Stolen writing advice from someone better

Being a soulless Gen X mutant, normally I don’t try to help people or do anything, I just sit in my flannel shirt in my dimly lit basement listening to Alice in Chains and reveling in the fact that I don’t care about anything and only being happy when it rains.  And also not even then.  As a Xer I spend my time normally not caring about money or success or anything but Bikini Kill. 

Normally I wouldn’t post twice in a day either, but if I wait I’ll forget.  Sometimes I write myself notes of things to write about later and then I never remember what they mean later.  This has been going on for 30 years.

There’s a pretty common piece of writing advice which is “write a lot”.  If you feel blocked it’s because you’re thinking too much.  Just write something, anything.  Write every day all the time.  The theory is that you get better at something by doing it.  A basketball player doesn’t get better by thinking about shooting, they get better by shooting baskets in an empty gym. 

Part of the idea is that most of what everyone writes, except for a few geniuses, sucks.  So if ten percent of what you write is going to be good, you need to write tons and tons to make that ten percent pile as big as possible. 

For me, this advice was one of those things where I said “That sounds right” but didn’t really take it to heart.  Today though I heard something that really made it land for me. 

This information is coming to me 5th hand so the details are probably wrong but the gist is correct I think.  There’s a book called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  According to a different book that referenced that book that was referenced on a YouTube video that was referenced on a TV show that was referenced on a podcast I listen to, in Art &Fear they talk about an art teacher.

This art teacher decided to play a cruel joke on their class in the name of the social sciences.  They divided the class into two groups.  Group one was told their grade would be based on the number of pots they made.  Group two was told that their grade would be based on their best pot.  But hold onto your butts folks, because the first group was lied to, everyone was judged on their best pot. 

The gag is at the end of the semester (or whatever) the first group had made better pots.  The theory is that while group two spent all their time trying to make one or a few good pots, group one was cranking out pots right and left; ergo they got good at making pots, ergo they made a lot of crappy pots but the good ones they made were better than the people who were trying to make good ones. 

This may not even be a true story, but it made the “write a lot” advice sink in for me. 

I already write almost every day but nevertheless in order to write more, I will be starting a 5th blog with a new fiction narrative,  working title – Blood Orgy in The House of Pain.

The best writers use pictures instead of words

The other day my random Microsoft screensaver showed me this – Guatapé in Colombia. It looks like what I imagine the part of Madripoor where the rich people have their villas looks like. I share it because I am a terrible writer and can’t describe things. If you look closely you can see Mr. X waving!

IMAGE MAY BE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT!!!!

In other news, SPOILER ALERT, Madripoor was on the latest episode of Falcon & the Winter Soldier so now this entire blog is ruined because it seems like I was ripping off a TV show when I wasn’t at all, I was ripping off a comic book. Since Madripoor is already an expy of Singapore, I’ll have to re-write everything and make the place Ela is stuck in currently Thirteenapour.

BONUS MAILBAG – Since Ela is occasionally referencing Superman and other DC comic people, someone asked me if Marvel comics exist in this part of the Elaverse. They’re not supposed to. Since I already ripped off Madripoor, some very minor Marvel characters might turn up from time to time. Is that fair usage? I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. Yet.

A critical question for the future of everything everywhere

I’ve been thinking about doing another art commission because paying people money to draw me pictures is a good use of my paycheck.

My first thought was I wanted Ela in a jumpsuit like Bruce Lee wore in Game of Death. But then I realized that probably everyone would assume that instead it was a reference to The Bride from Kill Bill. Which is a fine film (the second part anyway) but I hate when my reference is mistaken for another reference! Because my life is very hard and challenging with many obstacles.

So the question is should I go with the game of death jumpsuit anyway? And if not, what sort of outfit would be better? Also I want her to be casually holding something to show how strong she is. A car is too much but I can’t think of something better. A safe? Something like that but not that.

Here’s another question, why can’t some talented comic book artist find my blog and love it and just draw me free pictures all the time? I mean is that so much to ask? That I get tons of free stuff all the time? I mean what kind of world is this?

My girlfriend really wants me to have a portrait of Martialla done and I do too, but I have kind of a specific image in my mind of what she looks like and I am terrible at describing what I want because I am terrible at describing things. Which is why I am a great writer.

D&D Ela was pretty awful, 70’s funkadelic superhero Ela is much less horrible but I kept some things – like her vanity and cattiness. Which worries me sometimes because it seems kind of stereotypical to portray a female character that way. When I first started this blog I had a “contact me” thing, which I did away with because it was mostly people scolding me for being a gross man writing a female character that they didn’t like. But my girlfriend thinks it’s funny when Ela makes mean comments about other woman so one woman is on my side so it’s fine. That’s how complex societal issues work.

Midnight on Dagger Alley (OOC shamboozling)

I thought the title of that module was Midnight IN Dagger Alley but it’s not.  It’s Midnight ON Dagger Alley.  Which doesn’t make sense.  Or does it? 

As you all know, Wednesday is when I post world-building and background stuff for the funkadelic 70’s adventures of Ela 2.0.  But I don’t feel like it today so I’m not gonna.  In the old days of D&D Ela, I never would have dreamed of not posting EVERY day like I promised the zero people that read it.  But these are new times where rules mean nothing.  I’ve learned that the less I post, the more people seem to like it.  I don’t take it personally. 

“Jeremy what are you doing?  Don’t you have another blog for random thoughts?”  No, that blog is for deep personal reflection and is only for my dear friends and 8 (and counting) Russian bots.

I was playing DND (yay!) on roll20 (boo!) the other day and after the customary 7 to 99 minutes of fucking around, the game began with the DM letting out a huge sigh and saying “okay then”. 

I thought in that moment “I think that’s how all my DND games have started”.  Which is an exaggeration, it’s probably not even most, but maybe 30% of them have been something like that.  It reminded me that as much fun as playing RPGs is, it’s a lot of work. 

Sometimes my friends and I sit around and shoot the shit (before covid you know) but more often we’re playing a board game or a RPG.  I often wonder how people that don’t game maintain friendships.  What do they do?  Talk to each other without any agenda?  Awful.

It’s kind of a bummer though because it means that someone has a part time job that’s necessary for friendship time.  Which I guess is okay because friendship is something that should require some work, but being a DM is kind of a drag.  I love running games and obviously am the best at it in the world, but even I sometimes am just like “ugh, I don’t really want to do this tonight” but you sort of have to or you ruin it for everyone. 

In the past few years, I’ve seen tons of “gmless” RPGs and “zero-prep” adventures, I hate-follow one blog where the blogman talks at length about how any adventure that requires any prep is utter shit and the person that wrote it should die.  Being a judgmental old man, I turn up my nose at these things – damn millennials want to have the fun of DND without the work?  In my day there were only two character classes and you had 8 STR and you got killed by a gopher and you LIKED IT DAMN IT!!!

But I get it.  If you can have fun playing a game without having to bust your ass, why wouldn’t you?

What I’m saying is that I beat Zelda without the wooden sword when I was a kid and I thought that was great.  But then the internet was a thing and I found out that tons of people have done that.  So I guess my proudest accomplishment now is that I threw a 20 sided dice and turned off my friend Joel’s Nintendo from a legit 20 feet away when he was being a jerk and playing Dragon Warrior while we were all waiting for him. 

That’s a lie, I didn’t do that, one of my friends did.  But as I get older, I’ll start to remember that I did it because memory is stupid.

Once in a while other blog people say on their blog that people should read my blog.  The people that read their blog never do, but I still appreciate the tiny crumbs of attention thrown my way like young crows like it when you toss them corn. 

If you like wrestling or comic books or pop tarts, you should read this – https://swoproductions.com/home/ – they also talk about anime sometimes but nobody is perfect.

If you like seeing DND where a TON of work is put into making it look awesome, you should read this – https://storiesfromthewifeofadungeonmaster.wordpress.com/

If you like Shadowrun but hate its insane rules system, you should read this – https://doubleproficiency.com/

If you like goblins with ballistas, you should read this – https://goblinwithaballista.com/

And if you think that Stephen Amell should hire me as a writer on his new wrestling drama HEELS, you should read this – https://cultissuchanuglyword.wordpress.com/ and then badger him on social media. 

Out of character interlude – Expert professional writing tips from the world’s greatest writer and human (me)

Writing that title reminded me that I worked with a lady who said that she was the third smartest person in the world – her parents being the first and second.  She didn’t seem that smart to me but the third smartest person in the world would be smart enough to not seem smart right?

Since I started writing on wordpress I’ve been reading a lot blogs about D&D and some about writing.  A common topic people bring up is how playing D&D (and other roleplaying games of course) can help you become a better writer.  Which is true.  Character development, plot, worldbuilding, playing roleplaying games can really help you with those things.  Among others. 

But I’m starting to realize that it can be a double-edged sword.   

I’ve done a lot of writing in my life.  In college and the years afterwards I often wrote several hours a day.  I don’t write nearly as much anymore but I still do some writing most days.  It’s a toss-up if I’ve done more roleplaying or writing.  There was a year where we played D&D every damn day for hours and hours and hours.  Probably half my life I’ve had a regular weekly game.  There were years when I had 2-3 regular weekly games.  Then add in conventions and one shots and other stuff – that’s a lot of time roleplaying.   

Tangent, when I first started online dating sometimes I would tell women one of my hobbies was roleplaying – boy were they disappointed when they found out I meant D&D and not sexy sexy sex times.  I hate homonyms.   

Before my writing was whatever I wanted.  I have dozens of half finished “novels”, tons of partially written screenplays, hundreds of short stories, and thousands of blog posts where I talked about whatever was on my mind.  I wrote until it wasn’t fun and then I stopped.   

Starting the Ela blog, and later the Grace blog (hugely popular and read by millions) “forced” me to write about the same thing and it’s exposed some flaws.  Chief among them, tossing out story hooks without any idea where to take them. 

I think this comes from D&D.  When you put together a D&D adventure sometimes you have everything planned out.  But sometimes you just have a neat idea and you throw it out and see what the players do and react to that, “writing” on the fly. 

Such as, one time my players found a cane that had a secret compartment in it.  I had forgotten that they had found a similar item in the last adventure and they spun out a whole conspiracy theory around them.  I had no such intention of that being a thing but as they were talking I was thinking “wow that’s a pretty cool idea, that’s definitely what happened now”. 

Players give DMs way too much credit in terms of foreshadowing and callbacks and call-forwards and things like that – it’s that old chestnut about the human mind looking for patterns, and making them up even if they’re not there. Your players come up with all kinds of ideas as to what the DM may be up to, even when they’re not up to anything.

The collaborative nature of rpgs results in some pretty cool ideas.  D&D is kind of like writing with several writing partners.   

But since my “real” writing it just me, myself, and not Irene I really need to break myself of the habit of throwing out half-formed ideas that I think are neat because there’s no players to react to them and shape the narrative.   Telling a story all by myself requires discipline.

The idea for the Grace blog came from How To Survive Camping, from reddit/no sleep.  The idea of HTSC is that it is an interactive thing where the commenters act like it’s real and suggest ways to solve problems and the like.  It’s a style that allows for collaborating in a way D&D type where you’re writing it but lots of people are adding in ideas.  It’s a pretty cool concept.  I wanted to do something like that. But since I’m old and scared of reddit because I don’t understand it I just did a “normal” blog.   

The end.  Good writers always say “the end”.  Otherwise how would you know it was the end? 

Out of character interlude – pandering edition

My girlfriend admitted to me the other day that she now only reads the OOC posts I do on this blog. So I’m probably going to do more of them for reason rather than just out of laziness. I don’t blame her, it’s hard to imagine anyone reading all of this even if they did like it. The main purpose of a blog is to communicate with someone you see all the time in real life right?

I was thinking the other day that I’ve done the old “refusing the call to adventure” bit with Ela a few too many times. But then I realized, heck no, I should do it more because that’s a THEME. The normal hero cycle is that they ignore the call at first but then they do eventually hero it up – this is a SUBVERSION because Ela will never answer that call. I’m using cool writing terms and am cool.

I like that when they rebooted Spider-Man yet again they skipped over the origin story because enough with that. Everyone knows where Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man came from. We don’t need to keep doing that. BUT it is also kind of a bummer because the Uncle Ben “great responsibility” deal is one of the more effective call to adventure things. It’s a little cornball but that’s okay.

It’s like good old Captain America in the MCU, at first he’s kind of a snooze because he’s a cornball but by the time you get to Endgame that’s what you like about him. He’s all the good things about old timey heroes without all the racism and ass grabbing and racist ass grabbing.

I rewatched Endgame the other day because I wanted to see the scene where Cap does the thing he does in every move where he gets beat down but won’t give up and then all the other heroes show up to save the day. I didn’t really Endgame initially – endings are usually weak and an ending where you know what’s going to happen even moreso – but I enjoyed it more upon rewatching.

People seem to hate Hawkeye but that first scene is pretty strong. Once his family is gone Jeremy Renner does a good job of seeming completely lost and fucked up. The Ronin stuff later is lame but whatever. I had completely forgotten about the next bit with Tony and Nebula. I love the Nebula character in the MCU and that was a really great scene showing someone being nice to her for the first time ever. The warrior learning to live is also well worn territory but it was effective.

I’ve come to hate time travel except for in 12 Monkeys but with comic book movies you just have to be okay with whatever. I think Star Trek the New One is the straw that finally broke the time traveling camel’s back for me.

In the old days I used to say as a joke that 12 Monkeys is the greatest movie ever and I would kill anyone who said otherwise. But that isn’t funny anymore because that’s what people are actually like now. Back in my day if someone didn’t like something you did like you just shrugged and went to the mall to hang out and check out the ladies. Now people lose their damn minds over it. I blame Russian hackers.

Out of character interlude

I started this blog mostly as a lark and somewhat as a joke but I’m enjoying it at this point.  One thing I’ve realized (with apologies to whomever mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa) is that while writing based on D&D is mildly silly it’s kind of nice to have a structure of what your character actually can do.  Obviously to the zero people who ready this blog, are intimately familiar with D&D (Pathfinder really, but you know), and pay CLOSE attention to every detail I’m somewhat fast and loose with the minutia of how the rules would work but there’s a solid base there.

The thought that came across my mind is if I were writing a story about a super spy who’s a Muay Thai champion, motorcross enthusiast, classically trained chef I would be in a bit of a pickle because I don’t actually know anything about those things.  Could this character Muay Thai kick the door of a car off?  Who knows?  Not me for sure.  They say write what you know but that’s lame because most people don’t know anything interesting – and I know because I talked to a person once. 

Of course there’s the theory that as the author you can have the character do whatever you want or need them to do for the story you want to tell, but  I’m enjoying (in this format anyway) having some limitations.  Ela can’t fly halfway across the world and summon an army of Valkyries because the rules say she can’t.  That’s kind of nice.  I think it’s been shown many times over that people don’t create their best work when they have total freedom – having some boundaries to work within usually helps, even if eventually they end up ignoring them all once you get started. 

I don’t read so many comics anymore because I’m old and unhip but when I did one thing that often bugged me is the wildly inconsistent abilities of the protagonists.  There’s no way around that really, the Hulk has had 100s of different writers at this point, if not thousands – it’s not like there’s a Hulk Bible of EXACTLY how strong he is.  But it’s annoying when the abilities of the hero in question change to service the story – or when their abilities are “forgotten” in order to create drama.  One issue Captain American jumps out of a plane without a parachute and just lands fine because he’s awesome.  Next issue he’s “trapped” on the 15th floor of a building with no way down.  What changed?  A little bit of consistency is nice is my point. 

And while I like using the D&D framework it does make things a little wonky.  Ela isn’t totally helpless in combat just because she’s a 14th level character now and D&D is a linear deal whereas if I was just writing 100% off the cuff I’d probably never have her be any good at fighting.  And her social skills are all so high as the rules are written she should basically be able to convince anyone of anything.  But hey, pros and cons.