Murder in Mind: Challenge #3

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We’ve seen what happens when things get testy between partygoers, but not all clashes at this party are angry. It has brought together people from many parts of the host’s life, including his or her past. Some bonds are remembered, some reforged. Some sparks are rekindled, while others are new.

The party rolls onwards. Food and drink are consumed. There might be dancing, perhaps some singing.

Two people are definitely feeling the less violent and more salacious sparks. (Or more than two, if you’re feeling adventurous!) Think about who they might be, and why it took this party to push them together in this way. Think about why it is they’re drawn to each other. A shared history? An animal chemistry? Chance and proximity?

Tell us about the sparks between these two, and how they go off to find somewhere to indulge in their passion. What happens when they get there?

Challenge #3: Rendezvous

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Murder in Mind: Challenge #2

(New to Murder in Mind? Head back to our first post to get started!)

The speech has been given and the party rolls on. Let’s think about some of the attendees to this little shindig now. There are the host’s family, friends, and work colleagues. There are possibly school friends, and people who share the host’s hobbies, like the gym or a club. They might be exes, or people who have supported the host in the past.

These people from all the different parts of the host’s life mix, likely with varying degrees of success and smoothness. Some of these people may have crossed paths before; some may not have. For some, they may only know what the host has told them of the others.

Inevitably, at some point, tensions flare into outright sparks. Think about those who might clash with each other. Focus in on two specific people, or three if you’re feeling ambitious. What might they clash about? Why would it come out here, at a public event? How enthusiastic will this clash get?

Show us the confrontation and how far it goes!

Challenge #2: Tete-a-tete

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Murder in Mind: Challenge #1

It’s time to throw a party. So let’s get started!

Who is the host of this special event? This person has invited everyone in his or her life to the party, from family to work colleagues to friends. Give them a name, an identity.

What kind of place does this host live in: city, village or space station? What is their typical day like? Do they work? If so, what sort of work? Where are they in the hierarchies of their life? Manager or managed? Parent or child, or both? How successful do they consider themselves to be?

Do they have a family? Partner? Ex-partners? Who are the people they are closest to in their life?

What are their aspirations? What’s next for this person?

Now let’s think about why they are throwing this party. The host doesn’t usually call all of these people – from the private and professional sides of their life, and from all the different parts of those arenas – together at the same time, so why now? There must be a purpose. Is it a celebration, commemoration, or announcement? An anniversary of some kind?

Does everyone know why they’re there? Has the host been up-front about his or her reasons for the party? Or has it been shrouded in mystery, or even lies and misleading phrasings? Was everyone told the same thing about the event? What did the host have to do to get everyone here?

Now let’s consider the party itself. What kind of venue is it being held in? Is it indoors or outdoors? On a boat? In space? In a lighthouse on a remote island?

How does the venue feel – is it crowded or spacious? Dim or bright? Is there music playing, and if there is, is it too loud to talk?

What is the tone in the room? Are people talking, or drinking? Getting along, or clashing? Awkward? Are they glad to be there, excited, feeling forced, coerced, or just happy there’s an open bar? (Is there an open bar?)

Let’s go to the point of the night when everyone has arrived and the party is just getting going. The host has decided to give a little speech or presentation, to let everyone know why they have been gathered there.

Walk us into the party, right up to moment when it’s falling quiet. All eyes are turning to the host. Show us the speech and its impact on the room.

Challenge #1: Welcome to the Party

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Writers’ Asylum: Murder in Mind: Prologue

Welcome to the Asylum. Today, we’re going to commit murder.

But first, we’re going to throw a party. We’re going to climb into the lives of the host and his or her guests, we’re going to see how they tick, and why. More interestingly, we’re going to see what happens when they’re mixed together.

I’m going to give you a series of instructions and prompts. You can take these instructions in any direction you wish: your imagination is encouraged to play. When each challenge is presented, you have an hour to write. Aim for 1,000 words and see where each challenge takes you!

So, get a drink, turn up the music, and settle in. It’s going to be a fun and perilous ride!

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Writers’ Asylum: Mental Battlefields: Epilogue

You’ve made it through the trials of war and a harrowing battle sequence. There was tension and doubt, lives on the line, loss and gain. At the end of it all, there was a victor, and a price for all to pay.

I hope you have found today’s challenges interesting and intriguing, and maybe even a little fun. We have barely scratched the surface of this story, have had only glimpses of these characters, but you’ve made them live and breathe.

Their story is done; their fate has been decided. You may go on to tell more of their stories, maybe even adjust their destinies if you wish. This world and this war is yours and yours alone. These battlefields are all in your mind.

Thank you for taking part in these challenges. I hope you go forward and continue to create new and interesting worlds, and the events that shape them.

The doors are open, a fresh breeze is coming in. The Asylum releases you. Good luck, and happy writing!

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Mental Battlefields: Challenge #5

Let’s move ahead. That first shot rang out ten years ago. Long or short, that final battle is all done now. The war is over. Let’s let the blood dry, the dust settle, and the fallout spread through the warring parties.

The smoke has cleared now. Think about what the battlefield looks like now, a decade later. How changed is it? What markers of the battle remain, if any?

Think about how that battle ended. Not everyone in the whole world was killed: let’s allow at least some to survive. A battle is for nought if there are none to remember it, and perhaps someone might learn something from this one to make better choices in the future.

Who stood victorious, when all was said and done? What was the cost, to both sides? What happened to the defeated side? How far did the ripples reach?

We know that the victors write history. Theirs is the story told loudest and most often. How was this battle framed by that story? How do the official reports say it went down?

The tenth anniversary of the battle is a chance for a commemorative event. Perhaps it’s official, or perhaps some veterans simply take it on themselves to do something. Which side were they on? Are they commemorating a great victory or a crushing defeat? Remembering those who fell?

How do they remember the last battle? How different is their view of it compared to the pubic memory? Do they recognise the battlefield as it is now? What do they do at this event? Are there speeches, or silence? Are there flowers, or banners?

Go back to one of the characters you wrote about in a previous challenge and bring them along. Give us a familiar voice and let it speak their perspective on all of this.

Tell us how it all ended, and the beginnings that followed it.

Challenge #5: Retrospect

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Mental Battlefields: Challenge #4

The wait is over when the first shot is fired. Whether it’s the first arrow that arcs over the battlefield, the first report of a gun, the first missile launched, or the first laser emitted, there’s always something that starts the deluge. That looses the dogs and starts the conflagration.

This is the action that kicks everything off. Is everyone ready to act? Are the forces in position? Has everyone woken from their rest and had their last bathroom break? Does everyone have their orders and understand what to do?

Focus on that first shot. Think about the person who fired it. Which side is he or she on? Were they reacting to a signal? An appointed time? Did they mean to fire it? Was it carefully calculated, perfectly aimed, and intended to precipitate this entire battle? Or was it the slip of a hand, careless sex on a control board, a badly-timed nap, or a malfunction that caused a misfire?

Was even the side the shot first came from ready for it? Did anyone try to stop it?

This time, focus on that shooter. Tell us how that first shot came to happen, and all of the things that it caused. Show us the impact on one of the front-line soldiers (assuming this particular battle has some). Feel free to pull in any and all of the previous characters you’ve written about, as you wish. The battle is starting, and you get to determine how it goes and for whom.

Challenge #4: Who Shot First

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Mental Battlefields: Challenge #3

We’ve considered those in charge of our warring armies. Now let’s take a look at those lower on the food chain: those closer to the front line.

With two forces lining up and tense about what’s about to happen, timing is going to be crucial. Both are racing to get ready, both are jostling for their best strategic position. No-one wants to miss something happening and risk being caught with their pants down, or asleep, or looking the wrong way. One side might be counting on a feint in order to make their real move. This all makes intelligence about each other’s movements of vital importance.

Both sides are attempting to spy on the other. They might have scouts out in the field, trying to sneak close enough to find out what’s really happening. They might have someone trying to hack into enemy communications and decode essential transmissions. They might have a probe skirting enemy territory, sending back videos of the encampment. This is going to depend on the era you’re writing about, their available technologies, and the nature of the battlefield between them. Your scout might be an actual person on the ground, creeping through undergrowth and eavesdropping on perimeter guards, or they might be an intelligence analyst, processing captured data back at base. It might be something in between. It might even be a mole in the enemy camp, trying to get a vital update out to their true masters before it’s too late.

Decide who your scout is. Decide which side they’re scouting for, and who they’re spying on. What led them into this position? The entire battle could pivot on this person and their skills: if the enemy gets the drop on them in this final battle, it could all be over as soon as it starts. How are they handling the pressure: with practised ease, or are they starting to crack? Somewhere in between?

Think about the tools at their disposal and what they’ll need to do to get the information they’re after. Are normal methods going to cut it this time around, or are they going to have to try some extraordinary measures? Be creative; have your scout think outside the box. Now is the time to pull out all of the stops, to go that extra figurative mile.

Now consider what it is the scout finds in this last push. What is it they’re after, and why is it so important? What they come across may be a feint, it may be real, or it might be a mix of the two: that’s up to you.

Tell us the story of this scout and that extra mile. Tell us what they find, and if it’s what they were looking for. Tell us about their efforts to get the information back to the leader who desperately needs it.

Do they make it? Does the information get to where it needs to be? Does the scout make it out alive? Tell us the fate of this scout and their mission.

Challenge #3: Intelligence Test

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Mental Battlefields: Challenge #2

Now we understand a little about one of the sides in this battle, let’s take a look at the other one.

The top dog has been doing well, particularly during this final stretch of the war. They may or may not be comfortable at this point, but things have definitely been going in their favour.

Think about how they’ve managed to get to this point. What was it that made the difference? The strength of individual men? Better arms or armaments? More resources or support? Was it pure luck that gave them some vital wins? A particularly skilled tactician in charge, or an unstoppable hero on the front line? Divine favour? A mixture of several of those?

Does everyone believe in the same reason for their success? What does the average soldier believe? Was this inevitable, because of the strength of their faith, or the number of their armies, or the weapons at their disposal, or the righteousness of their path?

What about their ‘camp’? Is it a similar setup to the underdog’s camp, or is it different? How is it different? Think about all the ways it differs or contrasts to the enemy’s camp. Is it about the equipment, the mood of the soldiers, the feeling in the air? Are the differences obvious? Or is it only the emblems on flags and equipment that mark the difference? Are they more alike than one might assume?

Somewhere in this camp, there is the person in charge. Think about this person’s attitude as they prepare for this final showdown. Are they complacent or nervous? Confident or grouchy that there’s so much fuss about what’s really just another battle? Do they have something to prove, or a perfect record to maintain?

A leader is nothing without a reliable and smart second-in-command. Someone to take their orders to where they need to be actioned, and to make sure it’s done. Someone to run interference and ensure everything is running smoothly. Someone to filter the distractions that are placed in front of the leader for consideration. They might even have more than one second, but for right now, let’s focus on one of them.

Consider what kind of person this second-in-command might be. What makes him or her a suitable second-in-command? Is it because they naturally complement their leader in some way, or because they’re able to fake it? Are they new at this position, or have they been in it for a while? Are they comfortable playing a support role, or are they, in fact, ill-suited to the position?

How does this person view their position? What kind of relationship does he or she have with the top dog leader? Is it an easy symbiosis, or a fractious duty? Is there trust and respect? Is this relationship still being built, or could it have been damaged at some point in the past? What is the second’s opinion of their leader and his or her tactics? What do they believe about their chances in the upcoming battle? What do they know about what’s going to happen? How busy are they as they await the battle?

Show us the top dog camp in the final few hours before the battle begins, through the eyes of the second-in-command. Again, don’t get to the end of the waiting period, not yet. This is all about the anticipation.

Challenge #2: Underdog’s Underbelly

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Mental Battlefields: Challenge #1

Let’s not jump right into the heart of the storm, not right away. Let’s explore our players first.

Somewhere near your battlefield, two forces are gathering: top dog and underdog. You should give them proper names. They’re moving into position and preparing for the fight to come.

Both sides are waiting. It might be for those last supplies or troops to arrive. It could be for orders from distant brass. It could be a signal to coordinate the attack. It might be an event outside of their control, like a break in the weather or the alignment of two certain stars. Whatever their reasons, both sides are currently in a state of suspension. Waiting. Preparing. Trying to second-guess what their enemy is doing or waiting for. Hoping that whatever they’re waiting for gets there before the enemy makes their move.

Go to the underdog camp. Think about the makeup of the camp: is it an actual camp, or a disparate gathering of forces, or a group of ships grouped loosely in the dark? Have they been dug in here a while, or just arrived? Are they still in transit to the battlefield?

What’s the tone of the camp? In the last hours of their wait, what’s the prevailing mood? Excitement, dread, determination? What are people doing? Are they ready, resting, or running about in a scramble to prepare for the battle of their lives?

Think about what the average soldier might be doing. Then move up the chain of command until you reach the person in charge of this group. He or she is probably not the ultimate leader of this side of the war – though they might be – but they are definitely the conduit to whomever is in control of the underdog side.

What’s it like in the commander’s presence? Is it the same as everywhere else in the camp, or is there a different prevailing mode? Is the difference subtle or stark?

Consider who this commander is. Give him or her a name and a title. How did he or she rise to this position? Is this what they always wanted, or a path that life has thrown them on? How competent are they as a commander? How are they viewed by their troops? Have they proven themselves in battle already or do they still have something to prove? Who have they been proving things to? Themselves, someone personal, their troops, their superiors?

What is the commander waiting for, and how optimistic are they feeling? How are they using these last few hours before the hammer drops?

Your first challenge is to write a moment in this commander’s last few hours before the battle. Not the end of the wait, but during. Tell us who this person is, tell us what they’re doing, and maybe, what they’re hoping to do. Show us a glimpse of an underdog girding itself for battle.

Challenge #1: The Top Top Dog

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