Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Asking Questions and Generating Ideas

Writers want to tell an interesting and engaging story.  This isn’t an easy task, either.  We’re each one out of thousands of story-tellers, and it seems every possible idea has been done in some form or another.  This can make writing our own stories seem daunting.  Even futile.  I should know, because I’ve struggled with this insecurity before.

Speculative fiction gives us the advantage of opening up the possibilities.  The universe is vast.  There are so many things to see and do that humans have yet to discover, and this is an exciting fact.  This doesn’t mean, however, that the story ideas always come easily.  They frequently don’t.  There are, however, plenty of ways to defeat writers block.  I’ve used these methods myself.

Next time you’re watching a film, ask yourself questions. 
How could things have happened differently?  What if a character missed their flight and couldn’t make it to the important meeting?  What if the protagonist saw through the antagonist’s lies and decided to try to beat them at their own game.  Asking these kinds of questions regarding stories you love help get you thinking like a writer.  Plus, the urge you may occasionally feel to yell at the screen when a character does something stupid can be harnessed for good use.  That’s a great thing, if you ask me.

You can also ask friends to give you tidbits of plot.  Ask one friend for a character or two.  Ask another for a setting.  Ask a third to give you an inciting incident to kick the story into motion.  Ask someone else for another incident to send events into a new and interesting direction.  Use these things to create a story idea.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Character #1: Female, age 35, doctor
Character #2: Male, age 20, mechanic
Setting: spaceship, passenger liner, carrying 20,000 people, currently in orbit around Earth
Inciting Incident: A bizarre space anomaly is spotted, and it’s heading straight for Earth.

From this setup, questions naturally arise.  How should they respond to seeing the anomaly?  What is it?  What will happen if it reaches Earth?  Will the world be destroyed, or will it be changed in some strange way?  Should the spaceship stay and try to help if things go awry?  Should they flee to protect the 20,000 people onboard?  The story could go in so many different directions.  What role will our main characters play in all this?  They won’t be the ones making the final decision about whether the ship stays or goes, but they’ll certainly have plenty to do when trouble strikes.

The idea may ultimately be terrible.  It might also be brilliant.  In either case, it’ll get your brain thinking creatively, and that’s the most important part of all this.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Blogging: A to Z Challenge

It's Coming!
Hey everyone, Mel here. Today I wanted to focus on blogging, and for me nothing was bigger in the blogging world than A to Z. For those of you who don't know about April's A to Z challenge, it's a blog hop created by Arlee Bird. During this challenge, you post daily (except on Sunday) and your daily post corresponds with a letter of the alphabet. April first is A, second is B, etc. I've participated in the challenge for years. I'd usually start preparing mid-February, because I learned early on that the last thing you want to be doing in April is writing posts. No April is for visiting. And I plan to do that again this year, although I'm not participating myself. For those of you who are, there have been a few changes, the biggest being that there is no list. Instead, you're going to link your daily post to a comment on the A to Z Blog. There are some things I like about this and some things I don't. As a former co-host, I get it. There were a lot of people who signed up and didn't post. The bummer is that I loved that list. I used it all the time, long after the challenge was over. It gave me an easy way to find blogs I normally wouldn't know anything about. It helped me branch out, which is what blogging is all about.
Are you participating in A to Z this year? And if so, do you have a theme?
Do you like the changes?

Until next time-

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Virtual Crime - What's the Big Deal?

In my short story, Scrying the Plane, Lillian Reynolds dives into a virtual reality plane where everything seems like tons of fun: Twitter bluebirds flit about delivering messages, and the band U2 is performing "live".

Then things take a scary turn and she ends up in the virtual hands of a lecherous old man. Before escaping the police, this villain declares: "I never touched her." Technically, he's right.

Scrying the Plane was published in May of 2016 in the Parallels: Felix Was Here anthology. By October, a story came out of a VR game player, Jordan Belamire*, who was virtually assaulted by another player while blasting away zombies with a bow and arrow in QuiVr. (Read the details in this post from Belamire.)

Reactions to this story were mixed. Some commented that since nothing actually happened, it wasn't a big deal. Others felt a comparison of virtual groping in a game to sexual assault was insulting to victims of "real" sexual assault. But the developer of QuiVr, Aaron Stanton, was horrified and designed a gesture their customers can execute to make other players disappear, creating a virtual safe space during play. (Source:

Image: Mikael T

So is virtual assault a crime? Not yet, according to lawyer Mark Methenitis. As of now, sexual assault and rape statues in the US require physical contact. Players might see their avatar attacked, but they can't feel it. But physical sensation with VR isn't impossible. (Source:

Haptic technology is used to provide a sense of touch. Haptic suits or vests are being developed so gamers can feel explosions or bullet impacts. (Wikipedia)

Image: KOR-FX Immersive Gaming Vest (sale price $99)

What do you think? Should Stanton's safety gesture be an industry standard for all VR games? Would you be interested in feeling the violent effects of these war games with a haptic suit or vest? (Personally, I'd rather have a virtual massage than get shot, but that's just me.)

*This may be a pseudonym.