What If? Writing Prompts: Fantasy / Science Fiction VII

So lately I’ve been playing around with Canva, and I’ve come up with a new image for my “What If?” Writing Prompts segment! To be honest, I’ve felt for a while that it was time for a change, so today I’m debuting this new “social media friendly” image with a fresh set of fantasy and science fiction prompts! See what new stories you can write based on these ideas, and feel free to add more of your own! Enjoy!

What if… in the future, wars were waged entirely by artificial intelligence with no human input?

What if… you died, only to wake up and discover you’d been living in a virtual reality all along?

What if… you switched bodies with an extraterrestrial and had to find a way to switch back before it could destroy your home?

What if… you spent so much time in virtual reality that you couldn’t tell the difference between the real world and the virtual world anymore?

What if… you brought home a mysterious rock you found… that turned out to be a dragon egg?

Good luck writing more stories in science fiction and fantasy!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

The Halfway Point: Progress Report on My 2017 Reading Goals

Yes, we’re already halfway through 2017! Amazing, isn’t it? Now that we’re in July, it’s once again time to assess our progress on our reading goals for the year. I’ll go first!

My 2017 Reading Goals

Like I did last year, I set a goal of ten books for the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge, a reasonable goal for a relatively slow reader like me. So far, I’ve met half my goal for the year! I’ve also noticed a trend of more books from my to-read list in January actually reaching my have-read collection, as well as more nonfiction books making the list (thanks in no small part to my pursuit of a freelancing career).

I plan to write a more detailed report on my 2017 reading goals at the end of the year. In the meantime, here’s a brief review of the books I’ve read so far, am currently reading, and still plan to read:

Books I’ve read so far

  1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  2. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
  3. I Am Pusheen The Cat, by Claire Belton
  4. High Performance Paperback, by Ray Brehm and Jim Molinelli
  5. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Books I’m currently reading

  1. 1984, by George Orwell
  2. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
  3. You Are A Writer, by Jeff Goins
  4. The Business of Writing & Editing, by Sagan Morrow

Books I still plan to read

  1. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  2. Arrival, by Ted Chiang
  3. StarTalk, by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Your turn! Any reading goals you’re still working toward this year? Which ones have you completed so far?

What If? Writing Prompts: History VI

Yesterday was Independence Day in the US, so here’s a special set of “What If?” Writing Prompts to celebrate! This week’s batch features more prompts in the history genre, specifically American history! See what historical tales you can spin from these ideas, and feel free to add more of your own! Have fun!

What if… every state in the US were its own country?

What if… the “Wild West” hadn’t been settled in the 18th century?

What if… the stock market hadn’t crashed in 1929?

What if… the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had never happened?

What if… the US hadn’t undergone McCarthyism in the ’50s?

Good luck writing your own stories about American history!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

3 Reasons You Should Write Fiction in Active Voice

Anyone who either is or has worked with an editor has had to deal with the common writing issue of active voice vs. passive voice. Any and every editor worth their salt will tell you to favor active voice, while writing in passive voice is just another bad habit you’ll have to learn to break. But why? What is active voice and what makes it so much better than its passive counterpart?

Finally, a fun way to check for passive voice!
(Image source: Grammarly Blog)

In a nutshell, an active voice sentence is when the subject does an action to the object, while passive voice is when the subject has an action done to it by the object. Both voices can be used to convey the same message, yet writing tips often advise favoring the former over the latter. This is especially true for fiction, which relies heavily on not only keeping readers engaged for an entire story, but evoking their emotions as you guide them through the world of your narrative.

So to help you create stronger and more appealing fiction, here are three reasons you should favor active over passive voice. Good luck!

1) Active voice is clearer, stronger, and more concise.

The longer you’ve been writing, the more you appreciate concise and direct language. In this modern-day barrage of knowledge, information that’s delivered and processed quickly tends to have a greater impact, so the fewer words you can use to convey a message, the better. One way to achieve this is by replacing passive voice statements with their active counterparts. Observe the difference:

Active: She loved him, but he rejected her.

Passive: He was loved by her, but she was rejected by him.

Notice how the active voice sentence is simpler yet much more powerful. Written concisely, the feelings of love and rejection between these characters become prominent and impactful, whereas the longer sentence appears convoluted and awkward, despite having the same meaning. By using fewer words, you can keep your writing direct and make your narrative stronger, which will result in more effective prose. Why let it be done by you when you can just do it?

2) Active voice sounds more natural.

Think about your favorite story, that book you enjoy so much you could read it over and over. Now think about why you love it. If “it speaks to me” is one of the first reasons to come to mind, then you’ve just made an excellent point to support active voice.

The types of writing that most resonate with us are the ones that sound familiar, that is, that mimic the way we speak. Active voice achieves this far more easily than passive voice because most of our speech is active. For example, when bragging to someone about an achievement, you wouldn’t tell them, “That was done by me”; you would say, “I did that!” Similarly, narrative should be as direct and “active” as spoken words. You want to draw your readers in and keep them hooked to the last word, and what better way to achieve that than by speaking directly to them?

3) Active voice keeps the momentum going.

One of the keys to good storytelling is to always keep the action moving forward. Even slower descriptive scenes should read smoothly, with new and relevant information in every line. Passive voice makes this difficult, as it has a way of dragging the pace of a story with unnecessary words and phrases. Don’t give your readers a motive to put your book down!

You don’t want your readers to have a bad time, do you?

Keep your prose clean by limiting passive voice to the few instances in which it works best:

  • when you can’t say who performed the action;
  • when you want to emphasize the action itself; and
  • when you’re highlighting a general truth.

In all other cases, active voice will better maintain the momentum in your narrative, keeping your readers engaged through each new action until the end of the story. A good example of why this works is the Hero’s Journey: the hero answers the call to adventure, faces trials, confronts a great ordeal, collects the reward, and returns from his or her quest a new person. At every stage, the hero does something that leads to something else, standard cause and effect that propels the action forward. Apply this technique to your prose and the active voice will accomplish its most important goal: to make your writing active and interesting!

Perhaps you tend to overuse the passive voice without realizing (I know I’m still guilty of this), but luckily it’s an easy problem to fix. So the next time you edit one of your stories, keep an eye out for unnecessary passive sentences and replace them with their active parallels. Your readers will appreciate the effort!

What are your thoughts on active and passive voice? Are you guilty of not using active voice as frequently as you should?

3 Lessons You Can Only Learn from Your Grandmother

Creative inspiration can come from anywhere, and some of the best comes from the people you love most: your family. Every family member has their own unique qualities and abilities to contribute to your stories, but one in particular stands out for how much unconditional love and care she showers on you: your grandmother! Grandmas have plenty of love to give their grandchildren, so they can serve as great inspiration for grandparent characters in your stories!

So to honor someone special in my life, today’s post features three lessons you can only learn from your grandmother. Enjoy!

1) Grandchildren are meant to be spoiled.

If there’s one thing grandparents are experts at, it’s spoiling their grandkids. Every family visit to my grandmother’s house includes platefuls of delicious homemade food and lots of fussing over us, mostly about how we’re “not eating enough”. She also makes a point of complimenting her granddaughters and telling us how much she adores us, and we can’t help but smile and tell her how much we love her too!

So if you’re writing a grandmother character, be sure to make her as doting as possible of her grandchildren. Have her share her best cooking with them, fuss over them without end, and constantly let them know how much she loves them and that they’re the greatest joys in her life. Grandmothers love spoiling their grandchildren, but that’s fine because we love being spoiled!

2) Nobody cooks like Grandma!

Going back to those “platefuls of food”, one thing I love about visiting my grandma is getting to enjoy the delicious snacks she makes! They’re something we always look forward to when we visit, since we get to enjoy them almost exclusively at family gatherings for special occasions. Her cooking is always a treat, so I’m glad her gift has passed on to my mother (and hopefully someday to me)!

When writing fictional characters who are grandmothers, it’s common to give them the skills to cook and bake delicious treats, especially for their grandchildren! Remember, nobody cooks quite like Grandma does, so for Heaven’s sake, learn those family recipes! You’ll definitely miss them otherwise.

3) No matter how old you get, your grandmother will always see a child in you.

Grandma Loves You, by Helen Foster James

Every time my family and I see my grandma, some story from when I was little inevitably comes up. My grandmother loves reminiscing about when her grandchildren were small enough to be picked up and were doing something adorable every minute, and I can’t really blame her. I too love to remember the good old days of childhood; in fact, my inner child is one of the main reasons I’m a writer today!

If one of the important characters in your story is a grandmother, a good touch is to give her excellent storytelling abilities, as much of her youth as of more recent times when her grandchildren were little. Grandmothers enjoy telling stories of the people they love most, so grandchildren will naturally be a favorite subject for them! And if nothing else, telling your own story inspired by your grandmother may be the best way to show her how much you love her too!

What lessons have you learned from your grandmother? What other lessons would you add to this list?

Dedicated to my grandmother, whose love has always been a wonderful inspiration. Happy Birthday, Grandma! I love you!

My 5 Favorite Fictional Fathers

Father’s Day is coming soon, so what else could I write about this week on my creative writing blog but the awesome dads in fiction? Fathers are among the most important family figures we know, and fathers in fiction can be just as influential to the other characters in their stories. There are plenty of well-known dads in literature, film, and television, but I finally managed to narrow this list down to a few of my favorites. They aren’t always perfect, but these lovable dads are still awesome parents!

So to celebrate this coming holiday, here’s a list of my five favorite fathers in fiction. Enjoy, and Happy Father’s Day!

1) Mufasa (The Lion King)

Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life. – Mufasa’s spirit to Simba

For those of us who grew up in the ’90s, the death of Mufasa in The Lion King was a defining moment in our childhoods. It was heartbreaking and tearjerking, not just because it was one of our first hard lessons about the tragedy and permanence of death, but because we witnessed a child lose his greatest mentor, role model, and friend.

Through his brief time on screen, Mufasa imparts much of his wisdom to Simba (and the audience), teaching valuable lessons about the circle of life, the responsibilities that come with power, and the difference between courage and recklessness. Even in spirit, this wise and powerful king guides his son through the most difficult time in his life and encourages him to become the leader he was born to be. This great lion may not have lived through his movie, but to all us lifelong Lion King fans, his lessons have stayed with us since childhood and contributed to our understanding of the world as adults. It’s no wonder Mufasa is everyone’s favorite Disney dad!

2) King Fergus of DunBroch (Brave)

Princess or not, learning to fight is essential. – Fergus disagreeing with Elinor on Merida’s use of weapons

If I see myself in Princess Merida and my mother in Queen Elinor, I definitely see my father in King Fergus. The Bear King of DunBroch in Pixar’s Brave, Fergus is essentially the opposite of his wife: loud, easygoing, and hot-tempered. This polarity explains why Merida clashes so often with her mother while getting along so well with her father, as the king passed much of his personality on to his daughter. His views on the princess’s future are even more progressive than the queen’s; while it takes Elinor the length of the film to let go of tradition, Fergus believes from the beginning that Merida should be free to live her own life and make her own choices (even if he’s too anxious for household peace to bring it up).

Fergus has a great sense of humor and loves a good brawl, and while he doesn’t handle every situation ideally, his training and other contributions to Merida’s upbringing prove invaluable throughout the film, as the courage and fighting skills she inherited from him help her save her mother and lift the curse from her kingdom. Clearly, Merida is a strong and fierce young woman thanks to her equally strong and fierce father!

3) Mr. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)

An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do. – Mr. Bennet after Mrs. Bennet tries to force Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins

While he may not be winning any Father of the Year awards given that he totally neglected to leave his five daughters a proper inheritance, Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is still a pretty cool dad where it counts. He’s witty and sarcastic, which explains much of Elizabeth’s intelligence (she definitely didn’t get it from her mother!), and he has a delightfully cynical sense of humor, to the point where he delivers some of the funniest lines in the book.

Unlike his wife, whose sole obsession in life is to marry her children off to wealthy gentlemen, Mr. Bennet is in no rush to see his girls get hitched, especially to people with whom they would clearly never be happy. After Jane, he’s the only other person Elizabeth can confide in for most of the novel, and if not the greatest role model for happiness, he at least has the sense to recognize his faults and warn the daughters who will listen not to make the same mistakes he did. Mr. Bennet isn’t nearly the greatest father in literature, but his cleverness and close relationship with Elizabeth make him awesome nonetheless!

4) Arthur Weasley (The Harry Potter series)

Yeah, Dad’s crazy about everything to do with Muggles; our shed’s full of Muggle stuff. He takes it apart, puts spells on it, and puts it back together again. If he raided our house he’d have to put himself under arrest. – Fred Weasley to Harry

There are dorky dads, and then there’s Arthur Weasley. The patriarch of the Weasley family in the Harry Potter series, Arthur works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office in the Ministry of Magic, but he’s so enthralled by Muggle objects that he spends much of his time breaking the very laws he’s supposed to uphold by studying and enchanting said objects (the most notable example being the flying car Harry and Ron use to get to Hogwarts in The Chamber of Secrets).

Aside from being eccentric, Mr. Weasley is a kind and laid-back wizard, a good father to seven children, and a strong advocate for Muggle protection. And while Harry does have a pretty cool godfather in Sirius Black, given all the time he spends with Ron’s family and all the hospitality they show him, Arthur is arguably the closest thing Harry has to a father figure throughout most of the series. He may be one of the dorkiest dads we knew growing up, but we Potter fans can’t help but love Arthur Weasley for his odd magical parenting skills and his heart of gold!

5) Marlin (Finding Nemo)

There, there, there. It’s okay, Daddy’s here. Daddy’s got you. I promise I will never let anything happen to you… Nemo. – Marlin to his only surviving egg

Yes, Toy Story is a classic and I do write a lot about Brave, but if you ask me what my favorite Pixar movie is, I’ll definitely say Finding Nemo. Maybe I’m biased as a marine biologist, but as visually stunning as this film is, I find it especially appealing for Marlin and Nemo’s story and its depiction of the lengths a parent will go to for the love of a child. Sure, Marlin is far from the perfect father; he’s neurotic and overprotective, and at one point even tells Nemo he can’t do anything by himself. But can you really blame the guy for being so afraid of the ocean after losing almost his entire family to it?

Despite his flaws, this lovable clownfish turns out to be a great father where it counts; when Nemo is taken by divers, Marlin instantly overcomes his crippling terror of the “Big Blue”, facing fear after fear as he crosses the ocean to bring his kidnapped son home. The best part is that his adventure, Dory’s optimism, and Nemo’s bravery all help shape him into a much more relaxed and encouraging parent by the end of the movie, which really takes the strain out of his relationship with his son. As far as Disney dads go, Marlin is certainly one of the most devoted of the bunch!

Who are your favorite fictional fathers? What other fathers in fiction would you add to this list?

Dedicated to my dad and all the other amazing fathers out there! Thank you for all your love, wisdom, and support! Happy Father’s Day!

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