Focus Change: RPG & Reviews

I’ve written about writing, I’ve written about comic books, I’ve done one product review, I’ve written about RPGs.

I seem to gain the most followers on Twitter from the RPG community.

I get the most page views on the sole product review I did.

Reviews and RPGs are not the direction I want to go, but this is the direction that my readers are telling me to go in. Savvy business guy that I am, I know that if want to grow my readership I need to go where the numbers are urging me to go.

From this point forward, the focus of the blog will be on tabletop RPGs and reviews of new products. For RPG content, look for original adventures (particularly one-page dungeons). I will likely review new RPG content as well, combining the two new focal points.

For product reviews, I’m up to suggestions. Please leave any in the comments section below. I’m looking mainly for products that writers would find interesting or useful. I’m a slow reader so book reviews probably aren’t the best idea.

Fan Fiction: Can it Work for Me?

E.L. James is somewhat of an oddity: she appears to have “made it” as a novelist by writing fan fiction.

I started out by writing fan fiction. When I was in eighth grade, I wrote a sprawling, meandering “novel” (it was something like 50 handwritten loose leaf sheets of paper and it was divided in to four “books”, each shorter than the previous). It was first person, so of course the main character was a self-insert. The “love interest” was the girl I was crushing on at the time, and it was otherwise the plot of the TV series “Captain N: the Game Master.”

That never went anywhere, and I’ve lost the manuscript (thank God; I’m sure I would be mortified that I ever wrote anything like it). I’ve continued to write fan fiction, with my more recent endeavors here. But I’ve never made any money from it.

No one has.

Until E.L. James.

Continue reading “Fan Fiction: Can it Work for Me?”

Characters from the past: HINATA UKIYO

When I decided to try to build a self-publishing empire, my immediate idea was a series of novellas similar in style to the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring my own cast of comic-book-like superheroes. Creating that cast proved to be a bit of a challenge.

And then it hit me. I didn’t have to start fresh. I had already thought up a couple of characters that would fit the bill! All I have to do is retool them a little bit. Make them more “adult” than the twelve year old me would have made them.

So I thought some fun blog posts about Then and Now would be interesting as I gear up to release the first of this exciting series. Continue reading “Characters from the past: HINATA UKIYO”

Making the Stakes Personal

Most of the gatekeepers into entertainment and publishing can shut down every pitch with a single question: “Why should I care?”

You have a suave superspy who can keep his head in any situation put through the paces and escape death numerous times. That’s nice. Why should we follow him for 300 pages?

If he fails in his mission, capitalism in the West will be destroyed and the landscape of world finance turned on its end (GoldenEye). Or maybe humanity will be wiped off the planet by a sinister bioengineered plague (Moonraker). Or the United States will lose the space race to the Soviet Union (Dr. No).

None of those stakes are memorable, though. If I hadn’t included the name of the movie, would you have been able to figure out which Bond film I was talking about? Probably not. As big a 007 fan as I am, I couldn’t actually explain what was at stake in either The Living Daylights or Octopussy, films I’ve seen a half-dozen or more times each.

So how do we as writers make the stakes truly memorable? I can answer that by looking at two video games in the Final Fantasy series. Continue reading “Making the Stakes Personal”

The Five-Room Dungeon: A Framework for Roleplaying Games

The more I study how to tell stories, the more I discover that there are formulas to everything.  That isn’t to say that the writer adds nothing; but it is to say that there are things that work, and things that don’t.

In his book Screenplay, Syd Field introduces the Three Act Structure.  Act I is the setup, Act II is the conflict, and Act III is the resolution.  At the beginning of Act II is a point that that thrusts the heretofore resistant hero into the story.  In the middle is a point where the hero stops reacting to the antagonist and starts to take the fight directly to him.  At the end of Act II is a point of no return, where all the cards are on the table and now it is time for the final battle.  Which is, of course, the subject of Act III.

All movies work like that.

Which, as an infrequent Dungeon Master, makes wonder: is there a formula for writing an RPG adventure? Continue reading “The Five-Room Dungeon: A Framework for Roleplaying Games”

Know the Rules Before You Break Any

rules-break-them

I learned the value of Picasso’s advice before I became a serious writer, though I didn’t know it as sound advice.  I just thought it was good sense.

I learned the value of this reading John Gardner’s 007 novels.  As a James Bond 007 fan, I not only go to the movies but I also buy the books.

The third author of the series, John Gardner, wrote 13 original Bond novels.  The first novel, License Renewed, follows Picasso’s advice.

License Renewed is standard Bond fare.  The characters that appear in every Bond movie are here:

  • Villain: Anton Murik, Laird of a Scottish castle and deposed nuclear engineer
  • Sidekick: Caber, a superstrong, ridiculously tough muscle man who is (as a Bond sidekick ought to be) immune to pain and can easily best Bond in any physical confrontation (and in fact does twice before being beaten by Bond)
  • Girl Who Knows Too Much: Mary Jane Mashkin, who reveals key plot points after sex, then dies the next day
  • Bond Girl: Lavender Peacock, rightful heiress of the castle that Murik owns

It also has a plot that could destroy civilization as we know it: Murik has designed a safe nuclear reactor that no one will back.  So he recruits an army of fanatics that will hold 5 nuclear power stations hostage and if his demands for $50 billion dollars are not met within 24 hours, the terrorists will put all 5 power stations into meltdown.  This will kill millions of people and render over 95% of the world uninhabitable.

Liberally throughout the book we find car chases, high-tech gadgets (that Gardner assures us in the prologue actually exist), exotic locations, and narrow escapes.  Naturally, the usual Bad Guy Monologue that enables Bond to stop the proceedings after defeating his nemesis appears just when all hope seems lost.

It’s no different than any James Bond movie prior to Casino Royale.  It’s not quite the pastiche that Die Another Day was, but it still hits the high notes.  Nothing new, nothing too memorable, and nothing original save the characters, their personalities, and the method and motivation for the destruction of modern civilization.

Gardner’s second novel, For Special Services, Bond conventions get played with.  The pimple-faced main villain is really the sidekick, and the girl who knows too much is really the main villain!  And that was seventeen years before the same plot twist debuted on the big screen in The World is Not Enough.

The Bond Girl in For Special Services is the only Bond Girl that 007 doesn’t have sex with — more playing with the standard Bond formula.  Most Bond Girls are standoffish at first, and only jump “undercover” reluctantly.  This one, however, knew Bond’s reputation for sex with his female companions and was looking forward to being the next notch on his bedpost.  But Bond had a really good reason for not hitting the sheets with her, and wanted to stay true even when his reason melted away at the end.

And Gardner experiments further in subsequent books.  His gradual tweaking of the standard Bond formula makes for a fresh perspective on the character in each new outing.

But at the outset, he stuck to the traditional formula that made Bond great.  He didn’t change it up or tweak it the way he did in subsequent books.  He learned the rules before he endeavored to break them.  I’d like to think that Gardner had this quote tacked up somewhere in his writing studio as he began work on License Renewed, even as he had the embryonic ideas for the new ground he’d break in For Special Services and beyond.

Role-Playing Campaigns I’d Like to Run

When I first started to write seriously, I didn’t think that I’d ever write professionally.  I didn’t know how a writer came up with ideas for short stories, novels, or screenplays.  Or magazine articles.  I can put the ideas together, but I can’t come up with enough ideas to sustain a long writing career.

That, I think, is the mark of the amateur.  The beginning writer is daunted by the task of coming up with ideas.  Won’t you eventually say everything that you need to say?

Probably not.  I have 17 unfinished articles on my fast food blog, 16 on my apologetics blog, 8 right here, and 18 sitting on Google Drive unsure if I’ll try to sell them, blog them, or use them as guest posts for the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog.  And that’s just nonfiction — that doesn’t include the novels, short stories, screenplays, or graphic novels I’d like to write.

So it’s safe to say I’ve conquered the problem of coming up with ideas.

The problem now is how to complete the conceived projects.

Three stories would make excellent role-playing campaigns, I think.  I don’t think I’ll be able to actually run them as RPGs, though.  So maybe I’ll turn them into novels. Continue reading “Role-Playing Campaigns I’d Like to Run”

Things I Wish I Had Known in School

When I was in seventh grade, I had to write my first research paper.

Back then, we were only expected to write a summary — a restatement of facts in our own words.  Most of the paper should be citations.  Though our teachers didn’t put it this way, they really meant we shouldn’t put much original thought into it.  Just the facts, please; no opinions need apply.

We had to select at least 5 sources.  Back then, it consisted of books, magazines, newspapers, and similar reference materials.  There was no such thing as the Internet, and what little of it existed was difficult to access and poorly cataloged.

With our sources in hand, we had to write each idea, fact, figure, etc. that we might use on a separate index card.  Somehow, this was supposed to help us organize our thoughts — except that we were never instructed how.  Beyond turning them in on a milestone date, I had no clue what to do with them.

Which left me with a crap ton of useless index cards.  What was the point?  Maybe some people figured it out, but I sure didn’t.  And I’m not the only one — I asked my wife and she drew a blank, too.  She hated those pointless index cards just as much as I did, and no one in her class figured out what to do with them.

Now that I’ve taken the time to study how the greats organize their fiction, I found a useful parallel in Syd Field’s book Screenwriting.

Before writing a screenplay, Field writes a scene summary on an index card for each scene, tacking them to a bulletin board in the order he thinks is best.  This way, we can see a summary of the entire work before investing months or years writing it.

If something isn’t right, we can trash it.  Or we can rearrange the index cards to see how the story reads in a different order.  We can see the aerial view of the work before doing the heavy lifting.

See the connection?

For the research paper, lay those “pointless” index cards out in the order you want to discuss them.  You can see how they will read in a different order quickly and easily just by rearranging them (as we did with the scenes above).  This will give you a nice visual aid to write or revise your outline with, and will make citations quick and easy (because you color coded the cards, right?).

I use this technique in both fiction and nonfiction.  Let me take the time to explain, as well as plug some great free software.

In my religion and philosophy blog, I often have to answer comments or opposing blog posts.  I use a computerized index card program called Text Block Writer to do a variation of the technique described above in order to answer especially lengthy comments or blog posts.  That way, I can sort it a few different ways and see what makes the most impact (or sense).

My novel writing software of choice, yWriter, does the index card thing but without the corkboard texture and index card graphics (as you see in Scrivener).

And, of course, script writing software CeltX has a built-in index card feature to help write screenplays and comic book scripts, as well as novels (but I don’t really care much for the novel writing capability yet).

I wish that the power of the index card was something I had known all along instead of a recent discovery!  I probably would have become a much stronger writer more quickly.  But, at least I know now; and, through the magic of my blog, you dear reader can learn the lesson too.  Hopefully earlier in life than I did.