Brain Static & the Spiritual Nature of the Internet

Nothing major to report right now other than discovering what things slow my progress and distract me interminably.  I really do not like writing out of sequence.  That’s now a known quantity.  It’s also getting ahrd for me to resist going back and starting to edit.  I must not fall into that trap.  And of course, “Adulting” is never a fun thing to deal with, but I’ve also been noticing a strange phenomenon regarding my time spent online.

I’m an unrepentant news junkie and social media addict, despite my curmudgeonly attitude towards things like Snapchat and Twit-er (see?).  Facebook is something I use mostly for non-writing stuff and keeping up with family and friends, and watching/listening/reading the news often grabs my eyeballs to the point where I get to be jumping from one story to the next, constantly checking for status updates for more information on stories that have absolutely NO connection to me.

What I’ve come to realize is that this has been destroying my focus and ability to hold cohesive thoughts for long enough periods of time to develop understanding.  Kinda bad for a writer to be suffering with.  It’s odd, but I keep wanting to scroll to see if there is something else to watch in my head, so to speak, and I can’t focus on what I’m doing in the moment.  Even doing this post right now is an example of putting off what I should be focusing on.  Now Steven Pressfield (if you write, I recommend you get his blog, some very good and hard stuff) will say it’s good as long as you still get your ass in the chair daily and bang out the words.  If you want to be a pro, you gotta write and you can’t do it save by doing it.

And then I came across this little gem of a video and went:

“Huh…  Self, is this is something that could be plausible?  Why, yes it could be other self… yes it could be.”

 

Okay, okay, before you think I’ve completely lost the plot here, understand that my background took me into this kind of metaphysical experimentation.  To my mind, this corresponds with some experiences I’ve had.  I also have done a fair amount of lay person research into the basics of spiritual warfare/deliverence ministry/exorcism for the basis of my fantasy setting’s “Magic System”.  BTW, I ran across this too in my many youtube research dives:

Very helpful in understanding what the heck I just did with my world.  Using Prayer and the Gifts of the Spirit is a very soft magical system of sorts.  It’s predicated on you not doing it, nor is an unconscious/inanimate resource you can exploit.  It’s about relationships and (ironically) focus and distraction.  Something that I think I need to actually address in the narrative of my story.

So it got me thinking about how much of the distraction I feel is because of the addictive nature through Dopamine hyper-stimulation courtesy of those dirty rotten poopieheads at Facebook and other online social sources, and how much could be spiritual in nature?  After all, I am writing Christian based fiction dealing in spiritual warfare.  Ya think that if this really is the spiritual case the Enemy would not want me writing about such things as would be a crack in the omnipresent pagan influence over fantasy?

Yeah I thought as much too.  So… it’s plausible enough for me to consider how I interact online, and cutting down these “astral links” to specific well guarded gates to my own conscious and internal life.  One thing I’m going to have to force myself to do is get away from video and screen time and put my nose into books rather than listening to them.  I’ve stepped away from physical books over the years, I have come to realize because my eyesight got worse over the last 3 years thanks to hitting that magic age when your arms ain’t long enough and you can’t get the book close enough.  It makes the physical act of reading uncomfortable for me.  Gonna have to bite the bullet and change that habit.

It’s why in my recent guest post for Peter Younghusband, I used only my blog for a contact point.  I’m also really struggling in how this will affect marketing of my books in the future if I decide to silence all my social media save for this blog?  It makes for some hard considerations.  After all, why would I want to enable bad actors (or spiritual forces) by using tools that can harm others just to sell a book?

I cast “Ethical Dilemma”…
:::rolling dice:::
Critical success!
Crap!

So that’s the way it sits right now on the eve to the one year anniversary of the release of Book One of the Akiniwazisaga: “A Light Rises in a Dark World”.  It took me a 40 day fast from all social media and games except for email and this blog to get this whole thing started, perhaps, I must do it again to get Book 2 done.

More later with potentially good news.

Oh hey, one last question.  I put this out to my fans and curious readers who have an opinion.  If you name a character, must you pay off like Chekov’s gun or can they just disappear when they had no attachment to or are a distraction to the plot?  What do you think?

Ciao for nao!

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Trip It Up and Down

When I don’t feel like I’ve tripped and fallen into the pond, I feel like my feet are stuck in mud with writing. On the other hand, my Alpha Readers are coming back and really enthused with what’s been put out. I can’t see it of course. That’s the curse of being a writer sometimes and makes it more important to take time between writing and reading so you can gain some perspective again.

Book 2 is progressing still, but as a two pronged attack. I’m having to go back 20-40 chapters and rebuild a plotline that I had pulled, and now keeps getting better and better IMHO as I go. But it’s hard to shoehorn it into areas that don’t disrupt the flow of the story, work well with serialization and all the rest that I have going on.

The second prong had stalled with the main plot till I started realizing what a point of contention would be between the characters…. and it’s a naaaaasty one that I hope will have people cheering and angry at the same time. Ahhh ambivalence… you are so fun. As it is, the characters keep talking to me and giving me good things to transcribe for them. They seem to be getting bored with my downtime thanks to life, the universe and everything getting in the way. Oh I should include my own inability to hear them at times which leads to my Guild Wars 2 inspired brain static. Something I hope to avoid this weekend and crank hard on some new chapters.

But. We are up to 73 chapters. Can I get a “Whoa mama!” from the audience? Still aiming for that 1500-3000 sweet spot which gives a wonderful potato chip feel to the chapters. Before you know it, you eat the whole bag.  Or perhaps that’s just me.

Om nom nom.

The downside is that this is causing me writing fatigue. I’m looking at it going, “Come ONNNNN!!!! Get to the finale already!” But the characters have to tell their story the way they have to. It’s foolhardy to try and make them do something they ain’t gonna. I’ll make it through, and it’s giving me ideas of what’s to come in the future.

I should note that there is now consideration on my part and agreed upon by my editor that Book 2 (Title Pending) may turn into a FOUR volume set!  That’s right kids and kidettes.  So much is going on, I may be unable to pack these into only three parts.  If that happens, it’ll still be worth it.  Trust me.

Without further ado, here are the new stats  (I see it’s been a while):

Including the “Encyclopedia Akiniwazi”… formerly the Glossary

Pages 467
Words 156774

New Chapters with their new numbers:

Inserted Chapters:

22. Tugging at a Loose Thread

30. A City Robed in Black

33. Denied That Which Is Necessary

Moving on from the last end point:

66. In the Deep Places of the World

67. Ashamed Before the Crown

68. Lingering Doubts

69. Dashed Illusions

70. If Given the Choice

71. The Importance of a Name

72. At The Ragged Edge of Disaster

73. In Dark Halls, a Light Shines

We’ll give an excerpt next time.  Gotta keep them special dontcha know?

BTW, in case you didn’t quite realize, The pictures I use are often clues to what kind of things I’ve been writing about in the book.  Just a little extra something for when you read the book you can look back and go “ohhhhh!  That’s what he was doing!”

Obviously Daffy isn’t one of them.

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How To Feel Particularly Chuffed By Accident

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A snippet of this letter appeared on the Realm Maker’s Consortium Forum the other day as one lovely person posted it.  One paragraph only and it was a thunderbolt of realization to me that made my heart sing.  I found the whole letter here:

http://www.tolkienestate.com/en/writing/letters/letter-163-to-wh-auden.html

J.R.R. Tolkien’s letter to W.H. Auden in 1955.  The key paragraph for me is one near the end and goes like so:

It would have been a big task without anything else; but I have been a moderately conscientious administrator and teacher, and I changed professorships in 1945 (scrapping all my old lectures). And of course during the War there was often no time for anything rational. I stuck for ages at the end of Book Three. Book Four was written as a serial and sent out to my son serving in Africa in 1944. The last two books were written between 1944 and 48. That of course does not mean that the main idea of the story was a war-product. That was arrived at in one of the earliest chapters still surviving (Book I, 2). It is really given, and present in germ, from the beginning, though I had no conscious notion of what the Necromancer stood for (except ever-recurrent evil) in The Hobbit, nor of his connexion with the Ring. But if you wanted to go on from the end of The Hobbit I think the ring would be your inevitable choice as the link. If then you wanted a large tale, the Ring would at once acquire a capital letter; and the Dark Lord would immediately appear. As he did, unasked, on the hearth at Bag End as soon as I came to that point. So the essential Quest started at once. But I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the comer at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothlórien no word had reached my mortal ears till I came there. Far away I knew there were the Horse-lords on the confines of an ancient Kingdom of Men, but Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure. I had never heard of the House of Eorl nor of the Stewards of Gondor. Most disquieting of all, Saruman had never been revealed to me, and I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf’s failure to appear on September 22.1 knew nothing of the Palantíri, though the moment the Orthanc-stone was cast from the window, I recognized it, and knew the meaning of the ‘rhyme of lore’ that had been running in my mind: seven stars and seven stones and one white tree. These rhymes and names will crop up; but they do not always explain themselves. I have yet to discover anything about the cats of Queen Berúthiel. But I did know more or less all about Gollum and his pan, and Sam, and I knew that the way was guarded by a Spider. And if that has anything to do with my being stung by a tarantula when a small child, people are welcome to the notion (supposing the improbable, that any one is interested). I can only say that I remember nothing about it, should not know it if I had not been told; and I do not dislike spiders panicularly, and have no urge to kill them. I usually rescue those whom I find in the bath!

 

This has been the way the world-building process and writing has been for me.  I had not met most of the characters till the chapter they entered the story.  Often, they do not reveal what they are about to do till the moment they do it.  What a fascinating experience it is.  When discussing some of the recent events of book 2, which I am now thinking about what to title the silly thing, since Book 2 is starting to get ingrained too strongly in my mind, we discussed how I came up with certain events.  There is no way possible to take credit for it, honestly save for listening to the characters and circumstance and writing down what I see and here.  Being the author, I am privy to the character’s internal monologue in general aspects, but not always.  There is so much I would share with you all right now, but I can’t or I’d ruin the surprises. Who wants an author that drops spoilers on his own work, right?

Anyway, it’s so wonderful to see that even JRR experienced the same joys and surprises I have been on this journey.  It makes me hope that some day this book series will become popular enough to warrant attention from other auspicious authors and have an impact on the lives of people where they’d even want to know such trivial details.

But the outcome is in God’s hands as far as I’m concerned.  I am doing the part I feel called to do, and that is to write and get these things out of my head, and into the public realm for Him to do with as he desires.  My paltry little “ministry” to those like me who wanted an alternative to typical fantasy fare.

Nothing much new done on the book yet today.  I’m struggling with a set piece… having my Ridley Scott moment.  If you know much about Ridley, you know he’s an insane perfectionist for creating visual imagery.  Probably even more than Kubrick was.  It is hard at times to capture the right majesty of a setting when you’re offloading ideas like a crane on a container dock.  You just want to get those containers off the ship and onto the chassis as fast as you can so the next ship can slide in.  After having experienced intermodal yards, I can tell you it’s quite an experience to see this in action with gantry cranes 100 feet tall.  In a small regard, I kinda miss it, but do not miss anything to do with the city in which I had to drive around to get the job done.  It’s bad enough with a car.  A Semi is far worse.  But I digress.

I have explained once before that my writing process is very much like transcribing movies, but with the character’s internal monologue?  Maybe, according to some praise, that’s why it’s easy for people to visualize what is going on.  It amazed me to learn that this isn’t always a common thing for authors.  Not everyone has such total visualization as they write and experience their work in a completely different manner.  A bit of a mind twister for me, but then again, I am constantly reminding myself that the way I experience the world is not always shared by others.  It’s what makes everyone’s vision unique in a good way.  Not only are we shaped by our experience, we are shaped by our perceptional bias.  Yeesh… not going down that thicket of pseudo-science right now.  You make of it what you will.

BTW, just got a nice interruption from my alpha readers who looked at one of the recent chapters and loved it.  I mean emphatically.  These are the kinds of things I love to hear.  Not only because of my ego, but because I got to share my vision with someone so well and in such an enjoyable manner… just it makes me happy to have made someone else happy… even if the chapter was about a rat bastard doing rat bastardy things.  ;c)  It was entertaining to the point of distraction, and that is a heady thing to do.  Anyway, that was a fun little interlude and put a smile on my face from ear to ear.

Enjoy JRR’s letter.  It explains a lot of the experience of a writer in a big project like this for those who are interested in such mundane trivialities that are filled with a peculiar and subtle magic.

 

Fever Pitch

Oh man!

ohmanohmanohmandidIsayohmanyet?

OohhhhhMAN!

Yes, Volume 6 is three chapters in and it has been a blast writing it.  The ideas are hard to get out in one piece they’re so desperate to get on the page.  Even writing through a headache has been possible.  Gonna pay for it later, but this stuff is just… mmm!  I love it.

This is the hard part about writing… waiting to share with the world.  Sure I have a very very very small group of alpha readers to keep my story on track and catch some big problems before I get too far off the rails, but still.  When something cool comes up and things pour out of you like a Jackie Chan fight at 2x speed, you want to share it.

I just pray I can keep up the pace and get this book done with my desired deadline.  Something that I will be so happy if I manage it.  So… what’s new?

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Again, broken up into book length and the encyclopedia (Formerly the glossary).

Pages 313 of 370
Words 112837 of 122485

New chapters:

52. Rewards, Conundrums & Disappointments

53. The Drowned Forest

54. The Valley That Drives Away Evil With Light

Hope that sets the salivary glands a running at high.

Ciao for now!

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Okay, NOW the Middle Build is Done

I wasn’t sure what would be the better ending point.  A conversation with my protagonists with a bunch of big revelations, or an interrogation by my villain.  I like my clean cliffhangers that both answer and ask questions.  So, that means the first draft of Volume 4 and 5… aka the first two parts of Book 2 I think are done.

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What changed my mind?  What I wrote kinda sets up a small question that felt better to resolve for that great clean break rather than let carry over and start the last volume on the wrong foot.

I guess it’s my years of RPG experience that made this kind of thinking something I’m sensitive to.  I always liked stopping the game as a new event or surprise came up.  The players always wanted to play it out right then, but I wouldn’t do it because the act of doing so had them talking about it all week long.  I kinda saw it as my way of doing the TV season ending trick but for every week.  Or what the old Dr. Who used to do for every story arc.  You’d get 3-4 show stories, with cliffhangers on every episode till the end.  Kept me coming back for more, that’s for sure.  So I’m doing the same thing here.

But for those fretting about having to wait for months for resolution, here’s the new release plans from now on:

I will release Volume 4 at the same time as I release the print versions of all of Book 2.  That way, you want the whole story at once, there it is… in print.  After that, every 2-4 months, I will release the next Volume.  If I time it right, you will get a new book every year or more, and a new volume every 2-4 months, depending on if I can keep up.

That’s the plan going forward.  BTW, book 3 is as I’ve said before 60% written.  Why?  See previous posts.  😉  Go on, you know you want to check out back posts.  XcD  But also, the events in book 2 require me to add more content to help the two books blend better.

Now, here’s the progress report, since it’s been helping my motivation.

Pages 292 of 349
Words 104555 of 114209

Why the new split?  Because I realize that the “Encyclopedia Akiniwazi” is a significant chunk of the length, so this way you know the story.  Right now, Book 2 is exceeding the length of book 1 in about every respect, and I still have about 25-30% left to go.  That’s about 30 more chapters I’m estimating.  Now 57 pages of encyclopedia is a lot to ask, and every book it grows, but over Thanksgiving I got to visit with a family who is reading the book right now, and they have a bookmark at the glossary.  They use and enjoy it.  Their sons have now taken to insulting each other with some of the names.  Funny stuff to hear them call each other “snotnose” (Hrodinefr) or “chicken fart” (Haensafretr).  They’re young, so it’s extra funny and beats a lot of names they could call each other.

Chapters

50. In Which Occult Knowledge is Revealed

51. A Fool No Longer

 

On one side note, I may be having some difficulty this month in productivity due to some complications with life.  I still have a specific goal in mind, but I’m worried I will not be able to meet it.  We’ll see.

Beginning Volume 6 (Book 2)

Yep.  I feel I’m in a good place right now.  The fire’s in the belly, and the first half of the third act is now over the horizon and shining in the distance.  I figure I’ve broad stroked the first 10 chapters of the Ending Payoff, and am starting to see the shape of the last 15-30 chapters and its denouement.  Very thrilling stuff.

I have one oddball chapter hanging out with me right now that would be an awesome cliffhanger ending, but recently it has been suggested that readers don’t like cliffhangers.  Is this true, dear readers?  Doth thou hateth when yon poor scribe leavest thou hanging on tenterhooks till the oft given oath of resolutions aplenty in the next tome?

XcD

I’m such a goof.

But, yeah, where this next chapter that I’m going to write lands, is kinda up in the air.  It’s either the first chapter of Volume 6 or the last chapter of Volume 5.  I’m leaning towards Vol 6.  But then again… oh thpppt.  Later.

I’m not going to promise when this first draft is going to get done, but I suspect it is now entering the realm of…

Soon3

Very thoon.. I mean soon indeed.

Can’t wait to share it all with you.

Let’s put it this way, some things I’ve learned about myself and my work process in the last month or so, well, if I’m being honest the last two or three months or so, is that I have to stop gaming and doing other things that sap my creative spark when I want to make a deadline from now on.  So I may start on a new process at the beginning of next year, where I focus on writing for two months, and take a break for one.  I dunno.  Just thinking about how to improve myself so I don’t burn out and I get a lot of stuff done.  Yep yep yep.  Learning the craft is more than just pounding the ole keyboard and daydreaming.

I’ll be honest though, I am not capable of dealing with marketing and sales yet though.  I just… nope… can’t even.  Nope nope nope.

Anyway, I’m excited enough I may try to push out two chapters tonight as is.  Then at least I’ll have enough to report on progress later in the week.

So, ta ta for now.  Sleep then writing to come.

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Ensemble Casts Suck

No seriously.  They are such a pain to write.  How do you give proper attention to characters when you are stuck with scenes that require seven or more to be participating?!  Ugh!  This is the challenge I’ve been having with my writing.  From my GM-Brain, I just want to follow the plot, but without meaning and character development, it’s worthless, and so many characters need to be addressed.

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There are times I think back to books like “The Stand” where King created himself a cast of what?  A dozen to follow?  I mean how do you write the scene of the meeting of the Boulder Free Zone Committee without going insane or leaving someone out of the mix?  He did it, and did it well.  I feel like a fumbling poseur.  Yes, yes… I know that is endemic among writers.  Possibly a pandemic of impostor syndrome.  Doesn’t change the fact I feel it.

At least I can say it’s moving forward though, despite getting ready to add an eighth member to the party.  So what sounds more medieval for a group of travelers?  Party, Band, Group, team?  Blarg… do I just throw it in the mixmaster and hit frappe?

Plus how do you handle a secret romantic subplot in the midst of it?  Lament lament lament.  anyhooo… new chapter titles that are done… and not necessarily in order because I may have to rearrange some of them for better flow and suspense.

#?  Placing a Bit in the Mouth of the Wild (will be moving)

31. Beyond the Bounds of Law

32. Planning the Coronation (may have to move)

33. Under a Lowering Sky

34. Like Sheep To Uncertain Pasture

35. The Last Farmhold

36. Where A Clandestine Rendezvous Occurs

37. Ascending For Primae

38. Brother Finn Risks His Neck (probable re-title)

39. Palliative Heat & An Ancient Terror (probable re-title)

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On a positive note, the direction this part of the plot has come over the horizon, and weeks of contemplation, worry and irritation are now being put on the page.  Unfortunately, it has revealed another issue that will have to wait till the second draft to address.  More on that in a later post.  I will be summoning my clutch of alpha readers, for a private discussion on the topic of culture and weighing authenticity versus modern fantasy sensibilities.  Yes, the two are suddenly in conflict.

But if you would like to opine on the subject, I shall ask the hypothetical.  If you were reading a historical fantasy book and came across an old custom that was socially distasteful in modern terms (compared to even as far back as Victorian terms) would you prefer the authenticity, or would you rather it be written around as too distracting.  Mind you I’m not talking something totally reprehensible, but we’re talking moderate social taboos.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and more to come soon!  Yes, actually soon.  😉

 

Volume One is Here!

Surprise free book!

Yes, that’s right peoples… Volume One of “A Light Rises in a Dark World” has made it onto the market.  You can get your free copy here, till Amazon matches the price.  Yeah, they no longer do permafree releases.  But Kobo does!  And that should come available after the holiday up in Canada today.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/752542

I will release more direct links as it comes available.

Edit: Here’s the link to Kobo.

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-light-rises-in-a-dark-world-volume-one

 

Till then, price is no longer an excuse to check this bad boy out!  Come on… whatcha got to lose?

 

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A Crisis of Doubt (Bonus Draft Excerpt!)

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I’ve been radio silent for a few weeks now because I’ve been struggling with some things in regards to “A Light Rises in a Dark World”.  I opened myself up to ask others what they thought of it in a professional forum to see what kind of surface reaction I was getting.  Everyone was great with what they told me and the criticisms all honest, having validity and expressed the opinions of those who cared to share.  I appreciate all of them, so don’t think I’m bashing them or unappreciative to what they did.

What this is about is an unintended consequence of doing such a thing that caused me to stumble in my productivity and confidence in my book.

I’ve had a set of good and bad reviews lately, and I had started to doubt my work.  Not the quality of it, but its public visage.  I started to question the cover, the title, the sales copy (oh yeah that’s puppy poo and needs to be reworked, for sure)… but the title?  The cover?  Like I said, a crisis of doubt.

But three other incidents have gotten around the corner.

My editor reminded me I get streaky like this where I’ll go ‘fallow’ (my word) for a few weeks, but bounce back with a lot of productivity.  I just need time to let the stew in my head simmer.  Let me tell you, it’s more complex and time consuming than black roux gumbo can be, and just as fraught with disaster.  So she’s the one that helped me realize I was lying on the floor covered in self doubt.

So while I was mulling about that, my writing buddy and friend, Dave, came along and reminded me that I was looking for reason to doubt myself.  Reasons to tear down everything and dispair.  Something I am still wondering about.  So he helped pick me up and made sure I was standing again.

Then Torfinn, the man that makes the foreign words work right and provider of good suggestions came in, and made some simple apt points about what was said and showed me again the good things that were said to counterbalance out all the negative stuff I was feeling that really may not have been there in the first place, but only in my own doubt.  So in essence, he dusted me off, straightened my tie and got me thinking about what needs to be done next.

So to you three, thank you.

Upshot of all this has yeilded some interesting thoughts in my head.  I realize I’ve been struggling with the “What Next” question.  I know what I want to talk about, and I’m shaping out the characters, but I haven’t found the right way to fit them all together in Book 2.  Until I do, I can’t make myself move forward it seems, but I can cogitate a lot about it.

Which has lead for me to understand the themes for books 1-5 better.  Yes… you heard me right, I’m already thinking 3 books ahead.  Pretty easy when book 3 is half written already, but with what’s going on in book 2 that’s going to take some heavy modification which I’m really salivating about doing… but can’t till I get done with book 2 because I need to understand the world that is being built better.  Every book is worldbuilding in chronological order for me.

Why you may ask?  Because I leave myself open to happy accidents.  It’s how I got the whole third act of book 1.  (Or as it will soon be known as ‘Volume 3’)  I knew where I needed to be, then let the characters and world tell me what was happening.  Of course, I got that done in a much more compressed timeframe than this, but it was nowhere near as complex as what I’m doing now.  The interconnectivity… oh you’ve heard this all before.  I’ll bore you to tears with that some other time.  Anyway.  I’m at 36.5 chapters, I have a new visual image going in my head that helps me understand my map the people and how the story must progress.

It’s going to be fun.

Lastly, I will be releasing Book 1 Volume 1 of “A Light Rises in a Dark World” this month still.  Putting finishing touches on my new cover.  Keep an eye out, for it’s going to be “BAM!  Surprise launch!”

And as a thank you for your patience, here’s another first draft exerpt from Book 2 for you.  Remember… this is a FIRST draft excerpt because y’all are worth it.

Bon appetit!

The Jarl’s Hall was impressive to say the least, Brother Finn thought as he walked up to the large structure.  It was twice as large as the Stallare’s Hall in Athrvorthfestning, but comparable to others he had been to.  What made this one stand out all the more was the incredible decorations at the entrance.  Trophies of animals, and demonspawn stood there or were mounted on the walls.  Carvings of great hunts were etched around the massive pillars while ornate tapestries dripped down from the walls.  The long hearth in the middle was roaring as the clergy from all around the area filed in as a processional to the chanting of the choristers in their midst.  The song finished as the last of the clergy reached their seats.

Jarl Jakob Vilhoaettir sat in the high seat watching the procession filed in and took their seats at the table.  Bishop Aarlig Krakisson stood before the Jarl and the Domari stood before him as the Thing finished assembling.  After the Kyrjka was seated, the Huskarls allowed the Forsamling who wished to be witnesses to enter, sitting on the outer benches by the walls.  Silence was strictly enforced.  Those who dared talk could expect to be escorted to the dungeon without hesitation.

When everyone was seated and the only sounds were the crackling of the hearth and the rain hissing on the roof, the Domari turned to face his master.  His form swallowed up in the all black robes of his office with a golden staff in hand taller than a man by half again.  On its tip, was a figurine of balances resting on top of the seal of the Vilhoaettir.  

“Deres Naade, we are ready,” he said with funeral humor.

Jarl Vilhoaettir nodded, his face a serene mask.

With the bottom of his staff, he pounded the timber floor the traditional seven times.  The knocks brought even greater quiet to the hall.

“Damer and Herrar, we are assembled this day, April the eleventh, in anno Domini One Hundred and Ninety Two Ad Segregationem.  We call forth a special assembly of the Thing that justice may be done!”  The man’s powerful voice cracked off the wooden walls loud as any herald.  

“All come forth in fear and trembling in the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and before the justice of Den Aerefulle Jakob Fritjovsson Vilhoaettir.  May all those who speak, do so in the Spirit of Truth, and no falsehood be found among the Thing.  Pay heed to this warning, for all may be judged for their actions and words.”

The Domari’s sparkling blue eyes swept over the hall, challenging anyone to disagree.  None did.

What I Learned About Storytelling from Running RPGs.

To this day, I remember the first time I rolled up a character for Dungeons and Dragons in 1980.  My friend and I sat on the back porch of my house in the shade on a warm summer day and rolled the strangest dice I had ever seen.

I was 9 years old.

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What began there was a love affair that became a wonderful creative marriage, then a bad romance which rebounded into an on again-off again fling filled with regret and finally a bitter, burned out divorce.  In my heart, I still love Role Playing Games, but I know what going back to running them, let alone playing them, will cost me creatively.

And that is where the damage was for me.  In my creative process.  Not to brag, but I was a good GM.  REAL good!  I had gamers who would petition to join my games over the years.  People who thought I should run games for GenCon and really get into the whole society of running games.  But I also learned my failings and that I could not keep up a pace that some of the people had because I did not see how I could make money doing it, and did not want to devote myself to what was necessary to take it to the next step and become that GM my gamers thought I could be.

For 30 years straight, I ran RPGs from Cyberpunk to Westerns, I ran them all it seemed.  Weekly turning out game and running long winded campaigns like a network television show.  In the end, I realized I was enabling participatory improvisational theater for amateurs and a small audience, and began to resent it.  I started trying to find new ways to love running games, but every year and every game system got harder and harder as I got more fed up with learning rules, doing the weekly prep-work and necessities for running good long term campaigns.

There were also spiritual reasons too.  Once I became Born Again, I could not play many of the character or games I used to love.  Gone were the games of magic and sorcery.  Gone were the complex characters I loved to play who were, for all intents and purposes, sociopaths, psychopaths and perverts.  I did, for a while find much fun in very moral characters trying to deal with very immoral choices, but even after a while I was burnt out.

All that experience though has been beneficial, for it has taught me a lot about storytelling.  This is what I learned from my players as well as their characters who were both participants and the audience of my creations.

Engage the Senses.

The reality is you and your buddies are sitting in somebody’s kitchen/basement/living room/dining room rolling dice among stacks of books.  You need to build mood.  That means lighting.  That means music and sound.  Smell, touch and taste not so much, but you can use good description to engage their imaginations.  The more you engage the senses, the better the immersion, and the the more likely you will have them sitting on the edge of their chairs, holding their breath as you roll your dice in secret, giving them a knowing grin worthy of Vincent Price.  Keep that in mind when setting the scene for you are all their senses and influence their intuition.

Pace is Critical

Gamers I learned have a very low boredom threshold.  If you don’t have combat every week, some players won’t show up.  Others, when the action is not on them, and you don’t have them interested enough to listen to what’s going on, they will engage in derailing side chatter which bogs the game down.  Same can happen to a story, just not as obvious.  The reader who is bored (and I speak as a reader myself) starts thinking about other things and finally finds a reason to put the book down and go back to facebook or youtube, ending your time together, maybe for good. That means if a section leaves a faint hint of Doritos and Mountain Dew in the air of boredom eating, what is a better, more interesting way to tell the tale.

If things slow down, attack them.  If they’re wasting time on minutia, remove the distraction.  If they feel secure, betray them.  All these things will help jump start a flagging pace, and snap the reader’s attention back to you.

Satisfy the Needs Including Your Own

Every player who plays an RPG is doing so to have their needs met, but so does every GM.  If players bore the GM by not wishing to play interesting storylines, don’t bother looking for clues, ignoring the flavor text you so carefully crafted to give them clues and rush on to the next dice rolling pewpewpew fest… It can leave the GM, or author dry.  The good news is that being an author, you can write in a way that satisfies your needs.

Want more character driven plots?  Have at thee!  You like a good whodunit?  What are you waiting for!  Write that story.  The downside is that in writing, if you write something only you want to read, you will not sell.  That means finding the tropes people want to read, and write to them in a way only you can.  Then you will see both your needs as a writer, and the reader’s needs get fulfilled.

Realize what you control and what you don’t.

Sure, you come up with the basic storyline idea and handle the activities of every Non-Player Character, the weather, and so on… but you’re not really in charge.  You’re just herding cats towards the completion of your story.  Players can take your story in crazy directions, often introducing ideas that you never thought of, leaving you scrambling to keep up with them.  Hugh Wilson, head writer and show runner for “WKRP in Cincinnatti” put it very well, when considering characters (and I paraphrase)  Writers start out with the idea of who a character is.  It becomes apparent quickly that they are in a collaboration with the actor, and then spend the rest of the show chasing the actor.

This is true of the characters you are writing as well.  You must be willing to listen to your own creation and follow where they take you to complete your story, or fix the incidents your character’s wouldn’t participate in.  Remember, the characters are the cameras in how the readers will experience the world.

Nobody cares about your character particularly if they are derivative.

Hands up; any gamer here who has gotten caught in a game where some noob comes up to you and starts prattling about his AWESOMEZ CHARACTARRRR named Steel McKillalot?  Or some exotic whackadoodle that is a Count Dracula knockoff with an unpronouncable name?  Yep.  Been there and have the tee shirt.  The same eyeroll can be found in readers if you spoonfeed ‘tell don’t show’ backstory in your book anywhere.  The instant you do, the wide eyed cosplaying fanboy has just clomped up to you while you’re busy and started gushing.

This is a problem even for authors.  Backstory can be introduced only after the character has been made interesting to the reader in the context of the story.  So why is this Count Dracula ripoff so cool I want to hear why he is the way he is?  Is Steel McKillalot something better than a two dimensional cutout with a stupid name?  Oh wow!  That is cool how he got that backstory because I liked what he did in the book you just wrote.  Epic characters have to audition, before you can give them their one man show… unless their one man show is the story, then… carry on.

Be open to happy accidents.

No plotline survives contact with the writing.  Just like in gameplay, you will be thrown a curveball.  That image of a scene will not be met and no matter what you try, that becomes a platonic symbol of what you wanted, but just lack the skill or tools to achieve.  When those times come, be open to the accidental discovery.  Perhaps it will be the character whispering something about them you didn’t know that sends you gallivanting after their take on what you had planned.  It may be the map you drew out in your mind is showing you an easier route or a flaw in your plan that must be addressed.

Case in point.  Early on in Book 2, I discovered an escape route would be an impossible run through a gauntlet for the heroes.  But as I looked at the map, I realized I had forgotten a whole new section of the land and said:

“Self, nobody would be guarding that way… it’s too crazy, and besides, they have to do this other thing or all is lost.  So they would go that way!”

That one realization completely rewrote my middle build.  Instead of being all sorts of cloak and dagger hiding over territory I’d already been and struggled to think of a new way to make it interesting… well… it went back to a classic adventure/exploration in the land of “Here There Be Monsters”!

Huzzah!

That is a happy accident.  Something I’d not be able to explore if I did not just chuck the solution out and stick with the original plan.  (It’s also why I’m a plantser.  I know where I have to get to, just how it happens is open for innovation.

In the end, these are lessons I learned over decades of running RPGs.  Maybe I’ll have to be content on producing gaming materials, but not run the games because I get too bogged down in the process, and I need time to write.  But who knows?  Maybe 10 years down the pike when my first movie comes out, I’ll produce the game and modules and get the invite to sit down and guest GM at GenCon.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

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