Gaming and Writing
I’ve played D&D for years, starting back when it was not the popular thing to do. I’ve always found it a very pleasant pastime and a good way to express creativity. Sure, there are rules (more guidelines really) and getting a handle on the complexities of the system can be daunting, but if you are a creative type, it is definitely worth giving gaming a chance.
So, you may be asking, what does gaming have to do with writing? Well, for many, when you play D&D, you are telling a story. Sure, there are stats and numbers and random dice rolls to make decisions, but for most, it is less about the stats and more about the adventure that unfolds.
The Dungeon Master
For most of my gaming life, I have been the Dungeon Master (or DM). For those not familiar with D&D, this is the person who acts somewhat as a narrator that sets the scenes and guides the players on their journeys as well as an arbitrator of the rules. However, the best DMs ignore the rules (or dice rolls) when doing so tells a better story. After all, the DM’s goal is not to kill the players, but to challenge them and help them create an interesting experience.
Last week I told some people the story of when my wife was in high school and she divorced her husband because he refused to buy her a dishwasher. I enjoy watching people react to that leading line, and the best part is, my statement is completely true.
However, as in life, characters in stories don’t have to be truthful. They can be deceitful and manipulative and try and influence people to do what they want, or react in a certain way, as I had intended by my high school divorce statement. In fact, a story is often better when it includes that kind of behavior because telling lies mirrors real life. Unfortunately, this aspect of storytelling is too often overlooked.
I am looking forward to the Writers of the Wheat Literary Festival taking place this coming weekend, 7 Nov 2015. It will be a gathering of a number of authors from across the state of Kansas and will take place at Wichita State University’s Rhatigan Student Center from 10 am to 3 pm in the 2nd-floor walkway. The event is free to the public, so if you are in the area, you might want to check out the event.
It will be a good chance for people to meet a number of authors, talk about writing, publishing, and just have a good time. The authors present, including myself, will have our books available for purchase, but we have also each donated novels to a charity raffle that will benefit the Wichita Children’s Home.
The Wichita Children’s Home was Wichita’s first orphanage, founded in 1888. In 2013, they celebrated 125 years of service to the community. Since they were founded, the WCH has added a wide variety of services, including a 24-hour emergency shelter for teens in need. As a charity organization, they can always benefit from donations, so even if you cannot make it to the Literary Festival, check out their page and if you can help, they will appreciate it.
I get a lot of positive comments about my maps and while I do enjoy making things my readers really like, I must confess that my maps are as much for me as they are for my readers.
When I want to know how long it will take Stephenie, Henton, and Kas to travel to the next city, I can pull up the map and measure the distance. When I want to describe the terrain, I can look at the map and get an idea if the land would be rocky or swampy based upon the features I have drawn. When I want to know if my beloved characters are traveling through hostile lands, I can look at the borders and get an idea for what kind of political issues might be a factor.
When writing, keeping track of things is important. This is especially true when it comes to your characters. You never know when it will be important to recall the date someone died and you don’t want to accidentally change your character’s physical attributes. Those kind of problems can cause a break in continuity for your readers.
To avoid looking back through all my writing when describing a character, I created a spread sheet to save my sanity. It was a cheap (a.k.a. free) and easy solution to organize the characters in my stories.
I call it my People List spread sheet and if you are interested, here are copies in Open Office and Excel formats.
With Planet Comicon just a couple of days away (it starts this Friday) I wanted to talk a little more about what I am doing to prepare for the event. In prior articles, I mentioned having mats to stand on and actually standing up to greet people. Today, I wanted to go down through the list of things I am bringing, including the items I have to give away.
First and foremost, I am bringing copies of my books to sell, including Daughter’s Search, which just came out. However, I am also bringing things for people to take with them for free. Having something for people to walk away with is a great way to make sure they will remember you. In today’s market, you don’t want to miss out on the people who will go home and buy the ebook instead of the print copy.
- The primary item I am giving away is a bookmark (with the back side pictured in this post). I’ve found more people are interested in bookmarks than in business cards and with the cost not that much more than a business card, I order 2500 at a time. Last year I gave away almost all of the box I had ordered.
- I do have business cards, but as I mentioned, I found that once I started giving out the bookmarks, fewer people were interested in the business cards. However, they are easier to put into a pocket and I still hand some out both at the convention and other places. (They also make great small bookmarks.)
- I have copies of my world map and Antar castle. These are 8.5 x 11 on glossy 100 lb paper, so there is some substance to them. I find a lot of people like the map (gamers and just people who are into maps) so it is one way to draw in some interest.
- I have brochures that contains information on the books. I’ve found that these are quite popular as well, though they are more expensive and generally only people who are actually interested in the series take them.
- Plastic shopping bags. I have four books now and I want people to be able to carry away a whole set without them getting damaged. The bags are clear so that other people might see the books (a little free advertisement). I meet another author once who went to the expense of getting bags custom printed with the cover of the book and he had one of those ‘doh’ moments when I suggested the clear bags.
Photo © Depositphotos.com/ SergeyNivens
Not the advice you were expecting?
The last two weeks I have shared a couple of things I have learned or observed with regard to doing public appearances. Last week, I talked about standing up and changing your physical presence to help change your mental state (Amy Cuddy’s “Fake it ’til you become it” message). This week I wanted to offer another suggestion on how you might change your outlook and project more confidence.
Public speaking for many can be a very daunting task. I’ve mentioned this before, but for writers in particular, we tend to be introverted in nature and that causes us to stand off to the side and watch things as they occur around us. We can be the great observers and use that to make powerful stories, but often we avoid the spotlight. However, marketing and getting your book out in front of readers requires having a public face and drawing attention to ourselves. We have to let people know our stories exist.
The things I do for my characters… They ask for my help and too often I can’t turn them down. So, the next thing you know, I’m off on the internet asking questions on their behalf. Questions I am sure will eventually get me put on a list somewhere. (Don’t ask me about voices and listening to my characters, that is just something writers do.)
And other writers also know this: readers expect accuracy. Heck, I expect it in what I read and definitely in what I write. So when one of my characters needs to know about something, I go off and do research. In the “good o’ days” that would have been encyclopedias, libraries, and perhaps asking friends or looking for someone knowledgeable (high school and college professors are great people to get some interesting bits of information from).
I’ve also purchased quite a few reference books. I own The Peterson Field Guide to Venomous Animals & Poisonous Plants. I bought a book on the International Mars Mission that details quite a bit of what would be needed to get to Mars (it was more of a 800 page scientific report than a text-book and was for a scfi story I had started a few years ago). I kept all my math, chemistry, and physics text books, as well as one I bought on DNA sequencing (I think that one has gotten outdated). You just never know what might come in useful.
In the first part of this series, I talked about the struggles I had initially faced as a writer. In this part, I want to talk about how my writing process changed and what I am doing differently today.
When I put aside the project I had been working on (which reached an astounding 200k words and was not done), I knew I needed a different approach. I wanted to create something that was marketable, and for fantasy, that meant I needed to have a finished product between 80k and 120k words. In the supermarket format, that comes out to roughly 320 to 480 pages. Anything too small is not considered worth the investment to readers and anything too large has production costs that make it more risky to produce. For me, the goal was right in the middle, 100k words. Continue reading
With my third book, Daughter’s Revenge, now available, I can say my writing process has become more formalized and I am now able to do the actual ‘writing’ in just a few weeks. It is amazing to look back upon what had once taken me years to do and is now no longer a daunting task.
I am not saying writing is easy; it can still be challenging at times, but the mechanics that used to get in my way are no longer the roadblocks under which I once suffered. What is even more interesting is that the change was not as gradual as one might expect. If fact, the change in my approach resulted in a rather sudden change in my output.
A little bit of background
When I first started writing, which was when I was in Jr. High, I approached writing very much as a ‘discover’ writer. I had a vague concept of where the story was going, knew a little bit about the characters, but I needed to learn about the world, who was in it, and what was happening just as the characters did. I often waited for my muse and when it struck, I’d rocket through a few chapters and then crash squarely into a wall.