Sunday, November 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Winner!

Today I crossed the NaNoWriMo 50k finish line. The story isn't finished yet, there's still a few epic fight scenes and a rousing "This day we fight!" speech left to write, so I'll be going for a while yet.

I thought I'd share a few highlights of the draft so far:
  • Number of f-bombs: 27
  • Times Cat tells Harrison to die in a fire: 3
  • Favorite new character: Patience Roberts
  • Favorite line at the moment: "If you drop Harrison into a pit of molten lava he’ll just become Darth Vader. No one wants that."
  • Number of times Cat has fainted: 0 (yay for improvement!)
So, my fellow writers, how is everyone else faring in NaNo land? Crossing the finish line? Or did you give up weeks ago? ;)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Days 22-23

40428 / 50000

Still ahead, and Turkey Day approaches. I'm not predicting that any writing will get done during the Turkey Day festivities, but it could happen. I'm planning on crossing the 50k finish line this weekend. Or possibly getting close and finishing on Monday. After all, we'll probably put the Christmas tree up this weekend, and that's labor intensive. No, seriously. We have enough ornaments for three trees, in a variety of themes. Star Wars, Star Trek, The Wizard of Oz, Muppets, Snoopy, Garfield, and the list goes on.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Days 17-21

38042 / 50000

Despite having the plague, I have pulled ahead of the daily word count. Though because I did much of this writing while under the effects of the plague, I'm a little unsure of the quality. Cold meds and writing don't mix well. But that's what editing is for, right?

Dear Walking Dead: Why must you be on before my bed time? Really?

So many zombie nightmares. :(

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Doolittle!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know I was laughing so hard at Damn You Auto Correct! that I was crying. I'm still looking for a place to use "grubstake" in the NaNo. But this one also cracked me up, so I thought I would share.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Days 15-16

26803 / 50000

Say it with me, "HALF WAY THERE!". I imagine it being chanted at me like a crowd chanting at Adam on Man v. Food. And now I'm even slightly ahead. Which is good, because I need to get ahead before Thanksgiving. I'm guessing there won't be a lot of writing time when I'm home visiting the family.

In other news, there are some lovely photos of Samhain Duckie at the Cheesecake Factory over on my Facebook page. I'm also blogging at Embrace the Shadows tomorrow, and you should stop on by. :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Day 14

23335 / 50000

I'm back in the saddle again. ;) Today I caught up with the word count. I also watched the Bears win, and probably watched too much The Walking Dead and will have more zombie nightmares. (Damn you, Walking Dead, why must you be on before my bed time?) Today I got to introduce my favorite new character. Tomorrow I get to write the alternate ending to Blood, Smoke and Mirrors that I always wanted...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Days 10-13

20316 / 50000

Still behind, but I made a lot of progress today, and I'm planning on more tomorrow. I'm coming up on some fun parts in the story, and I get to introduce my favorite new character. She's awesome. :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Days 8-9

14501 / 50000

Progress was hindered yesterday by a migraine, but I'm continuing to chug along. I need to sit down and really focus to catch up (and turn off the TV, or go in the other room and let the hippy play Mass Effect 2 without my help).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Days 5-7

11017 / 50000

So I'm a little behind, as predicted, but I'm not doing bad. This week should be pretty quiet, and catching up shouldn't be a problem. Lots of fun stuff coming up in the story, including some of my favorite characters.

And the Bears won today, yay!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Day 4

7003 / 50000

Not bad. Still ahead of where I need to be, though not by much. I should have time to write tomorrow before my weekend guest arrives. And most of the cleaning is done.

Now as an aside, in my previous job as an editor I spent a lot of time dealing with rights and permissions, and making sure that material isn't plagiarized is a subject near to my heart. And like SBTB, I say don't be a Judith Griggs. Just because you found it on teh intarwebs doesn't mean it's public domain. Sheesh.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Day 3

Not so much with the progress today. There are various excuses for this, laundry chief among them. The sad truth is that I let myself get flustered and unfocused, and I didn't buckle down and achieve as much as I could have.

Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Day 2

6494 / 50000

I'm a little ahead. Which is good,  because I predict falling behind in the near future. Specifically this weekend, when a friend of mine is coming to visit. Though as one of my biggest fans, she'll probably demand that I sit down and write.

It's odd letting Cat ramble again. Since finishing Blood, Smoke and Mirrors I've dabbled in stories from the perspectives of other characters from the book--Harrison, Emily, and Simon, to name a few--but Cat has a special place in my heart. A bitchy, snarky place.

My debut at Embrace the Shadows is tomorrow, so please stop by if you have a moment. I'm talking series, a topic that also has a special place in my heart right now. ;)

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010: Day 1

Day 1 word count achieved.

Number of times Cat has told Harrison to die in a fire: 2

Okay, so I got a little distracted by Dancing with the Stars, but I made my word count anyway. Tomorrow will be more challenging, because I have a blog to write and a vet appointment for my cat. But the story is starting out with a bang...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Got Plot?

NaNoWriMo. I'm committed. I'm adding writing buddies and discussing plans. I have an idea of what I want to write, which is more than I had my first time around, but I don't have an outline. Yet!

Once upon a time I was a pantser. I'd dive into a story with great character ideas and no clue as to what those characters were going to do, other than fight evil and live happily ever after. It didn't work out. Without fail I would hit a wall around 30k words and be unable to finish the story. A few months after my first NaNo I joined Romance Writers of America, and I learned a lot more about the craft of writing. I've read articles and books, I've taken online workshops, I've been to conferences, and I learned that if I want to push past that 30k block, I need to sit my butt down and plot out the story from beginning to end. That way if I do get stuck I can skip ahead to the next step and come back to the problem later.

It started with the note card exercise, which I learned from a NaNo forum. You take 10 index cards, and write your opening scene on the first one and your ending on the last. Then you write the steps that need to happen to get from the beginning to the end on the cards in between. Need more scenes? Add more cards. It's quick, it's simple, and it can be very helpful in figuring out the "and then what happens?" of your story.

Next came writing software. I use WriteWayPro, and I love it. But I use it mainly for plotting and for character information (I adore the fact that you can add a picture in your character bios, I've spent many hours casting characters in the Blood, Smoke and Mirrors universe). WriteWay has a great outline feature, but it's a blank slate. Staring at the empty outline can be as intimidating as staring at an empty page.

Enter the next step in my writing evolution: the plot map. This article was very helpful to me, and it's a great explanation of how to pace a story using the example of a movie that I dig (While You Were Sleeping). It draws from Vogler's book The Writer's Journey; I'm reading it at the moment. Slowly. Mostly while on lunch break at my Shiny New Job. Hypothetically I'm also reading the copy of Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces that Diana let me borrow several months ago...have I mentioned lately how hugenormous my TBR bookcase is? Seriously. Gigantic.

Anyway, by these powers combined I have conquered plotting, muahaha! Okay, maybe not so much. My process is always evolving. I love buying more craft books and taking new online workshops. Obviously I have room to grow as a writer (or so the intarwebs tell me)(apparently I made someone want to throw their Kindle against a wall)(I in no way condone violence against Kindles). So, are you a plotter? Are there any methods that you love? Or are you panster all the way, and think I'm trying to convert you to the dark side?

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's That Time Again

No, not time for the Wheel of Morality. Time for National Novel Writing Month. Thirty days, 50k words, made of awesome. w00t! NaNo starts November 1st, but I'm already planning what I'm going to write. (Planning is allowed, per the rules. Actual writing is not.)

If you've been following along, you know that Blood, Smoke and Mirrors was my first NaNo novel. In fact, there's an article about it on the NaNo site (so cool!)(yes I'm a geek). I've done NaNo every year since. I haven't won every year, but I've attempted it. My second year I started Harrison's book, and got about halfway to the 50k finish line with it. So yes, ladies, there are plans for his very own book. One day...but before I can get there, Cat has some issues with him that she needs resolved. And thus, this year's NaNo will be Cat's second book.

But Robyn, you say, didn't you already start that book? I did, and I'm tossing it. New, fresh start. It didn't get past Chapter 2, due to a variety of thingies and problems and drama and just general Grr! Argh! There were a few sad panda tears. But I'm better now (and employed again, which is amazing for many reasons, and will save us from having to live in a van down by the river).

So now I ask you, my fellow authors: Who will stand with me? NaNoWriMo glory awaits us! No plot? No problem! You can always sleep in December...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: So Dirty

I caught the 30 second version of this commercial last week, and it gave me a moment of pause as my brain twitched, and I said, "Did that just happen?!"

Yes, yes it did. And this is the full length version of the commercial. Please to enjoy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can't take the heat?

When a romance writer starts talking about heat level, she's probably not commenting on the weather. She's talkin' about gettin' down and dirty in her novel--or not. Romance novels are not created equal in the frolic department. Some are sweet, where if sex happens it goes on behind closed doors and the reader is left to imagine what went on. Then there are more moderate levels, leading up to erotic romance, where the "C, F, and P words" appear, possibly with some toys and adventurous settings. (One of the hottest books I've ever read was a space opera, and I'll refrain from commenting on the wackiness that can ensue when alien races are involved.)

Lately I've been pondering sex. Well, sex in my writing, that is. If you've read Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, you know it's there, but there's not a whole lot of it. There just wasn't enough time for it in the story, because Cat's always running off to cause shenanigans somewhere and I didn't want to have to justify something like "okay, we're going to take a break from fighting vampires now to get it on in your car." Not so much. Though I'll admit I really wanted to write a sex scene between Cat and Zach, but I knew that would take the story places I wasn't prepared for it to go. That, and my critique group threatened to hurt me if I wrote it... But speaking of the critique group, this was my original inspiration for this post:

Writers, do you have more trouble writing love scenes than you do the rest of the story?

Because it seems like many of us do. I discussed this a bit over Twitter recently as well, and it seemed like there was a split between those who are squeamish (like me) and those who have no fear. For my writing, it almost falls into the same category as a fight scene--love to include it, hate to write it. I've been working on a fantasy romance novel that has more love scenes in it than Cat's book did, and it makes me nervous. I'm not entirely sure why that is. There was a great interview of Angela Knight in the August Romance Writers Report, where she talked a bit about how to be comfortable and confident writing erotic romance. (Angela Knight is awesome, by the way. I really recommend her book Passionate Ink, and I've taken several of her workshops, which I also recommend.) Angela explained,

"I want to depict what love is really like for these two people. Sex is a part of love--it's the physical manifestation of the spiritual passion between the couple. By holding back and glossing over the physical part of the relationship, you're cheating the reader and the characters of that vital dimension. And I think some romance writers do so because they want to preserve the illusion of being a 'nice girl' who doesn't really like sex."

That really resonated with me. As an author I struggle with a need to be true to my characters versus my lasped-Catholic conditioning that tells me I'm going straight to Hell for this (do no pass "Go", do not collect $200). Becoming a published author only added to that, because that same voice of guilt likes to remind me that there are people reading the sex that I wrote. GASP! OMG NOOOOOOO! And worse, there are people I am related to by blood or marriage reading it. Excuse me while I go die of embarrassment...

Moving on! Aside from the "will I or won't I?" of including sex scenes in your writing, there's also the "is this any good?" of it all as well. Because romance readers read tons of romance on a regular basis, and these are savvy readers. They're not going to settle for boring sex--not that you need to reinvent the sex scene or create wacky settings to make it interesting, it means it needs to be well written. As AK said above it's the spiritual passion between your couple. Good sex scenes are concerned with writerly details like character development and plot, and this to me is the definitive explanation of why romance novels aren't "porn for women." Porn doesn't care about character development or plot. "Hi, I'm Staci," is not character development. "Pizza's here!" is not plot. Anyway...

Do you suffer from "eep, am I really writing this?"-itis? Or are you one of the brave "I can't wait to write this!" types? Do you worry that you're writing the same-old, same-old? Or do you avoid it entirely by "and then he closed the door, end of chapter"?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Gam3rs 4tw!

So I know this guy, who may or may not be related to my husband, who has this play called GAM3RS. It's very cool. He totally mentions my book on his website. Anyway, Brian is one of my beta-readers, and I sat down with him this past weekend and discussed the first draft of my new book. In thanks, I thought I'd share the trailer for GAM3RS this Interweb Tuesday. Please to enjoy. :)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Just Dance

Did everyone see the new Dancing with the Stars list? It's Hofftastic. Can't wait. ;)

How is it (almost) September already? Geez. Time flies.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday is Linktastic Again

That display is actually in our local grocery store, so it's been amusing to watch it make the rounds of the intarwebs. It was on Kotaku too, or so the husband tells me.

Thanks to Twitter I have 2 things to share today:

The E-books article drinking game. It's rather like the romance novel drinking game--intended to inspire drunkenness and/or alcohol poisoning. You know it's going to be awesome when it uses the word HULKSMASH in the first example.

Six myths about publishing. This is really interesting. And rather depressing in parts, but that's how publishing rolls. It does make me love my publisher all the more though. (Big hugs to Mr. Sam Hain.) The comments on the article are also interesting, though several go off on Stephanie Plum tangents (haven't read any, so no idea what they're talking about).


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Did someone drink the haterade again?

It happens on a regular basis. Some d-bag gets his panties in a twist and decides to hate on the romance novels. (There's a recent article on the SB's site here about how Bloomberg Business Week Blows.) The word "bodice ripper" is often used. I've seen some authors on a mission to reclaim the term, one of those "if we use it ourselves it has less power" kind of things, and I understand that. But the people who bandy it about when they're accusing romance of being porn for women or being fluff and not "real" like literary fiction, they're just being insulting. Degrading, even.

Can't we all just get along? ... Okay, probably not.

Romance writers get seriously pissed off when this sort of thing happens, and we quote sales numbers and percentages of the market and point out the many ways that romance rocks. And we're right, because it does, but that's not going to stop the haters. Much as it pains me, there were always be haters, because at the root of it, romance novels offer things to women that the haters don't want women to have. Fun. Empowerment. Enjoyment. An escape from the drudgery of everyday life. The idea that true love and happiness is possible. It's an industry that for the most part is made by women for women, and the haters are always going to look for a way to be d-bags and devalue the power of that. And damn, we are powerful (see above mention of profits and percents, we are the machine that drives the publishing industry).

So what's my point? I'll say it loud and I'll say it proud: I love romance novels. I read them, I recommend them to my friends and family, and I even *gasp* write them! No amount of asshattery will stop that, but I suspect that in a week, maybe a month, someone else will say something ignorant about those silly romance novelists and their porn. (Dude, seriously, have they seen porn? WTF?) And we'll all get riled again, and the process will repeat. But the important thing is that no matter how rude or ignorant the haters get, we never lose our love for our romance novels.

You hear that? If you want to take my Nora Roberts books, you'll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: A Certain Point of View

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

On the Romance Divas forums there's a thread called "You know you're a romance author when..." and it's had some very awesome examples. (No I'm not sharing, you'll have to read it yourself.) ;) But it really shows how writers think differently from everyone else. We're special...obsessed really. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think "OMG, that's a great story idea" and go in search of a notebook. Many of my great lines have been thought up in the shower. I pick apart whatever I'm watching and analyze it for character motivation and plot. Lemme tell ya, I have a bone to pick with Dragon Age, because there are so many elements of their "romantic" storylines that aren't romance, dammit! Okay, I'm better now...

My point is, authors are special. Now I'm going to return you to your regularly scheduled program so I can finally finish writing this epic love scene.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Where do we go from here?

Clearly you must be thinking, "Robyn, what will you do if you're not talking about gaming and writing?" Which is a valid question, because those are two of my favorite things. Today, however, I want to talk about reading. I confess: I don't just have a To Be Read pile, I have an entire bookcase. There are books that have been there since before I got married. I don't read as much as I used to, because I tend not to read when I'm writing, and I'm writing something almost all of the time. But I'm trying to whittle the pile down, honest! Or at least not bring new books into the apartment...until I bought my Nook.

Addiction, thy name is ebook. In my life before the Nook, I read ebooks on my laptop, and that was slow-going because of the myriad distractions of the intarwebs. The Nook does not have those distractions. In fact, the more I read on the Nook, the more I've come to realize that to me, it's even better than reading a print book, and here's why: font size. I can't change the font size on a print book, but when my eyes start bothering me I can make the font larger on my Nook and viola! Eyestrain gone! The only difference I've found is that instead of turning a page, I push a button, and I'm okay with that.

So what have I been reading on my shiny new Nook? Well if you follow me on Goodreads you'd know, because I'm good about updating it. ;) It's been a Samhain extravaganza: Blaze of Glory by Sheryl Nantus, Run, Wolf by Keith Melton, and Darkness at Dawn by Devin Harnois. All very good, and I recommend them. Next I'm planning on reading some fantasy romance, because that's what I'm working on at the moment. My question to you, o intarwebs, is what are you reading now? Is it awesome? Do you recommend it? And do you have any fantasy romance to recommend that I try out? I'm reading Lynn Kurland's Princess of the Sword right now.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Romance Writers 4TW

Because I will never be able to afford a trip to RWA National, I have to enjoy it vicariously through the internets. Here is a video of the literacy signing created by SB Sarah. It's probably a good thing I'll never go; with my addiction to signed books, I'd want one from every author and end up bankrupt. ;)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Storyteller: This Is The End, My Friend

So now we’ve come to the end of my rambling. At least on this subject (because I could ramble all day about Dragon Age and the myriad reasons I’d like to kick George Lucas in the ding-ding). For now (let’s face it, I could probably talk gaming and writing forever). To recap…

Magic needs rules. Wizards need limits on their magic. Creatures need rules for what they can and cannot do. Setting the rules for your world can help with everything from plotting the story to choreographing a fight scene. Be aware of how much punch a fireball packs. Don’t be afraid of lighting your hero’s party up with friendly fire.

Maps are your friend. Creating a map of your world can help illustrate everything from trade routes to political relationships. Real world maps can be altered to fit your setting. They’re also made of awesome for reminding you what place names are, so you’re not constantly going back to your manuscript trying to remember what street the hero lives on or what kingdom the heroine ran away from.

Balance your characters. Characters need merits and flaws. They need things they excel in, and things they suck at. For every benefit you give them, take something away. Give them ninjas to fight, external and personal ninjas. As Shrek might say, characters are like onions—they need layers. Don’t be afraid to try out a character questionnaire. You never know when the heroine’s favorite flavor of ice cream might come up in a scene.

Plot happens. Sometimes your story gets away from you. Plot bunnies attack. Burning vans appear. Don’t panic! When in doubt, throw ninjas at your characters, but remember that they need to recover from every ninja attack. Action is like a video game—you proceed through the level, learn something, fight some bad guys, and then move on to the next until you reach the boss battle. After that it’s a little resolution and a happily ever after. Don’t be afraid to plot out fight scenes with whatever you have at hand, whether that be D&D figurines or marshmallow Peeps.

And no matter what you do, always remember Wheaton’s law: Don’t be a dick.

Now, to discuss what we’ve learned from all this, I bring you…the Wheel of Morality!

May your dice always roll well, may your loot always be phat, and may your xbox never suffer from the red ring of death. Good night everybody!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interweb Tuesday: You Can't Handle the Cute

Today I bring you baby otters! So much adorable.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Storyteller: Grid Maps and Figurines: Plotting Your Fight Scenes in 3D

I have a love/hate relationship with fight scenes. I love to include them, but I hate to write them. I think it’s a hatred born of my time as a Storyteller at LARP, where on occasion we would have to try to manage fight scenes with 50+ characters. Everyone wanted to be involved in the action, and they wanted your attention right now. Thankfully when writing you only have to argue with the voices in your head, and perhaps your editor.

There are a few basics to keep in mind when writing fights. There’s a simple rhythm to it: action and reaction. If your hero throws a punch, his opponent will try to dodge it. In order to gain ground, someone has to lose it—like ballroom dancing, where one partner steps forward while the other steps back. I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics of fights from gaming. For example, in a video game such as World of Warcraft, a ring will appear when my warlock attempts to cast an area-of-effect spell, showing me where my damage will rain down holy hellfire on anything within it. I need to position that ring for the maximum effect, and that can be difficult, because you often can’t fit every monster inside of it.

This goes back to my discussion on the rules of magic. You need to know the limits of your character’s abilities. If she wants to cast a fireball, she knows that it will only hit a certain area, so she needs to be aware of where to throw it to maximize its effectiveness. Trying to plot that out in your head can be tricky when you’re adding in more variables like additional characters, their abilities, bystanders, the bad guys, and their abilities. In a RPG like Dungeons and Dragons players often use maps and figurines as a physical representation of their adventure. Below is a photo of a few of my husband’s figs arrayed on a grid map. Each space on the map equals 5 feet, so this allows a player to figure out how far he can move, how far the bad guys can move, how many of them will be affected by his spell, and so on.

(Yes, that is Raistlin Majere about to unleash hell upon that dragon, bonus points for noticing that.) But unless you are a geek yourself or you married one, you probably don’t have these things lying around the house to help you with your fight scene. Thus I bring you…Samhain Duckie versus the Evil Peep Army! (Yes, he is wearing a wizard hat, and apparently blue wizard needs Nutella badly.) These examples should help illustrate how taking a few minutes to set up a physical model can help you decide who does what to who in your fight scene, and how it plays out from beginning to end. Or it'll just be silly and vaguely entertaining. Either way, he looks cute in his hat.

Area of Effect and Position Bonuses
As I mentioned earlier, some spells, like fireballs, will affect an entire area. This is also true for other types of explosive damage like grenades. From his vantage atop the castle wall, Wizard Duckie can easily wipe out the Evil Peeps in one shot because they’re grouped together. His spot on the wall also gives him a tactical advantage—you always want the high ground, and your characters should try to get it if possible. From here he can attack them with his ranged spells, but the Peeps have melee weapons, and if they want to fight Wizard Duckie, they have to storm the castle.

Here Wizard Duckie has come down from the wall and prepares to face off with the Peeps in melee combat. Wizard Duckie has partial cover: by hiding behind the Nutella jar, he is harder to spot and harder to hit with a ranged attack like a spell or arrow. No matter how brave or overconfident your hero may be, it's always good to get some sort of cover if he's under attack. Also, though Peeps 1 and 2 can see him, Peep 3 can’t, giving Wizard Duckie full cover from Peep 3. Thus Peep 3 can’t attack him, but our wizard also can’t attack Peep 3. He could, however, cast a fireball that would hit Peeps 1 and 2. If he hid completely behind the Nutella Jar, he would have full cover from all three.

Dodge, Parry and Flanking Attackers
Mortal Kombat! Here Wizard Duckie is surrounded. He can engage the Peeps in front of him, with a chance to dodge and/or parry their attacks. Peep 3 is flanking him. Because he can’t see Peep 3, Peep 3 gets bonuses to attacking him. Nobody wants to be flanked. If you’re looking for a way to knock out your characters, this is a good way to do it. Rogues usually attack this way, burying their blades in your character’s kidneys before you can say “I took how much damage?!” Occasionally in movies you’ll see the hero managing to parry the attack of the person behind him, like “aha! I block your sword with my sword even though I didn’t know you were there, because I am just that good!” So yes, it’s been done, but I don’t recommend it. Remember, just because your characters are fighting throwaway minions who won't make it into the next scene doesn't mean that those minions won't try to take every tactical advantage they can get. Those minions want to live, even though you're going to kill them.

Charging and Attacks of Opportunity
In this scenario, the Evil Peeps stand between Wizard Duckie and the castle. To get to the castle, he’s going to have to get past them. He can break left or right, but they’ll get a swing at him as he goes by because he’ll pass through their threat area. This is the area around a character that they can reach without taking more than a step. Imagine you’re playing tag, and you have to run past the person who is It. They’re going to make a grab for you as you go by. The same goes for a fight scene. If you come close enough to reach, the bad guys are going to grab at you. Wizard duckie could charge the Peeps here, rushing them, but they’re going to swing at him when he does. He might whup them, or they might smack him down before he can take a second swing. It's often tempting just to bypass minions like these when writing a fight, because you just want to get your character from point A to point B, but the minions deserve to get at least a swing in, since you put them in there in the first place.

So those are a few fight scene basics. I hope Samhain Duckie has shown you the benefits of setting up a fight scene to help you work it out. Or if nothing else that you found him amusing. ;) Next week concludes the Storyteller extravaganza, and we will spin the Wheel of Morality and see what we’ve learned from all of this. (A special thank you goes out to my husband for helping with Samhain Duckie’s photo shoot.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: I Got Your Emotional Conflict Right Here

As I may have mentioned before, I am the child of two gym teachers, and as such I'm much more likely to be "rub some dirt in it and walk it off" than "and how does that make you feel?". So there was a special place in my heart for the above commercial. ;)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Storyteller: Critical Fail: Making Your Characters Suffer

In most d20 systems, rolling a 20 is an automatic success and rolling a 1 is an automatic fail. Rolling a 1 is never good. Because I am a huge dork, I often insert a “Well they just rolled a 1” comment in whatever I’m watching when things go horribly wrong. If you’ve seen the second Dungeons and Dragons movie that was made for Sci Fi (I guess that’d be Syfy now, whatever), that’s a good example of epic fails (and also of a Dungeon Master who is an epic dick to his players)(please, don’t be that guy). The healer dies in their first fight. THEIR FIRST FRICKIN’ FIGHT. Then when they teleport somewhere their wizard fails her roll and gets her arm STUCK IN A FRICKIN’ STONE WALL. And they have to CUT IT OFF. I’m sorry, that piece of crap brings out the all caps rage in me. But, point made that it’s bad to roll a 1.

In some games that I’ve played, a Game Master has the option of torturing their players if they roll a 1. Okay, not literal torture, but they can allow the player’s action to succeed while giving them a “complication.” There is a world of trouble and suffering that can happen from a complication. The hero shoots the bad guy, but then the gun backfires and seriously injures the hero’s hand. The heroine hacks into the government computer system and finds the files she needs, but trips a security alarm and men in black are going to storm her apartment in 30 seconds. The ninja sidekick performs a complicated set of acrobatics to get across the room and through the sea of bad guys…and then falls flat on his face and knocks himself out.

There’s a Jim Butcher quote that I love to repeat that goes, “My business is making Harry Dresden suffer. And business is good.” As a writer your business is making your characters suffer. It’s the C in GMC. (Remember Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Good, you get a gold star.) :) When plotting, take a moment to ponder what would happen if your hero and heroine fail spectacularly in whatever scene they’re in. Think of Star Wars. There are lots of moments of fail in Star Wars. They escape Hoth…and the hyperdrive is broken. They escape Bespin…and the hyperdrive is still broken (or at least appears to be). It’s the “I am a leaf on the wind” moment in Serenity when the ship lands. You know that moment.

It draws out the drama. We expect, especially in a romance, that there will be a happily ever after, but your characters have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get there. Every success comes at a price. Every triumph comes with a casualty. Even if it’s a personal ninja casualty like hurt feelings instead of say a severed limb. (It’s amazing what you can live through in a video game, but I digress…) But there is a point where you can go too far, as I mentioned above about the craptastic D&D movie. You want to be mean to your characters and give them conflict, but always remember Wheaton’s law: “Don’t Be a Dick!” Don’t overdo it to the point where your readers are frustrated on behalf of your characters. Don’t be that guy.

Next week is my last post in this series before the Epic Conclusion. Gasp! I know, where did the time go? Anyway, I’ll be talking about using hex maps and figurines to help you think in 3D for fight scenes. I’ve probably lost most of you at hex maps, but I’ll be featuring Samhain Duckie versus an army of evil Peeps, so it’ll be awesome. Trust me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Storyteller Side Quest: Constructive Annoyance

Today's side quest is brought to you by BFF Diana. These are Diana's thoughts on being a good crit partner. Please to enjoy, and I'm sure she'll answer any questions you have for her too. :)

As you've gathered by now, Robyn and I talk about writing a lot. Almost every day, in fact, we IM each other, talking about what we're writing, sharing good lines that we just wrote, cackling about the terrible things we are about to do to our characters, taunting each other during word wars, or, at the very least, talking about what we would be writing if we weren't busy hitting on Alistair in Dragon Age.

All of these conversations are important to us as writing and critique partners, but some of the most important--and most fun--conversations revolve around questions. The beginning of a recent session went something like this:

Robyn: I'm thinking about writing a story about Michael and Emily.
Diana: Can I ask questions?
Robyn: Sure.
Diana: What's life like for seers in Victorian England? When exactly during Victoria's reign is this set (she lived for freakin ever)? Is Michael Simon's first apprentice? What makes him so special? Is this going to be in London? Will Emily put chunks of masonry in her reticule?

Granted, I did pause to let Robyn give me some answers (I'll think about it, I have birth years for them, yes, dunno yet, yes, and snerk, respectively), but otherwise that's pretty much how our conversations go whenever one of us has a new idea or runs into a thorny worldbuilding or plotting problem. And getting answers really isn't the goal of question time.

Why Ask?

When I ask questions, I really don't care about getting answers. Well, sure, there's a part of me that really does want to know if Cecelia of the Silver Crescent ever does the chicken dance with toadstool pixies, but getting answers to everything isn't the goal. Ultimately, the questions I ask are a way of prodding the other person into thinking about the topic in general, nudging her or him out of a rut and into a frame of mind where new ideas can be generated. Unless there's a specific problem area that we're trying to address, starting at "What shoes is the villain wearing" and winding up at "What are the mourning rituals of this subculture" is a good thing.

Ask What?

What you ask, of course, depends on whether you're playing off of a brand-new idea with lots of possible angles or exploring something specific. Starting with the germ of an idea can be fun--that's when you can play with the wacky random questions or do in-depth worldbuilding. The former can lead to fun character touches, while the latter can lead to information that your partner needs to figure out, even if it doesn't make it into the book.

These categories are very fluid. Robyn and I once started out with a character question that led to worldbuilding, winding up back with character touches. A question about one character's siblings evolved into lengthy session on the mating habits of werejaguars: Do they have litters? Which form reproduces? Are there problems if a mother shifts during gestation? Can they cross-breed? All of that was information that was fun worldbuilding, but very little of it will end up in the finished product. (We did wind up needing to know whether our were needed to worry about birth control with a non-were!) (We really need to finish that book someday.)

When your writing partner comes to you with a specific issue to work on, you need to keep in mind not only the immediate problem, but also where the problem fits into the rest of the work. Ideally, you've been discussing the project beforehand so you're not asking basic questions to orient yourself! Earlier this evening, Robyn asked me where a new villain should be introduced--a villain so new, I didn't know much about him! We had to go through a couple rounds of questions until I understood how he fit into the story as I knew it and could ask the questions that actually led to a decision.

As an aside, when you ask your questions, it's unavoidable that your own opinions will creep in, and you may be tempted to guide your partner toward what you would write, rather than what is best for the story. Try to keep an open mind until you've exhausted all the possibilities. For the villain introduction I just mentioned, I initially was leaning toward option A, because I thought it would be better for the heroine's interactions with the hero, but once we'd explored the full situation, I suggested option B...because I thought it would be better for the heroine's interactions with the hero!

Ask How?

Channeling a three-year-old who just learned about "Why?" isn't always the best way to feel like you're being constructive--and isn't the best way to keep your writing partner from winging a can of tuna at your head. Being sensitive to your writing partner's mood, idiosyncrasies, and current writing needs is essential.

While one or two unprompted questions can be good if you've been pondering something that might need clarification, try to avoid ambushing your partner with a dozen questions at once.

Also, I ask "Am I being annoying?" a lot. When we get to a point where the answer is "Yes," I stop. Most of the time.

Concluding a Session

Ideally, question sessions are both finite and ongoing. As fun as a good round of questions can be, you do need to stop at some point and actually write! A natural time to take a break is when you hit on an idea so excellent, it must be written down immediately or it will get lost. But if you find yourself circling around the same questions or getting involved in details that no one, not even the writer, needs to know, it's probably time to stop procrastinating and get something down on the page.

When you find someone you work well with--when you are able to both nag and encourage each other in productive ways--then the questions never really stop. And it's a wonderful thing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to ask Robyn about what one of my secondary characters should be having for breakfast. And tell her what Alistair just said about my dwarf noble's hindquarters.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Storyteller: The Burning Van: When Your Adventure Gets Away From You

I was part of the Storyteller team at our local LARP for awhile. There were 4 or 5 of us trying to manage a game that at the time was over 100 players on a busy night, so things had the potential to get out of hand pretty quick. Not only were we outnumbered, but we were each running our own plotlines. One of the more memorable occasions I was called outside to help with a scene, and for some reason I wasn’t wearing shoes, I can’t remember why. So I’m hustling down the stairs and out the door to help these players, who of course needed help right now, and the first thing they tell me is, “We want to know about the burning van.”

To which my response was, “What burning van?”

It wasn’t my plot, so I had no idea what was going on, and it wasn’t something we’d discussed during the ST meeting. I couldn’t help them, and I had to track down who could so the characters could get on with their story.

In a first draft, it’s easy to let your plot get away from you. Maybe you’re fixated on throwing bigger, stronger ninjas at your characters until they find themselves in a situation you can’t get them out of. Maybe you’re being attacked by plot bunnies who are demanding you throw in weresharks, even though your story is nowhere near water. Maybe you’ve created so much conflict between your hero and heroine that there’s no way in hell they’re going to get in the same bed—hell, even the same room.

If you hit a wall, or a burning van, in your first draft, you can find a way around it. Take a deep breath, and remember that this is what first drafts are for. You can always cut the weresharks later. Also, this is why critique partners are so important. They’re like your Storyteller team, there to help you create an engaging story that your readers will want to get lost in. A good crit partner will tell you, “Dude, no weresharks. Seriously.” Even if you’re still in the plotting stage, having someone to bounce ideas off of can be extremely helpful. (I have much <3 for BFF Diana. She’s considering writing a companion post for this about what kind of questions a crit partner should ask, so let’s hope she does.)

Short post, huh? Next week I’m talking ways to make your characters suffer through epic fails. Until then, just say no to weresharks.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Storyteller: The Impenetrable Forest: Steering Your Character Down the Right Path

Remember the story from the Storyteller intro? No? I’ll repeat:

The lonely road stretched before the band of adventurers. Impenetrable forest lined either side of the road, dark and ominous. Before them the bulk of an airship blotted out the sun, unmoving, a ladder dangling down from it in silent invitation for the adventurers to climb aboard.

“I want to go through the forest.”

“Wait, what?”

“We’re not getting on that thing. We’re going through the forest.”

“Dude, no. I just said the forest is impenetrable. Get on the airship already!”

This is paraphrased from an actual gaming experience. We argued with the DM for 5 minutes as to why we didn’t want to get on the ship, and we had good, solid reasons for why our characters wouldn’t go. Problem was, the adventure was on the ship, and if we wanted to get on with the gaming and roll some d20s, our asses needed to get on the airship. So our characters did. As gamers, we understood that if we wanted to participate in the game, we’d have to run with the DM’s plot, even if it was out of character for our characters to do so.

You may have a fabulous adventure planned for the characters in your story, but they need to have a reason to go on it, one that will seem logical to your readers. In the Quest, Reward and Ninjas! discussion, I talked about how George Lucas got Luke Skywalker out the door. Luke Skywalker, simple farm boy, is presented with a quest: rescue the princess and become a Jedi. But he doesn’t take it. Instead, he offers to help old Ben Kenobi get as far as Anchorhead, because he has responsibilities to his home and family that he’s not willing to abandon. Luke isn’t motivated to get involved until that family is murdered. Once the Empire’s evil becomes personal, he’s ready to go to war.

If you want your characters to participate in your plot, they need reasons to do so. They’re not going to hop on the plot bus without something personal that makes them get on board, something that makes sense for their character. Thus beginneth my Storyteller Side Quest: Know Your Alignment.

Okay. I didn’t talk about character alignments in the character creation section for reasons I can’t remember, but it fits in here fairly well too, because your party’s alignment often determines what kind of quests you can go on. Team Good probably isn’t going to be down with summoning demons for fun and profit. Team Evil doesn’t want to save the kingdom, they want to conquer it. In most RPGs, alignment breaks down like this: Good, Neutral, Evil. And it breaks down further into Lawful (sometimes called Orderly), Neutral, and Chaotic. These things should go without saying, but I’ll explain them anyway.

  • Lawful Good: This is your typical paladin. He’s unerringly on the side of law and order, and will enforce said laws to see justice done. Problem is, he make your party’s life hard, because if you want to do something even remotely underhanded or shady, he’ll shut you down. In Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, Lex is lawful good, because guardians are like paladins.
  • Neutral Good: Most people fall into the neutral good category; they do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. They’ll work with the law, but won’t mind breaking it if the results help someone. They’re just nice guys.
  • Chaotic Good: Want to join the rebellion? Damn the man, save Empire? (Empire Records, not the galactic empire, get your movies straight.) Then chaotic good is right for you. This is Robin Hood. This is Malcolm Reynolds. (Big damn heroes, sir. Ain’t we just?) Chaotic good breaks every law and regulation in sight to do the right thing, especially if someone’s being oppressed. Freedom fighters all the way.
  • Lawful Neutral: Lawful neutral is also very law and order, but unlike lawful good, lawful neutral won’t lose any sleep over things like social injustices. They’re all about tradition and order, and not as concerned about whether those traditions are good or evil.
  • True Neutral: This is the law of the jungle alignment. Buildings burn, people die, bad things happen, but that’s life. In my gaming experience, a lot of people want to play true neutral characters and few people can pull it off. The wiki I linked above lists Han Solo as an example, and as an ex-Star Wars fanatic I’m ambivalent about that, but it works for the Han Solo we first meet in A New Hope.
  • Chaotic Neutral: I hate this alignment a bit, because I’ve often seen it as an excuse for gamers to get away with stuff that’s bad for the party, like stealing from the party. Chaotic neutral is kind of a jerk. They do their own thing and are selfish and self-centered.
  • Lawful Evil: This is my favorite flavor of evil. Lawful evil has a plan, a cunning plan, and knows how to work the system to his or her best benefit. They’re most likely to be an evil overlord. Magneto is lawful evil. In Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, Harrison is lawful evil (for now, anyway).
  • Neutral Evil: Neutral evil is the Diet Coke of evil. They’re evil…just because. They’ll kill you if they have to, probably betray you, but it depends on what’s in it for them. The above-mentioned wiki says Sawyer from Lost is an example, but I’ve only seen the first season and really all I remember is that he looks good without a shirt. (In fact, I have a picture of him as my Lex inspiration, rawr!) ;) You’ll have to comment on whether or not you think he’s a good example.
  • Chaotic Evil: If chaotic neutral is a jerk, chaotic evil is a raging asshole. You do not want this person in your party. It’s really best to kill them on sight, and if someone wants to play one in your game, throw dice at them until they change their mind. Chaotic evil makes for a hard to understand villain, because your reader is constantly wondering what the fuck just happened.

Here’s an example of alignments and how they work. Right now I’m playing Dragon Age on our Xbox 360. I’m playing a Good character—she fights evil without promise of reward, and she just wants to save everyone because it’s the right thing to do. In my party I have Team Good: Wynne, Leliana, and Alaistair (omg, squee, I <3 him 4evar!). They approve of the Good things I do, like helping lost children and punishing criminals. They get pissy and disapprove if I say anything bitchy or refuse to help people in need. I leave Team Evil at camp—Morrigan, Sten, and Zevran—because while they’re perfectly helpful in combat, they get pissed off when I made Good decisions. I’ll work with them during my next play-through when I try an evil character.

If you’ve created Team Good in your story, they’re not going to want to do Evil plot, and vice versa. They’re also going to make the kind of decisions that Good characters make. If the villain calls and says he’s got a bomb on something important somewhere and will only disarm it if the hero shows up alone at his hideout, and he’ll kill everyone if the hero calls the cops…the hero’s going to show up alone at his hideout without calling the cops, no matter how much you yell at the TV that it’s a bad idea. Think about it. How often in TV/movies does the hero do the dumb thing because he believes it’s the right thing? Team Good plays by the rules in a code-of-honor kind of way, which is the inspiration for my favorite line from the movie Spaceballs: “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

I’ve gotten some criticism for Blood, Smoke and Mirrors saying that Cat is TSTL (too stupid to live)(which is like a dagger in my heart)(seriously people, don’t use this phrase lightly, it makes authors cry, and a kitten dies every time an author cries, so please, think of the kittens) because of events in the second half of the book. To this I say Cat is not stupid. Cat is Good. If the book were a RPG, making any other choice would probably change her alignment, and despite her many flaws, Cat is on Team Good.

Next week I’m discussing what happens when your adventure gets away from you, which happens quite often in RPGs. ;)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

As you may have noticed...

No Storyteller post today, due to birthday shenanigans. (Cubs lost! Those bums. Oh well.) I should have it up tomorrow when things return to normal.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: n00b!

So that's why my cat is always hitting me while I'm at the computer, it makes perfect sense now.

So I'm going to be interviewed by theHub Magazine (their site might be slightly NFSW, because there is some art with nudity, fyi). Right now they're looking for questions for me over at their Twitter page. If you're on Twitter and have questions for me about the book or my writing, you can use the hashtag #robynbachar and they might include it in my interview.

Pretty neat, huh? :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Storyteller: Story Structure: Levels, Bosses, and Rising and Falling Action

Ah, plot. It makes you tear your hair out. You have great characters, a fabulous setting and clever world building…but now they need something to do. Fight crime? Slay dragons? Rescue the princess? Something needs to happen to get them from “Once upon a time” to “And they lived happily ever after.”

In a RPG, your character starts out at level 1 in a simple setting, sometimes referred to as the “newbie zone.” She doesn’t have much in the way of powers, spells, and abilities. She’s probably wandering around half nekkid with a rusty weapon and a crust of bread, chasing down giant rats and bunny rabbits. As she gains experience, she learns new powers and acquires better equipment, and she begins to face tougher opponents. Bigger, stronger ninjas, if you will. In World of Warcraft, my warlock started out fighting itty bitty wolves with her whiny imp minion complaining the whole time. Now after many quests and adventures she’s reached the end of the game, and she fights dragons with her big, burly (but still whiny) fel guard demon minion.

So how does this apply to your plot? No matter what genre you’re writing, there’s a basic structure to any story. Just like in a RPG, you start out small, gain experience/knowledge by overcoming a few obstacles, and then you defeat the end boss. At some point during your educational career, you probably encountered a Dramatic Structure chart like this in an English/creative writing class:

In a video game, the rising action takes place over a series of progressively more difficult levels—the ninja level, the underwater level, the outer space level, the dream sequence level—you make your way through by fighting the monsters, solving the puzzles and whatnot to get to the end, where you fight the boss for that level before moving on to the next. In a story, each scene/chapter is like a level your characters must get through, and this is where Goal, Motivation and Conflict come in again. Say you’re not fighting monsters in your story. What is the goal for your hero/heroine? Why are they pursuing that goal? And what’s keeping them from achieving it?

Often it’s the boss monster that stands between them and the end of the game, like Bowser in the Super Mario series. In some games, like the first Mario, you fought Bowser several times before the end, but in others you fought his minions before getting to him. Your heroes might face a few minions during the rising action before getting to the villain, whether it’s actual bad guys or hypothetical ones like personal conflict. (Remember the personal ninjas? Good.) However, sometimes instead of fighting the level bosses, an author will have a cut scene to describe what Team Evil is up to. This is fine, well and good, but if you’re going to do this, please make these cut scenes interesting. I won’t name any names, but there’s one series out there that I follow that has villains I can’t get into. They’re boring. They’re evil because someone had to be. So when I come to a chapter with them, I skip it. The whole thing. Next! It makes the books more enjoyable for me, but I also end up skipping 1/4 to 1/3 of the book. Therefore, my word of warning is to please be careful with your bad guys, because they may not be as fascinating as you think they are. Villains need GMC too, and "just because" isn't really a good motivation, unless they're toddlers. (Aside: When BFF Diana proofread this, she asked me if I was dissing a completely different series, so make that 2 series where I skipped the bad guys. Actually, I may have to do a Storyteller Side Quest post on alignments now, hmm…)

The heroes complete level after level. They suffer through a sea of storm troopers and tie fighter pilots before getting to Darth Vader, but once they get to Darth Vader, that’s the Big Deal. The music swells and the audience knows that this is it! It is on like Donkey Kong! It should be epic, climactic…thus why it’s the high point on the chart. It’s not the end, it’s the big bang that brings about the end. Even if it doesn’t have actual explosions, your boss fight should have dramatic impact.

Next week I’ll be discussing how to steer your party down the right path, even if they don’t want to get on the airship. However, my birthday is Wednesday and I’ll be out celebrating (at the Cubs game! Go Cubs go!), so the Storyteller post might be Friday instead of Thursday. We’ll see how hungover I am. ;)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: To Boldly Go

Today, I bring you this video. I inherited a love of Star Trek from my dad, and I thought this was hilarious. Please to enjoy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Storyteller: 20 Questions

Finishing Touches for Character Creation

Hi, my name is Robyn, and I’m addicted to character questionnaires. Really addicted. In need of a 12-step program addicted. But I find them very useful for character development, whether that character is meant for a RPG or for my writing. Here are two sets of questions that I’ve used for both. I did not create these, and I’m not sure where they originated from (I vaguely remember that the first set might be adapted from the 7 Seas RPG). I also have a template for creating in-depth character bios, and if anyone’s interested, email me at robyn at robynbachar dot com and I’ll send you the file for it.

  1. Who does your character have the greatest respect for?
  2. Why did they choose their particular profession?
  3. Do they collect anything?
  4. What is their most embarrassing moment?
  5. Are they superstitious? How so?
  6. If they were given the opportunity to know the exact date of their death, would they want to know it?
  7. Your character's chosen deity speaks to them, and says that they can end the war tomorrow if they will slay an innocent child. Would they do it?
  8. What is something your character has lost that they wish they could get back?
  9. What is your character's biggest regret?
  10. Do they believe in love at first sight?

  1. What country is your character from?
  2. How would you physically describe your character?
  3. Does your character have recurring mannerisms?
  4. What is your character's main motivation?
  5. What is your character's greatest strength? Greatest weakness?
  6. What are your character's most and least favorite things?
  7. What about your character's psychology?
  8. What is your character's single greatest fear?
  9. What are your character's highest ambitions? His greatest love?
  10. What is your character's opinion of his hometown?
  11. Does your character have any prejudices?
  12. Where do your character's loyalties lie?
  13. Is your character in love? Is he married or engaged/betrothed?
  14. What about your character's family?
  15. How would your character's parents describe him?
  16. Is your character a Gentleman or Gentlewoman? (think Code of Chivalry)
  17. How religious is your character?
  18. Is your character a member of a guild, club, or secret society?
  19. What does your character think of magic?
  20. If you could, what advice would you give your character?
Feel free to try out a few and post your answers in the comments. I know I had one for Cat, but I can’t figure out where it is, which means it’s probably on the old laptop… Anyway, next week I’m starting the plotting section by discussing story structure—levels, bosses, and rising and falling action.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Storyteller postponed 'til tomorrow

Just got back from my mini-trip to Springfield, so I'll be posting this week's Storyteller discussion tomorrow. :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shameless Begging for Votes

So this last week I got a 5 out of 5 Book review from Long and Short Reviews (which you can read here, it makes me grin like an idiot). Now this weekend I'm up for their Book of the Week. Please vote here:

All votes are greatly appreciated. Seriously, I <3 you guys. I'd bake you all cookies if I could.

(In completely unrelated news, because I can't run Dragon Age on my antiquated desktop, my dear and loving husband bought me a copy for the Xbox. OMG, it is so good! I stayed up late last night getting through the beginning and I'm in love. Bioware delivers like Domino's, people.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Storyteller: Quest, Reward and Ninjas!

Getting Your Characters Out the Door and into Harm’s Way

Continuing on our character creation journey, today I’m talking Goal, Motivation and Conflict. You’re probably familiar with GMC. If not, I highly recommend it, because the concept is pretty awesome and I found the book very helpful in my writing (and you can buy the GMC book here). But to boil it down, the idea is that your character should have a goal that they want to achieve, a reason for wanting to achieve it, and something preventing them from getting it. Gamers are very familiar with this concept, except in a RPG your character is given a quest, offered a reward for achieving it, and then ninjas pop out and beat the snot out of him to stop him. I’m going to break it down step by step.

Quest: Your hero starts out in his ordinary world. It’s familiar, comfortable and probably a bit boring. Maybe he wants to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters, and his uncle won’t let him. Something needs to happen to get his butt off of Tatooine, because if he stays there it’s not a very interesting story. Thus along comes the call to adventure! In a RPG, your adventure is usually a specific quest or campaign. A quest giver tells you "hey, bring me this sword" and you agree to do so. Slay the dragon, bring down the evil empire, save the princess, yadda yadda yadda. Though obstacles may occur along their way—as in a chain of quests, where each step builds on the last—there is always one overarching goal. In a story the quest isn’t always as obvious as it is in a RPG. In romance, the quest is to fall in love and live happily ever after, but the hero and heroine probably aren’t aware of it in the same way as a knight setting out to slay a dragon would be. In a way, your quest as the romance writer is to get them to their HEA.

Reward: As a gamer, it’s easy for me to shove my warlock out of her pixilated front door and send her off to slay dragons and fight the Lich King, because I want phat loot and awesome gear and she needs to quest to acquire those. As a writer, if I’m going to shove my warlock out the door to adventure, I need to know why she wants to do it. Before any character can embark on any quest, they need a reason for doing it. In a RPG everyone knows what’s in it for them, whether it’s coin, equipment, experience, faction or all of the above. There’s always a tangible reward for completing your quest. In a story, rewards often intangible. Heroes save the kingdom because it’s the right thing to do, not for gold and xp. But if your heroine starts out as a common scullery maid, why would she suddenly decide to save the kingdom from the evil menacing it? She needs a personal reason to get involved. Again, think of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker, simple farm boy, is presented with a quest: rescue the princess and become a Jedi. But does he take it at first? Nope. He offers to help old Ben Kenobi get to Anchorhead, but that’s it. Luke isn’t motivated to get involved until his family is murdered. Once the Empire’s evil becomes personal, he’s ready to go to war. Now think of Han Solo. He’s also presented with the quest of saving the princess, and he also refuses, until he’s offered a financial reward. But it’s not just about the credits, because we also know that he has a price on his head and desperately needs that money to call off Jabba’s bounty hunters. Speaking of bounty hunters...

Ninjas!: In LARP we used to refer to this as "and then the Assamites jumped out: (Assamites being assassin vampires whose mission in unlife was to kill other vampires, usually by jumping out of hiding and wtfpwning your character)(which is how I met my husband, but that’s another story)(he got schooled). It’s the empty room you walk into in a game where suddenly there’s a zombie OMG RIGHT BEHIND YOU! (Bioshock, anyone? Gah!) It’s the moment of "That’s not a moon, it’s a space station!" There is always something standing between the hero and the end of the quest line. It’s the thing standing between your characters and their Happily Ever After. Ninjas. Damn those ninjas, always causing shenanigans with their throwing stars! Anyway...your story needs drama. I’m a fan of fight scenes—not of actually writing them, but I like having them in the story. I like action. I like movies with explosions, so I’m likely to take the easy route for conflict and have ninjas jump out (or vampires, or magma elementals, or some more vampires).

If you’re not writing an action story though, you have metaphorical ninjas instead of physical ones. In Romancelandia, this can often be the Big Misunderstanding (as discussed in the Smart Bitches’ Beyond Heaving Bosoms, also an awesome book)(Sarah Wendell signed my Heaving Bosoms, squee!). Cheesy example: The heroine’s a virgin, but the hero thinks she’s a dirty whore because she was out after dark in a dress that showed off her shapely ankles. Better example: Though I mainly read paranormal and fantasy, I’ll read anything by Nora Roberts, even if no vampires are involved. Nora’s Bride Quartet series is straight contemporary, and it’s fascinating to me to read it because there are no zombies, no explosions, no murder mystery to push the story along. Just the conflict between the hero and heroine—personality conflicts, emotional misunderstandings, problems from their pasts. Their own personal ninjas who leap out of the recesses of their minds and attack their better judgment, if you will.

Next week is the last of the character creation section, where I talk 20 questions. I love character questionnaires. Seriously. It’s an addiction. Until then, be on guard for ninja attacks. Constant vigilance, people!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: Srsly Goffik

I can't remember who posted this on Twitter yesterday, but it is indeed a dramatic reading.

I'm a little mystified at the fanfic thing, even though I'm probably guilty of it myself to an extent. I've never had the urge to write myself into someone else's book, but I've written a few stories for my MMORPG characters, and that's technically writing in someone else's setting. It was fun, and I enjoyed creating a story with other players. But Harry Potter fanfic? I'd rather create my own world and run amok in it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Storyteller: Customizing Your Characters for the Road Ahead: Expanded and Unrated Edition

BFF Diana is my unofficial proofreader, and when she read my post for Savvy Authors she said, “Dude, where are the swears?” Now, you all know that I am not afraid to drop the f-bomb, but I try to keep posts on other blogs G-rated. Thus, I bring you the expanded and unrated version of choosing character traits. Please to enjoy.

Gamers spend a lot of time on character creation. Perhaps even too much time, because no one wants to be stuck with a character who can’t survive an adventure or isn’t fun to play. I spent hours making characters in City of Heroes/City of Villains, and really it was the most entertaining part of the game. A gamer’s focus is on creating a character that is going to be the best at his or her role in the game (and possibly the awesomest looking as well). As writers, our focus is on creating characters that are going to be the best at their role in our story—a brave hero, a strong heroine, an evil villain (and probably the awesomest looking ones as well; when was the last time you encountered an average-looking hero, really?). But in fiction brave, handsome heroes are a dime a dozen, so if you want to make him memorable, then he’ll need more detail. This is where character customization comes in. Adding skills and abilities to a character makes them more efficient in a game, and makes them more interesting in a story.

Skills, Feats and Merits: In most role playing games, characters start out with the same basic set of abilities, like they’ve been stamped from a cookie cutter. Players then use build points to purchase whatever they need to make their character’s lives easier. Like what, you ask? Here are some examples from various RPGs I’ve played:
Silent spell casting, arcane library, true faith, lucky, destiny (as in the character has some all-important fate to play in the story), ambidextrous, allies, underworld influence, resources, haven, guardian angel, photographic memory, heightened senses
Essentially, the player buys whatever they think will make the character stronger. If you’re writing a paranormal or fantasy story, those are the sorts of things your character will probably want too, and deciding what these skills are adds a deeper level of detail to them. Say your heroine is a vampire private detective. Then she’ll need things like stealth to follow targets, investigation to solve mysteries, heightened senses to pick up clues, and so on. Non-woojy characters can benefit from this sort of planning as well. If your hero is a businessman, think of specific areas of knowledge that he needs to run his business, and then consider how that knowledge can benefit him during the course of the plot. Is he a computer whiz? Brilliant at marketing? A legal genius? Having all of these can be important to him, but lacking them can be equally important, as seen in choosing flaws and negative traits.

Flaws and Negative Traits: When a player runs out of build points, she has the option of taking a limited amount of negatives in order to earn more points. These are things that can make a character’s life a living hell, and some examples are:
Poor vision, clumsy, unlucky, cursed, unholy aura, shortsighted, tactless, monstrous, callous, enemies, destiny (because sometimes your fate is to die horribly), insane sire, hunted, permanent wound
In Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, Cat is tactless. Though she’d probably agree with a T-shirt that I own that claims “Tact is for people not witty enough to be sarcastic.” Cat is not afraid to tell anyone to fuck off, even when it’d be in her best interest not to do so. It makes her life harder than it needs to be. I once played a vampire with a permanent wound, and she woke up every night with three oozing wounds in her chest. First, it sucked because she started every game by being only a few hits away from dying. Second, waking up with icky wounds is kinda hard to explain to your snuggle buddy.

As a reader, I love flawed heroes. If the hero has a traumatic past to overcome, I’m instantly sold on the story. Adding flaws and negatives to your characters not only makes them more interesting but provides the opportunity for challenges to overcome and lessons to learn in your storyline. Even Cat learns a bit of tact by the end of the book.

Not everyone loves to torture their characters as much as I do. One problem that writers can run into is that while it’s easy to decide a character’s strengths, it’s more difficult to pick weaknesses. When creating characters, I try to follow the general guideline that for every gift you give them, take something away. If your heroine needs to be a powerful sorceress, then she should be bad at something else. Maybe she’s fabulous at magic, but scared to death of horses. A hero who has worked all his life for fortune and glory probably sacrificed something important on the way. Think of Tony Stark/Ironman—he’s got looks, brains, money…and some serious personal demons. He doesn’t have issues, he has multiple subscriptions, but that makes him entertaining. Most of the super heroes we’re familiar with have similar problems, and their flaws allow us to relate to them.

Finally, if you’re writing romance, choosing one character’s flaws can determine the other’s strengths. I have a romantic conflict chart that I use when plotting a new story, and one of the questions asks how the hero and heroine complete each other. It’s a question that I always struggle with, because romantic conflict is damn difficult. Anyone who says it’s easy to write a romance novel deserves a swift kick to the groin. Anyway…the couple should always be stronger together than they are apart, and it’s not a simple matter of “oh he’s strong and muscley, so he can protect her because she’s a delicate flower.” No, no. More like “she comes from a broken home and has relationship issues and he’s a dependable source of stability.”

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, taking a few moments to think through a character’s skills, abilities, negatives and flaws can make her more memorable and may even help hammer out details in your plot. Next week I’ll be discussing a gamer’s approach to GMC, better known as Quest, Reward and Ninjas. You know you love ninjas.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday: WoWtastic

In celebration of the fact that my warlock finally hit 80 and is no longer wearing her ugly robe, I bring you this rather cool WoW video:

I find it amusing how many men play female characters. My husband and my brothers-in-law all do, though they have male characters as well. I just play chicks. I tried playing a male dark elf once in EverQuest and I didn't like it, though having armor that actually looked like armor instead of a chainmail bikini was a refreshing change. I hate getting new armor for my characters and finding out that what's intimidating on a guy is panties and chaps on a female. Sigh.

Any thoughts on the subject? I suppose for writers it's less odd, because you're expected to write characters out of your area of personal expertise, but while I don't mind writing male characters (except for Lex--dammit Lex, stop being a paladin!) I don't want to roleplay one.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nope, I lied.

No Storyteller post this week. But next week I'm guest blogging at Savvy Authors, and that'll be fun. For now, I give you this:

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This week's Storyteller blog is postponed until tomorrow. It's been a bad week, and I haven't had the time to finish it up. Sorry!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Intarweb Tuesday is Made of Fail

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Today has not been a good day. Therefore, I give you this video, which shows what I have to look forward to.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Storyteller: Using Stats to Create Balanced Characters

Today is the first of the character creation section, and like any RPG, we’re starting with character stats. For the uninitiated, a character’s stats are the bare bones of what they’re good at, usually divided into categories like strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution and charisma (a sample blank character sheet is below, which I found here). New characters are either given a number of points to distribute across these stats, or the player makes a set of dice rolls to determine them.

Each character class relies on a specific stat, and that’s the stat that needs the highest number—wizards need high intelligence in order to cast more spells, fighters need high strength to deal more damage, etc. But unless you rolled really well, your character is going to be good at some things and average or below average at others. For example, we have my warlock in World of Warcraft.

Her stats are inside of the red box, with her main stats in green. You’ll notice that while she’s strong in stamina, intellect and spirit, her strength and agility are pathetic. This is normal of a spellcaster. She can rain down hellfire, but she can’t really fight hand-to-hand. (And isn’t that robe ugly?) Though a warrior might be strong enough to slay every orc in the room, he can’t cast spells or heal his wounds. This is where the importance of a group comes in: each character has a specific role, and together they’re a strong unit that can clear out any dungeon.

In terms of writing, one character’s weaknesses should be balanced by another character’s strengths. In romance you’ll often see this as the big, burly hero protecting the delicate flower heroine from danger, but she’ll be smart enough to figure out a clue that the hero can’t. While that’s a cheesy example, the point is that the hero and heroine are stronger together than they are apart (think “You complete me”). Deciding what the character’s strengths and weaknesses are can help you, the writer, figure out what they need to work on in the course of your story and what they can learn from each other.

I’m going to go through each stat, and as you read it think of what number you’d assign to your heroine, 1 being the worst, 10 average, and 20 the best. (Yes, you can have higher than 20 in a d20 system, I know, but we’re starting simple here.)

INT: Intelligence and wisdom often get confused, but to boil it down, intelligence is book smarts. If you’re good at Jeopardy! you have a high intelligence. This stat determines how many spells a wizard can know, how many he/she can cast, and how much extra damage the spell does. In traditional epic fantasy terms this is the wizard that carries a spell book and is well versed in arcane knowledge. Need a spell to open a magic door? There’s an app for that. Err, I mean he’ll have the spell for that. If your magic users need to do a great deal of studying, they should have high INT. If you’re looking to make a wizard’s life difficult, give him an average INT. Then he’ll have to work twice as hard.

WIS: Wisdom is street smarts, but it’s also knowledge of the natural world. Druids and clerics typically use wisdom for their magic—they don’t need to go to Hogwarts to study, because their wooj is natural or divine. Like the Force. Though casters often have high numbers in both stats (like my warlock’s INT and SPIRIT), they don’t always go hand-in-hand. The husband and I often joke about characters that are high INT but low WIS, like a character who figures out the difficult mystery but doesn’t think twice about walking alone down the dark alleyway.

CHA: Charisma covers a lot of bases. It’s the oomph behind a paladin’s holiness, the power of a bard’s performance, and the fast-talking persuasion of a thief’s bargaining. It’s a character’s good looks, and their ability to be charming. Every character needs a lot of this, right? Well…no. For a romance writer it’s easy to fall into the trap of having a hero who is the most gorgeous and charming man on the face of the earth or the heroine who is stunningly beautiful. Charisma doesn’t necessarily mean good looks; it can mean a strong presence. Someone who commands attention. Someone who people want to be around.

DEX: Dexterity. Every rogue’s friend; it’s the thing that makes her quick like a bunny. Need to pick a lock, throw a dagger, shoot a bow or dodge an attack? Then you need high DEX. This is for characters who are quick and wiry, not strong and brawny. In some games this is called agility (like in the WoW stats above). If you have a low DEX, you’re clumsy. Awkward. I’ve often read stories where the hero or heroine is clumsy as a way to make them imperfect. “Oh he’s gorgeous and smart, but he’s a klutz.” Yeah…resist the temptation, my friends. It’s been done.

STR: Strength, for when you need to slaughter every orc in the room. High STR lets your Wookiee tear the arms off people when he doesn’t win. It lets your hero pick up the heroine, throw her over his shoulder, and haul her back to his man cave o’ love. Low STR makes your heroine hit like a girl when she protests. If a character ends up with low STR, like a wizard who doesn’t need it, you might want to consider story reasons explaining why he/she doesn’t have it. Are they nobility, and thus manual labor is beneath them? Was your heroine born petite, and no matter how hard she works out she just can’t manage a bodybuilder’s physique?

CON: Constitution. No, not the document. We’re talking a person’s physical health. A high CON means you have a boatload of hit points and will be able to make it through a long battle. A low CON means you’re going to need a medic before you bleed to death after two hits. Or one hit. (I’ve had that happen in WoW, one minute you’re casting a spell and the next bam! Dead!) In romance, heroes tend to have a high CON, and heroines have a low CON (how many heroines have you seen get bonked over the head by a bad guy and are out like a light?). Constitution is also related to a character’s endurance and stamina. If she is swimming or running a great distance then she’ll get a CON check to make sure she can keep going and not collapse.

Reader participation time! Take one of your characters and assign them stats, and post it in the comments. You have 75 points to spend. I’ll start: Catherine Baker—INT 15 (she’s college educated and knows a thing or two about magic), WIS 12 (she’s not as street smart as she thinks she is), CHA 17 (if by charisma you mean snark, because Cat has some good lines), DEX 14 (she can handle a rapier by the end of the book, but she’s no expert), STR 9 (yeah, she’s not going to be punching through walls anytime soon), and CON 8 (Cat has a fainting problem, she may need physical therapy).

Next week we talk adding skills, feats, merits and flaws. All the good stuff to specialize your character.