Sadly, I didn’t pay enough attention to outside world lately. Preoccupied with my own health issues, didn’t realize, that you were in such a trouble. Hope you are out of the woods with your problems?! I’ve let mine to grow for far to long, which landed me at emergency and 3-weeks Prednisone regimen.
Topic of the Week
Maps are a type of image that can conjure up all kinds of intriguing story ideas.
Maps! Gateways to a thousand adventures, treasure hunts, journeys and appointments. Without them, we’re lost. But they offer endless possibilities. We trust them, we curse them and we need them.
Maps are a visual representation of the physical world around us. They help us navigate that world in ways we couldn’t do without their guidance. They’ve been around for tens of thousands of years, etched on mammoth tusks, in cave paintings, drawn on parchment and printed on the roadmaps we pick up at Canadian Tire.
With the advent of Global Positioning Satellites, we now have instant access to realtime, interactive maps that speak to us in dulcet tones, reminding us when we’ve made a wrong turn and warning us of traffic problems in our immediate future. Lately, we’ve become so dependent on these handy devices, that most of us are losing our sense of direction.
We use a certain type of map every time we open a book. The Table of Contents is a kind of mapping system to help us find the right chapter. And even our education systems are a way to show us how to navigate the world more effectively. Courses and tutorials are a type of map showing us what steps to take next. And as writers, we follow our own types of mapping systems, creating our rough outlines when we start a new story.
Treasure maps are frequently at the heart of many stories, providing twists and turns, revelations and insights that confuse and delight the reader.
How can we use a map to create a compelling story that our readers can’t wait to read? What journey can we take them on? What plot twists and “aha moments” can we provide for them?
Writing Tip of the Week
Last month, we used a series of three images, Setting, Protagonist and Conflict to inspire some story ideas. This week, let’s try to find a map or mapping situation that stimulates our storytelling imagination.
Here are a few possible scenarios:
• Someone finds a treasure map, but with a piece of it missing or damaged.
• Someone makes a wrong turn while navigating, and ends up someplace unexpected.
• There’s a mistake in a map’s depiction of a border and someone finds himself on the wrong side of the line.
• A character finds a map that takes her to fairyland, an alternate universe or a different time.
• A cartographer has a secret, so he deliberately leaves out critical clues in a map he’s creating for a client.
• A GPS device loses part of its memory, goes rogue, and sends people to the wrong place, or a mirror image of the right place.
• A sea-captain’s map is blown away in a storm and he must try to find his way home.
• A homing pigeon discovers she can no longer navigate by magnetic currents and must use the highway system to find her way back.
• A cab driver is hit on the head during a mugging and can’t recall any street names.
• A GPS Satellite is hit by space debris.
• A service-station road map folds in the wrong place and sends the traveller someplace inappropriate.
• A traveller follows a map of the local tourist destinations and finds herself in a place she was not expecting.
• Google Earth or an old painting of a historical site or city is a gateway to that setting, and anyone who looks at it for too long falls into the image.
Feel free to use any of these scenarios or make up one of your own.
Maps are a great topic, because they have built into them the possibility of adventure, change and conflict. We count on them to help us find our way, but when that information is wrong, lost or missing, it can create all kinds of challenges for our characters.
• How did your character acquire the map or device?
• What kind of map is your character relying on?
◦ Mental map
◦ Foldable service station roadmap
◦ Treasure map
◦ Set of instructions for building furniture
◦ Table of Contents
◦ University education or apprenticeship
◦ Sketched on a napkin or the palm of a hand
◦ Priceless antique map of a historical landmark
• Where does your character expect to end up?
• What challenges can she encounter as a result of a map misdirection?
• What could possibly go wrong?
• What else could go wrong?
• What does your character do to get herself out of trouble?
• When it doesn’t work, what else does she try?
• What is the factor that determines whether she gets where she wants to go? Mental, emotional? What decision or choice?
• What happens to the character? To the map?
A.I. and the Decline of the Human Race
Throughout history, there have always been those who embraced change, and those who abhorred it. I’ve no doubt that the first cave dweller who picked up a sharp rock to kill a squirrel was vilified by his tribemates for angering the gods.
“Dag, listen to me. I’m tellin’ ya, if men were meant to use tools, the great god Ugh! would have built us with rocks for hands.”
This from a guy with a rock for a head!
But we humans are a creative bunch, always coming up with innovative new stuff that nobody knew they needed — like the motorized ice cream cone holder, designed to spin the cone as you lick, thus negating the necessity of turning the cone manually.
Oh, come on! Really?
Or the “Daddle”. The Daddle was a saddle-shaped accessory that allowed fathers to give their kids a “horsey ride” while providing a padded seat for the child.
Thank the great god Ugh! I’m not that parent!
New inventions come along all the time — the printing press, which gave rise to the Renaissance and the dissemination of knowledge world-wide — the Industrial Revolution and the use of machinery to mass-produce textiles — the personal computer and the internet, which further expanded the dissemination of knowledge and ideas.
And most recently, artificial intelligence, in the form of smart homes, smart cars, even, for Ugh!’s sake, smart refrigerators!
If the purpose of an invention is to solve a problem, historically, we have frequently gone overboard in our unrelenting quest for easier, faster ways to do things. We invent the most useless items imaginable for problems that never existed until we created our solutions, thereby making ourselves dependent on them.
Take the smartphone, for example. How sick is our society when we must schedule “device-free” days and “digital vacations”, to prevent ourselves from indulging our electronic addiction?
Even when we do go on vacation, we take our digital toys with us to help translate other languages, instead of bettering ourselves by actually making the effort to learn a new language. And what happens when Siri gets it wrong and insults our friendly hosts by confusing the word, “embarrassed” with “embarazada” (pregnant)? Or you’re asking for directions, and someone tells you “derecho” (straight), but Siri hears “derecha” (right). Who knows where you could end up?
Better to admit our ignorance than trying to seem omniscient through our use of technology. JMHO.
And then there’s our beloved GPS — ahh, the feeling of security that comes with always knowing exactly where you are at all times. Except when GPS gets it horribly wrong and pitches you off a cliff that wasn’t there the last time its satellite was updated.
Most of us have a working knowledge of maps and map-reading, but how many of us under the age of 40 can still read one? And how many of those even have a decent sense of direction? Like homing pigeons without magnetic north, we scurry around leaning into our GPS, forever fated to miss out on the hidden gems tucked away just off the beaten path, because we’re too focused on getting from point A to point B in the shortest time possible. Does anyone even “chase the moon” anymore, just for the hell of it? (For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s hopping in the car after dark and following the moon until it sets, just to see where you end up.)
And now — Ugh! help us — we’ve invited A.I. devices into our homes. We tell them our secrets, ask them for advice, trust them to keep us safe from harm, and remind us to take our meds or order the week’s groceries. We go online and ask Google or ChatGPT all kinds of questions that reveal more about us than we can imagine, and then we wonder why we’re the victims of unscrupulous identity thieves.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love my devices — couldn’t write without ‘em, couldn’t remember my own name without ‘em. But sometimes I wonder, what will happen if the sun has a hiccup and sends us a giant electromagnetic pulse that wipes out all our communications? How many of us would survive?
Oh wait. Hang on a minute — let me just check on that…
“Hey, Alexa… Alexa? Siri? Why are the lights out? Fridge? Are you there? Anyone?”
I love spring. It’s so full of possibilities. Every season has its obligations and delights, but now that the weather has warmed up and before it’s too hot to breathe, anyone who fancies himself (or herself) a gardener is out in the yard cleaning up the detritus from the winter.
The first warm day, we’re out in droves, greeting neighbours we haven’t seen for six long, dark months. We step out the door, glorying in the fact that we don’t have to bundle up like the Michelin™ man, and can actually feel our feet, now that the winter boots are back in the closet where they belong. The breeze, while still a tad cool, is fresh and welcome, and we stand in the sunshine inhaling a deep breath of air before perusing the yard to see what needs to be done now that the snow is gone.
The first job is to get rid of all the sand that’s landed on the lawn after the ploughs and sanding crews have been keeping us safe all winter, (even though we curse them when they fill in the driveway). If we can, we hire huge herds of helpers with giant blowers to clear off the sand and the leaves that drifted in from our neighbour’s Manitoba Maple. Goodness knows, our own trees couldn’t possibly have dropped that many leaves after we spent that arduous five whole minutes last fall swiping at them with the broken rake.
And then there are all the other tasks that need to be done to make the yard picture-perfect.
Along the sidewalk, there are all those delightful little “gifts” left for us by thoughtful dogs and their thoughtless owners. We could just leave ‘em there and simply chop ‘em up with the mower once they dry, but then the mower’s wheels get all icky if the deposits are still fresh. Better to mess up the new rake.
Some of the hedges and trees will require some TLC to shape them properly. They’re beginning to need a bit of a haircut, so we grab the pruners and loppers and we start, only to find ourselves fighting off the wild grapevines and Virginia Creeper that’s climbed thirty feet up the branches and begun to travel along the telephone wires. By the time we’ve got the hedge unstrangled, it’s started to rain, so we gratefully go inside to take a nap, since every damn tree in the northern hemisphere is flowering and the astronomical pollen count has us sneezing, choking and tearing up so much that we’ve forgotten how to breathe normally.
Unfortunately, one of the trees likely won’t survive the loving clutch of the vines and has to come down, so we call the arborist, only to discover that it’s listed as an endangered butternut tree. There’s a whole expensive process to discover if it has bred true or it’s hybridized with the neighbouring black walnuts. So, now the Ministry of Natural Resources is called in, requiring another long wait, while we chew our fingernails every time there’s a storm, hoping that the tree can hold on until the dust settles on the red tape brigade. But finally, a determination is made. It must come down no matter what, since “endangered” also refers to the side of the house a few feet away. (If you’re under forty, that means a couple of metres.)
Finally, we can begin working on the garden proper. We can go to the local garden centre and spend an afternoon or three, daydreaming about our perfect garden, sans bugs, sans vines, sans clutter, and bursting with colour. We’ll keep the Communities in Bloom judges happy and fend off the yard police, who remind us every time our lawn gets a quarter-inch too long, or God forbid, we decide to naturalize our front yard.
Oh, but then there’s the wildlife — we put out bird feeders to attract the pretty songbirds and hummingbirds. Not to mention squirrels, rats and wasps. As long as we don’t have a veggie garden or tasty flowers and plants that appeal to their voracious appetites, we welcome these critters, the cute little cottontail bunnies, chipmunks and birdies. Nowadays though, we even have to avoid birds to keep from catching Avian Flu, but that’s a whole different rant.
Some people (Ahem! Oh, not me…I would NEVER…) Anyway, some people leave food out for the squirrels, even dog food and such for the raccoons, but I’m afraid that the local racoons and I have agreed to disagree, ever since they took up residence in the attic. We had to let them stay there for several months as they raised a litter of pups. “Litter” being the operative word. Then, after the wildlife patrol promised on a stack of bibles that they’d all been removed safely and the hole sealed up, the little buggers took out half the siding on the house trying to escape. The ‘coons have never forgiven me for that insult. For that matter, neither have the officers. Now, they just hang around in the rafters of the carport and poop on my van — the raccoons, not the wildlife officers. Always on the driver’s side windshield, and for some odd reason, they all have diarrhoea. By the time I get to it, it’s gone rock hard and has to be scraped off. My snow scraper will never be the same.
But, despite the ongoing feud with the raccoons, the mice that invade my house and die in the walls, the mess and clutter the trees leave all over the so-called lawn, and the sheer effort involved in trying to civilize a place that resists my every attempt, I love Spring. I love the million different colours of green, the smell of lilacs and hyacinths and freshly cut grass, and I love the sense of rebirth, anticipation, and sheer joie de vivre. Spring is my favourite season.
Until summer rolls around.
Plot Twist Story Prompts:
No Longer There
For today’s prompt, have something that was there, suddenly not be there. An example would be a story in which a tornado is approaching a house, so the family goes down into the cellar and hear all this rattling and shaking above as the storm passes. When they emerge back into the house, there’s only one problem: It’s not there anymore.
But there are other examples of something going missing. Whether your “something” is small or gigantic, it should be something your characters expect to be there…only, it isn’t. A person, a pet, an emotion, an object or place, a future.
And then what? What do your characters do when the thing they expect to find is not there? Do they get angry? Lose hope? Sit in shock? The reactions of your characters may drive the future momentum of the story, or perhaps whatever removed the something is still around to try and take more.
So have something that was there, suddenly not be there, and see what happens next.
This all has to do with your character’s expectations. What happens when your expectations are confounded?