Writing Prompt – Artificially Intelligent Judge

A local government (city or county) appoints an artificial intelligence as a judge.

  • Consider possible advantages in an artificially intelligent judge:
    1. It could know all relevant laws and precedents without any lapse in memory, maybe a nation’s entire legal code in all areas of law with no need to specialize.
    2. It could work in any jurisdiction provided that jurisdiction coded its legal code into a compatible database file which could be uploaded to the AI judge.
    3. The judge would be impartial and could not be manipulated by emotional appeals or prejudice, if its programmers do not insert prejudice into the code. (Also a disadvantage. See below.)
  • Also consider possible disadvantages or risks in an artificially intelligent judge:
    1. It would be inflexible, with no compassion or mercy.
    2. It would be logical but with no moral consciousness.
    3. It would be vulnerable to manipulation by programmers who have political agendas but no legal training.
    4. Its ability to work in any jurisdiction could lead to more centralized control.
    5. Distrust of artificial intelligence could generate numerous requests for appeal of its decisions.
  • This story is an opportunity to take advantage of one of the greatest strengths of science fiction – the ability to use hypothetical situations to explore ideas which are of genuine concern to people.
  • This story could go many ways. It could explore the following issues:
    1. What are the ethics and viability of AI and the limits we should impose on its use? This question is relevant today as we develop AI for such uses as autonomous cars, human resources management, and medical care.
    2. Is an AI sentient?
    3. Which safeguards should we put on the decision-making algorithms of AI?
    4. Which checks and balances should be placed on the programmers to prevent the insertion of personal agendas into the programming?

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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Writing Prompt – A Strange Forest Path to an Even Stranger Place

You are hiking a forest trail which you have hiked many times. You gradually notice some details which are not quite right. After while it looks like you are no longer in the same forest but instead somewhere strange.

  • Choose any forest trail that you know well. Describe it in detail: the trees and underbrush, sounds, animals, etc. Is this forest in some mountains, a national park, or the forest behind your house?
  • Explain that you have been down this trail many times and why: exploring as a child, a chance to relax and clear your head after a stressful week of work, hunting, camping
  • Then something changes. Maybe things look increasingly different the deeper you go into the forest, or maybe you find a new trail (which you have never seen before now) veering off of the current trail.
  • The air feels different. Is it more/less humid, calmer or more windy, or a difference that is less tangible?
  • You notice different sounds. Maybe they are ominous or just eerie. Maybe humming or fluttering sounds. Describe them.
  • You notice that the trees, bushes, and underbrush are different, like nothing you have ever seen. Describe them.
  • You notice birds, insects, or other animals that you have never seen anywhere in your entire life. You wonder if your eyes are tricking you.
  • You might see a strange building in the forest.
  • This story is a great opportunity to borrow from mythology, folklore, and fairy tales from any culture. Some possibilities include:
    1. The hut of Baba Yaga
    2. Fairies, dryads, nymphs, satyrs
    3. Forest elf city
    4. Ents
    5. Something that makes people fall asleep for many years
  • How did you get here? Any of these options have great potential.
    1. Did the forest vanish with you inside and appear in a place where such creatures are normal?
    2. If you followed a new path, did it lead into a new realm? Why did the new trail appear in a forest you have visited many times without seeing that trail?
    3. Maybe you did not go anywhere unusual, but these creatures moved into the forest. Why? Are they there to stay?
  • How will you return home? After you return home, will you avoid the forest in the future or return to explore it further?

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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Fontana Village 2018 – Returning to Daily Life

Refrigerator Magnet6/22/18

Today we went home. As I followed my father down NC Hwy 28, a mist hung over the mountains. This is a common sight in the Smoky Mountains, and it always looks nice. It is also the reason why these mountains are called the Smoky Mountains. Unfortunately I was unable to stop and take a picture. I thought back to a previous visit to Fontana as a teenager when I read some of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. I enjoyed thinking about the Smoky Mountains as if they were the Misty Mountains in Tolkien’s books. I wonder if a similar idea would work in a story about Louie. during the drive I also considered a possible story idea drawing from a previous blog post.

Arwen stayed outside while I was away. She would have been unhappy inside alone all week. A man in my church visited each day to feed her. He never saw her, but that is not surprising because she is afraid of strangers. As soon as I arrived at home and stepped out of my car I called her. She immediately came to me, meowing as she approached. She has been more affectionate than usual all day and appears to be happy that I am home. As I write this, she is relaxing and purring on the couch. She has given me a nice welcome home.

I do not need to return to work until Monday, and so I have set a goal to finish reading Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I also have time to play with some writing ideas. I still struggle, however, to bring those ideas out on paper. Nonetheless, I can continue exploring my ideas. Maybe that will help.

If you are an experienced writer, what do you do in those situations?

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Fontana Village 2018 – A Day on the Town


For our last full day on vacation we drove to Bryson City, NC for lunch and some shopping. First we went to CJ’s Grille and ate outside with a nice view of the mountains. They had a great special on wings, and so I ordered some hot, Cajun garlic, and honey mustard BBQ, and I traded one wing with my brother-in-law for a lemon pepper wing. All of them were good. If you visit Bryson City, then I recommend CJ’s Grille (Facebook, Maps).

During the meal a cat was relaxing near our table. I was impressed that he was not intimidated unfamiliar people or the busy atmosphere. Being a cat lover, I gave him a few scraps. While we were leaving he wasted no time in claiming our leftovers. He was not even shy about it. A waitress told my father that he is a community cat and that various people feed him and take him to the vet. I do not know whether or not he has an official home, but people do care for him. He seems happy with his life.

After lunch we explored the town. I visited a used book store (always a good choice) and a chocolate shop with my sisters. We then returned to Fontana Village.

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Fontana Village 2018 – What Are Those Bears Up To?


This picture hangs in the front lobby of the lodge in Fontana Village. It has always amused me. I call it Appalachian Gothic because it is an obvious spoof of America Gothic, and black bears are common in the Appalachian Mountains. This could provide a writing prompt for a humorous short story.

  • Start by establishing where the bears are. They are on a lake shore in the mountains. I will assume they are in the Smokies. Choose any lake in those mountains where people go camping.
  • How did the bears acquire the oar? A tent is visible behind them. Did they kill the campers and steal the oar after eating their food? Maybe the campers are exploring nearby and will have an unpleasant surprise when they return.
  • Why are the bears pretending to be human? Maybe they are the campers, and the tent belongs to them. That would be strange for bears, but it could be a fun story.

While I was a the lodge this afternoon I looked outside at the mountains and thought about Louie. The Cherokee Indians are the native tribe here. I wonder if their legends have anything to contribute. That would be worth researching if I decided to develop this idea further. It would add a nice element of local interest.

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Fontana Village 2018 – Pondering Artwork


This week I have kept my eyes open for writing ideas. It has made me more observant of my surroundings instead of focusing too much on my own thoughts. I took this photo yesterday at the lodge. It is a carving on wooden cabinet just outside the lobby of the lodge. It portrays a medieval setting. A knight in armor rides a horse who also wears what could be armor. A dog runs alongside the knight. Maybe they are hunting. A castle is in the background.

I have walked by this cabinet many times during past visits, but I think this was the first time I noticed something odd about the dog. What are the spikes on his back? He does not appear to be wearing armor because no armor or straps run down his side to hold the armor on him. I doubt the spikes are his fur. It is a mystery.

After lunch I did some writing. I worked briefly on this post and then a story idea. This story idea has an interesting background. I had three idea fragments which did not make full stories, but I did not know how to use them. I later realized that I could combine them. I am intrigued, however, that in one fragment the part which I found most interesting at the time is the part I have decided to remove because it no longer works. Does that sound weird? I guess it does, but I will go back to what one of my coffee mugs says. “It’s okay. Writers are supposed to be strange.”

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Fontana Village 2018 – Letting Imagination Run


Today I found a shady spot on the porch in front of the ice cream shop to read and proofread yesterday’s post. Like last year, each post will list the date being described, but I will publish each one a week later. What will I learn about Louie today?

Today around lunch time we drove to Robbinsville to buy groceries. first we ate at the Wendy’s and then we went to the Ingles. While we were in the Ingles parking lot I looked at the mountains, trying to stimulate my brain. I thought that if Louie has relatives, then there could be other undiscovered caves inside those mountains. Are they connected with each other?

Some important questions, however, remain unanswered. First, if such creatures did exist here, then they would need to fly around some. They would also need to hunt for food. How would they remain undiscovered? I do not want them to have the ability to turn invisible like Elliot. They could minimize the risk by coming out at night, but eventually someone would see them. Second, what would they eat? There is little if any livestock here. Maybe they could eat wild deer and bears. As long as the overall population is not significantly affected, no one would miss deer or bears . . . unless they were tagged with tracking devices. That would get some scientists’ attention, and they would be excited (or terrified) if they discovered the truth. That opens interesting story possibilities.

At the grocery store I found this shirt for the local high school team. I suppose every on field injury is “just a flesh wound” to their players, and they keep fighting no matter how hard they are hit.

Maybe this bobcat at the lodge saw Louie flying overhead and was afraid it would become food. It looks like it could be looking at the sky.

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Fontana Village 2018 – A Journey Begins


Last year I posted a daily journal of my family vacation to Fontana Village in the North Carolina mountains. Now we are back. I do not plan to focus on our daily activities this time, although some I may add some. Instead, I will write about my personal thoughts regarding writing and the events which provide inspiration for my thoughts. I do not know whether I will post each day. I will take each day as it comes.

Last night I did most of my packing, and I set out my suitcase. This morning I found Arwen sleeping on it. I let her stay there as long as I could, but then I had to move her so that I could pack my clothes.

My commute passed without problems. I knew it would take me longer than usual this year because I planned to make several stops and take my time. On the last section of NC Hwy 28 there are some rest stops with nice views where I stop for a moment each year.

While looking at the mountains here, I tried to get my “what if” creative juices flowing. After a few moments I wondered, what if I saw a dragon flying over these mountains? I do not know where that came from or why I thought of it. It was not much, but I decided to write it in my notebook anyway. I did not know how I would use it, and so I decided to let it simmer in my mind. I did not know that further inspiration would come soon as the idea continued to develop during my commute.

A few miles later I stopped here with another nice view. Motorcycles are common in these mountains. A large group of bikers were here. Some of them wore American Legion patches, a biker organization which supports veterans.

I looked over the Fontana Lake and thought that maybe the dragon has an underwater tunnel into a cave inside one of the mountains on the other side of the lake. This cave has no above water access, and so humans have not discovered it.

At the exit of this rest stop I met this guy taking pictures. He works for the founder of killboy.com who photographs people driving the Tail of the Dragon. I spoke with him for several minutes and watched him photograph the bikers and other passing vehicles. He also photographed me as I left.

At the next stop overlooking the lake I imagined people in a pontoon boat who see the dragon swim under them.

I arrived at Fontana Village before my cabin was ready. I left quite early today, and so I expected that. Before getting lunch, I walked around inside the lodge for a while and looked outside the back window. A few years ago there was a forest fire in these mountains. It was too far away for my family to see it or have reason to be concerned, but we could smell the smoke and see a haze in the air. Some of the fire fighters who were assigned to fight this fire were staying at the lodge. I heard that campers started the fire, but today I wondered, what if the dragon started it? This dragon idea is developing.

During lunch at the grill I decided I could not keep calling him “the dragon,” and so I named him Louie. That is not much of a dragon name, but that it what come to me. On the other hand, if Pete can call his dragon Elliot, then I can call mine Louie.

Yes, the dragon is imaginary, but I have decided to run with the idea this week and see where it takes me. I am reading Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. He emphasizes the role of imaginative play in strengthening imagination and story telling. Last year I wrote a series of posts detailing my vacation, partly to challenge myself to write each day. That series was a basic vacation journal. This year my posts may be a journey of imagination. This could be fun.

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Writing Prompt – Ship in a Bottle

You find a ship in a bottle . . . with people onboard.

  • First decide where you find the bottle. It could be in a ship captain’s quarters, in a museum, in an antique shop, or somewhere else. This will significantly affect the plot
  • Also decide on the type of ship. Much could depend on whether it is a ship of exploration, a pirate ship, a fishing ship, a cruise ship, a ship carrying colonists, or even a ghost ship.
  • How did the ship get in the bottle? How long have the people on the ship lived inside the bottle?
  • How do they have enough air to breath and enough food to eat? Maybe their world is larger than what you see in the bottle, and you only see the area immediately surrounding the ship.
  • Do they know they are in a bottle?
  • Are they aware of people watching them from outside the bottle?
  • Can you affect the world inside the bottle?
    1. Create a large wave by shaking or tilting the bottle
    2. Add a giant squid
    3. If you place another ship in a bottle next to this one, will they fight a battle?
    4. What happens if you break the bottle?
  • Do the people on that ship have a ship in a bottle with people onboard? If you are on a ship, is it in a bottle as well?

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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The Value of a Writing Notebook

Last Monday morning before work I read this post about the connection between a writer and his or her notebook. Later that morning I thought about my notebook. I carry it with me almost every time I leave my house. I bring it to church, and I keep it in my pocket at work. Sometimes during breaks or while waiting for our shift meetings to begin, I will sit on a shipping pallet and write a few notes. I wonder if my co-workers watch me and wonder what I am doing each day.

One time many months ago I lost one of my notebooks. I was not panicking, but I was seriously worried. Sure, I could re-write some of my ideas, but not all of them. Even those I re-wrote would not be quite the same. Losing that notebook would be a serious loss. Eventually I did find it. It had fallen into the narrow slot between the car seat and the storage compartment between the seats. What a relief!

When I am recording my first thoughts on a new idea I prefer to write them by hand. Sometimes I do not know how I will use an idea. Sometimes it is vague, and I do not know how I will complete it. Not a problem. I write my notes anyway. Maybe I will think of a way to use them someday. The notes do not need to be perfect. A perfectionist approach will get me nowhere. At this stage they only to be written.

For my writing activities, my most valuable possessions are my tablet and my notebooks. Losing a notebook would be worse than losing a favorite book. I can replace a book, but I cannot replace a notebook. Yes, many of my notes are typed into my computer, but some are not typed. Even if every word was typed into my computer, I would still hate to lose the notebook. It contains my ideas in their earliest forms.

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