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.