Shepherd by Othman Mohammad

First, You Must Climb Down – Facing Your Unknowns

I was safe, and I was suffocating. Grass and mud stuck to my legs, and the wet dirt squelched under my sandals. I was on a hill, and all I could do was look, turning from one direction to the next, terrified of making the wrong move.

If I move, I will slip. I will fall down this hill, and I do not know if I will ever get up.

So I did not move.

Thumping footsteps heralded the approach of the man with the goat-skin hide. Stabbing his staff into the hillside, he ascended my hill, until he stopped, watching me shiver in the cold, dewy darkness, mud plastered up to my knees. The goat-man pointed the hooked end of his staff at me, and commanded me to identify myself.

“I am the writer.”

“What are you doing up here?” His head was covered by a hollowed-out goat’s head, and two huge, spiralling horns stuck out on either side of the skull.

“I’m stuck.”

His eyebrows knitted together, his beard twitched, and the goat horns bowed when he looked at my feet.

“No, you are not.”

“I can’t go on. I can not write, and I can not move, and I can not think.”

The goat man lifted a hand to stroke the fur on the back of his goat’s head, as he gazed over the foothills, sinking and rising out of a sea of mist. To me, they were like waves locked in place, growing taller and darker the further they went. The goat man picked something out of his beard and flicked it away into the darkness.

“This land is dangerous. All land is dangerous, if you have never explored it.

“This is a threatening country, in the night.” He picked something out of his beard and flicked it away into the darkness. “There are many dangers to be wary of. You are lucky. None of them will kill you. I know this land, and I know it’s dangers. I can not always see them, but I know what they are.”

“What should I do?” I asked, rubbing my hands over my chilled arms.

He shrugged, “What do you want to do?”

“I want to succeed. I want to be good. I want to write the best words that I can.”

The goat man smiled, nodding. I think my response had pleased him.

He spoke, “It is up to you. You can stay here, or you can climb down this hill. If you stay, you will never fail, you will remain above the mist. But you will never move.”

“So I should stay here?”

“Hah!” He barked, “If you stay here, you will never succeed! To succeed, you must fail. Many times. To go up, you must first climb down. And as you can see,” He gestured with his staff, “There are many hills, many ups, and many downs in your way.”

The goat-man pulled his goat-hide tighter around him, and began to walk down the hill.

“Wait!” I called, “What if I make the wrong step?”

“In the mist, you You may find a wolf, or you may find a sheep. You may find many wolves, and sheep, and other things too. But beyond the mists, something waits for you, Writer. Beyond the mists, there is a mountain, a mountain nobody has claimed.”

He turned and grinned at me, horns glinting in the moonlight, “It could be your mountain.

With a few squelching steps he descended into the mist. I took a breath, clutched my pen, and I followed.

Writing Challenge: When you reach a peak, when you finally succeed, you will find new fears. Fear is good, fear will help you grow as a writer, and as a person. You, and your characters, must learn from these fears.

So, go. Write something short, about a fear you are facing, or a fear your character is facing. What is your unknown? How will you explore it?

Image courtesy of Othman Mohammad via Flickr Creative Commons

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Love and Sex and Poetry – What’s Your Favorite?

“If my Valentine you won’t be,
I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree.”

-Ernest Hemingway

Today, millions of people will be in love.

Today, millions of people will be in tears.

And today, millions of people probably won’t care that it’s Valentine’s Day. But I care. I care a lot.

You know why?

Because love and loss are the greatest catalysts of poetry, poetic language, and all things written.

Today, I want to hear about your favorite poems, songs, notes, letters, or passages on all things Love. And Lust. And the wonders of human connection. If you wrote your own piece, or want to share a particularly moving blog post about love, please post it down in the comments below!

To get things started, I’ll share one of my favorite songs from Chet Baker:

As always, don’t forget to like and follow the blog. Happy Valentines day to you, dear writers. 

Image courtesy of Brittanie Loren Pendleton via Flickr Creative Commons.

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Half the Battle (Short Fiction: 150 Words)

It’s not Friday, it’s not a hundred words or less, but following rules was never really my strong suit. Here is my piece for last week’s ‘Friday Fictioneers’ prompt over at Rochelle’s blog. Maybe this week I’ll try to be on time. 

B and C were tied together at the ankle, waiting impatiently for Y and Z to do the same.

“What’s in the house?” C asked, leaning on her free leg while B was rushing the other pair to hurry up.

“B told me there was treasure. Is there treasure, B?” Y asked.

“YES,” an exasperated B, “but only the smartest group gets it, and that’s gonna be me and C.”

“Yea!” Said C.

“Nuh uh,” said Y.

“You kidding? Look how long it’s taking Z to tie that knot around your legs. I bet it’s not even a real knot,” B bent down and pretended to inspect it, but he didn’t actually know what a real knot was.

Without warning, B stood back up and shouted “Go!” while pulling C behind him.

Silent Z tugged at Y’s arm, and pulled her around the outside of the maze. They reached the house first, but the only treasure they found was the sound of B and C’s arguing voices, still lost in the hedges.

Thank you for reading! Tell me what you thought in the comments below, and don’t forget to like or follow the blog. Criticism is always a gift. And don’t forget to check out the other submissions here.

Image courtesy of Melanie Greenwood

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How Strangers Can Inspire Your Characters

If you are a writer, then you are a whole thesaurus of other things too.You are an artist, an architect, a dreamer, a tactician, a politician, an anthropologist, a historian, the list continues.

Today, none of these roles are your concern, because today, you are a psychologist.

As a writer, you should be obsessed with human behavior, because human behavior is what will drive your characters:

  • Why do people do things?
  • What would make someone act a certain way?
  • Why do these people want this, and what are they willing to do for it?
  • What would change their minds?

By now, you know that motivations are important, but what else is there to creating a good character? How do professional writers do it? How badly do you want to do some homework?

Don’t answer that last one. Let’s get into two different techniques that are going to help you improve your characters:

Continue reading How Strangers Can Inspire Your Characters

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Like Sharks in a Harbor (Flash Fiction)

Woong counted no less than four alarms when he poked his head into the observation deck. He could pick apart each one: proximity, emergency, something blocking the cargo doors.

But the last one, a sort of angry beeping that sounded important had the sound of authority, like it wasn’t supposed to be ignored.

He didn’t know what it was, and he definitely didn’t have time to figure it out. Woong had to find the system that controlled the cargo door, disengage whatever safety protocols this freighter had in place, and get the door to open.

The short range crackled in his ear, “Woong! How’s it going in there?”

“Found the obs, it’s clear. I’m looking for the door controls now.”

“Nice. Know what you’re looking for?”

Woong scratched his head, his eyes darting from one appliance to the next. The room was poorly lit, except for the hypnotic glare from monitors, and the light from the giant window that looked down into the main cargo bay.  “I’m looking for a computer right next to an override, but I don’t-”

Continue reading Like Sharks in a Harbor (Flash Fiction)

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What Motivates Your Character (and Is It Enough)?

You have reasons for coming here (you want to learn more about writing, to communicate as one author to another, or maybe you were baited by that tantalizing title). I have a reason for writing this post (to inform you, to give you a place to discuss, and to ensnare you with clickbait! HAH).

The point is, everything you and I do is brought on by some sort of motivation. We are human, we want, and we will always want.

Your characters should also want something (even if they aren’t human). Coming up with a motivation is easy: Is your thief greedy? Is your president obsessed with power? Is your romantic lead drawn to honor?

However, one motivation won’t cut it if you want to make your characters interesting. So what is the secret?

Continue reading What Motivates Your Character (and Is It Enough)?

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Fear of Writing

My name is P.S. Hoffman and I’m afraid of writing. It’s a subtle thing, a small thing that’s hard to notice, but it’s always there. In between every word, there is a pause, a tick where I’m not sure if I can do it, I’m not sure if I can write the next.

I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m afraid nobody will care, or worse. I’m afraid that what I’ve written now is the last I’ll ever write, because nothing I do will ever be good enough.

My name is P.S. Hoffman, and I’m finished with fear. I have too much to say, I have too much to share, and I don’t have time to be afraid.

And neither do you.

Continue reading Fear of Writing

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Do Writers Talk to Each Other?

Most of the people I’m connected with on the internet are writers: Best-selling novelists, bloggers with heavy clout, and budding new writers.Sometimes I wonder, do the authors and bloggers I follow on twitter know each other? I mean, really know each other.

Do they talk? Do they invite each other out for tea or sex or housewarming parties?

I think it’s more likely that they can’t stand each other – too much jealousy, or popularity issues, and the desire to distance yourself from so-and-so because “he’s not a real horror writer, he just writes really long chapters about murders.” Continue reading Do Writers Talk to Each Other?

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Posting on Wikipedia? + Character Building Excercise

I read this article from The New Yorker.

In it, Author Philip Roth (The Human Stain) writes an open letter to Wikipedia about the silliness that can ensue when you try to change a page on Wikipedia. You see, there was an error on The Human Stain‘s Wikipedia page, one that Roth wanted to correct. A claim based purely on rumor erroneously explained that Roth was inspired to write his novel by ‘the life of Anatole Broyard’.

Roth disagreed. He says he was inspired by his friend, a Professor of Sociology at Princeton, Melvin Tumin.

Continue reading Posting on Wikipedia? + Character Building Excercise

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You Can’t Please Everyone: How to Write about Sensitive Topics

This post was written in tandem with my fellow blogger, Samah. Go read Samah’s blog for an illuminating glance into the diverse lives of Scarved Muslim Women.

I’m going to say a word, and you’re going to feel a quake of emotion; I don’t know if it you’ll have a positive reaction or what, but I want you to focus on what you feel.

Are you ready? OK. Here it goes: Feminism.

Feminism is a blazing hot topic, especially on the semi-anonymous internet battlefield. It’s infamous for starting absurd internet wars and it’s divisive enough that sometimes feminists clash with other feminists.

The point is, touchy topics like feminism are so sensitive, they might as well come with a ‘WARNING: FLAMMABLE” sign. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them.

Here are some tips for you, dear reader, on how to write about sensitive topics without poking the bee’s nest.

Continue reading You Can’t Please Everyone: How to Write about Sensitive Topics