October's Challenges

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:

For those interested in approaching this challenge from a humorous angle, the Urban Legends Reference Page cites many classic examples of cultural misunderstandings. (Doing a search of "culture" on the same page returns many more matches.)

If you have ideas for compelling story hooks for this challenge or know of any good examples of stories that satisfy this challenge (either your own or someone else's), please feel free to share them in a comment or in a post to the group.

Featured Essay for the Month

Because this month's challenge requires writers to create a vivid setting, this month's featured essay "Long Ago and Far Away: Fictional Place and Time" discusses how writers can develop characters, create a mood, and advance plot by creating a rich setting for events to unfold.

When I first began working on the month's challenge, I figured that an essay on setting would be easy to come by. One by one, I sorted through my writing books at home, and one by one, I discarded them, for none seemed to consider setting a topic worth expounding upon.

Is it? Some people might argue that, in fan fiction, especially, setting is less important than realistic characters and a compelling plot. After all, why should we waste time and words describing how scary Nan Dungortheb is when we all know that Nan Dungortheb--the Valley of Dreadful Death--is a scary place? Isn't it better to spend more time with the characters and storyline?

Not necessarily. We will feel more keenly the plight of an Elf lost wandering Nan Dungortheb if the details of the setting make us feel fear--versus simply knowing that we are in a scary place and are supposed to be fearful, with nothing to justify that assumption. If we know that the space between two boulders is filled with deep, shifting shadows, and the character can hear the chitinous sound of spider-claws scratching at rock, we are more apt to understand the character's apprehension about having to pass through there than if the writer skirts having to describe this particular detail of setting.

Furthermore, in other settings, the writer is at liberty to enthrall readers with his or her perception of a particular place. Consider Nargothrond, an underground city: what about Nargothrond makes it such a wonderful and beautiful place? In a short story I began a while ago, I had the ceilings of Nargothrond strung with lamps in the shapes of the constellations and leaves and trees carved from stone with such skill that they appeared real, making the underground realm "magical" to one who expects a cold, bleak cave. These kinds of details paint a much better picture of Nargothrond than to suffice to simply have a character arrive in "magical underground Nargothrond." Each of us, when we read of these magical realms for the first time, began to form images of what made them so special. Using them in a story setting gives us the chance to share this unique experience with our readers.

And a character's reaction to the magic of Nargothrond--is he awed? fearful? disbelieving?--provides a good point for characterization, just as we know something about a character who walks fearlessly through the horrors of Nan Dungortheb: She is either very brave, stupid, or perhaps, evil herself.

"Long Ago and Far Away: Fictional Place and Time" discusses many different ways that writers can use setting to enhance their stories. For the sake of relevance and brevity, I am only presenting the first half of the essay at this time, that which deals with physical setting. Issues dealing with narrative time--tense and flashback, for example--will be presented at a later time. If you are interested in the second part of this essay now, however, please contact me, and I will gladly send it to you.

Because this is a published work, I must--for reasons of copyright--restrict its use to SWG members only. "Long Ago and Far Away: Fictional Place and Time" is available in our LJ community to members who have joined the silwritersguild community; it is also available via PDF download on our Yahoo! Groups homepage. If you are not an SWG member but wish to read this essay--and the others that I will offer in the future--please join one or both of these groups. You are under no obligation to participate or receive group emails.

Read "Long Ago and Far Away: Fictional Place and Time" in our LiveJournal Community

News and Announcements

Do You Want to Write a Novel?

November is National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and if you have always wanted to author a novel-length work but never seem to find the right moment, this might be the moment! Join thousands of other authors in the challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in just one month.

Registration for NaNoWriMo begins on 1 October. For further information or to sign up, check out the NaNoWriMo Homepage.

Reminder: Posting Format for LiveJournal Community

Just a gentle reminder to all members of the silwritersguild community that our posting format must be used when sharing stories. Please find details on our posting format here.

I am less concerned that writers follow this format to the letter than I am that ratings and warnings be clearly displayed. Please be aware that stories posted in the silwritersguild community must include the following:

These items are covered in greater detail in our posting guidelines, available through the community.

Organizing Community Entries Using Tags

I am going to begin organizing postings in the silwritersguild community sometime this month, using tags.

Tags are links displayed at the bottom of an entry that allow readers to see all entries containing the same tag. For example, clicking on a tag reading "feanor" will allow you to view all the entries tagged with "feanor."

Tags provide quick access to all stories about a certain character or by a certain author, as well as to all challenge entries, past newsletter issues, and announcements.

You are welcome (and encouraged!) to tag your own entries. Entries without tags will be tagged with the following:

You will be able to edit the tags for your entries, even if I tag them first. Feel free to add or change tags at your discretion.

If you can think of any additional tags that might prove useful for sorting stories, please let me know. Additional information about using tags may be found in the LiveJournal FAQ and, as always, please email me with questions.

Posting to the Community If You're Not a Community Member

Did you know that you do not need to be a member of the silwritersguild community to post your stories and discussion topics here?

All you need is a LiveJournal account to post in silwritersguild. Perhaps you don't write a lot of Silmarillion pieces but would like to share a story or drabble with those more familiar with the characters and canon of Tolkien's early world. Feel free to share your writing here!

To post to the silwritersguild community without being a community member, simply visit our Community Information Page. You will see a little button marked with a blue pencil. Holding your cursor over the button, a tag reading "Post to 'silwritersguild'" will appear. Click this button and a fresh journal page opens and posts automatically to silwritersguild.

We welcome Silmarillion writing from writers of all ages, with all degrees of experience, and from all backgrounds. Works of any genre and rating are acceptable, as are works in progress.

If you are interested in posting to our community and not a member, please check out our posting guidelines and have fun! As always, if you are new to LiveJournal or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Return to Newsletter Archive