A Game of Storytelling

June 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

Normally, I try not to share things that aren’t writing-related on this blog. I try to stay on topic. And this is on topic, but in a somewhat tangential way.

One of my favorite web shows is Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop. The premise is simple: Wil gets a few people he knows to play a tabletop game with him.

It’s more fun than it sounds.

See, Wil doesn’t feature the standard board games like Monopoly, Clue, etc. Will finds unusual games like Castle Panic, Munchkin, Zombie Dice, and several others you may not have heard of.

This week, Wil and his friends played a game called Gloom.

I decided to blog about it because I think it does, in a way, relate to writing—or at least storytelling. It’s like improve for writers. It’s…well, just watch and see for yourself:

I can’t wait to get this game and play it with my writer and theater friends. It looks like great fun, and great storytelling practice!

I just had to share this, even if it is a bit off-topic.

Do you have a writing or storytelling game? If so, please leave a comment and tell me. I’m always looking for fun new games to play!


My Writing Partner

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have a writing partner.

He’s a hairy little fellow, and not terribly chatty. In fact, he only says one word, but when he feels like talking, he says that one word over and over and over again. The word is “meow.”

Boston, my writing partner

He’s like a warm, furry seat belt.

His name is Boston.

When I get up in the morning, he is at the office door waiting to be let in. Before I sit down at my desk, I have to get my coffee and make sure everything else I need is within easy reach, because he’ll jump into my lap within seconds and settle in for the long haul.

His job keep my butt in the chair. He does it well.

If I dare disturb him or want to get up before he’s ready, I get The Look:

"You don't really want to move, do you?"

The Look

If I persist in disturbing him, he’ll ever-so-gently flex his razor sharp claws until I feel them piercing my thigh.

He’ll lay in my lap for an hour, and then suddenly get up and punch the “pillow” (my stomach) until he deems it comfortable again. This can take up to five long minutes, during which it is impossible to type. When he’s done, he resumes the exact same position as before. He’s kind of a jerk like that.

I often tell him he’s a pain in my ass. I call him a “fuzzy little bastard.” He doesn’t seem to care, as if it is beneath him to respond to such slander.

He doesn’t offer feedback on my work or do any proofreading. He doesn’t help me fix plot holes or get me out of the corners I write myself into. When the perfect word is on the tip of my tongue, he won’t help me find it. In fact, all he really does is keep me in front of the keyboard.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

25 Quotes To Change Your Thinking

June 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you’ve read a few of my previous posts, you know I’m a sucker for a good inspirational quote. So when I found 25 of them all in one place, I just had to share. This is my favorite of the collection:

Click over to see the rest. It’s a wonderful collection of inspirational quotes, yet not so familiar that you feel like you’ve seen them a million times already.

What’s your favorite inspirational quote? Leave it in the comments section!

What’s your future biography?

June 26, 2012 § 4 Comments

My friend and I preferred the title "shit technician," thank you very much.No one is born a writer. Each one of us comes into this world with the same raw materials, the same potential for greatness. But sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that we weren’t born with “the gift” that, say, John Steinbeck or James Joyce had.

If that’s the way you feel, take a look at Mental Floss’s list of the early jobs of 24 famous writers. You’ll find that they had the same crappy jobs we all have had at one time or another. They were truck drivers, reservation clerks, cannery workers, car dealers. They were born poor. They were nothing special, and then suddenly they were very special.

Sometime in the future, Mental Floss might add me to the list. If they do, they’ll say my first job was shoveling dog shit at a kennel in one of the worst winters Ohio has ever seen. They’ll say I worked at McDonald’s and Arby’s and Perkins. That I later worked the counter at my family’s drycleaner, and as an inventory control clerk for United Dairy Farmers. That I was a librarian’s assistant and a bookstore clerk. Maybe they’ll mention that I was an editor for Writers Digest Books, and a marketing copywriter for a couple of software companies after that, and a freelance writer for a variety of clients. If I’m very, very lucky, all the readers of Mental Floss will be surprised and inspired that the guy who wrote that Big Book was once a humble kennel cleaner.

What will your future biography say?

Writing about Reading: Trading in Danger

June 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

Many years ago, as I bemoaned the loss of Firefly for the millionth time, a friend (I can’t remember who) recommended that I read Trading in Danger, the first in Elizabeth Moon’s “Vatta’s War” series. I added it to my ever-growing list of books to read, and then forgot about it. Recently, I had a hankering for a hunk o’ space opera, and Moon’s book came to mind, so I picked it up.

I’m so glad I did.

The comparisons to Firefly are quickly evident. The story begins with Kylara “Ky” Vatta at the Space Academy, where she is in trouble with the commandant. An innocent mistake costs her dearly, and she is flunked out and sent home in shame to her family, who owns and operates the respected Vatta shipping company. She is given an old tub destined for the scrap heap and told to fly it, its crew, and a load of cargo to a scrap yard. She soon makes plans of her own that involve keeping the ship, and from there the story takes off.

So…ex-military captain now flying cargo in a rickety old mid-bulk transport. But that’s pretty much where the comparison to Firefly ends, and where Ky’s trouble begins. Because (to make another nod to Firefly) it never goes smooth.

Ky’s tale is a sci-fi adventure in the most traditional sense. But it’s a good tale and a good adventure. Moon’s narrative tends to bog down in details at times, but you slog through them because the story is compelling enough (and the bogs shallow enough) that you want to keep going.

Moon also does a decent job of seeding the plot early on, so that when aid comes later in Ky’s darkest hour, it doesn’t strain your suspension of disbelief. The writing is a bit rough at times; the dialogue could use a polish, and Ky needs to find something better to do to pass the time than sleep and take showers. The good outweighs the bad by far, however, making Trading in Danger a fun romp. I plan to read the next book in the series, Marque and Reprisal, as soon as possible.

Write Like the Wind!

June 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I came across this today and just had to share. Poor George R.R. Martin. Heavy hangs the crown!

Writing When You Just Don’t Want To

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Image by Paul Lusch

Image by Paul Lusch

Sometimes we sit down to write and nothing comes, and we tell ourselves we’ve got writer’s block and go off to do something else. I’m having a day like that today, actually. But you know what? It’s not writer’s block, because writer’s block doesn’t exist.

No, really.

Writer’s block is just our brains being lazy. We’re stressed over a million things, or we’re wrung out from a long day at work, or it’s nice outside and we just don’t want to be stuck in front of the keyboard. But we’re not “blocked.”

I’ve got a two quotes on my cork board that I stare at on days like today. The first is from a Quote-A-Day calendar I had years ago, and it’s attributed to “Rudolph” Nureyev. I assume the editor of the calendar meant Rudolf Nureyev, but I cannot find it attributed to him anywhere else. Nevertheless, it’s a good quote:

Nothing good happens unless you work very hard. Nothing happens. Nothing comes to you. You have to make it  happen, even if you have talent.

The other one is longer and comes from Luke Salisbury, back when he wrote for the Boston Globe. Salisbury is a big fan of William Faulkner, and once wrote this about the author:

Nothing stopped Faulkner.

He wrote when he wasn’t famous;

He wrote after winning the Nobel Prize.

He wrote when his books couldn’t make money and when the sale prices of his stories set records.

He wrote when his books were out of print.

He wrote drunk and sober, and sojourns in Hollywood didn’t stop him.

Phenomenal quantities of alcohol, extramarital affairs, an unhappy marriage, or celebrity never got in his way.

He was a writer.

I look at those two quotes and the bully in my brain says, “Yeah, well that ain’t you is it, Chachi.” Some days, I take the bully on and redouble my efforts to write, and other days, I slink away in defeat.

I’m trying to do more of the former and less of the latter.

Either way, though, it’s up to me. I’m not blocked, even on the days I walk away. I’m just lazy.

It’s okay to have a lazy day now and then. When I finish a draft, I usually take a week off before going back to start the rewrite. Partly, it’s a reward for finishing something, but it’s also a way to attack the rewrite with “fresh eyes” and enough distance from the writing of the draft that the seams and rough edges and typos are easier to spot and fix. But even on my lazy days, I’ll try to do something that inspires me or helps my writing in some way. Sometimes I watch TED Talks. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I go do something I’ve never done before. And a lot of the time, I stare off into space and give my mind free reign to gallop in any direction it pleases.

But only for a day.

On the days when I can’t allow myself a lazy day and I still have trouble getting started, I just start writing. I write about my frustrations, my worries, my stress. I write about the story I should be writing, and why I’m having trouble getting started, and describe the story I want to write. Pretty soon, I’m writing. Block, schmlock. It works like a charm, but only if my fingers are punching the keys. I have to be typing (or, less often, hand writing) what’s coming into my head as it’s coming into my head. If I don’t, it’s just thinking; it’s not writing.

The next time you think you have “writer’s block,” just start writing and see what happens. Don’t worry about the story you “should” be writing. Just dump everything in your head on the page. Start telling yourself the story as if you’re telling it to a new friend:

“Well, there’s this guy, this like detective guy, but not really. He’s a former cop, but he quit because of some reason I haven’t figured out yet. And he’s not a P.I., either. He’s — maybe he’s retired or something. Or retired on disability, because he got shot pretty bad and has to wear a colostomy bag now or something. Anyway, he meets this woman…”

And just keep going like that until the story begins to gel.

UPDATE: Five minutes after I posted this, I spotted a link the this article on Forbes on how goofing off can help you be more productive (and beat writer’s block). What’s your secret for beating the block?

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