Monday, October 31, 2011

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Well, the day is finally technically here.  I'm sure most folks won't consider it November until they wake up tomorrow morning but with my night shift ways I'm going ahead and counting it at the actual clock turnover.  National Novel Writing Month has arrived.

I haven't done anywhere near as much outlining as I intended to; but that is okay I'll just spend some of the first few days working on that.  I do have a few important scenes already planned out, and with the advice that I don't have to write in chronological order finally accepted into my head I think I'll have enough stuff to dig into at first even without a completed outline.

I'm very excited about the whole thing.  I know I won't come out on December 1st with a completed publishable product.  Not even anywhere near close.  But if I complete this goal I think it will go a long way towards making me feel like I could actually make something of myself as a writer

I think the final two obstacles that I will have to deal with are going to be making myself make this a priority and not psyching myself out and worrying too much about it all being perfect.  I am hoping that foreknowledge of these issue will make them easier to conquer.  We will see.

One big favor to ask of folks that actually read this blog; and I will probably send out a Facebook message to the same effect, so apologies to anyone that gets this twice but I will probably have a lot better chance of completing this if other people help provide external pressure/motivation and feedback.  So friends and family, please please please bug and bother me about my "novel".  Ask how its coming.  Ask where my wordcount is at.  Encourage me to keep going.  Admonish me if I let things slip.  I may not react wonderfully to it; but I will appreciate it on some level.  :)

And if anyone else is doing this please let me know.  I know quite a few people that did a local challenge of this sort a few months ago; maybe some of them are participating again.  Also some other friends have expressed interest in doing this as well.  The more peer support the better.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Up and Running Again

Well my computer died over a week ago; some sort of horrible affliction of the motherboard.  Had to wait until I got paid on Friday before I could begin to order stuff; but last night the parts all showed up and I'm back in the land of the living.  Still rebuilding the software and stuff but getting there.  But this puts me woefully behind on my blog post a day goal.  Oh well.  I'll do my best to continue putting out one a day from here on out and if I can I'll play a little catch up and see how it goes.  I'm just glad I have the computer working again before November; cause writing out the 50,000 words by hand was gonna suck :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Narrative Flow

Okay, I have a bit of a rant to go on concerning the lack of good narrative/plot flow in movies today. If you don't care about "hearing" me rant; tune in next time.

So, my big issue with a lot of movies and some TV shows...and possibly even some books that I have watched/read lately is that all the writers seemed to have forgotten how a proper narrative should flow. Now I'm not saying that a story has to be 100% linear; that it has to follow in a straight line or anything. I've seen plots that go from A to Z. From Z to A. From A1 to B1 to C1 to A2 to C2 to B2. From A to M then back to G then on to Q and straight through to Z. Trust me, I understand using interesting story structure and organization to enhance the storytelling. What I don't understand is the apparent trend to go from A to 7 then over to :) then randomly jump to $ then to Q and maybe take a short vacation at 384.

I just watched the third Transformers movie. I was SO confused and finally bored by this film. It seemed like there was absolutely not solid narrative flow. I was constantly like "Wait, how did they get there?" or "Why are we here?" or "What is going on?" or "How did that happen?" And trust me this was not an intellectual, subtle movie by any stretch of the imagination. At one point a bunch of characters were in a building to try and line up a rocket attack on an enemy position. Suddenly the building is under attack by bad guys. I was like "Wait, why are they attacking that building; since when are the bad guys following them or even aware of their presence?" As far as I could tell from the past few minutes of the movie the bad guys should have had no knowledge of the good guys being there and therefore should have had no reason to attack that building.

The whole movie felt like it was cutting between disjointed, poorly planned, barely connected if at all, scenes of various groups of people doing mostly unexplained actions in mostly illogical locations for mostly unfathomable reasons. My head still hurts.

I have seen this problem to a greater or lesser degree in a wide variety of media lately and it is just annoying. Another manifestation of this issue is the super quick cuts that seem to be standard fare in a lot of modern movies. Sometimes they are cutting around so quick I literally can not follow what is happening on the screen. I really wish that they would just slow things down a bit, focus more on order and structure, and realize that a random collection of scenes tossed together with duct tape and spit does not a plot make.

Anyway, rant off. TTYL.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

Running a little behind on the posts; but I've got the next couple of days off so I'm going to catch up.

Well my new job has me working from 11 pm to 7 am. Hurrah for the night shift. I'm actually really enjoying it; the only problem I've encountered so far is Sundays. My Sundays are jam-packed full of stuff. Sunday School, Church, Lunch, Various Errands, Role-playing, then Work is usually the schedule for me. Going solid from 9:30 Sunday morning to 7:30 Monday morning. And that is after having worked Saturday night as well. I'm usually up from 9 pm Saturday night to 8 am Monday morning. That is one heck of a long haul.

I'm enjoying the new Sunday School class that has been formed for people my age level at my FBC over in Siloam; but having to stay up in order to go to that and church and lunch with the family is killing me. Now if I didn't go to any of those things I could come home and sleep for around 6-7 hours before heading over to Siloam for RPing. So I'm probably going to be looking for a Saturday evening church option. I enjoy the FBC crowd; but the lack of sleep on Sundays is killing me. I'll probably hit up FBC again when I get Sundays or Saturdays off in the shift rotation. That won't be until like January at least I believe.

Anyway, this is mostly just talking to myself in order to get a blog post in. Hehe.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Listening Skills

So there have been a bunch of new "initiatives" and rules and such being implemented at work. Most of it is stuff I do not have to deal with as I only work night shift thankfully. But I do still have to go to various weekly training sessions; which by the way are in the middle of the afternoon which is a very annoying time for a night shift person. But the meetings have not been bad and the extra hour of pay is always welcome. The only thing that has been annoying about the whole process are the inane questions my coworkers ask at every single meeting. I spend the entire time thinking to myself "Seriously? He just answered that" or "Oh my gosh, pay attention; that has already been covered" or, more often than I should, "Wow, that was really stupid, why are you being allowed to speak in public?"

If people would just listen then the meetings would go a lot smoother and my blood pressure would be a lot lower. But apparently the ability to hear and process auditory information from the leader of the meetings is a skill lost on the vast majority of my fellow employees. And not just them, I have noticed this in many other places and with many other people. People just need to listen, to let the information settle in, to process it, AND ONLY THEN start thinking about questions and answers, because if you do that then you probably won't have anywhere near as many questions or comments.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Creative Process

So I've been thinking about my creative process lately. How do I come up with ideas, how do I process them, how do I funnel them into creative outlets? In analyzing this process I've come to the conclusion that the majority of my creative spark starts with mental images. I get a picture or snapshot or image in my mind and then grab on to it and extrapolate it and build off of it to create something more complex and fleshed out. I sometimes also get like series of events or actions playing out in a sort of day dream type of thing, but a lot of the time my creative process starts with a "still image".

For instance, as I have been working on this new campaign world of mine I have had to build up from scratch a whole lot of content. Most of this building has been done in creative bursts following a visualization of a scene or place or person in the world. Like when I was trying to decide what the nation of Rholmstag would look like. I saw a picture of a city in a dark, ancient forest. The city itself is composed of homes and buildings built into and around enormous trees, about double the size of redwoods. The whole city is surrounded by a wall composed of these giant tree trunks, in a classic wooden palisade style. Soft electric light glows from floating globes atop the walls and arcing arcane lightnings dance between glowing blue runes in a defensive perimeter. Snow covers the ground between the trees and even more is falling heavily. Dark shapes and glowing eyes can be seen in the darkened wilderness all around the city. That is one of the main mental pictures that inspired this nation for me.

From that mental picture I extrapolated a bunch of different facts about Rholmstag:
- It is a nation of dark, ancient forests. All Grimm's fairy tales style filled with monsters and things that go bump in the night.
- The people who live here live in heavily guarded and fortified settlements and the wildness around them is on their very doorstep.
- The nation has some amount of ability to manipulate electricity, though not in a modern technological way but in a more mystical, arcane style.
- As stated in Point 1, there are big bad scary things in the night. The woods are filled with werewolves and evil fae and witches and all sorts of mythological themed creatures.
- It is a cold and forbidding place that grows a strong, formidable people.
- It snows a lot, in fact I decided there are some areas where it never stops snowing. Which led me to the idea that there is a war going on between winter fae and storm giants; and where one faction holds sway the associated inclement weather type is always present.

So I got all that from that one mental image. And then these ideas have led to more ideas and then to even more ideas, and in the end the nation of Rholmstag is turning out to be pretty dang cool and interesting. I'll probably talk more about it later because I'm sure I'll type up some entries about this campaign setting.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Underused Story Themes

((Might have to be a little liberal on the "have a blog post up every day" thing, what with the working nights style schedule. I will just say that there are 31 days in October and at the end of the month I will have made 31 posts.))

I love storytelling. This should be obvious if you know me. I read, write, play and run RPGS, watch movies and TV all the time, and buy video games pretty much only for the single player story experience. A good story is one of the greatest things in life to experience. And I like all sorts of stories and themes and plots. But there are a few themes/plot elements that I do not get enough of and that I really like during the rare occasions that I do see them pop up.

First, Survival. I don't mean escaping the killer horror movie type survival. I mean out in an unforgiving wilderness with limited supplies and dangerous circumstances survival. I'm a bit of a survivalist geek, so I love this type of stuff, and I think it provides good setting and drama for storytelling. But I don't see if show up very often in stories.

Second, on a related note, is giant storms. Total "storm of the century" or "perfect storm" style weather patterns. Huge blizzards or rain storms or whatever. It could be a natural disaster, it could be unnaturally created. I think it would be cool to see more fantasy or sci-fi stories involve worlds or planets that have constant storm effects of some sort. That would make for an interesting setting. This speaks to the survivalist geek in me once again; but I also just love the concept of having to cope with and work within these massive demonstrations of the power of nature.

Third is fantasy and sci-fi crossover. Maybe with some steampunk or something else thrown in as well. My favorite campaign worlds I have designed have had elements of both fantasy and sci-fi in them. I like the idea of a world where you can have jet packs and space marines as well as elven wizards and portable holes. I think the genres could stand to be mixed more often. Don't get me wrong, I still like them separate from each other as well; but crossovers are great.

Fourth is maybe more of a trope than a theme, but boy would I love to see more stories in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres where characters act like they've read a sci-fi/fantasy/horror book. Like for instance a character in a zombie movie that upon encountering zombies is like "Oh hey, those are zombies. You destroy the brain to kill them. Don't let them bit you. Thanks 28 Days Later and World War Z." Characters in genre works that are knowledge about the tropes of the genre just seem interesting to me and I'd love to see them executed well in some stories.

Now some of these things might not work well, and that might be why they are not around as much. But I'd like the chance to sample them and discover that for myself. And hey, if you have any suggestions for stories in various mediums that have these elements in them that I should check out; please let me know in the comments either here or on the Facebook link.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


So for the past few months the majority of my RPG activity has been gamemastering or GMing. What GMing entails for those that do not know is you are the person who controls the game, runs the world, builds and unfolds the plot, brings life to the people and characters in the world, referees the rules, and generally wrangles wild dingoes.

I generally dislike GMing in comparison to playing. I much prefer to be focusing on playing my one character and building up their story than having to do all the work of building everyone's stories. But frankly there are not enough people in my RP circles that are willing or capable of GMing and so we who can do so much step up to the plate even when we don't want to. And I'm not saying I'm awesome at this, just capable enough to make it work.

There are two games I have been running on alternating Sundays; both using the Pathfinder RPG system. One is about 5-6 sessions in and it is a Kingmaker Adventure Path game with Morgan, Traci, OD, and John Little. It has been quite a bit of fun for me, and I think the other folks are enjoying it as well. They are a group of eclectic, somewhat morally ambiguous individuals who have been chartered to found a new kingdom in the wilderness of the Stolen Lands region of the River Kingdoms. They are into the second book in the AP, they are 4th level, they have built up a fairly good sized kingdom, and life is going pretty good for them.

For those to whom this will mean things here are some stats about the kingdom. Bokken is the High Priest, The Old Beldame has been changed to a Banshee spirit and is the Grand Diplomat, an anti-paladin is the Marshall, and Jhod the priest of Erastil is the Warden. They have befriended the Kobolds and have them mining both gold and silver for them. They played nice with Mongu (not sure on that name) the wandering giant and he is now hanging out at their city. They built a second city at Oleg's, used the existing structure to get a free Stable for the city; and named the city Oleg's Stable in order to piss him off. Oh and the party monk just got infected with werewolf lycanthropy. This game is hilarious.

The other game has actually just finished a second session of prep and will be staring on the first session of play this upcoming Sunday. I am super excited about this one because of two things. First, it is a world of my own creation. I have been working hard to create it and I am really happy with what I have designed so far. I will be detailing more about it on this blog at various points throughout the month and my NaNoWriMo novel attempt will be set there. Secondly, the them of the campaign is exploration and colonization, a them I don't see enough of and that I love.

I have also recently coordinated the starting of two play-by-email games, and run a short game for Magpie night. I will probably also run something at the next NWARPG Game Day if things work out. And I have a strong desire to run Mouse Guard for some folks. For someone who doesn't like GMing I'm sure doing and planning a lot of it. But it is good for me. It is expanding my horizons, building my social and writing/storytelling skills, and providing me and other folks with lots of fun and entertainment. So I'm glad I'm stepping up and doing it. Now if I could only fit in some actual playing sometime in the near future I'd be golden.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Deluge of TV Shows

So with the coming of Fall comes the premieres of a ton of TV shows, old and new. And boy do I watch a lot of them. So lets see whats going on.

Sundays - We've got the block of cartoons, Simpsons, Family Guy and Cleveland Show. All funny to varying degrees at varying times. There is also a new drama called Pan Am, that I don't know anything about but I'm considering checking out the first episode because 60s era stewardess outfits are hot. Hehe.

Mondays - We've got Castle, which I'm behind on since I haven't watched any of the new episodes. We have Terra Nova, which I have watched and I loved it so far; though they seem to be doing the shotgun plot effect here at the beginning and that is something that has the potential to fail spectacularly. Also I hear the ratings were pretty low for its first episode; so that makes me sad. I need more dinosaurs and dystopias in my life. And starting this coming Monday, House is back. Since we left off with him on some far away tropical beach it will be interesting to see where the show goes. Obviously they will get him back to the hospital and resumes formula, but that is okay because the character of House is what I watch it for anyway.
Also, Warehouse 13 is on on Mondays. I haven't watched since the first season, but I loved it back then. I should make an effort to catch up at some point.
Tuesday - Glee is the only Tuesday night show I watch. Huzzah for musical theater and a cast of "teenage" girls that are a lot more attractive than I remember any of the chicks I went to high school being.

Wednesday - Nothing yet, but new South Park starts soon.

Thursday - Thursdays give us some great comedy. My favorite comedy show, Community, is on on Thursday nights. Hilarious show, if you are not watching it then you will probably get cancer. Ya, it is that important. The Office is also on, and with out Steve Carrell I am hoping it will be much less painful to watch. And Archer was on for a few weeks; but is now stopped again until 2012. Boooo. Oh ya, Person of Interest, a new show by J.J. Abrams is on on this night as well. It is on my radar but I haven't watched it yet.

Friday - Fridays are the new home to Fringe, one of the best shows ever. I'm behind on the new episodes but working on fixing that right now in fact. Really hoping this season is good and that the Friday night slot doesn't kill it.

Saturday - Doctor Who is the only Saturday show I have ever watched; and its season finale is tonight; so sadness. I'm still 3 episodes behind on this as well; but I'll catch up soon.

So, a whole bunch of TV there to watch each week. But that's not all. There are at least 4 more shows coming out that I will be giving a shot and checking out.

Grimm - a mystery/crime drama with a Grimm's Fairy Tales/Fantasy twist.
Once Upon A Time - another fairy tale inspired show with the tales being set in modern day. I really like the idea of exploring the actual darker versions of the kid's fairy tales that they started out as. Should be very good if executed well.
Hell on Wheels - AMC Western period drama about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad
Walking Dead - More zombies please!! Especially since they seem to be going out into the countryside more. We've done the city zombie thing before.

There are also plenty of shows that I used to watch that I've basically let fall away, like Chuck and Burn Notice. I still like them; but they just weren't drawing me back over the call of these other shows and I got out of the habit of watching them. And then the back episodes piled up and etc etc etc. I'll go back and watch them at some point; probably when they hit Netflix.

So, how do I watch all this TV. Well I don't have cable TV service; so I watch all of it on the internet, through sites like Hulu and Netflix. And I don't watch it all on the day it comes out, just whenever I feel like it and have time. TV shows on MY schedule; not the networks. That is what works for me. Sadly I think I'm forfeiting my ability to positively help the rating by doing that though. Guess I can't complain too much when good shows go off the air too soon. Oh well, enjoy what you got while you got it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

National Blog Writing Month

Well, according to some website I stumbled across a while back, the month of October is National Blog Writing Month. Who knows how official that is, but hey it works for me as an excuse. I recently tried to do a "novel in a month" challenge and stalled out at about a fourth of the desired 50,000 words. But November is very officially National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I feel like giving the challenge another shot. So in the interest of gearing up to that I'm going to also take on the challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of October. I guarantee they will not all be wonderful, insightful, or a joy to read. But they will at least all be present and containing words. It all starts tomorrow.

Monday, March 7, 2011

More Writing Prompts

Boy do I stink at actually following through on doing things I said I was going to do without any sort of external motivation or control. It has been way too long since I updated this blog. I am just lazy and also I very much do not feel like doing pretty much anything after I get home from work.

One thing that has had me stuck is the next writing prompt in order for the Writing Excuses podcast. I was just not getting any ideas for it. Which I used as an excuse to not write. So lets just skip that one and try to do another one.

"Write a scene from the point of view of a front line grunt in an army of the undead. And no using the word brains"

Samuel had come to a realization days ago. He had realized that he had to add meaning to his own life. That he had to set his own goals and aims. Otherwise none of this meant anything. Nothing he was fighting so hard for was worth anything at all if he did not give it worth. So as he and his comrades in arms lined up to once again charge the walls of the castle he surveyed the path before him; peering, searching, trying to find some personal goal to drive his efforts towards.

As the signal to charge sounded across the battlefield, he and the rest of the ranks began to surge forward. They moved in a slow, shambling gait at first but soon broke in to a full run, the clacking noise of their footsteps echoing against the nearby fortress walls failed to reach their now useless ears. Though he was now incapable of uttering a battle cry, he sounded one within his own thoughts anyways as he charged up the pile of broken bodies and shattered bones heaped before the castle's walls. He had his goal in sight now, a portion of the wall of corpses that was high enough that he might be able to reach the top of the stone walls with a good leap. Slipping and sliding on his fallen comrades he made his way up to the spot and leaped. His bony fingers found purchase and he heaved himself up and over the wall.

In his own head he exulted with joy, he had done it. He had achieved the goal he set out to accomplish. Perseverance, hard work, and consistent reanimation really did pay off in the end. Turning to find a way down from the wall he barely had time to register movement as a very large armored figure swung an equally large sword into him, cleaving his skull from his body. As his head flew through the air down into the castle grounds he saw his body fall backwards off the wall and out of sight. He landed and bounced a few times, finally coming to rest under a horse cart near the bottom of the wall. Now as a bodiless skull he was trapped here until someone found him. But hey, at least he had made it inside. As he had said, it was all about those little personal goals; that was what it took to give unlife meaning.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Episode 16: BIC HOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard

Hey look, I found transcripts for the episodes of the Writing Excuses Podcast. So instead of typing out my own summary of the episodes, I can just link to the transcript: Episode 16 Transcript. They do a much better job of summarizing everything than I do.

And that lets me get to the writing prompt that much faster. The prompt for this episode is:

Write a story about something unusual stopping a novelist from finishing his or her book

Bill sat staring at the computer screen. Only one more chapter and he would finally be done with the book. Months of writing would finally be complete.

As he began to write suddenly there was a noise at the office door. Knock, knock, knock.

"Hey!" he yelled, "it's daddy's office time. You know the rules."

Knock, knock, knock.

"If I have to come out there it's not going to be very pretty!"

Knock, knock, knock.

Bill pushed himself back from the desk in a huff and stalked over to the door. "I told you, when I'm writing you don't...." He trailed off, staring at the person in the hallway. Or what used to be a person. The blood covered creature standing there used to be his daughter; but her vacant, lifeless eyes held no recognition or love as she pounced on him and bit deeply into his neck. Screaming in horror and pain he blacked out as he fell to the floor.

Later the creature that used to be Bill rose slowly and awkwardly from the floor. In slow, jerking motions it shambled back to the office chair, falling down into it. It raised its hands to the keyboard, and sat staring at the computer screen once more.

More Lessons

Okay, Predators was pretty good. Adrian Brody surprisingly sold me on the tough guy merc character.

Now for more lessons learned from Writing Excuses.

Episode 7: Villians
  • What makes a good villain?
  • Understandable, has something in common with the readers
  • Sometimes has flaws, but not always
  • Exploits the hero's flaws
  • Everyman villain vs. superman villian
  • Superman villain is a force of nature, everyman villain is interesting
  • Struggle against an all powerful evil is part of us all, but its not necessarily interesting
  • Are you looking for an interesting conflict or an interesting villian?
  • All powerful villains don't have the connection or the possibility of redemption
  • How do you make a flawed, likable villian?
  • Make it a hero with opposing goals
  • Make it a person in the hero's party who doesn't succeed because of some flaw ex "Boromir"
  • Heroes overcome their flaws, villains are overcome BY their flaws
  • What is an antihero?
  • A villain in a heroic role
  • Someone who goes to the extreme of being a flawed hero
  • We enjoy antiheroes because the villains are still worse
  • Villains think they are the heroes of their own stories
  • Good villains are logical
  • Consult the Evil Overlord List
Episodes 8: Science Fiction
  • Why write Science Fiction?
  • Sci Fi is about experiencing and writing new things
  • It's about seeing the possible futures
  • It's written either optimistically or as a cautionary tale
  • It's the genre of "What if?"
  • It's didactic (meaning its meant to be instructive)
  • It's reflective
  • It's idea driven
  • What do you need to write good Sci-Fi?
  • You need to understand current science, so you can actually be looking beyond it
  • You need to understand what has come before, read in the field
  • You need something new, unless you are writing YA then your readers are most likely new and you can get away with a little retreading
Episode 9 was about science fiction sub genres. Interesting but nothing worth noting down; if you read sci-fi you know all about it already

Episode 10: Pacing
  • What makes good pacing? How do you keep things rolling?
  • Snappy dialog
  • Cram in the tension
  • Lots of conflict
  • In late, out early. Jump straight to the conflict
  • Pre-write and edit
  • Figure out what a scene's purpose it
  • Some scenes can be about character or explanation or decompressing; but they still should have some form of tension
  • Plot Frameworks:
  • Time bomb, set some ever nearing time limit
  • Travelouge, go to a series of places. Know where you are heading, track progress on a map
  • Countdown, a series of tasks to accomplish. Just don't repeat tasks or undo them
  • Readers want to see progress
  • When you get to a point and you say "What else do I need to say here?" STOP
  • Keep it fast and tense, but let readers breathe every once in a while
  • Cram in the conflict and tensions, have multiple goals and objective in a scene
  • Pacing is about preperation
Episode 11: Business of Writing
  • Changes to make when becoming a professional
  • Rethink your schedule, and set an actual work schedule
  • To be self employed you must be self motivated
  • Make time to write
  • Wear the employer and employee hats
  • Pro is as Pro does
  • Teach your family the rules of "your office"
  • Consider quality of life and budget issues
  • How do you balance the artist and business man?
  • Switch between the two
  • Add in as much business as you can without losing the artist
  • How do you make yourself work when you don't want to?
  • Queue up tasks
  • Force yourself to write, even if you just throw it away
  • Do other work things to get in the work mood
  • BICHOK: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard
  • Business person needs to be aware of the business, trends, competition, editors, etc
Episode 12: Submitting to Editors
  • Stupid mistakes of submitting
  • Not knowing what the particular editor wants
  • Not reading the submission guide
  • Not submitting to the right market
  • How do you act like a professional?
  • Don't say "My kid loved it" or "My class loved it"
  • Wear a suit, or at least dress nicely
  • Be careful about simultaneous submissions
  • Simultaneous queries are okay, simultaneous chapters are okay, but after that be careful
  • Do your research
  • Keep track of where you have sent things
  • Don't use stupid tricks like fancy font, fancy paper, gimmicks, etc etc
  • Let the WRITING speak for itself
  • No one has ever bought a book based on fancy gimmicks, but tons have been rejected because of it
  • Make a good cover letter but realize its about the writing itself
  • DON'T use rhetorical questions in cover letters!
Episode 13: Submitting to Editors Part 2
  • Don't make it difficult for an editor to read your submission
  • Don't dress up like a viking and drop off your submission by hand
  • Don't call an editor without a previous relationship, use a POLITE e-mail
  • Don't gripe about rejection, send a polite thank you note
  • Editors are special, they do a lot of work without the fame, money, etc etc
  • How do you approach an editor?
  • Strike up a normal conversation about other topics, they'll ask if you're a writer at some point most likely
  • Ask what THEY are working on
Episode 14: Magic Systems and Rules
  • Sanderson's First Law of Magic: The ability of your hero to use magic to solve problems is directly proportional to your readers ability to understand the magic system
  • One of the major criticisms of fantasy genre is the idea that with magic I can just do anything I want
  • Solutions surfacing at the last moment is cheating
  • You want your reader to be excited about your magic system, to believe in it
  • Magic has to have rules
  • What do you gain when the reader can't understand the rules?
  • A sense of wonder and mystery
  • Tapping into the feeling of being a small fish in a big pond
  • It is okay if you don't use the unknown magic to solve problems
  • We're are talking about how the magic works, not the rationale for it (thats world building)
  • What do you get when your readers understand the rules?
  • You can actually USE the magic
  • You can be clever with it
  • It captures the readers imagination
  • It leads to tools for foreshadowing
  • You can have an apprentice character
  • There is a different sense of wonder, the wonder of cool things that you can imagine using
  • You get the possibility of really interesting takes on magic
Episode 15: Costs and Ramifications of Magic
  • Good interesting magic can't be free
  • Use of magic should have an equal and opposite reaction
  • Even if it isn't explicitly explained there must be a cost
  • Cost creates conflict and meaningful decisions
  • When you build in limitations it allows the world to make sense
  • Think about the effects on the world, the Light spell could put all the candle makers out of business
  • Taylor's First Law "If the energy you are getting from your magic is cheaper than letting a donkey do it, your medieval economy just fell apart"
  • How do you make the magic system feel "real"? How do you make it not like a video game?
  • Break the system. Exploit the hell out of it and then go back and see why it broke and how to rebuild it
  • Don't make it too quantifiable
  • Defeating a monster can make you a monster
  • Fiction can deal with the effects on the character
  • It lets us get inside the character and see what they are feeling and what the magic is doing to them
  • How do you come up with interesting costs?
  • Know what has been done before and don't use it
  • Tie costs to ramifications
  • Make the costs personal to the character
  • Sanderson's Second Law: Magic doesn't happen in a vacuum. It takes place in a world and you have to consider all its effects on the world for it to feel real.
And the next episode has a writing prompt. So I'll do a summary of it and the prompt in a separate post later.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Writing Excuses: Lessons Learned

As I just said in the previous post, it has taken 16 episodes to get to the point where they started adding in writing prompts on the Writing Excuses podcast. The first 15 episodes have some very good and useful information in them. So to make good use of my listening efforts I'm going to expound upon the lessons learned from them. Not every episode was completely didactic (see I learned a new word!), and not every episode gave as much information as the other ones, but they were all interesting at the least.

Episode 1: Brainstorming
  • Gather ideas until they start combining and coming together
  • Write down ideas immediately, carry a notebook with you.
  • Get to a point where your brain is alert, but not too active. Like during various menial tasks.
  • Organize your ideas in outlines once they start connecting.
  • Watch out for world builder's disease, continuing to build more and more and more even beyond the point that you need to go, just because world building is cool and fun.
  • Book Guide: (Subheadings: Characters, Settings, Plot)
  • Check out the Microsoft Word Outlining Tool and/or WikiDPad
Episode 2: Blending the Familiar and the Original

  • Put together an ordinary idea and an extraordinary idea
  • Ordinary ideas just have to be familiar, not boring or mundane
  • Consider the "Strange Attractor" concept. Take a familiar idea and do something strange TO or WITH it
  • Make sure your "original" idea really is original
Episode 3: Killing Your Darlings
  • Be willing to axe things
  • Don't use that idea you've been "working on for years". You're mostly too close to it to cut what is necessary to make it work, IF it can work at all
  • Get outside opinions and LISTEN to them
  • Practice cutting things to make yourself better at it
  • You'll probably cut your entire first novel, this is okay
  • If you are really attached to something, try writing both with and without it; maybe the comparison will help put things in perspective
  • Keep a folder or file full of your axed stuff, and at least tell yourself you'll come back to it later. It'll make it easier to cut it if its saved somewhere
Episode 4: Beginnings
  • Hooks!! Use them! But don't get caught up on them
  • Don't sell something with your opening that your book won't deliver, don't be all funny if you're not writing a comedy for example
  • Don't worry about writing in order. The beginning can just as easily be the last thing you write as the first, if thats how it works out then thats how it works out
  • Remember the screenwriter's adage "In late, out early". This means bracket the action as closely as possible; don't have too much build up or wind down on either side of it. Get in and get out
  • Use character, dialog, and/or action in your opening, not wordy world building stuff or overly detailed establishing
  • Be ready to heavily edit or even just drop your first chapter, you'll probably find the actual starting place after you've been writing for a while
Episode 5: Heroes and Protagonists
  • A hero is one who drives the story and is probably heroic in nature
  • A protagonist is one who has a character arc. He goes on a journey and changes
  • A main character is one through whom we see the story, the point-of-view character
  • All three of these can be the same person or three completely different people
  • Everyday heroes saving the day can be much more interesting than a superman type character saving the day
  • Seeing heroes overcome flaws makes them seem more heroic
  • Give everyday heroes an everyday background, and then make that background help them drive the story and overcome the conflicts Ex. The main character in "Hotel Rwanda"
  • Samwise Gamgee is a great example of an everyday hero. His power is no more impressive than just being a great friend
  • Make your hero competent at something, but not competent at the thing they need to be competent at in order to solve the problems, win the conflicts. But then make a way for them to still make it work
  • Give your hero flaws
  • Don't make things easy for your hero
  • Make them competent AND flawed
Episode 6: Flaws vs. Handicaps
  • Flaws are internal, handicaps are external
  • A flaw is the hero's fault, a handicap is not
  • Flaws are something you overcome, handicaps are things you don't necessarily have to
  • Flaws lead to character arcs, handicaps lead to conflicts
  • Flaws make heroes more interesting and identifiable
  • Flaws allow growth
  • If you overcome a flaw and grow, carefully consider how long you keep adding new flaws
  • Don't undo growth
  • How do you match flaws with characters?
  • Look at the conflicts you want your hero to deal with
  • Find a point of conflict and then justify a character's reaction to it with a flaw
  • Flaws should work into the story, be part of the conflict
  • How do you give someone a flaw but still make them likable?
  • By virtue of making them the main character
  • By finding elements people CAN respond to
  • By making the character competent
That is all the episodes I've written down notes on so far. Going to go watch Predators. Will write down some more later and hopefully get to the writing prompt soon.

I promise I didn't forget!

So I've been listening to the Writing Excuses podcast. It is filled with great stuff and good advice. But they don't add the weekly writing prompt until episode 16, which I just finished. So thats why I haven't done one yet. But I have been taking notes on the advice in the various episodes. Therefore in order to make use of the first 15 episodes and to share the bounty of wisdom I am going to start off with a summary of what they have talked about in those first few episodes before the writing prompts start. That will be the next post here. Which will probably happen later tonight.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing Excuses

OMG a blog entry!! Haha. It's been like 3-4 months since my last one.

So there is a pretty dang good author named Brandon Sanderson. He's got some great books, and an interesting sounding podcast called Writing Excuses. It's a short format, only 15 minutes long, they say "...because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart." It is all about writing and the craft of making books and stories.

The reason I started a blog was to try and get myself in the habit of regularly writing. So here is my plan. Since these are only 15 minutes long there's no reason why I can't easily expect myself to listen one a day, or at worse one every other day at first if I forget. And most of them come with a writing prompt. Some of the earlier ones might not have a prompt, but I believe those prompts start showing up with each episode pretty quickly.

Therefore my plan is to listen to one of these a day, and do the connected writing prompt on this blog as I do. Hopefully I get into the good habit of regularly writing something and maybe I'll get around to outputting something of my own making eventually. At the least hopefully my storytelling skills will improve and make my GMing better. Going to try and do the first one tomorrow night after work.