Worldbuilding Resources

What do writers do when they are procrastinating while putting together a story? They go hunting for writing resources to help them with worldbuilding! This is a concept I’ve always struggled with as a writer—I relish the dialogue but drag my feet with the setting. In developing the world for Death and Taxis, I have been researching writing resources for assisting with world development.

Reddit – 100 Worldbuilding Prompts

https://www.reddit.com/r/worldbuilding/comments/als11s/100_worldbuilding_prompts/

This seems like a good list, filled with some offbeat questions to get the mind thinking differently about their world – such as question 17:

It’s late at night and I’m hungry, what food venues are still open?

The Novel Factory – The Ultimate World Building Questionnaire (131 questions)

https://www.novel-software.com/theultimateworldbuildingquestionnaire

This resource is broken up by category and therefore gives more structure to the world development than the previous resources. The first section pertains to the physics and nature of the world, the second section to geography and natural resources, etc.

As an added bonus, Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite fantasy authors, teaches a course at Brigham Young University on novel writing, and all the lectures are available online: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLH3mK1NZn9QqOSj3ObrP3xL8tEJQ12-vL

That’s all for today. Back to procrastinating worldbuilding.

Death and Taxis: Chapter 1

This story is inspired by a conversation with a friend–B. L. White–about a deceased taxi driver who gives people rides in the land of the dead.


“Where are you headed?” said Tom, taking a tire-squealing right turn onto Purgatorial Circle as he attempted to beat the oncoming rush of the traffic circle.

“Excuse me,” said the passenger, “This is very embarrassing…but could you please, before I tell you where I am headed—tell me where I came from?” The passenger, Kaylen, had a strange sensation, akin to the feeling of blacking out, and a vague, mostly physical recollection of the feeling of throwing up, and then of—this! Waking up, the growing sense of alarm at not remembering the immediate past and anxiety of not knowing…did something happen? Kaylen looked for clues at her appearance and clothing. Everything seemed normal: she was wearing a wooly blue-and-green sweater and grey jeans.

She sized up all these things in a moment as Tom glanced in the rear-view mirror and began to answer her question. “Well, if you’re here, then…well…” His voiced trailed off for a moment as he thought. “Well, you see…you have died. And now you’re here on the other side.”

Kaylen tried to process these words. Instead, she became curious about the road. “This is a traffic circle, you said?” She asked. “It’s pretty long, huh?”
“Longest there is,” said Tom. “For some reason the planners of this place didn’t like the idea of stoplights and intersections here. So they did what everyone does—they made this place an enormous traffic circle. Also, the architects have always been obsessed with ring-shapes. You know Dante and the 9 rings…?” Tom looked in the rearview mirror and was met with an empty expression. “Nah? Well, he was just an old dude—more my generation—and he wrote about heaven, hell, and purgatory. And he theorized that the places are divided into concentric rings—starting with the outer ring and working inwards. Or outwards…I don’t remember!” Tom said brightly. “Anyway, the point is—Dante got it more or less correct, only instead of rings, it’s really a bunch of concentric traffic circles. Dante didn’t know what a car was.”

Tom looked again at Kaylen and saw that her eyes had glazed over and that she had no idea what he was talking about. “Look, I’m rambling, but the point is, we have to get through 9 different traffic circles, and you got here at a pretty busy time of year actually—December always seems to be a rough time, and there’s a civil war going on in the East right now, so that’s also increased the number of visitors considerably. So the traffic is pretty bad today. You have until we get to the center to figure out where you’re going. No need to rush, though!”

The Contrapositive of Love

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” – John 21.15

The Inverse or the opposite? A discussion at an IEEE computer society meeting a few nights ago might seem like an unlikely place to be talking about love, but amid the discussion of a networking concept, the presenter distinguished between the opposite of a thing and the inverse of a thing. “What is the opposite of love? Most people would say it’s hate, but the opposite of both hate and love is apathy.” I didn’t fully follow this distinction, but the thought process started me thinking about synonyms, how we use them, and what they mean.

So, what is the opposite of love, and how is it different (if it is!) from inverse, converse, and contrapositive? Let’s take a look!

What do those words even mean? Time to dust off those logic definitions and find out! Let’s examine a statement and the 3 related statements we can draw from it, and evaluate whether these statements are true.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14.15-17

The Statement

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Converse

If you keep my commandments, you will love me.

This is false – without a heart changed and set to love God, outward obedience is insufficient to form love.

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘LORD, LORD, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” – Matthew 7.22

Inverse

If you do not love me, you will not keep my commandments.

This is also false—there are lots of moral people who, even without loving Jesus, are capable of keeping Jesus’s commandments. It is possible to honor God with our lips and obey commandments taught by men, while also having a heart that does not love God

And the Lord said:

Because this people draw near with their mouth

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again

do wonderful things with this people,

with wonder upon wonder;

and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,

and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” – Isaiah 29.13-14

Contrapositive

If you do not keep my commandments, you will not love me.

This is almost true—but more accurately stated as—if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, then you do not love me. UPDATE: a more math-minded reader than I pointed out that the contrapositive of a statement is always true, so ignore the previous statement! The correct phrasing of the contrapositive should be: if you will not keep me commandments, then you do not love me. This is true!

Loving God expresses itself in the fruit of good works in believers. Though believers are imperfect, backslide, go through perhaps even seasons of life where they hold on to sin, the fruit of a heart truly in love with Christ is a walk that is increasingly obedient to his commands.
In Conclusion

What is the opposite of love? Is it hate, or is it apathy? Since opposite, unlike converse, inverse, and contrapositive, doesn’t have a strict definition in logic, I am left with a dictionary lookup to decide. The definition of opposite is as follows:

op·po·site (adj.)

1. Placed or located directly across from something else or from each other: opposite sides of a building.

2. Facing the other way; moving or tending away from each other: opposite directions.

3. Being the other of two complementary or mutually exclusive things: the opposite sex; an opposite role to the lead in the play.

As an an adjective, we would say that love and hate are opposite emotions, whereas apathy is the absence of emotion. As a result, to answer the original question in an extremely roundabout way, the opposite of love must be hate, but in the absence of love, there is indifference.

References:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-i-know-if-i-really-love-jesus

https://www.varsitytutors.com/hotmath/hotmath_help/topics/converse-inverse-contrapositive

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A22-23&version=ESV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2014

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/opposite

Review: Bibliotheca

What started as a $1.4 million Kickstarter campaign back in 2014 finally came to fruition in 2016 with the publication and delivery of a four-volume edition of the Bible (or 5 if customers chose to have the Apocrypha included in the slipcase). What was unique about this edition, you may rightly ask? There are many editions of the Bible that cost well under $199. So why the steep price tag?

Well, these four volumes–divided into the The Five Books & The Former Prophets, The Latter Prophets, The Writings, and The New Testament–represent a reader’s Bible of sorts–no page or chapter divisions, and with a single-column layout. In addition, the materials are very high-quality, from the stone-based mineral paper that the text is printed on (supposedly longer-lasting than normal paper) to the cloth material covering the exterior. So a reader’s bible for hipsters? Well, basically.

bibliotheca_celery_standard_sq_1024x1024
from the website; the above is similar to my edition except mine includes the Apocrypha separately, not in the slipcase.

What I have discovered since receiving my editions is 3 things:

  1. I am less likely to read a book that I view as too valuable to handle regularly; the editions collected dust on my shelves for the first two years of ownership. They looked great, though.
  2. Now that I have begun reading from these books more regularly, I am beginning to appreciate the designer’s decision to use a revised version of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV) translation, which, from my understanding, is largely the original ASV with “thee’s” and “thou’s” updated to use more modern expressions. The reason I appreciate this is that I can read familiar passages and encounter slightly different phrasing that makes me pause to figure out what the passage is saying; the translation seems very readable and clear, but also different from the NKJV and ESV I’m accustomed to. So I often find myself meditating on the meaning of a passage before pulling up another translation to verify the meanings are similar. The process has been fun!
  3. I also appreciate the lack of verse and chapter divisions–it makes it easier to see connections between thoughts, especially in New Testament epistles, where I often stop reading at the end of a chapter or topical division. In 1 Peter 3:1-12, for instance, it is easy to see the transition from Peter talking to wives, then husbands, then everybody together. There’s no “Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake” header splitting verses 1-7 and 8-12. It is a continuous thought as Peter addresses several audiences. Seeing this progression is possible with any Bible of course, but the simplicity of the page design makes it easier for me to recognize.

I pre-ordered back in 2014, waiting until 2016 for delivery, and only this year did I finally begin to take the books off the shelf and crack them open more regularly. Was it worth the wait? The books are very high-quality and have provided a helpful bit of variety (I know! The nerve of praising novelty with respect to the Bible!) to my Bible reading, so I say–yes.

Review: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino excels at suspense, building anticipation that something terrible is about to happen in many of his most memorable scenes. Most of the time in Tarantino’s latest creation, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the situations defuse themselves, but the few times they don’t, chaos ensues.

The movie tells an endearing buddy story—washed-up western TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) stars as the “heavy,” or villain, in all his newer films and yearns for the days when he was young and played the hero of the pictures in which he appeared. His stuntman and best friend, Cliff (Brad Pitt), drives him everywhere he needs to go, a requirement after Rick racked up one too many DUI’s.

Rick also lives in a house next door to actress Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski–something that becomes important as the film begins to intermix fiction with the real-life events of the Manson murders that occurred around that time. The film’s story seems to wander at first, but actually builds carefully, laying out characters and beats scene-by-simmering-scene while intermixing real-life Hollywood notables such as Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee with Tarantino’s own composites. It’s a film of many layers that is enjoyable on the surface as a dramatic, off-beat, humorous film filled with memorable characters and moments. Yet with a little knowledge of history and the events surrounding the Manson murders, some of the scenes take on more significance and have greater impact.

Of course, this is an alternate history, so we know that Tarantino is putting his own twist on the disturbing historical events. While not a violent movie by any means, the film contains a few violent moments that make the film warrant an R rating (along with profanity, drug use, and some sexual references – at least according to the film’s IMDb page).

What is this film? Is it wish fulfillment? Haven’t we all wanted to go back in time at some point or another, saying, “If had been there when this or that historical event happened, here’s what I would have done.” Perhaps this film is for know-it-alls? Regardless, the result is quite gratifying while also being suspenseful. The suspense is also greater since, due to the composite nature of the movie, we actually don’t know everything that will happen. Tarantino, not history, holds the last card here.

This is a movie for movie buffs as well as buffs of history. It’s well-acted, well written, well designed, well-photographed, and well—just all-around well-done.

How Did Those Boots Get There?

The boots hung from the power line like a pair of condemned convicts. They rotated limply in the humid breeze, savagely strung up four years ago and hanging by their laces ever since. The feat was remarkable—thirty feet of air stood between the ground and the power line, so the person who placed the boots up there had both good aim and a good arm.

The feet must also have been remarkable because the boots were size 14½ boots, extra wide. They were brown, tarnished by sunlight but disturbed by little else. They had observed as thousands of cars had passed underneath over the course of their time there.

The boots themselves didn’t mind, of course: they chatted often about how they didn’t miss deployment, as they called it, at all. Ryan, the left boot, and Candace, the right boot, talked frequently about how they missed their retail days when all they had to do was sit shiny on a shelf and wait to meet a new person. Ryan and Candace found themselves lonely sometimes—after all, the demand for size 14 ½ boots was minimal. But they had a happy life in their own way, cheering as their friends—the Johnston & Murphy loafers two shelves over for instance—departed to find their place in the world.

But Ryan and Candace didn’t obtain a good owner. A tall, thuggish man who smelled like grease and two-day-old-Old-Spice purchased the plus-sized couple. This man had taken them home and shocked Ryan and Candace at how he mis-handled them. The original coating of polish covering Ryan and Candace wore quickly off and was replaced with scuff marks and a handful of deep scratches.

All of this to say, on the night that Dank-Spice-Man decided to go out, drink one too many drinks with his buddies, hop in the back of their car, then halfway home complain he needed to use the bathroom NOW, Ryan and Candace were all too happy to lead Dank-Spice-Man out into the woods, before being involved in a bet where the man and his friends each began attempting to toss the boots onto the power line. It was Dank-Spice-Man’s friend Arnold who finally succeeded.

Arnold won $10 that night. Ryan and Candace? They won their freedom.

The Thing He Thought He Left Behind

 

Spine-tingling,

With humid heaving,

Softly growling,

Now loudly howling

Is the Thing he left behind.

Story-trusting,

Musket-wielding,

A youth in part,

But with a grown-up heart:

He made a vow to kill its kind.

 

Rifle raising,

Muzzle blazing,

Now reloading,

Then un-loading,

A silent corpse he left behind.

 

Hip-hip-hooraying

And hand upraising,

The boy turned about

And went grinning to his house,

While the Thing went out of mind.

 

Decades passing,

Then the boy, he,

Like Ulysses, traveled home,

And, waiting for him there

Was the thing he left behind.

Life Lessons From My First Snowboarding Trip

  1. At times, if you are like me, you will end up in a situation that you agreed to be in, but without fully understanding what you were signing up for and the risks involved. This is why a lot of wiser, older folks opine about experience being the best mentor; sometimes it’s good to listen!
  2. Lace your shoes securely.
  3. You will fall down a lot at first; the important thing is to not break any bones and to get back up and keep going. If you do this, eventually, one of the following will happen:
    1. you’ll break something and have to stop.
    2. your bum will go numb and you’ll stop minding the falls as much (preferable to option 1).
    3. you’ll gain experience and fall less (the most preferable option).
  4. Often, an inexperienced boarder (I have no idea who you might be thinking of!) will pick up speed, lose control, and wipe out. Learning to slow down takes practice but is 100% worth it.
  5. Be sure to pack the right equipment for the activity (snow pants, beanies, snowproof gloves, etc.).
  6. Learn from each mistake, and don’t get discouraged when you’re sore and it hurts.
  7. Try not to collide with other people during your journey; it’s less fun for everyone.
  8. We all make it to the bottom of the mountain eventually, just at different speeds and in different conditions; some arrive at the bottom on stretchers (not to be too macabre, but I did see it happen). Experienced boarders tend to arrive at the bottom quickly and with minimal injury.
  9. Regarding chair lifts – sitting and waiting is a big part of snowboarding, and of life! It helps to have a friend alongside you, to pass the time.
  10. While you’re sitting and waiting, remember to enjoy the scenery. Oooh! Ah!

IMG_20190322_144111

To those who may be curious: no, I didn’t collide with anybody (whew!). I did fall a lot, but I returned safely home with no major injuries, and with more skill as a boarder than when I arrived. Since I had no experience when I arrived, this is not remarkable. Whether snowboarding is something I would ever do again, well…that is another post.

Diary of a Date-o-Phobic

This story is a work of fiction but inspired by the true experience

Her name was Janet. We were in the same Engage group during my first semester at Northwestern at the campus Wesley Foundation—a semester-long bible study group for freshman. I didn’t know her well, but I did see her at an open mic night hosted by the college radio station towards the end of fall semester. I was playing a couple songs—“Ring Them Bells” by Bob Dylan and the reindeer song from Frozen, which had come out a month or two before. I was explaining what songs I was going to play to her, and she was excited when I said I was doing the Frozen song. Well, I was the second performer of the night—which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I got my performance out of the way and was then free to enjoy the rest of the night. A curse, because the crowd was just getting warmed up and everybody was paying more attention than they would be later on. I led with “Ring Them Bells,” and I’m not sure how it sounded because my guitar wouldn’t output audio to the PA, so I was playing purely acoustic next to a cardioid microphone, one for me and one for my guitar. I know I mis-played several of the chords, but ultimately wound my way to the end of the first song. People clapped, but they felt like claps of sympathy more than anything else. “My next song,” I said, slowly. “Is about reindeers. And people. From Frozen.” I know I got a few laughs for this, and then I sang it. I remember, as I played the last, intentionally discordant notes of the song, seeing people smiling and laughing and clapping, and Janet on the front row, on her feet, laughing.

Which I didn’t think about much at the time.

2 Years Later

“Hey,” I said as I looked over at the new person who had just walked into the classroom—it was Janet. “It’s been a while,” I said.

Smiling, she agreed, and we talked for a bit. Except for a couple times in passing sophomore year, Janet and I hadn’t seen or talked to each other since freshman year. Now, it was spring semester of junior year—two summers had gone by.

The class was an introductory legal policy class, taught by a local attorney—Professor Stevens—and it met for 3 hours every Wednesday night.


It was late on a Friday night. I had participated in a sound check and setup that morning, competed in a debate competition all afternoon, and had then headed straight to a local church to get ready for a worship night happening at seven. Fighting a headache due to lack of food, I awkwardly mingled with the other musicians until seven o’clock rolled around and some friends arrived for the show. I sat most of the service, enjoying the music, playing when my turn finally came.

All of these details are mostly irrelevant, but I’m just trying to set the stage.

It was 9.30, and the service was finally over. Musicians began to drift out. I mingled with some of the other musicians and friends who had attended.

When I finished, I texted my friend Will that I was on my way over to his place—the Incubator, as I had christened the house he lived at with his three roommates. I needed to borrow a soldering iron to fix an audio cable that had been torn earlier that day while setting up for the sound check. The weather was cool in the darkness of a southern spring, and I kept the radio playing loudly to help maintain my alertness as I drove by the gas station, over the railroad tracks, and through the woods to the Incubator. Will and his roommates were watching TV, but when I walked in, Will took me to his garage, where he kept all his soldering irons. I say “all,” because apparently he had two cheap old irons in addition to a bigger, nicer one he used himself. Unsure which one actually worked, Will plugged both of the cheap ones in to test. While we waited for them to heat (and later cool), we sat in the garage and talked (the garage was well-equipped with a coffee table, two couches, a fridge, and many, many, other odds and ends).

We talked about all sorts of things, from the doctrine of original sin and backslidden Christians to the behavior of electricity at power plants. I mentioned Janet to Will, just noting how she had come by the programming competition I participated in the day before and had seemed really interested in it.

“You have her number, right?” said Will. “You should ask her out.”

“Yeeeaaah,” I said, skeptically. “But it’s so close to the end of the semester. And I’m not sure I really feel like trying anything romantic right now.” I paused. “But. Since summer’s almost here, I’ve really got nothing to lose. I mean, if we go on a date and it’s awful, then I get to leave for the summer and not see her again.” I realized that my thinking, while pragmatic, was not very nice. “I’m an awful person, aren’t I?” I said.

Will shrugged. The topic changed. We talked some more, and I left.

The next morning, I woke, late, if I remember correctly. While drinking coffee, I pulled out my laptop and opened Facebook. Scrolling through my news feed, a picture appeared. It was Janet, next to a man. It was a sorority formal, and the man in the photo was her date—a football star, no less. He had a championship bowl ring and everything.

I laughed, and then I told my roommate, David, what Will had told me, and what I discovered. David listened, then he shook his head. “Nah, having a date to formal, that’s just a…formality—you’ve still got a shot.”

I shook my head, and I didn’t really think about it again.

You’re probably wondering when I’ll get to the important part of the story. Well, hang on.

The following Tuesday, around 11, Dr. McCullin, the computer science professor teacher teaching us the theory of computing, let the students take a five minute break, halfway into his 2 hour long lecture. Stepping out into the hall for a drink, I noticed as I was returning to the classroom a poster on a bulletin board advertising a drive-in movie showing of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Back in the classroom, I mention to the classmates sitting around me, “They’re showing Avengers tonight. That would probably be cool.”

At this, Ron, who I had several classes with—including the one with Janet, leaned forward and said in a quiet, quirky tone, “You should ask Janet to go with you.”

I turned around and stared at him with a quizzical smile.

“What?” he said, giving an impish grin in reply. “Penny for your thoughts?”

I didn’t have time to reply because Dr. McCullin resumed teaching at that moment.

After class, as I hurried to pack up my notes to head to my next class, I turned to Ron. “The reason I gave you that look is because you’re the second person who’s told me I should ask Janet out in the past week.”

Ron shrugged. “I just noticed both of you seemed like really…normal people. Who are both friendly. And I thought—” he motioned with his hands, bringing them together in a figurative gesture. “And I notice people. When I’m sitting in the back of that class, every time I look over at her, she’s looking at you.”

I laugh. “That’s because Professor Stevens stands over where I am,” I said, but I had been convinced. I pulled out my phone, composed a quick message to ask Janet if she’d like to go with me, and sent it off. Normally, I would have re-read the text 10 million times before sending it and said at least one prayer, but this time I was quick to tap the send icon—as I had told Will, I had nothing to lose if she turned me down.

Sitting at the back of the lecture hall at my next class, I checked my phone periodically. No response. It had only been 10 minutes. She’s in class, or busy doing something. I said. Don’t worry. That didn’t help. I felt like I was being torn apart with anxiety for the next 20 or so minutes. But then, a reply!

That sounds like fun. Yeah, I’m down!

So it was settled. Looking over at Ron, I whispered, “It’s happening.”

“What?” he said, confused for a moment.

I gestured at my phone, and he realized what I was saying. He smiled that same impish grin, “I told you so.”

At 7.15 that night, I rolled up to Janet’s apartment in my freshly washed and vacuumed Nissan Sentra. She came out almost immediately, and I drove us to Sonic, where we got drinks for during the movie—her a Cherry Coke and me a Cherry Limeade.

We chatted about class, and sports, and about favorite hobbies. It was not memorable conversation, but it was pleasant.

Pulling up to the parking lot where the movie was scheduled to play, an attendant guided us to a spot at the front of the lot, a great position for viewing the screen. The rest was an agreeable blur. I learned about Snapchat (which I had not used before and have not used since that night), and we both ended up angling our seats back—Janet did first to get more comfortable, and I did too when I realized it enabled me to see the screen better without contorting my neck as much. The movie was good, but I’d seen it 3 or 4 times already, so I’ll admit I was slightly bored throughout.

On the way back to Janet’s apartment, we talked about movies and TV shows. When I pulled up at her apartment again, she thanked me for inviting her and told me how she’d never been to a drive-in movie before and had wanted to try it. I told her I’d enjoyed it, too.

“See you Wednesday!” she said, as she got out.

“Yep!” I said. We were all friendly smiles.

And that was that. The most normal, regret-free date I had ever had. I didn’t ask her out again or do anything in the remaining week and half before school let out for summer—we were both incredibly busy, so it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. I’m not saying it was a ridiculously good, best-date-ever sort of thing. But it was fun, and I regret nothing. Which, for someone who had mostly awkward, cringy memories of interactions with the opposite sex up to that point in life, was something very refreshing.

Review: Captain Marvel

Due to the shortness of time, I am re-posting my review of the film, Captain Marvel, from our sister site, Flint & Bone’s Comic Reviews, today.

Flint and Bone's Comic Reviews

Drumming up an original introduction to yet another Marvel movie review requires more effort with each review. What original words can be said about this one that have not already been said in some combination regarding the myriad of predecessors? Has the franchise passed its prime? That is the question I concern myself with, probably too often. Is there an original thread to be plucked, or thought to be explored that hasn’t been already?

This is popcorn fare. Designed to bring crowds to the theater, satisfy the faithful comic-book readers as well as those who casually keep up with the films. Glitz, glamour, extensive action set pieces. It’s practically rote for Marvel films at this point.

And speaking of Marvel, Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel. Through a series of flashbacks, Carol’s story is revealed. It’s a sad, happy tale that includes a not-so-ordinary cat named Goose and a younger…

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