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April 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Undaunted by 131 inches of snow — a light winter — some of the Roberts Street royal family has survived. One towering seven foot stalk of Lemon Queen sunflowers bob their dry crowns in the wind. All winter the nuthatches and chickadees have feed at their multiple heads. Winds and snow drifts snapped all but this remaining royal.

Mause joined me today as we worked on a new command, “Off the garden.” We examined the rise of tulips, hyacinth, iris and glories of the snow. Grit and matted maple leaves cover the ground now that most of the snow has gone. Crocus of purple, yellow, white and lavender began to bloom a week ago. They color a dun landscape. Nothing is yet green

Winter bleached the Lemon Queens the color of pale straw. Yet still they give.

A friendly male chickadee sang what birders call the fee-bee song and I responded, “Here, kitty.” Some say the call sounds like “Hey, sweetie.” I like my version because I find it humorous that a bird would call a cat. Mause stood at attention. After all, she is a bird dog. I was gathering dropped Lemon Queen stalks to check for remaining seed. The chickadee tried to land on my outstretched hand and I felt like a Disney Princess. Mause vibrated in excitement and the bird flew off to Mrs. Hitch’s tree.

What seemed a lovely overcast day on the peninsula was not so on Lake Superior. She fussed enough to froth waves that sent the recently returned lake freighters to seek safe harbor. Cedar Bay, one of my favorite swaths of pebble beach that I can access through friends who own lakefront property, churned sand, and broken ice. Someone filmed the action. You can view a nice spring day on the Keweenaw and imagine the Lemon Queens, chickadees, and a young pup ten miles away.

Further North and across the North Pole from me, my youngest daughter is welcoming spring on Svalbard. March and September are the only two months out of the year that the sun both sets and rises. Otherwise it does one or the other. They are now in the days of sunshine. It’s cold on the island, never rising much above freezing. It doesn’t snow much but the ice and permafrost are thick. Caves of blue ice form tunnels through glaciers. My daughter and a group of friends are snow machining and camping, avoiding avalanches and polar bears. It’s stunning country.

Caves remind me of the hero’s journey. An important stop along the way is the symbolic cave — call it a bad day or the point of no hope. It’s necessary for the hero to fall before the rise with an elixir in hand. As an epic moment, the cave represents a near-death experience. And it is a confrontation of death. Consider the class Star Wars story when Luke Skywalker’s training calls for him to enter the cave and confront the dark side of the force.

He enters the cave and battles his arch enemy, Darth Vader only to discover the his own face within the mask. This scene is not the actual cave moment in the story, though, but a premonition of what will follow. In order to confront his enemy he must confront the darkness within himself. Ultimately, this leads Luke to believe that if there is darkness within him, there must be goodness within Darth Vader. The actual full hero’s journey in the Star Wars sagas belong to Anakin Skywalker. His hero’s wound is that Anakin never had a father. He dies when he turns against the dark side to save Luke — to be the father he never had.

What makes Star Wars so crazy-good to study for the hero’s journey is the fact that as a writer, George Lucas befriended Joseph Campbell who defined the epic structure based on worldwide studies of mythology. Lucas and all the writers and filmmakers he has influenced since the 1970s have followed this pattern. Like the 99-word story format, the hero’s journey is a pattern. At the Star Wars epic level, heroes look like the Skywalker men. At its most simplistic form, the hero’s journey is about transformation and not gender specific.

Many people have dismissed the hero’s journey as a white male construct. While that might be so to a certain point, what excites me about the hero’s journey is how its pattern feels like the struggle to overcome and self-actualize. In fact, people relate to this pattern and flock to stories in the Star Wars universe because it stirs up emotion and inspiration. They want to experience the journey. Many fans have, becoming part of the technology, art, and storytelling of LucasFilms.

The latest is a Disney series called The Mandalorian. Many people involved in the project were kids, just like me, when Star Wars rocked our world in 1977. I was ten and started to write stories. My writer-self has evolved with Star Wars. I still get chills hearing the opening music of what has been renamed A New Hope. Now, I have a new theme that fires my synapses, perfectly pitched between light and darkness with a western influence. The Mandalorian is based on western tropes.

The Hub has watched The Mandalorian with me. It’s hard to find shows that hold his attention. Mostly he watches YouTube interviews of soldiers, which I find interesting to listen to as I write but don’t care to watch for entertainment. He began researching George Lucas and the development of Stars Wars and I followed him down every rabbit hole that had to do with storytelling. To bring it back full circle to my ultimate writing mentor, Wallace Stegner, he said:

“An emotional response in the reader, corresponding to an emotional charge in the writer –some passion or vision of belief–is essential, and it is very difficult to achieve. It is also the thing that, once achieved, unmistakably distinguishes the artist in words from the everyday user of words.”

Wallace Stegner. On Teaching and Writing Fiction. Penguin Books. 2002.

That’s why I love the hero’s journey. As a pattern, it provides a foundation to build upon such an achievement in writing.

Yet, many dismiss or dislike the hero’s journey. First, the word “hero” is problematic. Anne Goodwin and I have had numerous debates over the years which has helped evolve my thinking about the hero’s journey. We both decided we like the term protagonist’s journey better. Anne also brought up that not all protagonists complete the journey. I think it’s still a journey, but one that refused to answer the call, and then became an anti-hero’s journey, resisting the cave. Some dark stories enter the cave and never leave it. I see these as variations. You have to know the structure to build it differently.

Today, we have an opportunity to broaden who we define as a hero. Women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and different ages, sizes, neurodiversity and abilities can be the person on the journey. Anyone can be the hero. I believe in the pattern of the transformative journey, not who the face of the hero is. Yes! Magazine published an article that challenges us to reframe who the heroes are: “The Kind of Heroes We Need to Actually Save the Planet.” As writers we are heroes of another sort. Rena Priest, the author of the article, reminds us that:

“The word “author” is from the Latin word auctus, which translates literally to “one who causes to grow.” As storytellers, we plant beliefs that blossom into the structure of the world.”

Rena Priest, The Kind of Heroes We Need to Actually Save the Planet. Yes Magazine. 5 November, 2020.

April 8, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the hero.” Define the hero, comparing or contrasting to the classic definition. Break the mold. What happens to the hero in the cave? Is it epic or everyday? Is there resistance or acceptance? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 13, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

A Different Way to Serve by Charli Mills

Her bootlace caught the gunrack no soldier ever used. The force of the blast lifted her body as easily as a child’s balloon rises. Weightlessness defined the pause between rise and fall. When her body crashed, her bootlace held. It ripped every tendon, wringing her ankle. Two years later the VA removed the foot Hunter wanted gone. It flopped and failed, unlike the metal shank they pounded into her bone. Strong. Time to return. She wore no cape, no uniform, but stood to defend an Inuit village. She became the climatologist who sounded the alarm. The ice was melting.

🥕🥕🥕


129 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Really enjoyed that… thanks 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “One who causes to grow,” perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to write. Growth fascinates me.

    Wonderful writing Charli, and a fitting prompt. I’ve been world-building this week and one of my goals was to write a short “day in the life of” piece for my alien culture. This might just be it.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Like you, Rebecca, I’m drawn to the growth aspect of writing so that interpretation of author resonates. Do you have any tools or methods for world-building? Using the 99-word format can be a way to explore or expand a world. I like the idea of a day in the life piece for your alien culture.

      Liked by 4 people

      • My primary tools right now are derived from author Holly Lisle’s cheap mini-clinics on Culture, Language, World, Character and Plot building – they are priceless. The language clinic in particular has taken up most of my time this week. I’ve been establishing more root words from particular sounds and forming nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs from them. It’s fascinating how one can create entirely new and unique concepts from how a word is formed. Being able to see their world through their language provides so much fuel for the imagination.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        What an insight into developing characters by developing their language. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of world-building but I use colloquialisms to denote place and groups of people. It’s tricky to include words your readers will be unfamiliar with and provide the understanding through context or subtle explanation. These are often called “specialist” words in novel writing. Dang, Rebecca, you are creating a specialist language! That’s so cool. I’m glad you have such a valuable and yet affordable resource.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. restlessjo says:

    Powerful stuff, Charli! I will come back and reread because my life is a bit chaotic right now but thanks for the interesting thoughts. 🙂 🙂 Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You did a great job of condensing an important part of the hero’s journey down to a powerful paragraph. After the injury, she sounds stronger in mind for her mission.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. […] post is in responce to carrot ranch’s flash fiction challenge: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the […]

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hanna Streng says:

    Thank you for always coming through with such fun prompts! 🙂
    Here is my story: https://aworkofartblog.wordpress.com/2021/04/09/heroinadifferentlight/

    Liked by 4 people

  7. […] story was written for Charli’s Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. This week’s prompt is to write a story that rethinks the hero. Thank You, […]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. nightlake says:

    Beautiful description of spring followed by a powerful story, Charli. Please find below my contribution:

    The Unnamed Negotiator

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I’ve always said Hey, sweetie to the chickadee but your Here Kitty is amusing. 🙂

    Ooh, I like the idea of breaking the mold to rethink the hero’s journey and whether it’s epic or everyday. Everyday heroes intrigue me.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Yes the Star Wars films have influenced most of my life too (in fact I’ve written Star Wars fiction on my blog). It was a good summation of the hero’s journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Star Wars is one of the best examples of the hero’s journey on an epic scale, and yet you can find smaller arcs and unlikely hero’s, too. So many writers have gone into the SW universe and penned their own fan fiction there.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Going to the the realistic (if somewhat dark) side this time around.

    Heroine chic

    A ballsy Amazon, with a prodigious cleavage and legs that go all the way up to her backside, storms into a cave and kicks the crap out of The Devil Personified and, supposedly, women everywhere cheer. The fact that her methodology replicates that of her foe is, supposedly, irrelevant to the sweetness of her revenge.

    Meanwhile, a woman, with breasts streaked from breastfeeding and whose legs end at her knees, stands in her cavernous kitchen, surrounded by children abandoned by their father, and turns ground beef into gourmet burgers cheaper than McDonalds. She doesn’t have time to imagine heroism.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Pete says:

    I sit at the bar, sliding my glass over the rings from pitcher’s past. A muted ball game is on TV. Jim reminds me how he was an all-district pitcher back in high school.

    High school. A wash of beer slides down my throat. I check the latest string of messages from my son’s mother. Damn.

    I forgot about T-ball.

    Jim beckons another round. On TV, the pitcher fans another batter. The kid is four, I’ll make it up to him.

    Tomorrow.

    A fresh cold pitcher slides onto the bar, leaving new rings for the next hero to find.

    Liked by 8 people

  13. […] This was written with the prompt of rethinking the hero provided by the Carrot Ranch April 8 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  14. denmaniacs4 says:

    At That Decisive Moment

    It was expected
    that in a pinch,
    he’d hold the bridge,
    not give an inch.

    It was ingrained
    in His DNA,
    to guard his post,
    in every way.

    His inner voice,
    had something to say,
    “It’s a losing cause,
    time to give way.”

    In moments of doubt,
    he thought to pray,
    But realized
    T’was not his way.

    Still, he wondered
    how to allay
    this dune of fear
    that so held sway.

    “I’m no hero,”
    he thus proclaimed.
    I will care not
    If I am blamed.

    Life is a gift.
    I’ll leave this war,
    and make my peace
    forevermore.

    http://www.engleson.ca

    Liked by 6 people

  15. […] April 8, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the hero.” Define the hero, comparing or contrasting to the classic definition. Break the mold. What happens to the hero in the cave? Is it epic or everyday? Is there resistance or acceptance? Go where the prompt leads! […]

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hurrah for your heroic Lemon Queens. And I love the idea of you as a Disney Princess.

    Thanks for our hero’s journey conversations and for the namecheck here. I’m much more relaxed about the HJ now, thanks to you, but wondering now if part of my problem was never having seen Star Wars 😉 Or criticising something I didn’t fully understand. So your line

    You have to know the structure to build it differently

    makes a lot of sense. (Although I’ve just thought of another gripe!)

    Loved your FF. Having a cause external to ourselves can help us be heroic. Be back later with mine.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. […] I’m trying out the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge, and this week’s prompt […]

    Liked by 2 people

  18. […] next page) Carrot Ranch April 8 April 8, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the hero.” […]

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jules says:

    Charli,

    I enjoyed your flash. We are all heroes in our own way. I think though I went off grid (there is an image and info at my post site) here:

    Celastrina ladon

    Imprisoned by winter
    Set free by sun kissed
    warmth of seasonal changes

    Our heroes attend
    and prepare us
    Perhaps they take breaks
    In their duties to feed
    Our honeydew to their own

    How we enjoy to mend
    The spirits of those
    Who remained bound

    Could we be heroic
    In our small flight
    As we cross their paths
    Perhaps alight
    On their garden flowers?

    One of the earliest
    Of our kind to flitter
    Into this April

    on my walk
    I encountered a true hero
    of the new season
    one lone Spring Azure
    as if the a bit of sky fell

    ©JP/dh

    Liked by 8 people

  20. Hi Charli

    Challenging and interesting prompt.
    I thought about women who have had an impact on history one way or another — in part because of March — Women’s History Month, and also because of US Vice Pres. Kamala Harris.
    Not quite sure how that will turn into a FF.
    But I’ll probably end up reading some very interesting bios!

    Saifun

    Liked by 2 people

    • Norah says:

      I look forward to reading your response.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Nora,
        I just submitted my FF, went where the prompt took me.
        There are two women scientists who came to mind – Rachel Carson and Sally Ride. Both had a profound impact on how I/we view Earth.
        There’s a very interesting book by Rachel Swaby “Headstrong – 52 Women who changed Science – And the World.” 2015.

        Thanks to Charli for a challenging prompt!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Norah says:

        I’ll see if I can find it.
        That book of Swaby’s sounds interesting too. I think I’ve seen it somewhere – maybe even given it to my granddaughter at some stage. I must ask.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Saifun,

      I love how you have such a rich repertoire of books you’ve read to draw upon influences and ideas. And, of course, with it being Women’s History Month, you have some great women to influence a story. You are reminding me to read some bios this month, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Norah says:

    Good one, Charli. Someone who stands up for what they know to be right is definitely a hero. I’m not sure that protagonist works in this sense. Your flash portrays that well.
    I enjoyed your discussion of the hero’s journey and the figurative cave. That music with the Mandolorian is quite powerful and I enjoyed the Stars Wars cave scene. It’s great that you and Hub can watch those movies together and that he supported your quest for more information about the hero’s journey, even if he was unaware he was doing so. Must a hero always be aware of what they are doing?
    Lake Superior and your Pebble Beach looks amazing – those huge chunks of ice. I see, but find it difficult to imagine, never having seen it in ‘real’ life. The colourful flowers pushing through the snow must look like dobs of paint on a white canvas. Please post a photo.
    I’ve written a draft of my response and hope to post it in the next couple of days. Sometimes, when I struggle with the serious side, I tend towards flippancy, which I have chosen this time. Quite the opposite of yours. You’ll see. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Norah says:

      I’m back with my story: https://norahcolvin.com/2021/04/13/the-hero-of-your-own-journey/

      Survival Hero
      “Consider this,” said the teacher. “You’re stranded alone in the desert. Your vehicle has broken down about 15 kilometres from your destination. Your visit’s a surprise so you’re not expected. There’s no internet service and your phone is dead. You’ve packed water and a little food in a backpack. What else should you take to be the hero of your own journey?”
      The students huddled, discussing options.
      “Compass,” suggested one.
      “Pocket knife,” said another.
      “Flashlight.”
      “Mirror.”
      “A pencil.”
      “Why?”
      “I’d just add an ‘s’ — change that desert to dessert and she’s sweet.”
      “You’re our hero,” the others agreed, laughing.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Very good point, Norah. I don’t think the hero has to be aware of what they are doing. We could come up with so many sub-titles — the Unaware Hero, the Epic Hero, the Anti-Hero, the She-ro; the Everyday Hero; the Reluctant Hero…and more.

      The music to the Mandalorian has so many different sounds and beats. It really is “out of this world” and yet so earthy.

      I’ll find a photo to share, although it’s not as pretty as a painting because the dead leaves as so brown and the snow so gritty and gray!

      Glad to see you letting your draft settle before revising. Good way to approach your writing! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        I like the hero sub-titles. I’m not sure which one I’d settle on.
        Perhaps if a photo doesn’t do justice to the snow, a painting is in order.
        I always let my drafts settle. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top though. 😉

        Like

  22. What a great explanation of the hero’s journey! I really enjoyed reading this, Charli. The symbolic cave… it’s like a rebirth. I’m just overwhelmed at the moment and won’t join in this week. But I look forward to reading everyone’s story at the recap. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  23. […] was written for the Carrot Ranch’s most recent flash fiction challenge, “rethinks the hero.” One of my Sunday school lesson series (back in the before times) was on contemplative life […]

    Liked by 2 people

  24. TanGental says:

    This week, even Logan is a hero…

    ‘That was intense.’
    ‘Another course, Morgan?’
    ‘Yeah. “Live your own hero.”’
    ‘Are you?’
    ‘Me? Not even in my own lunchtime.’
    ‘You’ve time.’
    ‘Thanks. You ever been a hero, Logan.’
    ‘Not knowingly. Though there was Mr Patel.’
    ‘Mr Patel?’
    ‘Ran the corner shop. Called me: “my little hero”.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘I saved his shop from being robbed.’
    ‘Wow.’
    ‘Not really. This bloke told him to give him the till. I distracted him and Mr Patel hit him with the takings.’
    ‘How old were you?’
    ‘Seven.’
    ‘What did you do?’
    ‘Fart.’
    ‘That would do it. You found the hero inside yourself…’
    ‘Thanks.’

    Liked by 4 people

  25. […] for the 99-word flash fiction challenge hosted by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Click here to join […]

    Liked by 3 people

  26. […] by this prompt from the Carrot Ranch Literary Community: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that […]

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Here’s mine:

    The Late Knight

    The Late Knight

    Princess Elissa leaned against the wall of the tower, bored and frustrated. When on earth would Sir Garth arrive? She glanced out the window, and spied the red dragon, circling lazily above the tower. There was no sign of the knight in the distance. Surely, he would have gotten her message about the rescue? Hadn’t her servant survived the journey?

    It had been too long. She descended the stairs, summoned the rest of her army, and instructed the dragon to lead them in their march to rescue Prince Arnold. She’d backtrack to search for Sir Garth, just in case.

    Liked by 5 people

  28. Reaping

    She tucked each and every one of them in, ‘With love’, she’d say. Oh how she chattered away while she patted them, as she fussed and made sure they were snug.
    “Good night dears,” she’d tell them. “You’re going into the dark, as you must. Dream deeply now. For you have so much potential!”
    Eventually her granddaughter also started talking to the seeds as she planted, and then the older woman smiled her approval.
    “You’ve got potential too,” she joked. “You’ll learn how to grow and use these medicinal plants. You’ll be a healer— like me and my grandmother.”

    Liked by 3 people

  29. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the hero.” Define the hero, compa… […]

    Liked by 1 person

  30. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (04/08/21): In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the hero.” Define the hero, comparing or contrasting to the classic definition. Break the mold. What happens to the hero in the cave? Is it epic or everyday? Is there resistance or acceptance? Go where the prompt leads! […]

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Liz H says:

    Maybe because we’ve had a week of rain and clouds, and the temps have been chilly and damp. Or maybe my MC needed to go where no one (so far) has gone before with this challenge…

    My Hero!

    He stuck his head in the refrigerator, resting his arm along the damp, dusty edge of the door. Plucking at the ruffles of insulation, he surveyed the interior. It certainly felt cooler in there than it did in his apartment…
    [Continue ]

    Liked by 3 people

  32. suespitulnik says:

    Charli,

    I must agree, all heroes are not men, but it sure was a difficult task to relate this prompt to my military-based serial. You’ll see who saved the day. Actually, my mind went to Pete Fanning’s book, “Justice in a Bottle” but I have no nine-year-old in my cast of characters.
    I enjoyed the videos, especially of Lake Superior. I do plan to meet her one day and get to listen to her voices in person. On to the prompt…

    Jester the Hero

    Humans! Geesh! Last week that cute baby tried to twist my ear off. It hurt. A quiet growl escaped. The big people went ballistic, and the baby cried. I heard the words: chain, pound, and vet.
    This week I growled and barked in that active kid’s face. She screamed and cried in anger. Her grandmother grabbed her and calmed her. Others praised and petted me, called me a hero dog, and even gave me a raw hamburger patty for supper. I guess it had to do with the fact I kept the little one from climbing up the stairs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, Sue, I can’t wait for the day you hear the Lady Lake’s voices one day! She’s shedding her ice, preparing for days of play.

      If you don’t have a nine-year-old character, a dog fits the role. It’s challenging to be a hero when little ones are around but sometimes it comes with the territory.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. […] journey’ in a story or novel could be applied to any work of fiction or non fiction. Her challenge this week was an exercise to write a story in 99 words (no more, no less) that “rethinks the […]

    Liked by 2 people

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