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.
In my last writing tips article, I talked about that long slow period you might encounter at a show. This week I wanted to offer some suggestions at how to stay positive if things have gotten you down. I know, that is kind of an odd article to come from me. After all, I coined the phrase:
The glass is not only half-empty, the water is dirty.
By nature, I’m usually more of a realist, not an optimist. However, I have learned how to find the positive in things if I take the time to do so.
With that in mind, here are a few tips that may help you remain positive, be it at an event or anytime you are writing or trying to do get something done.
1. Avoid the trap of worrying about something that has not happened yet
Unless it is inevitable—like being in an out of control car sliding toward the edge of the bridge—things may not turn out as badly as you fear. Which means you don’t want to waste your time now lamenting a tragedy before it has occurred. Do not become paralyzed with fear, instead, use the time to your advantage.
We’ve all been there: we’re at the Con or the show or some event and for whatever reason things are just going slow. Perhaps we’ve talked to a number of people, maybe not. However, we just aren’t making the sales numbers we want.
When that happens, my advice is: Stay Positive!
It happens. Every show or event has ebbs and flows. People start the day looking around, perhaps they are waiting to make their purchases because they don’t want to carry things all day. Perhaps the bulk of the crowd is hearing an excellent panel and so the floor is nearly empty. You see that group you know will be interested, but something else catches their attention just before they reach your table and now they are heading the other way. You have something to say and you know people will want to hear it, if only they will stop and listen!
The key is to not let it bother you. Don’t take it personally. Doing that can be hard; sometimes very hard. You’re putting in a lot of time and energy and it is natural to want everything to go well the whole time. But I want to warn you that the last thing you want to do is broadcast a negative vibe. Once that happens, you will just compound your problem. People come to the shows to have fun. They want to interact with fun and exciting people. They do not want to stand and hear sales pitches from unhappy artists and creators.
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.
With my first major show of the year coming up (Planet Comicon), I thought I would share a few tips I’ve learned with my fellow writers (aspiring or otherwise). Even if you are not a writer, you might find this useful.
When doing a show, don’t forget your mats! I have had a sit down job for a number of years and standing in one small area for 10 hours straight can leave me a bit worn out. Believe me, standing is worse than walking (or hiking 18 miles with a heavy pack).
At my first big show, I stood on the hard concrete the whole time and by the end of the three days, I was miserable. I went out right after that show and bought some relatively inexpensive floor mats ($25). I am not specifically endorsing Dick’s Sporting Goods, but the image above is exactly what I purchased. They are four 2′ x 2′ squares and you can configure them to cover a different amount of area depending on what space you have behind the table. While only 1/2″ thick, they do not weigh a lot or take up a great deal of room when you are bringing your things onto the floor. (For actual exercise mats, I bought a 3/4″ thick version.)
I’ve used the set for a while now and it has held up even on asphalt and rough ground. Most of the time, I configure it to cover 2′ x 6′ (or 2′ x 8′ for larger tables). However, I will likely buy another set of four so I can cover 4′ of depth both behind and under the table. While I will advocate standing most of the time, when you are actually signing a book (or taking a break) being able to scoot the chair easily under the table, and not off a drop, is nice.
A word about standing. You might ask: Why should I stand the whole time? They give me chairs for a reason.
Well, my response is that when you are standing, you will appear more approachable and engaging. It helps to be able to converse with people eye to eye and standing facilitates that. In watching other tables, and from my own experiences, tables where the person stood had more people stop than those where the person sat the whole time. And to be able to sustain standing for 3 or 4 days straight, I really recommend the mats.
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.