happening again and it’s going to drop them into another wildly different world.

This time, we’re heading into the future. Not the future compared to where they currently are; the future at least a century or two from now. A future in which technology has advanced to epic proportions. 

Space travel is possible and commonly used. Cybernetics are available at a store near you. Communications are lightning-fast and all around your character. Technology is solving more problems every day, and hopefully creating less. The solar system is shrinking and the human race is spreading out. 

This is where you character arrives or awakes next. What is the first thing they notice? What is their instinctive reaction to their new surroundings, and how appropriate does that reaction turn out to be? Are they dismayed after their experiences in the previous world, or relieved? What do they want most on their arrival?

Who greets them and how? Are they friendly, wary, or outright hostile? Your character doesn’t know how long they might be here, so what is their first priority? 

How does their special ability play in this new world? Could they pass it off as technology? Does it make someone want to investigate what it is and how it works? Does anyone react to it or do they just accept it? 

Tell us about your character’s entry into this world. They’re going to be spending at least a week here, so let’s see where technology and the future can take them. Will they sink or swim, or fly through space? It’s up to you.

This challenge’s extra element is: augmentation. Work that in however you wish! Now let’s get writing.

Go to the next challenge!

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Altered Dimensions: Challenge #2

Just joined this Asylum? Start from the beginning!

You were promised alternate dimensions and that’s what you shall get! You know what your character’s usual life is like; now it’s time to take them on an unusual journey.

During your character’s normal day, at wherever they ended up at the end of the last challenge, something odd occurs. It’s up to you exactly what it looks like and how it feels; however it works, your character is transported from their home world to somewhere quite different. 

This world has mountains and forests, rivers and brooks. It has villages tucked away among rolling farmland and brand new castles built on mounds. There are horses and carts and many familiar things… if you lived in Europe in the Dark Ages. 

There’s also magic here. Mages, wizards, and sorceresses kind of magic, with spells and sigils. There are strange creatures that your character might be used to finding in books, not running around the landscape like they’re living and breathing, yet here they are. There’s an alchemist in the high street, a store selling charms and bewitchments, and a placard promising a cure for curses. There might even be dragons.

And yet, here your character finds themself, spit out from a portal like a pip into a sword and sorcery land. It probably smells very strange. The clothing is different and your character’s currency means nothing now. 

In a land of medieval magic, how does your character’s ability fit in or stand out? How do people react to someone who looks and acts like your character?

And how does your character react to their arrival in this place? What is their first interpretation of what has happened to them? Does that interpretation change or grow? What is the first thing they try to do, and what is the most useful thing they try to do? How successful are they?

It’s entirely possible there is – or was – a local dimensional version of your character here. Do they meet or hear about their local self? What impact does it have?

Your character doesn’t know it, but they have to spend a few days here. How far in or out of trouble do they manage to get? Now is your chance to tell us.

Your extra element for this challenge is: inversion. Use as many flipped images and reversals as you can, should you wish to try. Good luck!

Go to the next challenge!

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Altered Dimensions: Challenge #1

Just joined this Asylum? Start from the beginning!

It’s time for the first challenge! I hope you are sitting comfortably and ready to write.

You know something about who your character is and a particular ability they have. You know how they spend their time and where they live. Now it’s time to walk in their shoes. 

Your challenge is to explore a day in the life of your character. Take them through a typical day and meet some of the people in their life. Give them an opportunity, excuse, or reason to use their ability, see what happens when they get to put it into action. Stir things up a little, if you have to.

The extra element for this challenge is masks. You may interpret this as you wish, should you try to include it. 

Take a walk through a day in the life of your character. Your challenge starts now!

Go to the next challenge!

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Writers’ Asylum: Altered Dimensions: Prologue

A person standing in a square portal between worlds
Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Welcome to the Asylum, lovely writers! Come on in, get settled, make yourself comfortable. You’re going to be here a while, so let’s make it an awesome time.

Today we will embark on a multi-dimensional adventure, across many worlds and five different challenges. Each challenge lasts for an hour or until you write 1,000 words; whichever happens first. Each challenge will also have a bonus element for you to put in, if you’re feeling ambitious. There will be a break between each one, including a longer meal break, so you are properly fuelled for your challenges! 

I recommend that you don’t stray too far from the prompts you will be given today. That said, the only rule is that your character must survive to the last challenge.

Before we get started, let’s set the scene for where our stories will start and who they will be about. I will give you the setup and then you will have a few minutes to make some notes, before the first challenge begins. 

Today, we’ll start with our character. This person is from a contemporary-ish world (more on this soon). They can be any gender, culture, or age you wish. Take a moment to picture them in your mind. What do they look like? What does their voice sound like? How do they typically dress?

This person has a special ability, so let’s take a moment to figure out what that is. Perhaps they have a particularly high capability in a skill that makes them unusual and noteworthy, like strength beyond typical human capabilities. Or it could be a skill that humans normally don’t have at all, like flying or breathing under water. It can have any source you wish, such as a random mutation, a scientific origin, or wielding a kind of magic.

Decide what this special ability is, and think about what the character can do with it. It’s also important to know what the character cannot do with it, so make sure you think about that as well. Next, importantly, how does the character feel about this part of themself? Do they like it? How accepted is this part of them in the world they live in? Are they proud or ashamed? Do they hide or flaunt it? Do they use it every day, for mundane things, or only when it’s absolutely necessary, or never at all?

Think about how your character grew up. What were their hopes and dreams? At this point in their life, how are they doing on the way to the kind of life they want? Is their ability helping or hindering them, or just a part of the whole messy bundle? 

How do they spend their time now? Do they study or work, or do something else with their time? What is their profession, or the type of job they want or are working towards? Do they have a family or a partner? Do they live alone or with others? Do they have one pet, many, or none? Who are they close to? What is the thing they want most in the world?

Let’s talk about this world they live in, because that’s important too. It’s a contemporary world to ours, with a similar level of technology and a similar history. How similar it is, exactly, is up to you.

How does it treat people with an ability like your character’s? Are they rewarded, revered, or reviled? Are they common or do they stand out? Are they forced to live in secret? How does all of this impact your character? Think about the big picture of their life, but also how it affects them on an everyday level. 

Build this picture of the world your character has grown up in in your mind. Think about the town or city they live in. Think about the people who fill it and what they do every day. Think about how they move around and what it sounds and smells like. 

Now take a moment to take some notes about your character, their special ability, and the place where they live. The first challenge begins shortly.

Let’s get started!

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Writing Spark #84

A sparkling burning firework.

Is this the start of a story or the end?

****

You’re home alone one evening when a storm descends on your house. Thunder makes the walls tremble and lightning splits the sky. The wind tears at the trees outside and you can barely see through the panes with the rain coming down so hard. The power goes out and you light a couple of candles to see by while you check all the windows and doors to make sure they’re securely fastened against the deluge.

Somewhere under the noise of the wind, thunder, and rain, you hear a voice calling.

“Help, please help! There’s something out here!””

You peer out through your window, but it’s dark and wet and difficult to see much of anything. Lightning splashes light across the yard. Shadows move in unnatural ways. 

You head to the front door but as you reach for the handle, someone – or something – bangs on it. Your heart thumps loudly.

“Help me!” The voice is right outside the door now.

A crack of lightning strikes a tree in the yard; the thunder is deafening and you clap your hands over your ears. Afterwards there is an empty silence. 

Nervously, you open the door, but the deck outside is clear. There’s a smear on the step that might be blood but it’s hard to tell in this light. You don’t hear the voice any more.

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Writing Spark #83

A sparkling burning firework.

Where will this question take you?

****

You have lived a good life by the values you hold dear. You have tried to do the right things within your power. You may or may not have done it with a view to a reward in the next life, but even so, you’re surprised and a little disappointed when you’re confronted with the gates of whatever hell means to you after your death. 

“Hi,” the ruler of hell says to you. “We need your help.”

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Writing Spark #82

A sparkling burning firework.

Which path will you choose?

****

You are about to start your PHD in archaeology. You love the subject and have a real passion for it, particularly going on digs and exploring ruins. Your teachers and tutors always say that you know how to make the past come alive in your papers. 

What no-one at your school knows is that you’ve also been studying necromancy. Minor rites have helped you gain some real insights into the past so far, and your more mundane studies have allowed you access to some fascinating bones and artefacts. It’s time for the next step in your necromantic studies as well.

Now, you need to decide what your PHD project will be and where these two paths will take you.

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