Make Art Not War Challenge 2019: Warm Up with Febrrrary!

Make Art Not War Challenge eBook

Hi friends! If you remember my Make Art Not War Challenge, you’ll recall I included fun exercises in the eBook and here on the blog. In the spirit of creativity, comic book professional Mark Stegbauer and I cooked up something hawt for February–a fire-themed creative challenge!

Are you sick of winter? Yeah, me too. Warm yourself up by thinking about fire! Grab a daily prompt and use it as a prompt for your creative warm-ups. There’s no rules, no restrictions, no level required. You can sketch, write a 250-word story, or stat up an antagonist for your favorite game! Then share your art and help us melt Jack Frost! Join us on the hashtag #febrrrary.

I’m planning on using the prompts as my creative warm-ups before diving into the pile. I have a lot of fun doing it, and I miss drawing. I hope you’ll consider participating! I would LOVE to see what you come up with. Yay! And, as always, I’d appreciate a boost by sharing the prompts. Let’s encourage each other to keep making art.

Creative Prompt: A Time Capsule You’ll Open In Four Years

Wonder Woman Avatar

Today’s creative prompt is inspired by the Presidential Inauguration and, in part, by famous artists and actors like Octavia Butler and Bruce Lee who wrote down the definitive goals they had for their careers. Simply, my idea is to use the words “I will…” and then list what you will do during the next four years.

To turn this into a creative prompt and kick your artistic nature into high gear, create a time capsule for your future self instead. You might write a letter to yourself and seal it away, only to be opened again in four years. You might find a shoebox or some other container and fill it with slips of paper to remind yourself where you are now, what you hope for, and what you think will happen. Or, you might take this as an opportunity to find images and pictures to record for your future self; these are elements that you believe are super important that you will hang on to–no matter what.

Creating a time capsule, either through letter writing or by using your physical space, gives you the gift of time. It removes a small piece of yourself from this moment and helps you visualize yourself in four years. It’s also a way to bring hope and clearly pinpoint what you’re feeling as well, and that can be powerful on multiple levels. Though, if you want to go the traditional route and put artifacts in the capsule, that’s great, too!

The key for this prompt will be to remember where you put the time capsule four years from now. If you’re writing a letter to yourself, I would put it in a sealed envelope and attach it to December in your 2017 wall calendar. Then, I’d continue moving the envelope to December 2018, 19, and 20 until it’s read to be opened. Alternatively, you could go the digital route and use a service like My Time Capsule, instead.

My Dragon Talk Appearance and a D&D-inspired Creative Prompt

D&D Ampersand

“Heeeeeeeeyyyyyy yoooooooouuuuuuu guuuuuuuuyyyyyyssssss!” to quote Goonies. Greg Tito and Shelly Mazzanoble, two fine and upstanding individuals over at Dungeons & Dragons, invited me to speak on Dragon Talk, the official D&D podcast.

“Shelly Mazzanoble and Greg Tito speak to Monica Valentinelli, a prolific creative writer with heavy involvement in all forms of D&D from adventure writing to running and playing games with new players. In Lore You Should Know – Matt Sernett and Chris Perkins jump into the Yawning Portal.” — SOURCE: Monica Valentinelli on D&D

The article has three different ways you can listen to me babble on excitedly. I hope you find my talk valuable!

D&D-Inspired Creative Prompt

One of the things we talked about in the podcast, was that character motivations help to make adventures stronger. Sure, your players might want a MacGuffin. Why do they want that loot beyond re-selling it or using it to have more power?

Often, a MacGuffin in a D&D adventure translates into a kick-ass piece of loot the party earns after slaying monsters, that is then used by the characters to increase their effectiveness. The conversation about MacGuffins, however, evolves when applied to fiction. “In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot,” as defined by Wikipedia. has a slightly different (and a little more blunt) definition for MacGuffin: “A plot device which nobody actually uses, and whose nature and identity are basically irrelevant.”

Creative Prompt: Why Would You Use a MacGuffin?

With this in mind, my creative prompt today is a step-by-step process to examine the MacGuffin and put it to good use in an adventure or a story. *rim crash*.

(1) In 300 words or less, create a unique MacGuffin that has an interesting history.
(2) Figure out ten reasons why someone (or some thing) would want to use that MacGuffin. Don’t be afraid to think creatively about this; avoid the obvious!
(3) Identify the location of the MacGuffin and decide if that loot is protected.

For Dungeon Masters:

(4) Tie each reason from Step 2 to a character in the adventuring party or an NPC. Consider using NPCs from factions as well, to flesh out monsters, townsfolk, and other types of antagonists.
(5) Determine who (or what) could be affected by using the MacGuffin. This can be a list tying back to your NPC motivations, but it can also be towns filled with innocents, etc. This serves to ground you, as the DM, to understand the cost of using the MacGuffin for better or for ill.
(6) Write a one-paragraph summary of an adventure based on using that MacGuffin. Think “big picture”. This is what your adventure will be about; it also means that finding the MacGuffin should happen early on, and using the MacGuffin causes interesting problems the party will have to resolve.
(7) Now, break up that adventure into an outline of sessions and scenes–as many as it takes. This’ll give you the foundation for a campaign, but will also tie motivations together for your party, their allies, and their rivals to give it a little oomph.
(8) Play!

For authors:

(4) Assign motivations to use the MacGuffin for three characters: a hero, a sidekick/love interest, and a villain. Use the goals that are the most at odds with each other, to increase conflict.
(5) Steps 5-8 are all about brainstorming! Write down a list of obstacles preventing your characters from using the MacGuffin, and ways they might overcome them or fail. For example, say the MacGuffin is a magical item, but your hero doesn’t/can’t perform magic. As another, the MacGuffin could only be used by the descendant of its original owner; that character is either the villain or they’ve already passed on. What creative solutions can you figure out to resolve those issues and get your characters using the MacGuffin in your story?
(6) What happens when the MacGuffin is used? Who stands to be helped by it? Hurt?
(7) What needs to happen in order to “turn off” the MacGuffin’s power?
(8) What do the characters involved stand to lose/gain by the loss of the MacGuffin? (Like Step 6, this is another way of helping you determine the stakes for your story.)
(9) Write a one-to-two paragraph summary of your plot. Don’t forget to figure out a few possible endings ahead of time! These will probably come out of brainstorming for Step 7.
(10) Cue… Writing to form! (e.g. short story or flash fiction)

If using a MacGuffin doesn’t sound interesting to you as a plot device, you can always figure out what else you’d want to do with it. You could destroy or create a powerful object that has evolved from its MacGuffin-esque roots, instead. Keep in mind that destroying, creating, designing, and piecing together objects also run the risk of turning them into MacGuffins if your characters either don’t use them, or you don’t have a reason for doing so for your plot. In other words: it shouldn’t simply be an object everybody’s after. Even in Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s goal might be to destroy the One Ring to save the world, but he does use it for different reasons and that creates problems for him. Though your opinions might vary on this, to me the One Ring is a fantastic example of a MacGuffin-turned-plot device because it a) is unique, b) is used by Sauron (past), Isildur (past), Frodo, Bilbo, and Gollum, and c) matters to the overall story. Arguably, I could take that a step further and say that the One Ring is its own character, too, since it represents the will of Sauron–but that’s a nerdtastic discussion for another day.

Happy writing!

    Mood: Critical hit! Heh, heh.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Four… Five? Cups of coffee. Hey, it’s cold.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Vacuuming counts. Right?
    In My Ears: The heater, because it is freakishly cold.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

Creative Prompt: Make Your Own Survival Guide!

Marvel Thor

I discovered artist Colin Matthes after reading an article about his work. He’s a community-based artist whose survivalist-based pieces have been featured in the Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Colin is obsessed with survivalism, and his illustrations answer a question about how to survive in extreme conditions like urban warfare. He also runs a workshop that invites participants to channel their essential knowledge, to illustrate what they know in a survival guide.

I love Matthes’ awesome idea! As a creative prompt, creating a survival guide is easy enough to apply across most mediums. Take the expert knowledge you have learned and record that information for posterity’s sake! You might know how to operate an espresso machine (which is clearly needed in times of duress), or you might know how to knit a hat when you don’t have any needles, or survive if you’re stranded in the cold, rain, or hot conditions.

Your knowledge could be relayed by:

  • Drawing a comic
  • Embroidering panels
  • Creating a storyboard
  • Writing a catchy tune
  • Filming a how-to commercial

For writers, this prompt can also help you learn word conservation(1) to help tidy up your prose. To do that, pick an area of expertise you have and write down each step. Then, put that first draft away for a couple of days. When you revisit it, read it out loud. Did you get everything? Then, pare down any unnecessary or overly complicated words and phrases. Set it aside, then revise again.

This exercise is, as Colin intended, also great for groups and community organizations, because there’s a lot of value in critiquing and getting feedback in this environment. If you are thinking of a group activity, I encourage you to reach out to Colin Matthes, the artist who inspired this creative prompt.

(1) Apparently, this is a phrase I’ve concocted per Google, so let me define it. Word conservation is a technique used to write prose using as few words as possible while retaining the meaning. Often, but not always, this means the vocabulary is at the high school reading level, too.

    Mood: Energetic
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Yeah, definitely not managed.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I felt a great disturbance in my wobbily bits.
    In My Ears: A snoring cat.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

Monica Valentinelli >

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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