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Akallabêth in August

This month, we focus on one of the most tumultuous times in Arda's history: the Second Age and the rise and fall of Númenor. But even as Númenor was the central player during these times, the whole of Arda was affected by the events that affected the prideful and unfortunates alike of this doomed island.

Any story that is or might conceivably be part of the Akallabêth is acceptable for this challenge. If it's been a while since you've read the tales of the Second Age of Arda, why not crack open this oft-neglected chapter and see if inspiration finds you? Here are a few plotbunnies that might find a home in this challenge:

All Good Beasts

While Elves and Men get a lot of attention in fanfiction, sometimes we neglect some The Silmarillion’s greatest supporting actors: animals! Whether a heroic beast like Huan, who slays the lord of werewolves and earns nearly as much screen time as his master Celegorm, Fingolfin’s great warhorse Rochallor, or someone’s unrecorded pet rabbit, animals have an important place in The Silmarillion and in the lives of its characters.

This month, write a story featuring an animal. Show how important a beloved animal is to a character or tell a story through the eyes of one.

Browse through a list of Middle Earth’s animals for inspiration.

Ancestors

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Silmarillion and in honor of Grandparents' Day, this month's theme is Ancestors. For this month's challenge, create a fanwork in which a character's resemblance or connection to an ancestor plays a central role.This challenge is completely open, without prompts, although feel free to chat in the comments on Dreamwidth to ask for or suggest more specific prompt ideas if you want.

And the Winner Is ...

The Silmarillion is full of characters at the peak of their physical and intellectual capabilities, characters both wise and wondrous. What happens when Middle-earth's top contenders face off against each other? This challenge asks writers to pit two characters against each other to see who wins. Characters can fight physically or match their wits or even magic. From epic clashes in the tradition of Fingolfin vs. Melkor or Finrod vs. Sauron to the more everyday struggles of who will win a game, an argument, or the hand of a loved one, we look forward to seeing who will be named a winner.

Ankle Biters

This month, we imagine our favorite characters as children. Whether silly, fluffy, playful, or profound, stories about characters' childhoods are a common fan fiction sub-genre.

What lessons learned in childhood shaped what a character would become? Characters like Túrin, Elwing, and Fëanor had canon childhood experiences that determined, in part, who they would become as adults. Other characters may have been children during major historical events; for example, Celebrimbor quite likely was a child during the Darkening of Valinor, the Kinslaying at Alqualondë, and the Noldorin exile. How did these events shape these characters' fates?

Or maybe you want something lighter: the time a character got punished for a bad deed or learned something fun about the world, the arrival of a new sibling, a character's first word ... the possibilities are endless! Let's look back to a time in history where much remained to be determined, when even the most tragic characters experienced the joy of discovery and innocence.

Another Place in Time

When we write about Silmarillion events, our stories often concern the time and place where the action primarily occurred. However, there is a broad world beyond--what was going on there, at the same moment in time?

This challenge asks authors to move beyond the places and times of familiar events to consider what was going on elsewhere in Arda at the same time as a major event covered in The Silmarillion. How--if at all--did the event impact what was transpiring elsewhere at the same time?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

April's Fool

All around the world--and on the Internet--on the first of April, people celebrate April Fools' Day by playing pranks on their friends, family, and associates. This lighter challenge asks you to write a story, poem, or vignette in which a character tricks or plays a prank on another. While this challenge may suggest itself to humor and parody, The Silmarillion is also full of more nefarious tricks played by characters such as Morgoth. Your piece can be as close to canon or as AU (alternate universe), as serious or silly as you'd like.

Arda Underground

Through the imagination and the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, we have strolled the wide marble avenues of Tirion, welcomed the sun from the walls of Gondolin, and watched the ships of the Eldar moor in the habors of Andúnië. We have kept the company of heroes and kings and seen the great events of history unfold in majesty and splendor. But where the streets grow narrow and rugged, where the torchlight fails and the bright voices fade, what can you discover of the people of Middle-earth?

This challenge asks writers to take the dark back streets of one of Arda's cities, to explore an unsigned tavern or hovel, and to meet the people too insignificant or unsavory to make it into the history books. The piece you create for this challenge should touch on the lives of the ordinary folk; explore an issue like poverty or crime; or consider a subculture, counterculture, or underground in one of Arda's cities.

Around the Fire

"Tell me a story. Be my storyteller."
―Arzum Uzun

Be it midst of winter or summer, this is the time to gather around the fire together. Whether for warmth, companionship or simply to pass time, there is no better place to share stories together. This quarter, we are sharing stories at the fireside, and we invite you to request a story and/or write a request for someone else. If you'd like to request a story, you can do so here at our LiveJournal community (you do not need an account to participate). If you want to write a request, you do not need to sign up but simply leave a link to your story in the comment to that request once your story is finished. You are welcome to post your story to our archive or at our LiveJournal community. If you chose to post it somewhere else, please put up a valid link for the person who requested your story.

Back to Nature

Nature is ever-present in Tolkien's works, from the obvious interventions of Yavanna and Oromë to the untold struggles of a tribe of mortal Men journeying into Beleriand. Few are the characters who are not asked to interact with nature at some point over the course of The Silmarillion. This month's challenge asks you to consider conflicts with nature--both overt and symbolic--and characters' relationships with that which is natural in their world.

What are some struggles individuals and groups have with nature, with plants, animals, geography, or weather? What about those with a special relationship with natural forces? Consider the various locations upon Arda--for example, Valinor, Himring, Doriath: What symbols are present in the natural environments of these places that highlight the conflicts that take place there?

Behind the Scenes

The Silmarillion is full of pivotal moments, of events where the characters we love and loathe literally and figuratively shaped the world of Arda. This month's challenge asks you to take one of those moments, one of those big events or turning points in the story, to think about where and what happened … and then create a fanwork about what was happening at that moment in time, anywhere but at the site of the action.

"Behind the Scenes" asks you to write, draw, or create a fanwork that shows what a character who was not involved in the major event was doing at the time it was taking place. The character may be canon or original. For example, what was Fëanor doing on the day that Lúthien was born? What was going on with the Elves of Ossiriand as the Battle of Sudden Flame began? As Númenor sank beneath the waves, what did Elrond's day look like? The event may impact your character later on in time, but in the moment when your story takes place, your character(s) has no idea what is happening.

Beyond the Circles of Middle-earth

Many of Tolkien's characters in The Silmarillion are immortal, and a favorite approach to Silmarillion-based writing has been to imagine how those characters might have perceived different historical eras or events. This challenge takes a similar approach but asks you to imagine one of Tolkien's Silmarillion characters in one of the many fictional settings from our real-world literature. For example,

But I Won't Do That

I would do anything for love,
I'd run right into Hell and back
I would do anything for love
I'd never lie to you and that's a fact ...
And I would do anything for love, but I won't do that
-Meatloaf

We've all been in Meatloaf's shoes. We've all insisted that, no matter how ardently we feel about a person or passion, that we draw the line at doing that.

This month, we ask you to consider what "that" is for your character: the one thing that she or he refuses to do, no matter what. And what happens when she or he ends up having to do it anyway?

Your story can be serious, perhaps involving the many wars, kinslayings, and other tragic events of The Silmarillion. Or it can be humorous: What one commission would the young artisan Nerdanel refuse (and what happens when it is offered to her at a price she can't refuse?) Sauron is all about repentance until Eönwë suggests--what exactly?? The key is to put you character into a tough spot and see how he or she extricates himself--or doesn't!

Canon with a Twist

Have you ever wondered, what if just one thing had been done differently in the canon? Maedhros had decided to hold off on meeting Morgoth? What if Oromë had taken a different road and hadn't discovered the Elves for another five centuries? What if Haleth had taken Caranthir's offer to stay in Thargelion? What would have changed?

This challenge asks you to think about just that. Choose a single moment in Tolkien's canon and have the character make a different choice. How does history change? Or how does fate fulfill itself? The response may be any length and format--poetry, drabble, or fiction--but should ask what might have happened if one thing had changed.

The Circle of Life

Although the circle of life is something that we all witness and experience, in Tolkien's world, the life spans of several races run a different course. From conception to death, the peoples of Middle-earth all take different courses. The elves are bound to Arda and will only perish once Arda ends. Men, on the other hand, are gifted with death and go beyond Arda. The fate of Dwarves is a fascinating one:

The Dwarves add that at that time Aulë gained them also this privilege that distinguished them from Elves and Men: that the spirit of each of the Fathers (such as Durin) should, at the end of the long span of life allotted to Dwarves, fall asleep, but then lie in a tomb of his own body, at rest, and there its weariness and any hurts that had befallen it should be amended. Then after long years he should arise and take up his kingship again.
-Tolkien, The Peoples of Middle-earth, page 383

We would like to challenge you to write a story that addresses the question of life, (im)mortality and reincarnation, or re-embodiment.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

The Color of ...

Colors are often used in fiction as symbols or to achieve specific effectsor moods. This month's challenge asks you to write a piece of fiction that is built around a color or colors.

Naturally, there are a number of ways to approach this challenge. One could consider some of the colors specifically associated with events and characters in The Silmarillion:

And Fëanor made a secret forge, of which not even Melkor was aware; and there he tempered fell swords for himself and for his sons, and made tall helms with plumes of red.

-"Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor"
But as the host of Fingolfin marched into Mithrim the Sun rose flaming in the West; and Fingolfin unfurled his blue and silver banners, and blew his horns, and flowers sprang beneath his marching feet, and the ages of the stars were ended.

-"Of the Return of the Noldor"
There shining fountains played, and in the courts of Turgon stood images of the Trees of old, which Turgon himself wrought with elven-craft; and the Tree which he made of gold was named Glingal, and the Tree whose flowers he made of silver was named Belthil. But fairer than all the wonders of Gondolin was Idril, Turgon's daughter, she that was called Celebrindal, the Silver-foot, whose hair was as the gold of Laurelin before the coming of Melkor.

-"Of the Noldor in Beleriand"

Or color can take a more symbolic role, representing the banners, heraldry, and names (i.e., Green Elves) of various peoples and characters.

Here are some links that might provide ideas and inspiration:

Symbolism of Color. The various meanings that color takes in different cultures.
Color Meanings. How colors work together and create various emotional effects.
Symbolism of Heraldry. Colors and symbols, their use and meaning on coats of arms.
Heraldry of Arda. The emblems and heraldry that J.R.R. Tolkien designed for use in his world with explanations of their possible meanings.

Companies, Clubs, and Cliques

Tolkien's canon gives us many formal divisions among his characters: groups such as the Naugrim, Sindarin, and the Edain or family groups such as the Fëanorians. Through the Lambengolmor and the Gwaith i Mirdain, we also know that there were formal societies established around a shared interest in study and trade, while groups like the Aulendur suggest alliances existed along quasi-religious lines.

This challenge asks you to imagine what other character groupings might have existed beyond those we are provided in the texts. What other guilds and trade groups might have existed? Were there specialized or elite military companies? What about political, philosophical, and religious societies? Did characters join together in social clubs, or how did informal but powerful alliances in cliques shape the events of The Silmarillion? Your story can look at any aspect of a group--formal or informal--in Arda that Tolkien didn't identify or describe in his own writings.

Crime and Punishment

Throughout The Silmarillion, we see glimpses of justice, crime, and punishment in action. This challenge asks writers to tackle these topics head-on. Perhaps you want to write about a canonical incident that involves topics related to crime and justice: the imprisonment of Melkor, the exile of Fëanor, or the murder of Saeros. You could also approach the challenge by exploring how a group or culture handled crime and punishment. This challenge also begs for mystery fiction, in which characters investigate and solve a crime.

Differing Perspectives

Choose a drabble or another work by an author that illustrates a single character's perspective. After seeking the original author's permission, write the same event--using all of the author's original conventions--from a different character's perspective.

The Duel of Songs

J.R.R. Tolkien was an avid poet, and poetry filled his stories, from his first tentative imaginings in The Book of Lost Tales to the songs we all know by heart from The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. As April is National Poetry Month, it seems fitting to spend the month looking at Tolkien's poems and those by other authors based on his works.

This month, we encourage our authors to try their hand at poetry based on Tolkien's works. Not sure where to begin? The WORDshop has links to pages about dozens of poetic forms. Try a triolet, a tritina, or a tanka. Make us laugh over limericks and sigh over sonnets! Or maybe you tend to skip the poems in the books (don't worry, a lot of us do!) and want a refresher course? PoemHunter.com has much of Tolkien's poetry in one spot.

And, of course, don't forget to check out the poems by our SWG authors here.

An Elf Falls into Modern-earth...

Many writers have done successful comedies and dramas based around the idea of Tolkien's characters arriving somehow in modern times. What if a character arrived somehow in the modern world? What might s/he think? Or perhaps the character has been here all along: Maglor, Daeron, or Celeborn, to name three examples. Whatever the means you use to get them here, this challenge asks you to experience modern life through the eyes of First-, Second-, and Third-Age Silmarillion characters.

The End is the Beginning

Stories often end with a bang: with an event of great importance, either happy or tragic. Birth, death, marriage, parting, the end of war, or the beginning of a new age ... all of these events might serve as a suitable ending to a story, and all of these events are prolific throughout The Silmarillion.

But, in Tolkien's larger Legendarium, The Silmarillion is but the first chapter. What serves as an ending in The Silmarillion--the departure of Galadriel and Celeborn from Doriath, the death of Fingolfin, the fall of Gondolin, Finarfin's return to Tirion--opens a new chapter elsewhere in Arda and, oftentimes, elsewhere in Tolkien's stories.

This month's challenge is to take the ending of a story and use it as a beginning. The ending you choose might begin a story that Tolkien himself considered, such as Elros's choice of mortality and the founding of Númenor. Or it might take you down roads less travelled. After Maglor tossed the Silmaril into the sea, where did he go and what did he do? When Idril and Tuor departed for Valinor, what did they find? After Sauron fled the judgment of the Valar at the end of the First Age, what did he do next?

The Exchange Student

If someone from our time were to be an exchange student somewhere in Middle-earth during the First Age, what would they learn and what would others learn from them? Or what if a student from some race, grouping or clan were sent to a different one for a cultural exchange? Would the student have ideas about what to expect that ended up differently? Would there be any cultural misunderstandings? Also, would the experience be different depending on who the student was because of their gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, personality, etc?

Create a piece written from the exchange student's perspective. The person in question doesn't necessarily have to come from our time, but it could also be a Belegost dwarf sent to Lake Helevorn to learn more about Noldorin traditions, or a Numenorean scholar spending time at the court of Gil-Galad in Lindon, to learn more about Elven cultures.

Family Matters

The Silmarillion is full of big, complicated families, and even though we don't often hear what happened within the bounds of such families, given the history recounted in the stories, the discussions and dilemmas must have often been profound.

This month, step inside of one of the families of The Silmarillion and tell their tale. The purpose of this challenge is to illustrate conflicts and relationships that occur within a family, from the simple to the profound. Whether it's a dinner gone disastrously wrong or a discussion that influences a family's choice to go to war, your challenge is to make your readers part of your characters' family, to laugh and lament right alongside them and to better understand the choices and history of their family.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Fanon Inverted

"Fanon" is a detail or idea invented by fans of a work that is expressed so prevalently in the community that many consider it to be factual or even think it came from the texts themselves. Fanon is celebrated by some, scorned by others, proudly flaunted, sheepishly followed, and denied outright, yet as members of the Tolkien fan-writing or -art communities, fanon touches us all and, whether we like it or not (or even know that we're doing it!), shapes our works as well.

For this challenge, we will take a fanon about which we feel passionately--whether "passion" be best defined as love or loathing--and turn that fanon on its head, writing something that goes against the fanon norm in fandom.

First Lines

The first line of a story can be very important. It usually sets the tone or introduces you into a scene. With this challenge, we have made a list of story openers for you to use and to expand upon. If you take part in this challenge, your story must be written with one of the first lines provided below.

Can't find a first line that inspires you? Try these first line generators for some more inspiration: First line Generator at Writingexercises.co.uk or Story Starters at Writingfix.com. If you make use of one of these generators, mention it in the story!

First Meetings

How might a character originating from and living in Valinor react to his or her first meeting with a character just arriving from Middle-earth?

The possibilities for this challenge are vast and encompass all of the ages and Tolkien's works. Perhaps the first to come to mind are those characters from the Third Age who travelled to Tol Eressëa at the end of The Lord of the Rings. However, this challenge also contains the possibility of working with characters well beyond these obvious examples. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Follow the Leader

The Silmarillion shows us many leaders who attain their status through different means and for different reasons. For this challenge, consider a leader in The Silmarillion and show a scene in which that character shows why he or she is a leader of his or her people.

Forbidden Lore

She knows that the information she seeks is secret, forbidden. Great consequences may arise from this knowledge. Yet she opens the book, turns the page, and begins to read ...

This challenge asks you to consider knowledge that is forbidden or taboo. What sorts of information might have been hidden over the course of the history of Arda? Why might a character wish to discover this knowledge? And perhaps most importantly, what are the consequences when he does? There are a multitude of possibilities, but here are just a few to get you started.

What will forbidden lore teach you?

Four Elements

The four elements--earth, fire, air, and water--are commonly used in fantasy stories, and Tolkien is no exception. Literally and symbolically, Tolkien's works are filled with mentions of the four elements. Beyond that, fan fiction writers often use this theme to connect ideas in meaningful ways.

This month's challenge asks you to write four pieces, each of the four centered around a different one of the four elements. You are welcome to be as ambitious as you'd like with this project, and entries ranging from four hundred-word drabbles to four full-length stories are all welcome. Or four poems, or four nonfiction pieces, each exploring a topic that can be tied back to one of the four elements.

The ideas are limitless, but here are some possibilities:

From Evil Comes Good

For many of our members, it will soon be spring, a time of growth and renewal. In The Silmarillion it is written that evil should constantly arise and, out of it, new good should constantly come. This challenge is to write something in which you demonstrate how something good came out of something evil. One example is Huan the hound of Celegorm, who leaves his murderous master in order to help Lúthien, or the Exile of the Noldor, which keeps Morgoth at bay and keeps Beleriand peaceful for many centuries.

A Gift of a Story

As the year draws to a close, many of our members have or are preparing to celebrate winter holidays of celebration and thanksgiving. 2007 is less than a month away, and we look back at another year of new experiences, new friends, and new stories. If you are at a loss for a new project for the month of December, then why not gift a story to a person who has helped and inspired you in the past year, based on his or her interests? Whether a beta-reader, reviewer, or just a good friend, drabbles, stories, and poems are a great way to show thanks and appreciation!

Great Journeys

The Silmarillion is filled with characters going places, from the great and important journeys to the daily travels that must have occurred but live only in our imaginations. This month, we join our favorite characters on the road, to discover the actual and symbolic importance of journeys.

So where shall you go? Here are a few places to start:

Halls of Mystery

For much of the world, April is a time of rebirth. One of the most intriguing--and controversial--elements of Tolkien's mythology is his notion of Elven "immortality": that Elves who "die" spend a period of time in the Halls of Mandos before being reborn in new bodies. Different authors and researchers have interpretted and portrayed the Halls of Mandos in vastly different ways; indeed, a look back at the early drafts of the works that would become The Silmarillion shows that Tolkien also had conflicting ideas about the Halls of Mandos and the process of Elven rebirth. Early ideas presented in The Book of Lost Tales depict a hall that is "draped with dark vapours and its floors and columns were of jet" (while Nienna keeps a hall as well that is roofed with bats' wings!). Tolkien dabbled with the idea of Elves being reborn as the children of their children, being given new parents, or being remade into bodies like those they had inhabited in their first life.

So which is it? Perhaps the most reliable conclusion about the Halls of Mandos is that we know next to nothing about them at all!

This month's challenge offers you the chance to explore the place and ideas behind one of the most mysterious locations on Arda. Your story, poem, essay, or vignette should explore the Halls of Mandos or the ideas of Elven "death" and rebirth to take your readers on a journey through the surreal, inexplicable, or just plain weird.

Heroes

In all of fiction but especially the fantasy genre, heroes are of the utmost importance. Our stories are filled with them: from those who take noble stands in great battles to those who make a quieter difference at home. Those with the strength to change the world for the better fill the greatest tales of truth and fantasy alike.

So, in honor of these people and characters, we dedicate this month's challenge to the study of heroes. And not just the sort to stand up to the Dark Lord alone--though Fingolfin is more than welcome too!--but all sorts of heroes: the unlikely, unsung, and accidental, those who have been forgotten or perhaps were never noticed at all, who made their worlds a better place.

The Hero's Journey

This month's challenge is a Matryoshka challenge based on the theme of the hero's journey archetype, in honor of the upcoming volume Beren and Lúthien (which will hopefully be published before the challenge closes). Your story does not have to be about heroes, journeys, Beren and Lúthien, or follow the archetype, but prompts will be loosely inspired by it.

How a Matryoshka Challenge Works

Matryoshka dolls, also known as Russian nesting dolls, are hollow figurines that contain progressively smaller figurines inside each level. For this challenge, you will be sent several prompts via email. You will use these prompts to create one fanwork. You will start your story using the first prompt. You will open each subsequent prompt only when you reach a predetermined milestone in your story. (The milestones will be clearly stated in each prompt.) Your challenge is to incorporate each prompt into your story as you write, figuring out how to creatively work in a tricky prompt or (if you're brave!) being willing to take the story in a new direction to fit the prompt.

Again, you can write any story you want to fit the prompts! It doesn't have to be about the hero's journey. The challenge is to use them all, in order, in one story.

How to Participate

If you want to participate, please let us know whether you would like an easy (3 prompts), medium (5 prompts), or difficult (7 prompts) challenge. You may email us at moderator@silmarillionwritersguild.org, comment on our Dreamwidth, comment on our LiveJournal, or send us an ask on Tumblr.

Challenge stories are due on the SWG archive by June 10 in order to be eligible for a stamp. As always, late responses are welcome but will not receive a stamp.

A History of Tradition

This month, many around the world will celebrate Halloween, and groups throughout the Tolkien community will encourage writers to come up with something spooky in honor of it. Halloween--like many modern festivals and observances with roots in ancient celebrations--began in Ireland as the Celtic festival Samhain. Tolkien wrote his stories in hopes that they would represent a mythological history of our world, so, within his mythological framework, one can imagine that modern festivals stretch back even deeper into time than the Samhain festival that evolved into Halloween.

For this month's challenge, authors should choose a festival or tradition observed in the modern world and write a story that includes that festival or tradition as it might have been celebrated in Tolkien's mythological world. The holiday you choose may be as specific as Samhain or as general as a birthday celebration; it may be as serious as certain Christmas traditions or as silly as National One Hit Wonder Day (September 25). The holiday you write about may be part of Tolkien's canon--such as the Gates of Summer--or may be of your own invention.

Do you need to find a holiday? A complete listing of daily holidays can be found on Holidays on the Net. For more information on the history of popular holidays, check out History.com's History of the Holidays. The Thain's Book includes a referenced list of Middle-earth holidays if you'd like to explore some of the canonical festivities Tolkien imagined.

Holidays in Arda

July is the month where much of the world travels on holidays, seeking reprieve from their daily routine. Whether you will enjoy such an opportunity or not, this challenge asks you to take a mental reprieve by visiting your favorite place on Arda for a fictional "holiday."

The aim of this challenge is to set a story in a place that you would like to visit, whether a city, region, island, or body of water. Through the eyes of your character(s), take your readers to your haven and show why it appeals to you, whether visiting for the first time or returning as an old friend.

If you are fortunate enough to be one of the millions who will be traveling away from home this July, don't forget to take the opportunity to learn from your new surroundings. Places unfamiliar to us--whether seashores, mountains, or bustling cities--can inspire stories or hone our descriptions when we visit similar places in our tales. Perhaps shape your experiences to Middle-earth and use them to write this challenge.

Hot Summer, Hot Stories

As much of the world experiences one of the hottest summers in history, we turn up the heat in our stories for this challenge. Whether the literal heat of Glorfindel's battle with the Balrog or the figurative heat of Nerdanel and Fëanor's steamy romance, this challenge asks you to create a story worthy of the most sweltering summer!

In Memory

There are several mentions of memorials throughout The Silmarillion, and there are countless additional places where some kind of memorial is possible, even likely. Gondolin is built as a memorial of Tirion, the White Tree is a memorial of the “light of Valinor”, and the remains of the Two Trees stand in Valinor as a tribute.

This month, we ask authors to consider memorials. What might an Edain soldier do to honor a fallen friend or family member? What sort of tribute might stand in Alqualondë in memory or reminder of the Kinslaying? How were these memorials decided upon? Alternatively, tell us more about one of the tributes already mentioned specifically in The Silmarillion. What made Turgon decide to create Gondolin in Tirion’s likeness when his cousins did no such thing? Did Thingol indeed remember Húrin of Dor-lómin when he wore the Nauglamír? Songs, statues, ceremonies...the options are limitless. Pick an existing memorial, adapt a modern (or not so modern!) one, or create your own!

Inspiration

As a group predominantly peopled by writers and artists, we understand as well as any the power of inspiration. This month's challenge turns to consider inspiration.

Your characters inspire you--but what inspires them? For this month's challenge, we ask our writers to consider what inspires their characters to act and create. The Silmarillion is full of creative geniuses and heroes alike. What drove them to the deeds that shaped the history of the early ages of Arda? Perhaps it was a person: a spouse, a sibling, a teacher. Or maybe it was an event that allowed them to realize their potential to influence the course of history. Or maybe it was something darker: jealousy, lust, or a desire for power.

The story might consider the moment of inspiration, or it might consider the repercussions of the actions or creation inspired. Are you looking for ideas? The Silmarillion is full of artists; what inspired the greatest (or even unknown!) creations of people like Celebrimbor, Daeron, Fëanor, Aulë, Sauron, Varda, and Nerdanel? What inspired characters like Beleg, Morwen, Húrin, and Glorfindel to the heroic actions that they took? What inspired the unique outlooks of characters like Melkor, Thingol, Túrin, and Finarfin to the rather unique outlooks they had when compared to the rest of their people?

The possibilities are boundless so, in the end, what inspires you?

Inventions

The Silmarillion explores the early histories of Arda's people, a time when they would have necessarily been forming the technologies that would later aid them in building their civilizations. From the mundane to the complex, Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Ainur (and any other races that you wish to consider) would have been busy with invention.

This month's challenge asks authors to consider an item or technology and to describe its invention by the people of Arda. The invention may be simple or complex. How did the Eldar invent the dinner fork? Or when did the Edain first make use of agriculture? What about the palantíri, galvorn, limpë or any other of the myriad imaginary technologies we encounter in Tolkien's stories? Stories may be serious or humorous, based in canon or speculation as far as your imagination can wander.

It's All in the Numbers

Now that we all have entered the New Year and have to get used to writing 2012, we would love to issue a challenge regarding numbers. Numbers are all around us--be it in math, counting how much you have, or how many are surrounding you--numbers are a significant part of our lives. Numbers have a rich and diverse history in our own world: They have been used for many centuries, and ancient civilations had their own numbering systems.

Now take a step back and think about numbers in the world of Tolkien. From where did numbers in Arda originate? Who of the Elves might have come up with it? Did the Valar teach them or did they come up with a system in Cuiviénen? How about Men and Dwarves--from who did they gain this particular knowledge? Who of the Valar would have sung numbers into the Music of the Ainur?

You might also explore how an individual character would deal with numbers. Is she or he good at it, or who taught her to use numbers, or how important are numbers in his life?

It's Magic!

Let’s bring a little magic into our fanfic! So many of our stories are written very realistically, as if the events are taking place in the present day. However, Tolkien's stories do include magical elements, from the Silmarils to the duel between Finrod and Morgoth to the magical cottage in The Cottage of Lost Play from the Book of Lost Tales I. Other aspects of daily life for the citizens of Middle-earth--Elven "mind-speak," for example--seem magical to us, in the modern world.

This challenge asks authors to incorporate elements of fantasy or magic into a story. Whether "canon magic" or that of your own imagining, let's break our grip on reality and see how well we can transport an audience to a distant and truly magical place.

Journey Bread

Lembas has always had a special place in Tolkien's mythology and in the stories written by fans of his world. Often, lembas is used as a detail to make a story sound more authentic, but looking at Pengolodh's short essay "Of Lembas," from The History of Middle-earth, Volume Twelve: The Peoples of Middle-earth, this item is also worthy of starring in its own story.

This month, we offer a challenge to write a story about how lembas is cultivated, made, or used. "Of Lembas" might be a good start, but the following passages might inspire those without access to the essay:

Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song

During the month of July, fanworks creators around the world celebrate love. July has been reserved for honoring both the femslash and slash genres. Half of the world is sultry with summer heat, and half of the world seeks nearness and warmth to banish winter's chill.

For this month's challenge, you will use a popular love song as a prompt to inspire a fanwork about romantic or sexual love. You will choose your own prompt from the list of love songs below. More than one participant may choose the same song, and you may use any aspect of the song--the title, all or part of the lyrics, the mood or style of the music, or the music video--or any combination!--to inspire your response. You don't need to claim a prompt or comment or do anything but create your fanwork! Any pairing or poly relationship is acceptable for the challenge.

Just Say It with a Gift!

In Tolkien’s legendarium there is a lot of gifting happening, including in The Silmarillion. The gift-giving in The Silmarillion does not always have a generosity behind it. Take Sauron, for example, who named himself Annatar, the Lord of Gifts. Then there is Ilúvatar himself who bestowed gifts on the Ainur, who at their turn bestowed gifts upon the Elves. There are gifts of freedom which is bestowed on the Secondborn or gifts as atonement, such as when Maedhros gifted horses to Fingolfin. Weapons appear to be a much-gifted item as well.

We would like to challenge you to write about gift-giving (be it material or immaterial) by your characters or perhaps to write about traditions of gift-giving amongst the people who lived during the ages represented in The Silmarillion. What motive would they have to bestow this on others? What would they consider the greatest gift they ever received or which one disappointed them the most?

A Lesson Learned

This month, as students in many parts of the world head back to class, shops advertise their back-to-school sales, and many new university students (and their parents!) adjust to their new lifestyle, education is on the forefront of the minds of many! In keeping with this idea, this month's challenge deals with lessons learned.

Write a story, drabble, or poem that features a character learning something new. The character could learn something very tangible--like forging, the alphabet, or how to tie his or her shoes--or a "life lesson": the meaning of love, friendship, betrayal, or any number of others.

Some writers might find it interesting to explore what sorts of education systems--if any--existed in the different cultures of Middle-earth. Many times, Silmarillion-based stories features apprentices or formal schooling. Do you think that this is probable for a specific culture? Other authors might enjoy imagining how different cultures and races interacted and subsequently learned from each other. Were the Edain literate before they met the Elves? What did the Elves teach them of art and war? What might Eöl, Maeglin, and the Gwaith-i-Mirdain have learned from the Dwarves and vice versa? Or what did the Valar teach the Elves when they first arrived in Aman?

Let the Games Begin!

As fall begins, many of us return to school grind, filling our days with classes, homework, and tedium. So in the midst of that return to seriousness, let's take a moment for some fun and play games! Write about a game your favorite characters used to play as children, or the contests that may have been held at festivals. Or if you're feeling at little mischeivous, write about the games your favorite characters might have invented to enliven a good bottle of spirits. It doesn't matter how simple or complex, as long as the games begin! As always, use any style (drabble, poem, novel, etc)!

The Living Land

"Most of the trees are just trees, of course; but many are half awake. Some are quite wide awake ..."
~Treebeard, The Two Towers

One of the most attractive aspects of Tolkien's Middle-earth is its realistic geography, with its descriptions that bring names on a map to vivid life for readers. Many of the memorable places in Middle-earth literally or figuratively come to life, becoming almost characters themselves. This challenge asks writers to choose a place in Middle-earth that is particularly evocative and write a story where that location itself acts as a character, interacting with and shaping the lives of the people who live in or pass through its boundaries.

Lost Letters

Your character is going through paperwork, an old trunk, or the dusty shelves in an forgotten part of the library when she or he discovers a letter from someone no longer present. What does the letter say? What does your character do (or not do) as a result of it?

Love Conquers All

So the old saying goes: "Love conquers all?" Does it? Can love overcome the death of a loved one? The trauma of war? The pain of exile?

In this challenge, show how one character helps another to overcome a difficulty in his or her life through love and romance. At least one of the characters must be a canon character, but the pairing may also involve an original character or may be AU (alternate universe). It may be slash or het, and any rating is acceptable. The difficulty faced may be from the canon, implied by the canon, or may be AU.

Here are a few examples:

Many Meetings

In honor of Finarfin Appreciation Month, this month's challenge asks you to consider nonviolent conflict. Can you create tension and conflict without drawing swords? Many of the key turning points of The Silmarillion take place off of the battlefield, in meetings and councils, between individuals and groups, but few are the instances where we are allowed to see and hear what actually transpired. So let us wander there: to the soaring halls of Valinor or the hovels of the Edain, where decisions that would change the history of Middle-earth were made. Entries may be any length and involve any characters; the goal is to create tension and conflict without resorting to overt action.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

The Nature of Fear

The month of October, for many, is a time for celebrating that which is supernatural, misunderstood, or fearful. In Tolkien's universe, people and places are often scary. From Ered Gorgoroth to characters like Sauron and Gothmog, there is plenty that is dark and spooky in Tolkien's world!

This month's challenge asks you to write a story that explores fear in some way. Whether you try to scare your readers with a horror story or show how a character perceives and reacts to fear, your goal is to gain a greater understanding of this powerful emotion through your writing.

Here are some examples of stories that might fit this challenge:

New Beginnings (October 2006)

Most of our members are welcoming the autumn season and preparing for the cold months ahead, and it is easy to forget that for a good part of the world--and several of our members--the spring is warming toward summer.

Whether you are feeling chilly at the thought of winter ahead or eagerly welcoming spring, this challenge asks you to write a story or poem celebrating new beginnings. Birth, marriage, first love, a journey to a new home, or the rebirth of hope following success in battle--all of these and more will satisfy this challenge!

New Beginnings (October 2015)

In the Silmarillion many people migrate from one part of Middle-earth to another. It almost seems that there is always a group on the move, from Elves to even Hobbits and they all migrate to start a better life or to follow a promise or a dream. What would their journey have been like? How would they have been welcomed by the natives of the lands where they settled? How would these folk have coped with the influx of different people?

We challenge you to explore these big events, from whatever angle you wish to approach them: from the adventurous perspective to a social economical perspective. Just see where this journey takes you.

New Directions

This month, we challenge our authors and artists to attempt creating a fanwork about a character they've never written or drawn before, using one of the best resources on the SWG website: our character biography collection. From our list of character biographies, choose someone that you do not know much about or have not written/drawn before. Read the character biography and create a fanwork about that character. (Helpful hint: We have no way of knowing if you read more than one biography before choosing your character!)

While you're exploring the biography collection, we encourage you to let our biography writers know in a comment if you enjoy their work. Biographies take hours to days to research and write and often do not garner the kinds of attention and comments that stories do. So let's show our biography writers some love for the valuable work they do for our group!

Noegyth Nibin

Most Silmarillion stories tend to focus on Elves, Men, and the Ainur, despite the fact that Middle-earth was a racially diverse realm. This month, in honor of one of these races--and the writers who love them--we ask our members to consider one of the most neglected races in Tolkien fan fiction: the Petty-Dwarves.

The Silmarillion says of the Petty-Dwarves,

Before the Dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost came west over the mountains the Elves of Beleriand knew not what these others were, and they hunted them, and slew them; but afterwards they let them alone, and they were called Noegyth Nibin, the Petty-Dwarves, in the Sindarin tongue. They loved none but themselves, and if they feared and hated the Orcs, they hated the Eldar no less, and the Exiles most of all; for the Noldor, they said, had stolen their lands and their homes.
"Of Túrin Turambar"

And we learned more about these mysterious creatures with the recent publication of The Children of Húrin.

This month's challenge asks writers to consider the Petty-Dwarves. We know very little about them, so authors who take this challenge will have a lot of freedom to invent and create. Here's some possible story ideas that would satisfy this challenge:

Of All That Remains

Many characters in The Silmarillion leave behind their childhood to face daunting challenges and endless journeys. What is left in them of their childhood innocence? What would they remember? Would they cherish these memories of the past or would they rather forget it? This challenge is to write about a childhood memory of a character. Let him or her relive that memory in their heads, and write about as much as they can recall. Your work can cover the following things:

Of Stories Left Untold

A story must be told or there'll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving.
Letter to his son Christopher (30 January 1945) - in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), p. 110

In The Silmarillion, many things get a slight mention but are never properly explored. We challenge you to create a gap-filler where you explore an event, a character, or perhaps an item that The Silmarillion makes clear must have existed but where the full story is never told. Think about an adult character's childhood, for example, or how a famous weapon or treasure came into the hands that won it renown. All art forms are welcomed.

Olórë Mallë

It has been said to me, though the truth I know not, that that lane ran by devious routes to the homes of Men, but that way we never trod when we fared thither ourselves. It was a lane of deep banks and great overhanging hedges, beyond which stood many tall trees wherein a perpetual whisper seemed to live; but not seldom great glow-worms crept about its grassy borders ... These too were the earliest children -- the children of the fathers of the fathers of Men that came there; and for pity the Eldar sought to guide all who came down that lane into the cottage and the garden, lest they strayed into Kôr and became enamoured of the glory of Valinor; for then would they either stay there for ever, and great grief fall ontheir parents, or would they wander back and long for ever vainly, and become strange and wild among the children of Men.

Early in Tolkien's mythology, in The Cottage of Lost Play from The Book of Lost Tales 1, he tells of an extraordinary road that leads from the homes of Men to Tol Eresseä. Along this road, the children of Men travel in their dreams and visit the Elves and a wondrous world beyond their own borders. While the idea of Olórë Mallë--or the Path of Dreams--was quickly abandoned, dreams remained important throughout Tolkien's works. Through dreams, Melian receives word of what transpires in Valinor. Finrod and Turgon are moved to establish their respective hidden kingdoms because of Ulmo's voice in their dreams. Thingol receives hints of Beren's arrival and Beren receives portents of his father's death in the strange world of dreams. Eärendil turns his ship back to Beleriand because of a dark dream.

This challenge asks authors to consider their characters' dreams. What dreams haunted the Noldor, Edain, and Dwarves on the night before the Nirnaeth Arnoediad? What dreams of her child might have caused a mother to name him as she did? What silly, hopeful dreams drove a character in his youth? Any story, poem, or drabble about dreams will do. This month, we invite our members and guests to step upon Olórë Mallë and consider where it leads.

One True Love (For Adult Authors)

Many of us are guilty of it: that one pairing that captures our fantasies, the love story that Tolkien never wrote...but we just know it should have been. It torments our thoughts, expresses itself in awkward behavior in our otherwise well-behaved characters, and many times, goes unwritten for shame. It is wholly unjustified by the canon or is just too weird. Maybe the characters lived too far apart in time or geography to be brought together; maybe their differences were insurmountable to friendship much less romance. The characters might be different races, different species, or the same gender.

But for this challenge, we want you to forget all of your qualms, cast aside your inhibitions, and write your one true pairing.

No matter how odd, no matter how wrong it feels, share in a story why this pairing captivates you. Whether it is an AU (alternate universe) pairing as common as Maedhros and Fingon or as strange as Galadriel and Aulë (or even stranger!), your goal for this challenge is to build a story around the premise of love between two characters that we never see in Tolkien's canon. Het or slash is acceptable, but both characters in the pairing must be canon characters (although only one needs to be from The Silmarillion) and the story should be more than just a raucous love scene. Create characters and build a story that convinces your readers that these characters belong together, and use love scenes to advance your plot and characterization.

Parting's Sorrow

“Greater as is the skill of the Quendi to mould things to their will and delight, and to overcome the chances of Ea, yet they are not as the Valar, and with regard to the might of the World and its fate, they are but weak and small. Therefore to them also severance is severance, and friends and kin far away are far away."
-HoMe 12, "Dangweth Pengolod"

J.R.R. Tolkien largely invented Arda as a place to experiment with his invented languages, and therefore, the movement of different peoples often results in a change in the way that they speak. In "Dangweth Pengolod," Pengolodh explains to the Anglo-Saxon explorer Ælfwine how the sundering and change of the speech of the Eldar occured.

However, from the modes of linguistic change come some of Tolkien's most poignant stories of families and loved ones parted. This challenge asks authors to consider the separation of friends and families across the history of Arda, whether by canonical events, such as Elves lost on the Great Journey or separated by exile, or through the normal courses of life: marriage, estrangement, birth, and death.

The Plot Thickens ...

There saw I how the secret felon wrought,
And treason labouring in the traitor’s thought,
And midwife Time the ripened plot to murder brought.

-Geoffrey Chaucer

In shadows, in secret spaces, people lean close with their heads together and plot ...

Plot what? This challenge asks writers to consider characters in the act of plotting something. Plotting often calls first to mind conspiracy and overthrow, but characters could just as easily plot something good: a surprise for a loved one, a marriage proposal, a wondrous invention. Or, take the meta angle and consider the plotting of stories and epics by historians and writers.

I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.
-J.D. Salinger

Promises Made / Promises Broken

Throughout the history of the Fëanorians, their best attempts at thwarting Morgoth and restoring peace were ruined by their oath. The Silmarillion includes many examples of characters that were made--and broken--by promises kept and foresworn. This month, in honor of the Fëanorians, we consider the weight of promises on the lives and fates of our favorite characters.

This challenge asks authors to write a story focusing on a promise. The promise may have the epic weight of the Fëanorians' oath or may be as light--and seemingly insignificant--as an absent-minded husband's promise to be home on time. The story should look at how the promise shapes the character's outlook and behavior and the challenges that she or he faces in keeping it ... or breaking it.

Proverbs

"To know a people's popular proverbs ... is to begin to know that people."
~Morton W. Bloomfield and Charles Dunn, The Role of the Poet in Early Society

Many of the cultures that Tolkien studied as an academic are known for their gnomic writings and especially their use of proverbs. Not surprisingly, his own writings are filled with sayings often interpreted as proverbs. Your task for this challenge is to do what scholars Bloomfield and Dunn suggest: Begin with a proverb and then write about what it shows about the people who preserved it. If you need some ideas, you can find thousands of proverbs from Tolkien's books on @TolkienProverbs!

Any story inspired by a possible proverb from Tolkien's books is acceptable for this challenge. You might show how proverbial wisdom inspires a young person to make a particular choice. Perhaps you'd rather explore the origins of the proverb: the person or event that inspired it. You might show a culture at a moment where they decide to continue following the wisdom of a particular proverb or to abandon it. Many are the proverbs and approaches that could offer inspiration for this challenge!

Revolution

On Modern-earth, in many parts of the world, February is Black History Month, a reminder of how justice is often wrested and seized from the powerful through the courage and sacrifices of the oppressed.

The early ages of Arda are likewise defined by revolution. Ossë's rebellion against Ulmo. The return of the Noldor to Middle-earth. Barahir's outlaws. The Kings' Men and the Elf-friends of Númenor. Into the Third Age, the Gondorians rebelled against the cruel usurpation of Castamir. Then of course there are the individual revolutionaries of Arda: Fëanor, Andreth, Aredhel, Isildur, Ar-Pharazon. (And who could forget the ur-revolutionary Melkor?) Between the lines, many fans read resistance against dominating--even colonialist--cultures by the unsung peoples and heroes of Middle-earth.

For this month's challenge, participants will receive a quotation, artwork, speech, or song concerned with protest and revolution. Your final piece does not have to include a revolution or concern revolution in any way, but you should use some aspect of your prompt in the final story. While not required, participants are encouraged to include characters of color or from underrepresented cultural groups.

Writers, comment on our LiveJournal or Dreamwidth, send our tumblr an ask, or email us to receive your prompt. Please specify if you have a preference for the format of your prompt (song, speech, art, or quotation).

If you want to create a fanwork other than fiction, your challenge is to create a piece of protest art in any format that you choose.

Season of Change

As fall--or spring for those on the Southern Hemisphere--approaches and heralds another change in the season, this challenge is all about the seasons and how Tolkien’s world responds to them. As the writer, you can approach this from many angles. Here are some examples:

Sea Voyages

The sea is an important part of Tolkien's mythology, and changes are often signaled by sea voyages. For example, the fates of the Eldar changed when they sailed to Aman and again when Fëanor brought them back. Eärendil saved the people of Middle-earth from Morgoth, and it began with a sea journey; the defeat of Sauron began with the escape of Elendil and his sons by sea. Numerous also are the people who lived by the sea and, presumably, made sea journeys a part of their daily lives: the Teleri of Aman, the Elves of the Havens, and the Númenoreans name just three.

This month's challenge asks authors to create stories centered on or including sea voyages, whether one of the important journeys that shaped the fate of Arda or an everyday foray along the coast.

Sibling Rivalry

Because the month of June falls partly under the sign of Gemini, this lighter challenge poses an AU question: If you could "fall" into Middle-earth, who would you choose as your sibling? Write an AU story where an original character--you!--tries to influence his or her canon sibling in some way or in which you choose a sibling to influence you. For example:

The Soft Underbelly

It is said that all dragons have a weakness despite their huge size and heavily armored skin. It is their soft underbelly, which in Glaurung’s case, was vulnerable to the sword of Túrin.

The Silmarillion is often thought to be such great fodder for stories because its characters are flawed and possess obvious weaknesses. This challenge asks authors to explore a weakness of any of Tolkien’s characters in The Silmarillion and show how that character was felled by this innate frailty of his or hers. For example, King Thingol of Doriath was obsessed with the Silmarils of Fëanor, and eventually, they caused his death. Likewise, Celegorm’s quickness to anger contributed to his becoming the first of Fëanor’s sons to die.

Songs of Arda

Music is important in The Silmarillion. It is the force behind the creation of Arda and is central to many of the most important myths, from the creation of the Two Trees to the story of Beren and Lúthien. Exceptional musical talents are central to many of the characters of The Silmarillion, and songs such as the "Noldolantë" capture history, yet are never written for us to read.

This month's challenge asks authors to look at the role of music and songs in Arda. Stories and poems should focus on music, whether the casual influence of music in daily life or on a specific song on instance where music was used. Here are a few examples:

Song of Exile

"But it is most likely that you shall fly from the Land of the Star with no star to guide you; for that land is defiled. Then you shall lose all that you have loved, foretasting death in life, seeking a land of exile elsewhere. But east or west the Valar along can say."
~The Silmarillion, Akallabêth

Create a fanwork about exile or exiles. About being exiled. About the people who are exiled. About the decision to exile, the leavetaking, the consequences. About metaphorical or symbolic exile.

You may use the Akallabêth quote as your prompt, or feel free to comment here suggest other quotes, artwork, or popular media that addresses the concept of exile. (Or jealously hoard your prompt to yourself like it's magical jewelry!) Or use no prompt at all--anything goes this month!

(If you love your prompts, check out our member-submitted prompts on Dreamwidth and LiveJournal.)

The Storyteller

'Each of us has been designed for one of two immortal functions, as either a storyteller or as a cross-legged listener to tales of wonder, love and daring. When we cease to tell or listen, then we no longer exist as a people. Dead men tell no tales.'
-- Bryce Courtenay

We have all come across them: storytellers. You know the kind. You're at a party, bored out of your mind ... until Uncle Saul walks in. Before you know it, you are engrossed in another of his wild and crazy stories.

Storytelling is an interactive art, using words and actions to bring a story to life while encouraging the listener’s imagination. In many cultures, storytelling is much more than entertainment: it is a way to pass on history and cultural traditions. Even in modern times, storytellers still hold a special rank amongst their people, from Naghāls to Bards.

This challenge is all about storytellers in the Silmarillion tapestry: maybe someone like Finrod Felagund enchanting men or long-lost elves who can treat passersby to songs and tales of old? What epic do they pass on and to whom? How does the crowd interact with the speaker and help him or her to embellish the tale? What is their way of life? What status do they have within their community? Are they a wiseman of the Edain or a wanderer hoping to earn some coin on the road? What drives them and what have they experienced?

It is up to you to tell their tale.

Strangers in Strange Lands

Your character arrives for the first time in a new place. Maybe he journeyed there with a purpose, or maybe she ended up there by accident. What does she perceive? What new experiences and conflicts will he have? This month's challenge asks you to bring a character to a new, strange place for the first time and to develop a story around his or her experiences there.

Part of the challenge involves painting a realistic picture of a place or civilization for your readers. How well can you make your readers see the stolid bleakness of Himring? Or feel the enchantment of Doriath? Fear the shadows of Angband or be overwhelmed with the grand halls of Nogrod?

And within each of these places are strange new cultures, possibly contrary or hostile to what your character is accustomed. From here, your conflict may arise, as characters try to barter, entreat, and win love in foreign lands, facing the same barriers of language and custom that plague the modern world. Or, possibly, the conflict is more of a physical nature: an Easterling battles the cold of northern Beleriand or a new captive in Angband learns to navigate the complex prison society of her new home.

The character you choose for this challenge may be original or canon. The conflicts the character faces may be profound or petty. Such a challenge can be shaped into any genre: horror, romance, adventure, or humor, to name a few examples.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Strength and Beauty

For this month's challenge, create a fanwork about the following prompt. You may use any part or all of the quote.

"Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony,
but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful,
strength has much to do with the magic."

~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Strong Women

Choose a female character from The Silmarillion or related texts. It could be someone like Galadriel, one of the Valar, or someone barely mentioned, such as Nerdanel or Elenwë. Write a story--any length--about this character, developing a strong personality for her. Her strengths could lie in many different areas: Perhaps the woman would be a good mother, perform an act of heroism, or be a healer or a teacher, but she must contribute something of value.

Tolkien is often criticized for the lack of strong female characters in his work. In doing my research for this challenge, I found my way to a lot of discussion forums, where the dominant opinion was that The Silmarillion not only incorporates more female characters than Tolkien's other works but that they more often serve in strong or influential roles than the women of LotR. The stories of Middle-earth would be vastly different without characters like Varda, Galadriel, Haleth, and Lúthien Tinúviel.

Nonetheless, there are still many women who recieve only glancing acknowledgment or appear only as "footnote" characters--regardless, their influence on their husbands, children, and the world around them is undeniable.

This challenge allows both for the development of strict canon characters within the confines of Tolkien's world or for those more AU-inclined to create wholly new characters from those women whose canon role extends little beyond being the wife or mother of someone more important.

Still at a loss? Consider the vast number of women who appear in The Silmarillion and it affiliated works. Or maybe your feeling like taking on a truly challenging challenge, writing a character you've never tried before? Choose at random one of the women from a list of canon female characters, give her a significant role, and bring her to life on the page.

Taboo

All cultures have behaviors that are forbidden. And frankly, our beloved Silmarillion characters get up to quite a lot of them.

This month's theme is Taboo and features a bingo card for participants to self-select a prompt or prompts to inspire their fanworks. To participate as a creator, you need only to create a fanwork using one prompt; however, for the more adventurous among us, we encourage you to combine prompts, complete rows, or attempt one of the dozen variations of card patterns. You may use multiple prompts in a single fanwork or use prompts to inspire multiple fanworks. To participate as a reviewer, review at least one challenge response--although we certainly encourage you to review more!

Participation stamps are available for both creators and reviewers. To be eligible for this month's stamp as a creator, you must post your response to the SWG archive no later than February 10, 2017. Review challenges never expire; however, we ask that you email us if you need a reviewer stamp for a challenge that is more than two months old.



Taboo bingo card
Click to view the card full-sized.
Click to open a text-only version of the card prompts.

The Terrible Twos!

SWG turned two at the end of July, so this challenge asks authors to consider the second year of a character's life. What happened in history that shaped their early childhood? What was their family life like? Were they indeed "terrible" as the old adage predicts? Whether fun or serious or somewhere in between, let's go back to this time of innocence and mischief in the lives of our favorite characters.

Things We Never Said

As we read the Silmarillion and related works, we encounter many moments of drama, unexpected deaths, other partings or lives unfulfilled. Quarrels are left unsolved, spouses suddenly sundered from one another, or words left unspoken. Ask yourself, what was it that they probably could have done to change events and get that last chance? What would your character want to say to one when there is just one chance left?

This challenge is about forgiveness and catharsis. To be able to forgive and let go of what once was might result into that transformational power or character growth you might have wished for to read in the book. Here are some ideas to get you started:

We challenge you to fix that moment that you always wanted to see handled differently by offering your beloved character that moment of forgiveness or redemption.

30-Day Character Study

During this challenge, you will choose one character whom you want to study deeply and complete prompts and activities designed around developing a deeper understanding of that character. Prompts aren't only writing, and one does not have to complete them all. You may complete one prompt or all thirty--all participants will receive a creator stamp, regardless of how many prompts they complete. (There will be special stamps for those who complete higher numbers of prompts.) You may complete the prompts in any order. Some prompts include additional questions to spur your thinking on a topic. You do not need to answer all--or any!--of these questions in order to satisfy the prompt.

Due Dates

Participants have two months, until 10 January 2018, to complete challenge prompts for a stamp. You will have an additional week, until January 17, to report your progress, if you want a stamp for this challenge. Once your progress is completed, comment on Dreamwidth, on LiveJournal, send us an ask on Tumblr, or email us with the number of prompts you completed. (Make sure you let us know your SWG username, if it is not obvious from your username or email address.)

How to Report Your Progress

When reporting your progress at the end of the challenge, please let us know

1) the number of prompts you completed by the due date and

2) which of the following formats you attempted: creative writing, nonfiction/meta, art (graphic or traditional), and multimedia (podfic, video, infographic, etc).

How to Post Your Responses (if you want to)

Because this is a study, you may not want to share all (or any!) of your responses. Given that, you do not have to post your prompt responses publicly, although you are welcome to do so if you want, and there is a 30-Day Character Study option on the archive challenge list. Please see below for instructions on how to post challenge material that is not meant to be regarded as a finished, stand-alone fanwork.

Stamps will be awarded on the honor system, since not all fanworks will be publicly available. As always, we trust participants' judgment to know if a response satisfies a prompt.

Finished fanworks meant to be read/viewed as stand-alone pieces are welcome to be posted as separate stories on the archive.

If you want to publicly share challenge pieces that are not finished fanworks, you should create a single story on the archive for flash writing, sketches, notes, research, links lists, and other material that you develop during the challenge. Do not post each of these items as a separate story. You may also share this content on our Dreamwidth or LiveJournal, or post a link there to the tag where you are collecting your challenge responses.

The Prompts

  1. Drop Everything and Read, Part One. Take at least a half-hour to read what the texts say about your chosen character.
  2. Down Memory Lane, Part One. Think about your character’s childhood (or the early days of their existence if they had no childhood). What was the environment and daily life of their formative years like? Did they have siblings? What was their relationship to their family like? Who were their friends? What made them feel sad/angry/frightened? What made them feel content/excited/happy? Who were their teachers?
  3. Strong Points, Part One. Think about at least three strengths of your character - talents they were born with, skills they have learned, positive character traits… Write a scene in which your character really shines at something.
  4. Home Sweet Home, Part One. Think about a geographical location where your character lived. Learn more about what life in that location might have been like: the climate, topography, seasonal changes, flora and fauna, or anything else related to that physical location.
  5. What’s On The Menu? Your character’s food choices will be influenced not just by taste, but by their culture, environment and circumstances. Try to find out about what foodstuffs might typically be available to your character. What would be their everyday fare? What would be a special treat? Where does it come from? Who does the cooking?
  6. Artistic Licenses. Take at least ten minutes to peruse fan art about your character. If you are working on a rare character about whom little has been drawn, you may substitute looking at fan art about a group of characters to whom your character belongs (e.g., Dwarves, female characters, commonfolk, craftspeople, etc.) Think about which fan artists best capture how you imagine your character and why. Think about how your character's appearance does (or does not) support other aspects of their traits and history.
  7. Affiliations, Part One. Think about an important relationship your character has to another character in your verse. Spend at least a half-hour exploring that relationship in any way you choose. For example, you might read and research the other character, write or draw about their relationship, create meta or headcanons--your choice.
  8. The Mirror Cliche. Authors are often discouraged from describing their characters by having them look at their reflection in a mirror (or a pool, or a puddle, or whatever). For this one exercise, we want you to embrace the mirror cliche! Write a scene where your character sees their reflection. What do they see? What do they feel as they see it?
  9. Weak Points, Part One. Think about at least three shortcomings of your character - things they are bad at, mistakes they make, bad habits… Write a scene in which their failings play a pivotal role.
  10. What's in a Name? Research the meaning of your character's name. Think about how that name fits the character but also what the name might more subtly imply about your character.
  11. Drop Everything and Read, Part Two. Take at least a half-hour to read meta and scholarship written about your character. If you are working on a rare character about whom little has been written, you may substitute reading about a group of characters to whom your character belongs (e.g., Dwarves, female characters, commonfolk, craftspeople, etc.)
  12. Down Memory Lane, Part Two. Think about the rites of passage your character went through. These can be mundane things like learning to walk, their first kiss, or taking an exam; formal ceremonies like a coming-of-age ritual, graduation or wedding; or life-changing events. Which steps did your character take on the way to who they are?
  13. Home Sweet Home, Part Two. Where does your character live? What are their domestic arrangements like? What do their sleeping/dining/cooking/working areas look like? Where do they go to pee and poop? What about their tastes in interior decoration? Take the time to think about one habitation of your character in as much detail as you can come up with.
  14. Big Ideas, Part One. Create a visual representation of the big ideas you've learned about your character. This can be a quick list in a notebook, a series of sticky notes, or a graphical representation … or whatever you want to make or imagine!
  15. Big Ideas, Part Two. Using one of the big ideas from Prompt 14, revise an existing fanwork so that this idea is more strongly emphasized or create a new fanwork that brings this idea to the center of the piece.
  16. Down Memory Lane, Part Three. Imagine your character keeping a box of little mementoes that are important to them. Write a list, make a sketch, or create a fanwork where these mementoes feature.
  17. Affiliations, Part Two. Think about a group your character belongs to--perhaps a cultural group, a profession, a family or clan, or any other group of affiliated characters. Spend at least a half-hour exploring that affiliation in any way you choose, whether reading and researching the group, writing or drawing about the character's relationship to the group, collecting links and resources, writing meta or head canons, or anything else you can dream.
  18. Fan Art/Fancast/Fanmix. Create fan art of your character. Don't have an artistic bone in your body? You can substitute finding three images of different people who would fit how you imagine your character to look, or three sets of clothing/costumes that the character might wear, or make a fanmix of songs that relate to your character.
  19. Strong Points, Part Two. Revisit the list of strengths you’ve thought about for Prompt 4. This time, write a scene in which your character’s strong points cause them trouble.
  20. Who Are You? Using what you've learned about your character, take a Myers-Briggs type personality test for your character. What do you learn about the person? What surprises you?
  21. In Dreams. Your character is asleep and dreaming. What are their dreams typically like? Write or sketch a dream sequence that explores your character’s subconscious.
  22. What Do They Think About You, Part One. How do characters close to the one you’ve chosen (family, friends, significant other…) see your character?
  23. Drop Everything and Read, Part Three. Take at least a half-hour to familiarize yourself with fan fiction created about your character. If you are working on a rare character about whom little has been written, you may substitute reading about a group of characters to whom your character belongs (e.g., Dwarves, female characters, commonfolk, craftspeople, etc.)
  24. Weak Points, Part Two. Revisit the list of shortcomings you’ve come up with for Prompt 9. This time, write a scene in which your character turns a weakness into a strength.
  25. An Atlas of Everyday Life. Draw a map of a location familiar to your character. The location may be as small as a room or as vast as a realm. Include details important to your character's life or connection to this location.
  26. Happy Holidays. What special days does your character observe? Research or invent the customs of a holiday your character loves to celebrate. (See Darth Fingon's Elven Holidays and Festivals or the Thain's Book for more information on canonical Middle-earth holidays.)
  27. Beyond the Tales. Create a links list of at least eight sources of information that will help you understand an aspect of your character's life. For example, you may collect links that help you better understand the character's profession or a pursuit important to that character (e.g., hunting or harp playing). You may collect links on magic or mythology related to that character (e.g., telepathy or the trickster archetype). You may collect links related to the setting where the character lives, relevant real-world history, or anything related to that person at all. You do not need to read all eight sources; the idea is to have a starting point for future research and reference.
  28. Down Memory Lane, Part Four. Imagine your character writing or dictating their autobiography. What parts of their story would they hush up or change to make themselves look better? What parts would they blow out of proportion? What parts would make them cry?
  29. What Do They Think About You, Part Two. How do characters unfriendly towards your chosen character (rivals, enemies, ex-partners…) see them?
  30. Show It All Off. Create a fanwork about your character: any format, any genre.

Three Silmarils

Write a story of any length concerning one of the three quotes. You may--but do not have to--use the quote in the story if you'd like. Although all three quotes concern Fëanor, the quotes certainly apply to a broad range of characters, and your story may be about any character you choose.

If you're feeling extra ambitious, of course, you're welcome to do a series of stories involving all three!

To Be Free

Freedom means many things to different people. It has been the cause of wars and underlies dreams of peace. Many of the greatest works of literature discuss freedom in one way or another.

J.R.R. Tolkien's books are no exception. Freedom is a theme throughout his works and is often a primary motive for his characters. For this challenge, we ask you to show a character working to achieve freedom. While the actions of major characters like Fëanor and Lúthien might come first to mind, your story need not focus on epic quests for liberty but may also focus on small, everyday attempts to win freedom.

Traditions

Part of what makes Tolkien's legendarium feel so real is his expertise in alluding to and sometimes even creating the mythic and historical materials that form the basis of his Ardaverse. These materials include the songs, poems, and stories of an oral tradition. For this challenge, we ask our writers to show the oral tradition in their story. Perhaps a character is telling a folktale, cautioning a child with an urban legend, or scaring a sibling with a ghost story. Perhaps a character is reciting a bardic poem or singing a popular song. How might the traditional spoken word have been used and impacted the cultures of Arda?

Trinkets and Treasures

The Silmarillion is full of stories pertaining to or involving items that are magical or valuable in some way to their owners. Write a piece in any form--short story, drabble, poem--about how one of these items influenced history or its possesor, how the item was acquired or created, or how the item was lost.

The Silmarillion canon is full of items that could be used for this challenge, but also, there are items that must have existed by receive no special mention and items that exist only in the imaginations of fanfic writers. Any item--canon or not--is suitable for this challenge. Here are some examples to get you started:

Turning Point

The Silmarillion has many moments when a character stands upon a crossroad: He or she will have to make a decision. At such a turning point in your story, the character realises that the journey or actions he or she is about to embark on or take will have a profound effect on either on the character or the world around him or her. Write about that moment that will define or alter the life of your character. How will he or she reflect on what is about to change and how does she or he look back on the way things were(in good, bad, or both ways)?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

United They Stand

Throughout the books we see women like Haleth leading their people, or Lúthien doing deeds no other man dared to do. Dwarves meeting elves, or Oromë discovering the elves. Emancipation and equality can be found in the Professor's words, and we would like to challenge you to write about this process. To get you started, here are some ideas to explore:

Untold History

The Silmarillion is a unique story in that it is not told by an omniscient, omnipresent narrator but by ordinary people, as fallible and prone to bias as you or I. This month, as we focus on the House of Fëanor, we consider also how their story might have been told--or not told--truthfully by the "authors" of The Silmarillion.

This challenge asks authors to take an event from the canon and rewrite it from the point-of-view of one of the characters disfavored in the history. The piece shouldn't seek to make excuses for a character's misdeeds but rather to address legitimate issues, perspectives, and interpretations that might have been lost or ignored as the histories were written. Behind each decision that seems terrible or puzzling to us lies difficult deliberation, reason, and regret, and this challenge seeks to address this.

While this month honors the Fëanorians--and they are perfect for this challenge--any typical "bad" character will work equally well. Authors could write about Thingol, Maeglin, Fëanor, or Melkor. "Good" characters who often come off negatively to readers are perfect for the challenge as well. For example, why did the Valar choose to pass judgment on Fëanor rather than leaving the decision to Finwë, his father and king? Why did Orodreth seem so incompetent in his handling of the affairs of Nargothrond? Why did Melian leave Doriath defenseless after her husband's death?

A Woman's Sceptre

"Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison."
~ Mary Wollstonecraft

This month, we consider the sceptres that women hold: sceptres of beauty in the forms of the pens and brushes that they use to represent their experiences as art, and literal sceptres of power, often wrested from the unwilling, that they use to establish justice for themselves and their sisters.

Each participant will receive a quote from a woman who has advanced the cause of women's rights or participation of women in the arts. Although we are offering this challenge alongside Legendarium Ladies April, your response does not have to be about a female character. (Also--please feel free to use your challenge quote in combination with this month's wonderful Legendarium Ladies April prompts, or write or include a poem as part of Poetry Month!) You may use all or part of your quote in any way that you choose in responding to the challenge. Challenge responses must be posted to the SWG archive by May 10 to be eligible for a stamp.

If you wish to participate in this month's challenge, leave a comment on our LiveJournal or our Dreamwidth, drop us an ask on our tumblr, or email us at moderator@silmarillionwritersguild.org.

When the Storm Breaks...

No matter where we turn to these days, a storm seems to have an impact on our lives. We either face it head on, or seek shelter until the worst has passed. The word storm can both be taken literally or figuratively, of course. As the writer, you can approach this from many angles.

There is a multitude of possibilities to explore, and we challenge you to find one.

Wish upon a Star

Stars are vital to the mythology presented in The Silmarillion. The Eldar awakened under--and were named after--the stars. Varda multiplied the stars to give light to the Elves and serve as a warning to Melkor. Later, Eärendil, bearing a Silmaril, was hailed as a new star and a sign of hope to all upon Arda. To the people of Arda, the stars are a sign of hope, a light in the dark.

This month's challenge asks authors to reach for the stars ... or at least have their characters make a wish upon them. Write a story, drabble, or poem where a character is wishing upon or musing on the stars. What does the character hope for? Does she or he believe that it will come to pass from so simple an action as wishing upon so meaningful a symbol? Does the character's wish come true, or does wishing upon stars prove to be the stuff of childhood fancy?

Wish upon a star and find out ...

(For more information on the astronomy of Tolkien's world, we recommend The Astronomy of Middle-earth by Dr. Kristine Larsen, an astronomer and Tolkien scholar.)

With a Bit of Fairy Dust

No matter on what continent you might be at this moment, both spring and autumn are times of change making you look at life and the world around you from a different perspective. So why can’t we look at The Silmarillion in a new way? This challenge gives you the opportunity to try and see how your favourite character would star in a fairy tale! Give it a try with the following fairy tale writing prompts as an example!

Unleash your imagination by looking at fairy tales of old and mix them with Tolkien's own Mythopoeia. Or make up your own fairy tales featuring your own characters or such stories told by your characters! There is a multitude of possibilities to explore and we challenge you to find one. No holds barred regarding your imagination, that this challenge about!

Within the Pages of Lore

March is Back to Middle-earth Month, when we all remember what inspired us to become part of this fandom in the first place.

But one of the most fun aspects of fandom is discovering new interests and inspirations. At times, we as writers can get caught in a rut of writing about the same characters, events, races, and eras. This month, we challenge all of our authors to try something new.

Interested? Get your Silmarillion off of the shelf. Close your eyes--but finish reading these instructions first! Now let your book fall open at random. Put your finger down on the page.

Open your eyes and copy the sentence on which your finger lies.

Your challenge is to write a story using that quote. The quote can form the basis of the story. It can be the first line, or you can use it as a line somewhere within the story. You might find yourself researching and reading stories about a subject you'd never really considered before, and if this is the case, then the challenge has worked for you!

"You Can't Go Home Again"

At last worn by haste and the long road (for forty leagues and more had he journeyed without rest) he came with the first ice of winter to the pools of Ivrin, where before he had been healed. But they were now but a frozen mire, and he could drink there no more.

Thus he came hardly by the passes of Dor-lómin, through bitter snows from the north, and found again the land of his childhood. Bare and bleak it was; and Morwen was gone. Her house stood empty, broken and cold; and no living thing dwelt nigh.

-The Silmarillion, "Of Túrin"

What would happen if one of Tolkien's characters returned to a beloved home after a long absence? This challenge asks authors to pursue that very question. The return may be canonical--such as Túrin's return to Dor-lómin in the quote--or alternate universe, such as Fëanor's return to Tirion after many ages in the halls of Mandos. What and whom might the character encounter? What has changed? How has the character changed?




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