Writing and Boardgames…

Writing and Boardgames…

Ok, this may be a stretch, so bear with me…

I find writing, the structural part of writing, a lot like designing a good euro-style strategy board game. For those who know me, or taken a look at some of the other pages off the main of my blog, you may be aware of my work in the board game industry.

The definition of “euro-style” is applied to style of strategy board games that rose to popularity in Europe late 1990s that prefers indirect over direct conflict and has very low level of luck.  It has seen a huge growth here in the hobby game market, particularly with the last 15-20 years, more so recently with the emergence of Kickstarter.

In a strategy board game, generally speaking, each player is trying to execute their plan to win the game.  As part of executing their plan, they are disrupting the other players’ efforts to execute their plans.  Better games typically have a high level of interaction whereas those with very limit interaction are considered “multi-player solitaire.”

Applied to writing, I see the interaction between the characters much the same way.  Each character has goals and needs to overcome challenges.  I think it makes the story better when in the process of achieving an individual character’s goals, they are creating the challenges for the other characters.  Sure, challenges can come from the setting or the plot, much the same way a game can throw other obstacles at a player to overcome, but it really the interaction between the characters, much as in boardgames, that make it more interesting.

Again, hats off to Michael Stackpole who introduced me to character interaction in his character driven “21 Days to a Novel” methodology.

If you are interested in hearing more about the upcoming Kickstarter to fund publishing a number of my short stories, and to be notified when the campaign goes live if you are interested, check out: www.brymlight.com

Collaborative Editing

Collaborative Editing

Another thing I had to work out with Paul (my editor) (no, saying “my editor” still hasn’t gotten old) was how to work together.

I do all my writing in Scrivener, a fantastic tool for creating, but when it comes to working with alpha readers or an editor, not so much.  Remember here that my work with Paul and my publisher is still very much in the world of indie publishing with little or no budget!

After trial and error, it seems that I have found a consensus: Google Docs.  Here’s the key features that I believe are making it so:

Ability to ask and answer questions: Is this the word you meant? This doesn’t make sense, what were you trying to say? etc.  Docs lets you highlight a chunk of text as a question, have a 2-way conversation, and ultimately mark it as “resolved.”

Concurrently working on the same document at the same time: This is a little one, but extremely helpful – I don’t have to worry about stepping on an alpha reader or editor’s work when I am responding and updating.  None of the save the file and let the other person know which version they should look at.  Handily even marks changes made by the other collaborators.  You can also open two copies of the same document if you need to look at something else without wanting to lose your place.

Chat: If you do happen to be working on the same document at the same time… you can online chat with your collaborators (in my case my editor) and sort things out on the fly.  I didn’t realize you could even do this until Paul (my editor) (nope, still not getting old) hit me up one evening while we were both looking at the same doc.

Versions and showing changes: This one seems pretty obvious, the the cool part for me is never having to think about it – it just does.  While not as powerful as revisions in Word, the ability to look at versions created over time is a great help in seeing what was changed.  And not having to fuss around with other settings is a plus.

Where is the Save button??? I add this mainly because I have had to get used to the autosave.  Even more dramatic, before I really knew about Google Docs, was not understanding why my daughter lost a term paper when borrowing my computer and using Word.  “What? You didn’t hit the save button?”  “Dad, what is a save button? (big mood)”  Point taken.

Mechanically, it is a little bit of work to use Google docs effectively.  Specifically, I export my writing from Scrivener in Word format to my Google Drive (which is shared with my editor)(…), open the document using Google Docs, re-save it in the new format.  Then I blow away the original Word Doc.  Going back the other way, I make a Scrivener snapshot of the scene and copy/paste the updated content back in.  A little bit of work, but well worth it in my opinion!

Apologies for the long post.  If you are still with me, my publisher (also not getting old) is planning a Kickstarter for the end of July to publish my short stories.  For more information, and to sign up to be notified when it goes live, head over to: www.brymlight.com

Character Driven Stories

Character Driven Stories

My writing preference is character centered stories – focusing on the characters, their challenges, their triumphs, and their despair rather than on plot and setting.  I go even further in my stories – prejudices, dark motives, hatred, and jealousy.  Good raw emotions.  Don’t get me wrong, I think plot and world building are also important, but I don’t want them to be central focus of my stories.

Some of this, of course, is based on the “21 Days to a Novel” from Michael Stackpole which helped me plan for and successfully win my first NaNoWriMo thereby solidly guaranteeing that it will be a guide post for my writing.  Tip of the hat to Mr. Stackpole I think he gets it right on a number of levels.  My first encounter was in a seminar where his opening premise was the importance of character vs. setting driven stories – his recommendations was character driven all the way.

Another rationale I have heard for Character vs Setting is based on the adage: “show don’t tell.”  I apologize that I cannot credit the source for this because I haven’t the foggiest where it came from!  Basically, it goes like this:

Focusing on characters is engaging the heart, whereas setting and plot being central is engaging the brain.  Similar to show vs. tell.  Telling requires the brain to be engaged where Showing lets you engage the emotion.  Connecting emotionally engages and connects better with the readers than intellectually.

Applying to my own writing preferences – the deeper, more intense the emotion, the greater the engagement (by logical extension) (at least that is my theory!)

Ok – so many more established writers are thinking of course that this is all obvious, but for me, I am seeing it play out as I struggle to write my own stories!

My publisher is planning a Kickstarter for the end of July to publish my short stories.  For more information, and to sign up to be notified when it goes live, head over to: www.brymlight.com

Voice and Editing

Voice and Editing

My first, introductory call with Paul (my editor) went great.  Total transparency here, I have never worked with an editor that would be taking a more technical look at my writing.  I have alpha readers, and I have greatly appreciated their feedback, but this feels like a whole other level for me.  In amongst geeking out on various things that we are, well… geeked about, we got to talking about writing and “voice.”

Before going any further – I have to say: I’m really excited about this project!  (bet you can’t tell)

One of the things we discussed was Voice and the use of colloquialisms. As an editor, this can make it hard for Paul to sort out whether I meant something to be grammatically incorrect as a colloquialism, or whether it’s just grammatically incorrect.

Stepping back for a second, its pretty cool looking at my writing through the eyes of someone else, an editor that is interested in preserving my writing style but also in cleaning up it and making it better.

We came up with a couple of basic rules (that I will also have to keep in mind as well!)
Grounders (lower social classes) generally walk on characters, will speak pretty heavily in slang and colloquialisms. Main characters, will be better spoken, but may slip into colloquialism when speaking with other grounders. Narrative voice will be the same. Highborn upper classes will be more formal.  I have read stories with slangy narrative voice and it just gets annoying pretty quickly.

Technical Plausibility

Technical Plausibility
One of the things I described to Paul (my editor) that I hope sets my writing apart from the usual steampunk is the plausibility of the technology.
The Brymlight stories rely on hydrogen as the source of energy – no crystals, alien substances, or other unexplainable magic. I tried to ground my writing in science and reality, if a bit stretched at times to make it work.
Hydrogen provides the lift that keeps the massive estates of the aristocracy afloat high above the plains of the American Colonies western frontier.  Ironically, those estates are both literally and figuratively tethered to the ground and their dependence on the lower classes that produces the hydrogen.
Production of the hydrogen is based on steam reforming, or steam methane reformation of natural gas.  One of the most common industrial approaches to manufacturing hydrogen and a number of other related products.  In the Brymlight world, the Whitley Hydro-Works is one of the largest producers of hydrogen, what our boffins are going to call “diprotium” and the more common term everyone else regularly uses: Brym.
Just for fun… steam reformation, in a deeper meaning, also refers to my break from the more traditional steampunk doctrine.

Tales from the Brymlight Observer

Tales from the Brymlight Observer

Official revival of my long neglected blog… because through happenstance, luck, karma, and long odds, I have stumbled into a small independent publisher who would like to publish my steampunk stories!!!

Where we stand right now:

  • We have settled on the “Tales from the Brymlight Observer” to be the umbrella name for the stories that are set in the steampunk world that you will see referenced through earlier blog posts as the setting for the West Wind and Due West.  The Brymlight Observer is an underground subversive newspaper that is proudly “Shining the Light on the Truth.”
  • Five short stories that are publish ready (they were originally submitted to various horror and other short story anthologies) are being edited by Paul.  My editor.  Paul.  Yes, my *editor* (sorry, still trying to get used to this!)  One of the five, Forgotten Memories, was previously published in a ghost hunting anthology the subject of other posts here.  A second was accepted, but the publisher ultimately did not release the anthology.  All of the short stories will be receiving new titles and cover art.
  • A kickstarter is in the works that will be publishing the five short stories in eBook format, a printed anthology, and some other goodies.  This is to help build awareness around publishing of the West Wind, which will also be receiving a new name and cover art.  A webpage has been setup that will be the home of the Brymlight Observer that includes an email sign-up if you want to keep up to date on the kickstarter and other goings ons: www.brymlight.com

More About Ghosts

In all my excitement about my story Forgotten Memories in the “Hunting Ghosts: Thrilling Tales of Paranormal Investigation,” (Now available in paperback!!!) I began to realize just how long I have been interested in the paranormal.  I remember begging my mom to buy me a book about ghosts – yes, back then it was books, no Internet…

There was one picture in that book that to this day still gives me the heebeejeebees: the floating brick at Borley Rectory.  Enjoy.

borley_brick_lg