Tell Me a Story (Writing Prompt): Fears of the Future

Write a story inspired by the prompt and/or the photograph below. All styles and word counts welcome. May the odds be ever in your favor, my friends.

“Much like Icarus flying too close to the sun, our arrogance had been our undoing. In our boastful confidence, we never took the threat seriously. We had been giants for far too long to feel the true danger we were in; not once did we realize that we were Goliath on the verge of meeting David. Oh, how the world shook when we toppled. Some celebrated, some mourned; but everyone knew that nothing would ever be the same again. The meek did not inherit this earth, something more sinister did. That was a generation ago, and we still have not found our road to redemption.”

Original photo taken by myself in Seattle, WA. Shamelessly filtered later
Be bold and brave: leave a link to your story (or the story itself) down in the comments.

The Allure of the Mythical Vampire

We all privately crave the darkness and the dangers that are lurking within. We want to feel our blood rushing through our veins as our heart pounds in our chests; we love to be scared, to feel slightly out of control. Fear, if done correctly, can be intoxicating, daring you to remember how alive you really are- and how quickly that can change.

Many of us stopped fearing the things that go bump in the night when we grew out of our dinosaur pajamas. Instead, those fears began to morph, to change to more practical terrors: burglars, natural disasters, the math teacher, taxes. And yet there is still a part of us that might ensure that the closet door is actually closed before going to sleep, because you never know when the boogeyman will decide to reanimate beside your hanging sweatshirts and wreak havoc on the living- for old time’s sake.

Vampires have inundated popular culture in recent years; books, movies, TV shows- we see them everywhere. However, when you look through history, this is not a solitary incident. The popularity of the fanged creatures ebbs and flows, standing out as a beacon, peppered periodically throughout the ages. They embody the fears of the time periods that created them, allowing us to analyze our very real fears through the lens of fiction. Lets take Dracula, as an example- the epitome of the vampire novel. Bram Stoker wrote this book in 1897. At the time, England had the largest ports in the world- which led to a general widespread fear of incoming diseases, foreigners and immigrants. Stoker brought to life the fears of his contemporaries by bringing a foreign monster onto European soil. He wasn’t the only one, this same rule seems to apply to every time period that has reawakened that love of the paranormal. For example in the 80’s- vampires were written as parasites, a disease to be spread from one unsuspecting human to another. This also happened to coincide with the AIDS epidemic, a fear which raced like wildfire through unsuspecting communities.

Fast forward a few decades- what about now? Surely I can’t honestly tell you that the inner workings of the brooding Stephan Salvator or his opposing badass brother, Damen (thank you, Vampire Diaries), could really be telling us something about the psyche of our current society? In fact, I thinks that’s exactly what I’m about to do. If you look through virtually any modern vampire story- The Vampire Diaries, True Blood (or the Sookie Stackhouse series if you prefer the books), The Vampire Chronicles, even Twilight- you will notice a very common thread tying them all together. They concern themselves with the battle of morality vs self acceptance. What is the line between man and monster? Every human being carries within themselves a darkness, as much as we would like to ignore our genetics, it is there. The question is how far do we allow ourselves to delve into this darkness? It is about balancing our desires. When we read about vampires, we are given a venue to explore our darkest desires from a safe vantage point. Whatever that darkness entails: a thirst for power, for vengeance, sexual gratification- it doesn’t matter.

We live in a world filled with fear and a strong sense of the social norm. Our world is unstable, filled with greed, corruption, war, constant fear of job loss, a tumultuous housing market- is it really any wonder that we gravitate towards fiction that circles around a being that is powerful enough to transcend our current problems? They embody the cold control that we do not have in our own lives.

They are all of the things that we wish we could be. They are powerful, but not in an obvious way. They are strong- without the bulging biceps that would give their strength away. They don’t need any gizmos or gadgets, they can be completely autonomous in their actions. They are the loners who are never lonely- thriving in a solitary existence where we flounder, hoping and praying to find someone to befriend. We want to be self-reliant and independent, but we are not.

The fears that encumber us mean nothing to them. Imagine- living in perpetual youth without the constant fear of equalizing death hanging over your head. What would you do, what would you try- if you knew that you had all of the time that the world had to offer you? We can imagine the context of our own mortality, as well as the things that are truly important to us- when we envision a life without the limitations of time. They survive and endure.

Vampires embody all that is desirable to us, they are the bad boys we mistakenly thought we could reform in high school. They provide us with a sense of danger, they are selfish without apology. There is a certain hazardous rush that comes with the concept of knowing that another carries full control over you- they could protect you with every fiber of their being, or destroy you in a single heartbeat. If they want something, they have no qualms about pursuing it, taking it, and enjoying every last moment of it.

There is also that interesting concept that pops up in many versions of these stories- it is the element of the discovery. It’s exciting to think that others are not, in fact, what you would expect them to be. Much as you are aware that you have aspects to your own being that those closest to you would be shocked to find out. We live our lives behind masks, always forgetting that we are not the only one.

Vampires exist as metaphors for our deepest desires, the ones that we hide from the rest of the world. When we read about them or watch them, we get to delve into that piece of us that rarely sees daylight. Our entertainment is a reflection of our lives. It embodies the pieces of ourselves that we are not comfortable openly discussing, so we mask them in the shades of our fiction, wrapping them up in make-believe until we feel we are at a safe enough distance.

 

World Building Brick by Brick

A truly gifted author will transport you to another realm without you even noticing. You can smell the stench wafting from the gutters, hear the clicking of your boots on the marble floors, feel the droplets of rain pattering against your hood, dripping onto your nose. You will nod your head in agreement, faintly believing in the back of your mind that you have been to this world before, you have run your fingers over the mortar of it’s brickwork, you have listened to the locals bicker about politics by the flickering flames of a campfire or stared in deep concentration at a map trying to figure out how to get back to the main road. A talented writer will gently lie to you, lulling you into the dream of a world that never existed. When you wake from it, you will ache for that place, long for a world you desperately wish you could hop in your car and drive to.

So how do you build castles from thin air? I know I will probably never join the ranks of J.R.R Tolkien, J.K Rowling, or Patrick Rothfuss when it comes to their detailed worlds, but I would like to think I have learned a few things over the years. I love creating an entire society out of nothing but my words. I am an over-planner, I thrive on details. The vast majority of what I plan doesn’t actually make it into my novel, but it does influence the way that I write and helps me give my world a certain feel, painting it in the appropriate shades. It creates authenticity out of something that is essentially a lie.

You will be tempted to color your world from the moment the reader opens the first page; this in itself is not necessarily bad, you want your reader to be able to visualize your creation. However, a twenty thousand word explanation of the culture and socio-economic strengths and weaknesses will not draw your reader in, enticing them to turn the page. If you want to teach them about dragons, don’t have a character regurgitate a text book; perhaps create an argument between two of them, maybe one does not believe and the other swears he has seen them. The scene may be longer, but your reader will walk away with more than just a bulleted list of information. They will learn about the culture through the argument, the beliefs of the characters that will fill your pages, and perhaps they’ll start to get a feel for how your characters view one another. Their is an art to the way you present your world; usually less can be so much more. Don’t tell them, show them with subtle hints and clues. Describe your world for them through actions, not through flourishing paragraphs that, though beautiful, do not actually add to your plot.

As I said before, I over-create. I like to make the background of my story as rich as I can, though only a small percentage of it might make it into the final product. I want to understand my world. Over the years I have created a general worksheet to help me plan. It gives me a roadmap, a template that I can base the rest of my work on. With this new map, I can find the foundation that I need for a consistent story; at the end of the day, it is the consistency that will make your novel feel genuine. It’s only a general outline, every story will have different areas that might need more vetting out before I start my actual writing.

If you decide that you might be interested in trying it out yourself, you can find a Word and PDF version, along with other little goodies I like to use, on my resources page right here:

Top Shelf: Writing Resources

That page is continuously updated, so feel free to check back again for new content.

Without further ado, I present to you:

The World Building Worksheet

Physical Traits:

  • World Name:
  • Type:
    • Planetary: Earth? If not, what is the planet like? Mostly rock? Three moons? A purple sun?
    • Style: Is it more medieval, modern or futuristic? Steampunk? Magical?
    • Style: Is it more medieval, modern or futuristic? Steampunk? Magical?
  • Geography:
    • Make a map (surprisingly fun, no artistic talents required)
    • Where are your major resources and settlements: Such as rivers, forests, lakes, agricultural , etc. (keep in mind the people you will have living there and how they will survive, along with any social issues that might cause- for example, fighting over resources)
    • Climate: Keep in mind your general geography, as well as the people living in each area

Settlements and Societies:

  • Settlements: I usually do a separate sheet for each major settlement
    • Type: City, Town, Village
    • Population:
    • Layout/Geography: are the houses close together, far apart? Is it clean, dirty?
    • Security: Gates surrounding, soldiers, form of law enforcement (if any)
    • Allies and enemies:
    • Building types: wood, brick, etc.
    • Technology Level:
    • Transportation:
    • What are the inhabitants: certain type of creatures, magical, race
    • Education system:
    • Type of medicine: doctor, priest, wizard
    • Major professions of the people: Mining community, predominantly agricultural
    • Economy:
      • Rich area/poor area:
      • Monetary system:
        • Type of currency:
        • Trade:
    • What resources do they use:
    • What resources do they need:
    • Political system/Government:
      • Type of government:
      • Local leaders:
      •  cities/people that may rule over them:
    • Religion:
    • Language:
  • Creatures/Types of People: (for this subject, it is good to create a separate page for each creature/type of people)
    • What creatures populate your realm:
    • Where do they live:
    • Clothing styles:
    • Their allies and enemies:
    • Interesting facts/histories:

Magical Elements

  • Magic: (if any)
    • What type of system (ex: arcane, dark, etc.)
    • How does it work:
    • The magic laws:
      • What can be done with the magic and how:
      • What cannot be done:
    • How do people feel about it:
    • Who can use it and who can’t:

World Background

  • History:
    • Major wars or conflicts:
      • Key players:
      • How it started:
      • Major battles/events:
      • Who won and how:
      • The aftermath: (how were the people treated, how did they rebuild themselves, any remaining grudges)
    • Key figures:
      • Why they are important:
    • Current conflicts:
      • How they began:
      • Current status:
      • The ‘sides’:
        • Prejudices between groups:
      • Reasons:
        • Ways to fix them:
    • Important myths/lore:

 

Urban Fantasy

I’ve done it! After hours of internal debates over several days- I have finally decided what my Camp Nano project will be. In the spirit of my goals for this year- I am trying something new. That’s right, I am dropping my security blanket and venturing out onto new literary avenues. This nano, I will be delving into the world that is: Urban Fantasy. I’ve done straight fantasy, futuristic dystopian-style works, regular fiction: I’ve followed down many of the other branches, but the urban style was new to me. In fact, it is actually fairly new to the literary world in general; it did not become an acknowledged sub-genre until the late 80’s to early 90’s.

Urban fantasy is a very specific collection of works in which the piece itself is set primarily in the ‘real world’ with paranormal/fantasy elements. A few examples would be: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grimm, Supernatural, The Belador series, The Mortal Instruments- the list goes on and on. Now, it’s not a necessity that these stories take place in contemporary times; any futuristic or historical setting is also acceptable.

Personally, my biggest question about this genre: how is it different from Paranormal Romance (because to be honest, a lot of what I’ve read looks like it could fit in either category). As it turns out, about 90% of the elements of both genres are fairly intertwined; these are the fraternal twins of the written world. The key difference: if you remove the romantic element, do you still have a story? If your answer is no- you are well within the boundary of paranormal romance, but if you said yes- then you still stand a chance. A paranormal romance focuses on the relationship itself and how the outside forces effect it, whereas urban fantasy can survive even if that relationship is edited to become a platonic one.

It’s grown momentum rather quickly in the modern era, where we are so quick to welcome any escape from the trials and tribulations of our daily lives. After all, don’t we all secretly wish we could gain some kind of power, transform into our favorite animal and slink off on an adventure? Or perhaps find ourselves entrenched as a key party to a subtly fought war between vampires and werewolves (this is where the paranormal romance aspect starts to look good). I will have no shortage of inspiration as I begin my trek down this winding path. Perhaps this will be a niche I didn’t know I belonged in. There is only one way to find out.