Archive for June, 2010
Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
In the film industry, if you take off and make a labor of love project you hope like hell that a distributor picks it up and it gets seen in arthaus cinemas around the country. In the already borderline-cottage industry of role-playing games, you fall back on word of mouth and producing a great game that does one thing particularly well. Hence, the joys of the Indie Press.
Of late, there’s a few indie games that have been close to my heart. Fiasco, the self-described game of “Big dreams and poor impulse control” is a narrative game designed to replicate the heist-gone-wrong films for which I have such a fondness: Three Kings, Blood Simple, Fargo, A Simple Plan. Fiasco is very true to its source material, and it does a great job of putting people in the position of making tremendous plans and watching them all go to hell. Of particular interest as a writer is their use of a two-act structure that hinges in the middle on what they call “The Tilt”. The Tilt is that moment where everything falls apart – the triggering activity that sends the plans into their death spiral. It is a game for fans of schadenfreude, which rewards people who are willing to screw over their fellow players. Just as it should be.
Zombie Cinema is another well done, genre specific narrative that I’ve played a lot of lately. Like Fiasco, it’s designed to replicate a specific style of film (I’ll leave you to figure out which). In this case, the narrative scenes are played out against a track that progresses the zombies’ presence within the story – from scattered news reports to total apocalypse. The players also move up and down the track, pushed around by the outcome of their scenes. Those players who fall behind are eventually consumed by the oncoming tide. Of particular interest to me is their method of randomly creating characters using role and attribute cards – addicted housewife, noble beggar, cheerful survivor. It creates some interesting dichotomies that allow for interesting characters and maintains everyone as normal people caught up in circumstances beyond their control.
So there it is, a couple of mini-reviews of Indie Games I love, and more importantly, why I love them as a writer. If you’re interested in narrative games at all (and if you’re not sure, I recommend a visit to @@SITE to review the elements of game theory – I don’t want to discuss it here), or you’re curious about the storycrafting process of these particular types of tales, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
Monday, June 28th, 2010
I dislike flying. There’s an implied lack of control involved and it always makes me terrible nervous to do. Why I’m writing, it’s the same thing – I just can’t fly by the seat of my pants. I know authors who do this, have even met some who swear by it as the only way to write. It’s not for me, though. Instead, I plot. Meticulously, thoroughly, and without remorse. Heck, I even outline my short fiction, just to make certain it follows a logical progression of plot and theme.
There are some who say (and yeah, that’s a straw man – my blog, my logical fallacies) that they love the surprise of just writing and seeing what the characters will do next. If it works for you, then congratulations, but there’s no way I can do that. The amount of time I have available to write is precious, and I can’t afford to waste it on dead-ends and recursive moments that will get ripped out of the final draft. If my story’s going to surprise me, if it’s going to catch me off guard, it will do so during the outlining stage, because once I start writing, I like to know where I’m going.
This isn’t to say I am 100% married to the outline and never deviate – heck in my current Work-In-Progress I ended up rolling two characters together because it added depth to the character and meant I didn’t have to draft scenes creating this secondary character’s ties to the plot. I do stick to it enough, however, that I often write my closing scene first. Once I know where I’m going, I can set my goals towards getting there. In some cases I can even foreshadow language used in the end at the beginning to help bring a sense of closure to the piece.
Is there a middle ground? Certainly. Plontsing, or whatever the portmanteau would be, allows some freedom within the larger structure of the piece. I plonts more with short fiction than long, partly because it’s easier to fix, and partly because my outlines for short fiction tend to be more abstract that for long fiction – on especially short pieces, the outline may only be a few character sketches and a 5-6 line diagram of the basic plot.
In the future, I’ll talk more about my specific method, but this seemed like a good topic to lead into that. Much of how I write comes from the fact that I’m a plotter, rather than a pantser, so we needed to get this out of the way early. How about your? Plotter? Pantser? Or Plontser?
Friday, June 25th, 2010
It’s a short-shrift this week in the potpourri department. I blame the hectic nature of my glamorous life. That said, I still managed to find a few things to make me sit up and go “wow” this week, or just make me chuckle in knowing appreciation. Next week, I believe, will see our first film review as I have a couple of movies I’ve been jonesing to watch in my Netflix queue. (See? Glamorous!)
Without further ado:
Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
I knit. I am a knitter. I’ve read before that you shouldn’t define yourself by what you do, but rather by who you are. Even so, I’m comfortable announcing that I am “someone who knits.” This gives me certain things in common with other knitters: I lie – constantly – about my stash of yarn, to myself and everyone else. “It’s not that big.” “Sock yarn doesn’t count.” “I’m not as bad as (insert other knitter’s name, whose stash you feel is out of control).”
Of course, all those lies go the other direction as soon as you’re around someone who appreciates yarn. “16 ounces of first-shear baby alpaca and mohair goat, dyed and then handspun.” “I had to repurpose the master closet to hold it all.” “And that’s not counting sock yarn…” It is, in some respects, the knitter equivalent of dominance displays – the wool-pack has to know its own pecking order, and stash is as good a measure of “cred” as any.
In that respect, and taking the above into consideration, I’d like to think my stash is pretty middle-of-the-road. After all, it doesn’t require its own room, or a special cedar inset closet. But it’s also well past the “store it in a basket by the easy chair” phase as well. Not that I don’t have a basket of stash yarn out there, but that’s the showoff yarn – like the special guests china – there for other people to notice, but never to use.
I suppose the root of any collection of things is a desire to, as Hunter Thompson famously said, “Take it as far as you can.” For me, the stash has become a statement of places I’ve been and people whom I love. This handspun wool is from North Carolina, that hand-dyed was a gift from one of my first-readers. In theory, I assign hoped-for projects to my stash yarn, but strangely enough, when the time comes to start something new on the needles, I’m back in the store buying yarn for it specifically rather than raiding the stash.
Except for socks, of course. But then sock yarn doesn’t count as stash.
Monday, June 21st, 2010
Writer Confession time – I hate coming up with titles. Whether it’s a short story or a full length manuscript, when it comes time to sum the themes up with an appropriate title I will agonize for days. When I do settle on one, I often regret the choice after the fact – it’s too wordy, too trite, trying too hard to be clever. I hear there are people who have the title appear in flashing lights and trumpet blasts, something so perfect that they never consider calling their story anything else. Needless to say, I am not those people.
The trick, for me, is coming up with something short enough to be memorable, but not so commonplace as to be forgettable. Sometimes it works. “Loss for Words” in Apex’s Dark Faith anthology is a double play on the meaning of the phrase, describing both the main character’s affliction and, ultimately, his cure. Other times, I’m less thrilled with the title – “Code Duello,” the rules of dueling, is a reasonable title for the story, but I often wish I would have gone with something that caught the spirit of intrigue and entrapment a little better.
So there it is – with rare exceptions, the title is the last thing I write. When I talk about my works in progress with my first-readers, I refer to them by thematic elements. “The one with the shifters” or “The space opera one” or even “The new one.” I’d love to hear that I’m not the only one with this terrible affliction, but until I check for comments, I’ll have to spend my time working on “that Steampunk one.”
Friday, June 18th, 2010
Welcome to this week’s collection of links, curios and things I’ve uncovered and decided were cool enough to share:
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
I think it’s a joke that’s been beat to death, but that’s not going to stop me from using it as a blog title. I play Role-playing games, and have, since 1978. Needless to say, when you’ve done something for that long, it becomes a significant part of one’s life, so I’m not likely to stop any time soon.
I’ve been fortunate in that my love of the hobby has led to a few opportunities in the field as well – I’m proud of my work on the indie science fiction game “Blue Planet.” I contributed to Green Ronin’s excellent “Song of Ice and Fire” setting – based on the brilliant George R.R. Martin series. And I’ve even contributed to the expanding fiction of Paizo’s Pathfinder setting. But that’s not the real reason I do this.
As a writer, my imagination is drafted for 6 days a week. I play pretend and tell stories as a part of how I earn my living. Gaming is my brain’s vacation night – it gets to tell stories for no other reason than the simple joy of telling stories. Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t mind that things get a bit clichéd at times. I can engage in the sorts of over-the-top melodrama that I’d never risk on the page. That’s important to me, and I come away from my occasional gaming convention refreshed and ready to dive back into writing all over again.
And that, frankly, is worth its weight in dragon’s gold.
Monday, June 14th, 2010
“If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you?” My mom used to ask me that question whenever I wanted to do something “all the other kids were doing.” As defenses went, it wasn’t all that good because a)I was a teenager and not prone to listening, b)I had experience running a rappelling course for the Boy Scouts and c) BASE Jumping is actually kind of awesome.
It also obviously didn’t stick, because here I am, starting up a blog to share my thought on writing, knitting, and whatever else pops up. I don’t want this to turn into another “On Tuesday I had grits for breakfast”, so allow me to lay out my plans. With luck I can even stick to them. One, this is going to happen three time a week, to the following schedule: Mondays I’ll blog about my writing, my thoughts on things, tips, tricks, and what I’ve learned from the time I’ve spent so far. Wednesdays, I’ll blog about knitting and gaming – two topics near and dear to my heart, and which have more cross-over than you’d think. Fridays is the potpourri day – I may write about politics, post an excerpt, write about a movie I really enjoyed, or I may just post a handful of links that I think are awesome. Two – I won’t post what I had for breakfast, so I hope you weren’t looking to delve that deeply into my life.
There’s the plan. Those seem like pretty simple rules, actually. Hopefully you’ll enjoy what I have to say and come back for more. This counts as this week’s discussion on writing, for the record, but I’ll be back on Wednesday to talk about Games and Writing.
Monday, June 7th, 2010
Here’s where John will post non-newsy items. Stay tuned!
Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
Well, it’s already June in this part of the world (3 days in technically) and that’s given us new fun things to talk about. Firstly, I’ve a bit of RPG announcement – Paizo Publishing recently released The Varnhold Vanishing, the third book in their “Kingmaker” adventure path for the Pathfinder RPG. Not only is it a great adventure, but this volume features a short story by yours truly! The series of stories in all six books are intertwined, and it was great fun coordinating with the other authors to set up foreshadowing for their stories.
In other awesome news, the cover has been leaked for “Butcher Knives and Body Counts” an essay collection on slasher films of which I am thrilled to be a part. The cover was done by my esteemed webmistress and all around great artist Deena Warner, and I think it nails the theme perfectly:
That Deena, she’s a genius.
I can also announce (now that I’ve sent in a contract) that I sold my short story “And the Rain, It Hammered Down” to PS Publishing for inclusion in their upcoming anthology Up Jumped the Devil. The entire anthology is stories inspired by the music of Nick Cave – one of my favorite musicians. It’s going to be a great collection, and again, I’m thrilled to be included.
Keeping up with Appearances:
Nothing happening for me in June, but next month I’ll be front and center at RWA down in sunny (oily) Florida. Then I’ll turn right around and head off to GenCon the following week, before coming in for a well earned rest. Later in the fall, I’ll be at World Fantasy in Columbus, OH, one of my favorite towns to visit. Why do I love it, you ask? Easy. They have Tim Horton’s.
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