Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writing Whenever: The War of the Minds

There comes a point in every story where the words stop coming.  This can happen for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common (at least for me) happens due to the fact that your subconsciousness and your consciousness are fighting.

Put less esoterically:  You, the writer, have an idea of how the story is supposed to go, but no matter how hard you try, you can't make the story go that way.  Or, somehow you push through and do figure out how to make the story go that way, only to discover that everything seems off and your characters sound hollow and artificial.

The reason for this, I think, is because your subconsciousness is (somehow) keeping tabs on everything in the story.  It knows that the thing your wakeful writer brain is trying to do just isn't going to work.  It could be because you're betraying the character, or because something else has to happen before the scene you're trying to write, or because it's a minor detail you've forgotten about.

So the subconscious brain throws on the brakes, but, because it can't actually talk to you, it's kind of like taking writing advice from Lassie.  "What's that girl?  Timmy fell down a well?  And there's no narrative reason for him to be there?  Go and get a doctor and a semi-colon?  Is that what you want me to do?  Bark once for yes..."

I have been stymied any number of times on any number of projects and I have, through trial and error, managed to figure out a) that this is just something that happens and b) that when it does happen, I should take a step back and figure out what's wrong.  Sometimes, this means abandoning works in progress for months or years as my brain tries to sort everything out.

To wit:  People with good memories may remember that I was working on a story about a character named Grey the Mercenary.  It's a story that's still alive in my mind.  I'm excited to tell it and I'm hankering to get back to it, but every time I try, I just sort of peter out.

And it wasn't until relatively recently that I realized the reason that I was having so much trouble was that my conscious mind designed the city wrong.  The first version of the city was under a glass dome on an inhospitable world.  While that certainly makes for a cool visual, the setup made it impossible for me to layout the plot-relevant locations in such a way that made sense.  It also made it very difficult for me to get the characters from point A to point B in a logical way.

I finally was able to get in touch with my subconscious mind and learned that the city would work better if it was on a mesa and not covered by a glass dome.  That way I could have the spaceport, the old city, the new city, the ruins, the noble mansions, and the illirium mine all in a nice, compact, geographical area.

Yeah, so that's what it's like in my head, sometimes.  If I could figure out how to get both of the brains working together better, I'd probably crank out stories a lot faster.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Velour Whenevers: El Capitan, Part Two

Frequent readers may recall that my last Velour and Go-Go Boots post described the difficulties of giving the players Command and how that might lead to infighting and unpleasantness. In the next revision of the rules, I decided to try and skirt around the issue by making the ship captain an NPC and going with the assumption that the players are all bridge crew of roughly equivalent rank.

One of the rules for NPC captains turned out the be the tiny spark that would result in the game's transformation from a stat + skill system to the Traits System (pat. pend. do not steal).  The captain was a nebulous entity, comprised of various personality traits picked out by the GM.  These traits determined the captain's leadership style and how they reacted to various situations.  For instance, Kirk is a Cowboy, while Picard is a Diplomat.

Having the captain be an NPC worked out okay and certainly made the game easier to explain and run at conventions, except for a couple of rather obvious problems:

Problem #1
If you have a person in authority, especially if that person is controlled by the GM, some players will surrender their agency to that person rather than strike out on their own.  This was only made worse by the fact that the players all belong to a quasi-military organization and this is something that they would realistically do.

There's some ways around this, of course.  I found that players relied on the captain less if I made the captain more obviously flawed and less all-knowing.  I also tried to turn things back around on them and say, "all right, so we're being attacked by an unknown force and our shields are crippled.  Suggestions?"  Even still, I much preferred games where the players had to solve their own problems instead of looking to a magical NPC to fix things for them.

Problem #2
Being the captain is fun, and I took that fun away from the players.  Argh!  I also wound up ditching most of the mechanics associated with the Command Occupation in the switch over from PC to NPC captains.  Those mechanics not only made the players chances of success more likely in certain circumstances, but also sort of helped to unify them as a team.  Consider:  If your leadership skills inspire another player to do better, odds are you and the other players will work together more closely.

Considering the ramifications of these problems lead me to Option Three, a Frankensteinian hybrid of the first two options.  I'm not sure it works, either, but here it is.

You can have an NPC captain, who gets some of the powers of a PC captain, but not all of them.  Having an NPC captain sitting in the big chair limits the power struggle issues between the players and allows everyone to skip the rest of the captain's rules and explore the wide open galaxy.

You can have a PC captain.  The PC captain is a role separate from the Occupations.  Everyone picks their Occupations as normal, and then the players have a secret vote on who should be the captain.  Players cannot vote for themselves.  The player with the most votes becomes captain, with other players getting a rank aboard ship based on how well they did on the voting (second place are Commanders, third place are Lieutenant Commanders, and so on).  Captains still get the benefits of their Occupation (just because you're now the captain doesn't mean you forgot how to be a doctor, after all).

Which means that congratulations are in order for Mr. Bailey, as it's apparently a democracy now.

Ties for the captaincy can be handled in a variety of ways, from handshakes and acquiescence to one of the tied players relinquishing the captaincy to become Number One.  The GM could also rule that due to a Terrible Accident that occurred just prior to the start of the game, no one is captain, or they could say that since there was no clear winner, there's an NPC captain anyway.  Players can also choose to vote for an NPC captain if they want to.

Player captains gain a lot of the abilities that were once reserved to the Command Occupation.  They can give bonus dice to people they give orders to, and they can also spread their Drama Points around to make the crew's rolls easier.  In addition, they can call people in to Conference, during which time everyone can role-play and have arguments and gain additional Drama Points to use later.

Option Three has the benefit of having facets of all of the previous designs with the drawback of it being extremely messy and difficult to explain.  The part of my brain that desires order craves a simpler and more elegant solution, but my design chops aren't yet choppy enough to chew one out of the gristle that is this game.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Writing Tuesdays: 143rd in Iraq (Formerly In Spite of It All): NOW AVAILABLE!

My uncle, Marc Youngquist, served in the Connecticut National Guard's 143rd MP Company and did a tour of duty in Iraq from 2003-2004.  In the ten or so years since his return home, he has been hard at work writing a book describing his experiences there.  Most of these experiences range from the mildly frustrating to the downright harrowing and include:

  • Waking up in the middle of a sandstorm, being unable to see, and overwhelmed with the surreal terror that he was the last person of his company to remain alive and unburied.
  • Being trained for desert conditions at Fort Drum.  In the winter.  Which was as helpful as it sounds.
  • Having his National Guard unit treated like red-headed baby seals by many members of the active duty army.
  • The constant bureaucratic struggle to get enough ammunition, functioning vehicles, and other equipment. Like radios.  Radios are important!
  • A creatively-wired Humvee, whose heat went on only when the parking break was applied.  Somehow.

And much, much more!

My uncle is a storyteller, not a writer, so he enlisted my aid as an editor and proofreader to wrangle his 100k+ word book into submission.  Most of my efforts involved polishing up the wording and moving sections around to create a more narrative flow (Lookit that!  Geoff gets to use his creative writing degree for something other than writing LARP plots.  Go Geoff!).

We had expected that the book would be released sometime earlier this year, however the publishing industry and other, outside interests conspired to create delays.  Sometime within the last few days, the last of the delays (during which the publisher had to ensure that the text conversion from print to e-reader was formatted in such a way that was pleasant to the eyes) was finally overcome and the book was officially published.

Even though I'm just an editor on this project, it's still very exciting to see a book that I have worked on reach the final stage of production, and it's nice to see my name up in lights.  I will also say that it a little weird that I am listed as an editor under my full birth name, and I'm concerned that I now no longer have any defense against practitioners of the dark arts who have an internet connection and more than a passing interest in military memoirs.

But anyway, enough rambling.  If true stories of military hardship, bureaucratic nonsense, broken-down equipment, crabby janitors, dislocated shoulders, and obnoxious senior officers are something that interest you (or if you'd just like to read through the book and mock me for all the errors I made in grammar and punctuation) feel free to pick it up here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Wednesdays (?): Beginnings Are Hard

It's ironic, considering what this post is about, that I have:

a) been procrastinating about writing it and:

b) have rewritten it eight times already.

The earlier versions of this post were unnecessarily ornate, featuring yours truly in typical, long-winded tale-spinning (and over-hyphenating) mode.  It was adequate writing, but it was writing in a burying the lede sort of way.  That's why I chopped everything back to the bare bones and am trying again for this, the ninth and, hopefully, final attempt.


I have a lot of ideas.  They bang around in my head like pinballs on a hot streak and clutter up my brain.  Some of the ideas are free-floating flashes:  Animal people birthed from a giant egg, a elderly master swordsman who can't die, a world where creative energy is gradually fading away to nothing. That kind of thing.  These ideas are fast and smooth.  They don't stick to anything and they don't grow.

Other ideas are slower and stickier.  As they bounce around in my head, they link up with other ideas.  Hey!  This character and this setting go together like peanut butter and chocolate.  Heey!!  That guy that I thought was just a random person sitting on a stoop actually used to work for the evil galactic mega corporation.  Heey!!!  What if the character is able to get her hands on the sedative from earlier in the book to knock out the bad guy at the climax?

Sometimes, either the slower, stickier ideas accrete into a large enough narrative mass to become a story, or one of the free-floating ideas is bouncing around so ferociously that I need to write about it before it tears my brain apart.

The logical thing, when presented with either of these two scenarios, is to sit down at the magic computer box and write the ideas out of my head.  In certain, very rare circumstances, that works out just fine.  In most other circumstances, however, I find that the harsh, white glow from my computer screen is the antiseptic that kills the slurry of bacteria that is my creative juices.

Aside #1:  Ew.
Aside #2:  Get one of those tinted screen things.

The other big reason the momentum dies whenever I sit down to try and write is because of something that was drummed into my head when I was a wee lad.  Perhaps you've heard some variation of this thing.  If you haven't, it goes like this:

"There is a windowless room deep within the labyrinthine corridors of every publishing house. It is lit by a naked bulb, whose sickly yellow light illuminates the wan and emaciated face of an intern.  The intern's desk is hemmed in on all sides by teetering stacks of manuscripts stuffed into manila envelopes and coated with dust.  Also, the desk probably wobbles.

"The intern repeats the same process all day every day, opening an envelope and reading the pages that it contains.  If the intern is not grabbed by the first few paragraphs of a particular manuscript--nay, if they are not grabbed by the very first sentence of a manuscript--they push the brick of unread pages into a chute that opens out onto the incinerator, where the words--and the writer's dreams--are consigned to flame."

Because of that, there is a tremendous pressure for me to write the perfect first line.  Otherwise the story is no good.  Otherwise I can't progress.  Otherwise I'm wasting the reader's time and my time and the time of a hypothetical intern that I made up out of whole cloth, who probably has a computer and reads email attachments and just, I don't know, deletes them if they're not up to snuff.

This is a mindset that I am gradually (but slowly) transitioning out of.  It helps that I have written more things in the past five years than I have in the entire rest of my misbegotten existence.  This means that, for the first time, I have actual personal and practical experience to draw upon.  What that experience has taught me is this:

Waiting until I have the perfect opening before I write something is pointless, because, in 100% of cases, I have gone back and edited my stories so that the original opening sections are either changed beyond all recognition or no longer exist.

Remember what I said about ideas sticking together to make a coherent narrative?  If my story is alive and moving forward with any kind of momentum, that process continues happening as I continue writing.  A random throwaway character (or so I thought!) joins the hero and becomes a prominent member of the party.  Background details that I created just for color turn out to be Chekov's Guns that my subconscious has loaded and left laying about for me to fire.  An idea in the shower causes me to pull a sudden 180, turning the person that I thought was going to be the main villain into the hero's best friend.

I never really know what a given story is going to look like until I'm almost at the end, even if it's a story that I have scripted out ahead of time.  Once I reach the end, I realize, when I go back and look at the beginning, that the beginning is wrong.  I had different ideas then.  I was young and naive and not aware of all the twists and turns that my characters and I would face.  There were, inevitably, some things in the beginning that didn't pay off because the story concept evolved, or there were places where I needed to expand on the new things I wrote later that actually did pay off.

And that's when I close my eyes, hold my breath, and mash the delete key until whole paragraphs go away.

Then I start over, using all of my new knowledge and foresight to create a beginning that will serve as the opening for the actual book I wrote.  And yeah, I try and write it in such a way that it grips the heart of my poor, benighted, hypothetical intern; because I do have to sell this story at some point, after all.

The short and the (very) long of it is this:  I (or you) can wait for the perfect beginning, but it's a waste of time.  All I'm doing is postponing the important part of writing, which is actually getting the words on the page.  So I should just not worry about it and write.  Once I write a draft and figure out what the story actually is, then I can go back and sculpt it into that perfect assortment of sentences.

A little preachy, but there you go.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Velour Thursdays: Velour and Go-Go Boots, Season One

I have an exciting announcement to make!

I am starting to gather together a really great group of writers and gamers for the purposes of making the first supplemental product for Velour and Go-Go Boots.  What is this product you ask?  Why, I'm more than happy tell you, Hypothetical Internet Denizen!  It's a little something I like to call:

Velour and Go-Go Boots:  Season One

The First Year of an X-Year Journey
Where X is the Number of Seasons We'll Have Written Right Before We Burn Out

Since the second draft of Velour and Go-Go Boots, the game's adventures have been referred to as Episodes (in keeping with the fact that 99% of my inspiration came from a very popular TV show).  Words, as any writer knows, have power, and the moment I named the adventures Episodes was the moment I started to think that maybe we could rename other things.  Like, instead of a Campaign of linked Adventures, I could have a Season of linked Episodes.

While this was an entertaining idea, the amount of work that needed to bring it to fruition was too much for just one person, especially when that one person has a lot of other projects to work on and also chronic attention issues. Luckily, some close friends of mine in "the industry" expressed an interest in sharing brainstorming and writing duties with me. It is through their generous donations of both their talent and time that I am able to get this project off the ground.

The tentatively-named Season One comprises fifteen Velour and Go-Go Boots episodes.  Some of them will be standalones (referred to in gamer parlance as "one-shots"); some will be linked  (in which characters or themes from a an episode will appear in a future episode); and some will make up a multi-part arc that spans the season.  At present, the arc stretches across 5-6 episodes and culminates in the dramatic season finale.

What are the benefits of doing something like this, you ask?  Well, consider that this supplement will:

Expand on the tidbits given out in the main book and give players and GMs more detailed worlds to explore and species and cultures with which to interact.

Allow a diverse stable of skilled writers will create a much richer and more deeply textured environment than would be beyond the capabilities of one person writing alone (and by "one person writing alone," I mean me, Geoff Bottone).
Give new GMs and players a complete campaign that can be played through to a satisfying resolution with a minimum of prep work on their part.
Let GMs who want to tell their own stories fit their own episodes into Season One.  Did you like the Delshz ambassador from S1:E5 and want to explore their background some more?  That's great!  Just write up S1:E5a and you're good to go! 

The Writers (and Their Incomplete Writing Credits)

Joe Blomquist:  Superhuman, Smallville, Marvel Heroic, RDI Appetizer

Bob Dunham:  Lexicon LARP, The CHANGE BOMB LARP, V&GGB 

Dave Kalis:  RDI Guide to Inns and Taverns 

Jonathan Lavallee:  Gaesa, Cybergeneration, Critical!: Go Westerly, Suitors
So that is the project as it stands right now.  Work will, of course, continue on the main rulebook, since Season One cannot be played without it.  In the meantime, my slowly-growing stable of writers and I will be hard at work brainstorming and crafting a solid product to expand upon the Velour and Go-Go Boots line.

That's all I can report for now, but watch this space.  There'll be more coming in the weeks and months ahead!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Velour Thursdays: El Capitan, Part One

Last time, I talked about one of the rules sections that's giving me stress.

This time, I'm going to talk about the other one.  Issues with this section of the rules are still ongoing, largely because they are complex, take up a not insignificant portion of the game, and have a rather substantial impact on how the players interact with one another.

That's right, I'm talking about the captain, but before I talk about that, I first have to tell you about Occupations.

Occupations are kind of like character classes in other role-playing games, in that they put you in a pigeonhole that is your role aboard ship.  If your Occupation is Medical, you're saving lives in the Med Bay.  If your Occupation is Helm, you're flying the ship.  If your Occupation is Security, you are dying horribly doing security things!  Mechanically, all your Occupation does is give you a bonus die to roll anytime you're in a situation where it would reasonably come into play; all you have to do is justify it with the GM.

In the original version of the game, one of the Occupations was Command.  Command had to do with inspiring and leading others, so you'd get a bonus die any time that happened.  On a re-read, I felt like that wasn't going to be enough of a boost for Command, so I started to do the thing that I dread doing as a designer, in which I make eight things that are more or less exactly the same, except for the one which is different and has special powers.

Version 1.01 of Command went a little something like this:  You had belonged another Occupation prior to the start of the game (Engineering, Systems, etc.), but had been recently promoted to officer rank.  This gives you two Occupations (Command and your original one) and you have an officer rank and you can give people your Drama Points and any time you directly order someone to do something, they get a bonus die because they don't want to let you down.

A little kludge-y as far as rules go, but it worked well enough. At least, it did on paper.

Unfortunately, one of the things one quickly learns when designing games is that the wonderful things you scribble down on paper usually fall apart and explode the moment you try to implement them at the table.  Version 1.01 of the Command rules wasn't quite that bad (to strain the descriptor, it merely melted badly and leaned over to one side), but there was still quite a bit wrong with it.

It turns out that I had forgotten to take player dynamics into account when designing the Command rules.  In an ideal group, people with the Command Occupation were leaders, but were also supportive of one another and of the people under their command.  Things worked like a well-oiled machine.

In non-ideal groups, the presence of the Command Occupation caused several related things:

  • Some players who had Command expected to be obeyed and got kind of obnoxious about it  At least one player made everyone else at the table list off their ranks so that they knew who they could order around.
  • Some players with quieter personalities either waited patiently to be told what to do or got forced to do all kinds of things that they didn't necessarily want to do.  Since Space Patrol is a quasi-military organization, there was social and game pressure to keep them from disobeying.
  • Even with players who were more relaxed, games eventually resembled a style game described in the examples of play in First Edition D&D, in which one player (known as the Caller) was in charge of telling the DM what the other players were doing. History has shown us that this was a playstyle that didn't work for D&D, and it certainly doesn't work in a game that was ostensibly going to be about (among other things) individualism, exploration, and diversity of thought.

As much as I wanted to find a way to emulate the command structure of the show, it wasn't worth it if that meant that some of the players felt that they had to be the obedient servants of the other half of the players.  I wondered if it might be better if I got rid of the Command Occupation altogether and put the captaincy in the hands of a GM-controlled NPC.

That didn't quite work out either.  I'll discuss that, as well as continued revisions to the captain's rules, next tiiiime!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Velour Thursdays: The Ship Rules, Version 1

Every time I try to design a role-playing game, there's always a section of the rules that gives me agita.  In no particular order:

Fantasy:  Magic
Horror:  Sanity
Modern:  Finances and Income

Velour and Go-Go Boots is unique for games that I have designed in that it comes with two rules sections that stress me out. The first section explains how the captain (and, to a lesser extent, the other command ranks) work aboard ship. That particular section has been rewritten many times and, as of this writing, may be doomed to be rewritten at least once more. I'm sure I'll wind up talking about all that--as well as perhaps sneakily soliciting ideas from the community at large--in a future installment.

The second section, whose identity has likely been spoiled by the title of this post, has to do with ships.

As anyone who has seen any iteration of Star Trek knows, ships are kind of a huge deal.  The ship of any given series (usually, but not always, the Enterprise) is both a setting and character in its own right.  According to my garbled notes, which I will paraphrase here, I knew that I needed to make the players' ship central to the game and also figure out a way to make them feel a certain amount of attachment to it. 

Shining a spotlight on the ship was relatively easy, but making the players feel invested in their particular ship was significantly more difficult.  The rules governing that didn't really come into their own until the second draft of the game.  But that's another story and, as you might guess from seeing the big old "Version 1" up there in title, will be told another time. 

The big reason for the lack of player-ship attachment in the first version of the rules is because, though I started prancing down the Road of Good Design Intentions, I almost immediately tripped and fell face first into the Bog of Unnecessary Mechanics.

I have a modest collection of older role-playing games.  One thing that seems to be fairly common to many of them (and one of the things that has probably been unconsciously drilled into my tiny brain) is that vehicle rules are inordinately complicated.  If an older game has both vehicle rules and unarmed fighting rules, it's kind of a toss-up between which system will be more difficult.

It also didn't help that my train of thought was going a little bit like this:

  • The players' ship will mean more to them if they can customize it.
  • Customization requires a lot of options.
  • A lot of options requires a lot of rules.
  • A lot of options also requires a lot of choices.
  • I played Star Fleet Battles once. Maybe I should do something like that.
Before long, I had a huge pile of tables, numbers, systems, sub-systems, and so on, but not much else to show for it but several very disorganized Word and Excel documents and a throbbing pain between my eyes.

Unsure of what to do with my unruly pile of stuff, I got my friend Bob Dunham on the horn (and by horn, I mean gchat).  I explained the problem to Bob and was about to inflict all of my notes on him when he said the following (All of this is heavily paraphrased.  Don't sue me, Bob):

BOB:  You don't need to waste your time with all those numbers.  On the show, the ship is mostly an abstraction, anyway.  It's a TV set that flies through space.  Pretty much everything about it is handwaved.  How fast does it go?  As fast as the plot needs it to go.  How much damage can the shields take before they go down?  I don't know.  Whatever's most dramatic, I guess.  Just think of it like that.  Don't worry about the numbers.

I liked that advice, in no small part because it seemed like it would be a lot less work.  I started over again, rebuilding the ship rules with Bob's more abstract method in mind.  The new system worked okay, but it had a number of inherent limitations: It didn't account for different types of ships, shields were sort of incorporated into overall ship integrity instead of being a separate system in their own right, and there were a hell of a lot of tables.

That said, I did have a few interesting ideas that I wouldn't mind letting Future Geoff cannibalize for other games.  Here's a quick walkthrough for the rules-inclined among you:

All ships have a Threat Rating.  The default is Threat 0.  Weaker ships (or ships that were already damaged), start with a higher Threat.

An enemy ship fires at you.  Pew pew pew!  If their weapons hit your ship, your ship takes damage based on how high its Threat is.  Ships with low Threat will shake ominously.  Ships with moderate Threat will have people thrown from side to side while instrument panels explode in showers of sparks.  Ships with high Threat will have catastrophic system failure, hull breaches, and similar.  Whenever a ship takes damage, its Threat Rating increases.

It was clunky, but it mimicked the space battles I had seen on various iterations of Star Trek to a reasonable degree.  All ships tended to start out on relatively even footing, taking increasingly (And dramatically) severe damage as the battle wore on.  By the end, all of the ships would be covered with burn marks, limping around in space on their backup engines, and forced to choose between keeping their life support or their weapons systems online.

It helped that every time I ran a combat simulation between two starships, the battles ended pretty much like the description I gave in the preceding paragraph. 

"Your engines are offline!" 

"Yeah, well your weapons systems are offline." 

"No big deal, I'm going to fly up next to you, roll down the transparent aluminum windows, and throw rocks at you!"


The new system (Version 2) manages to keep all of the above while removing the bulky tables and adding in some crucial ship customization rules.  But this post has already gone on quite long enough, so I'll talk more about that some other time.

See you next week, when I talk about Occupations and lead into the discussion of my other favorite rules system.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Velour Thursdays (+1): Initial Design Notes

Okay, I got a little side-tracked yesterday.  Sorry about that.  I'm just gonna hop back up into the saddle and pretend that today is also Thursday.  Yee haw!

When it comes to game rules, there are a lot of avenues for the budding young game designer with a song in his heart and an idea in his head.  He could take an existing system and tweak it to suit his purposes.  In the mid-twenty-teens, such systems as Fate and Apocalypse World come readily to both mind and hand, though there are numerous other systems out there that would also fit the bill. Or, because he must do every damn thing in the hardest, most ass-backward way possible, the aforementioned game designer can just go ahead and build his own system from the ground up.

Yeah, I opted for the second one.

This is despite the fact that I'm kind of not very good when it comes to crafting the mechanical underpinnings of game systems.  Oh, sure, I can make a tweak here or suggest an interesting rule idea to an established system there, but give me a whole sandbox to play in and some numbers to crunch and I will either design a game that looks an awful lot like something else (as evidenced by my early attempts at a fantasy role-playing game), or I will design a nightmarish amalgamation of overcomplex rules and creaky supports that collapses the first time someone tries to roll dice.

I think it's because I'm not very good at math?

My first pass at the rules system was kind of a disaster, so much so that it's not even worth discussing it.  If you wish, feel free to imagine me alternating between scrawling figures on an old-timey desktop blotter and playing around with a slide rule before chucking everything, including my green accountant's eye shade, into the nearest wastebasket.

For my second pass, I decided to let the show do a lot of the heavy lifting for me.  I began watching each episode with a notebook and a pen close to hand, taking notes any time one of the following two things happened:

  • The show revealed something about how the Star Trek universe works.
  • The characters revealed how they reacted to and dealt with problems in that universe.

The plan was to make a system that, both consciously and unconsciously, encouraged the players to behave as if they were in a Star Trek episode and be rewarded for doing so.  That's a tall order, and the second rules set I made...wound up not doing this very well at all.  This necessitated a complete redesign which so far hasn't, according to another nerdy classic, "burned down, fallen over, and sunk into the swamp!"

By the end of the second season, I had accumulated quite a laundry list of notes, as well as briefly entertained the idea of doing a spin-off version of the rules based on the adventures of Gary Seven. (And I still might; who knows?)  I have transcribed a few of the notes here, as well as some implementation ideas, for your edification and amusement.

EQUIPMENT:  Not very much in the way of gear.  Most away teams have basic gear common to all (communicator, phaser, etc.).  Science officers get their tricorders, so we'll need an analogue for that. Medical kit for doctors.  Tool kit to round things out.  What else? Translator, disguises for the away team (with convenient hats or headbands for alien crew), found/scavenged gear on missions, space suits.  Oh!  Maybe make a deck of item cards, since there's not that many items.  Emulate losing or destroying items on missions by forcing player to discard appropriate cards.

FIGHTING:  Fights in ST seem to be lethally quick, aside from protracted/ dramatic battles between Kirk and whoever. Usually one or two hit KOs.  Few hit points (if we're going to have hit points), unless the opponent is really tough.  Most of the faceless mooks probably can take one hit before dropping unconscious. Addendum:  Kirk's shirt gets torn up a lot.  Maybe it's his very own version of the umbrella from Kung Fu Fighting--he can sacrifice it to avoid taking damage. Okay. That's definitely going in the game somehow.

SKILLS:  It doesn't seem like there's too many skills (I mean, we could have Astrogation, etc. etc., but it almost seems better and more fitting with the show to have "Fly Ships.")  It also seems like there's a lot of overlap.  Maybe because of basic training?  Kirk, for instance, knows a lot about science (MacGyvered cannon to fight the Gorn, geology stuff in Horta ep.).  Spock knows more, of course.  Maybe your assignment aboard ship gives you a bonus?  Hmm...

RAYGUN:  It's an all-purpose weapon.  Number of shots is extremely hand-wavey, but they do have battery packs, so they run out of juice at some point.  Stun, kill settings, obviously.  Turn them into bombs!  Oh, and you can heat up rocks, melt doors (maybe heavier rifle does that), and make coffee (thanks,Yeoman Rand)!

SAMPLE CHARACTER IDEA:  Would like to re-imagine Yeoman Rand as a bad-ass.  Found out that Rand is Middle English for "shield."  Maybe have another "shield" name.  Janice Shields? Janine Shields?  Oh, and she could be a tough security officer who wears pants!  

SHIP:  Oh man.  The ship is going to kind of be a big deal.  How are we going to do this?

How indeed?  The mysteries of how I got ships to work in Velour and Go-Go Boots (and the first instance of Bob Dunham Doing a Cool Thing) will be revealed in next week's episode.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Writing Tuesdays: Explaining Dialogue to My Uncle

HB:  Writing Tuesdays?
FB:  Yes.  Is that a problem?
HB:  Well, I was just thinking, you know, how much we like alliteration...
FB:  And you want it to be Writing Wednesdays.
HB:  Uh huh!
FB:  That means back-to-back posts on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
HB:  So?
FB:  We're lazy.
HB:  Aw!

My uncle has come to writing in his sixties after living a life of thrill-seeking adventure.  He is a camper, hiker, fisherman, hunter, explorer, former Marine, former Army Reservist, former police officer, former insurance adjuster, and contributor of at least two of the many boots on the ground featured in such military exploits as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

His first book just so happens to be about the last thing in the very long list above.  It is called In Spite of It All and it details the often-times Sisyphian ordeal of the 143rd Military Police Company of the Connecticut National Guard as they attempted to both survive and do their job in Baghdad from 2003-2004.  The publication of the book has been delayed due to legal issues (one of the perils of telling a true story), but you can keep tabs on the process over here, if you're so inclined.

While waiting for the red tape around his first book to be snipped away, my uncle has started writing his second book.  Book number two is a work of fiction, which features a young police officer squaring off against a criminal who is gaming the legal system so that he can avoid capture.

One of the issues he's running into is how to write dialogue.  His first book, being a work of non-fiction, didn't have any.  His second book, being fiction, has characters talking to one another about things like breaking cases and sweating perps, in the vein of all good detective stories.  Now that his characters are talking to one another, my uncle has begun wrestling with dialogue.

The issue, as my uncle discovered, is that dialogue is tricky to write well.  Being unsure of how to tackle the dialogue in his work, he decided to send an email off to his shiftless layabout of a nephew, whose one redeeming quality is that he puts words on paper occasionally.  I am that nephew (spoilers), and his question to me sounded almost exactly like this:

"When I am writing a conversation between two people, do I need to identify the speaker in each paragraph?  (Dan said, then Bill replied, then Dan remarked, etc.)"

I tried to answer his question as simply as possible and, since the answer also could potentially do double-duty as a blog post, that meant that I could just cut and paste into Blogger and not have to do nearly as much writing this week.  Ha ha!

This is what I told him:

Not always.
First of all, you should use "said" as often as you can.  "Said" is an invisible word.  There's almost no way you can use it too often. Stuff like "remarked" "replied" "countered" and so on are extremely noticeable to the reader, and should be used sparingly.
If there's just two people speaking, you can go for stretches where you don't have to use dialogue tags (that's the "Bill said" stuff).  So you can just have alternating dialogue.
However, if you do that, you should probably break it up with the occasional dialogue tag, so that the reader doesn't get confused as to who is speaking.  You may also want to break it up by giving a description of what the people are doing, or of other things going on in the environment, so that you don't get the "two disembodied voices talking in a white room" phenomenon.

And, because I'm a writer and I show and don't tell (because they drum that into your head with the Showing Stick the first week of writing boot camp), I decided to round things off with the following utterly ridiculous example:

"Hey, Dan," said Bill.  "What's with all the quacking?"
"Trying to get all my ducks in a row," said Dan.  "They're pretty feisty, so it's taking a while."
"I'd imagine."
"Yeah. I keep trying to coax them into standing still, but they get bored and start wandering around before they're all in a row."
"That's a problem."
Dan scratched his head as one of the headstrong waterfowl took an ungainly dive off the table.  "I'm not sure what to do."
"I hate to suggest this," said Bill, rubbing his chin.  "But have you tried tape?"
"Duck tape?"
"That's the worst pun I've ever heard, Bill.  You're fired!"

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Velour Thursdays: How We Came to Be Here

I am dusting off this dormant blog in the hopes of using it to promote my latest pie-in-the-sky venture.  That venture is Velour and Go-Go Boots, my science-fiction role-playing game that is inspired by Star Trek.  To be completely accurate, you can replace, "is inspired by" with "completely rips off (please don't sue me, Paramount)."  In the spirit of additional accuracy, I will now tell you that the game is based mostly on the original series, though there are frequent nods to Next Gen.

I'm going to try to post things about Velour and Go-Go Boots every Thursday for the foreseeable future, possibly up until the game's release sometime in 2016.  I'll probably use this space to talk about design decisions, game features, and examples of play.  I will also probably talk up my good friend Bob Dunham, who helped me to tear down and rebuild the game when it really needed it, and to plug my wonderful artist, Vanessa Walsh.

Seriously, take a moment to look at her body of work.  It is amazing.

While I'm telling you about all of those things, I will also be kicking myself for not having the necessary prescience to come up with a game name that shares a letter with one of the days of the week. Because having alliterative titles for things is fun, and also because it assuages my OCD.  The closest I could manage was Velour Wednesdays, but a) that name made it seem like I was trying too hard and b) I was tired yesterday and didn't write anything.

Anyway, now that the preamble is out of the way, we can proceed to the meat of this post.


When I was a young lad of nine or so, I was laid low for a week by some disease or other.  I don't remember all that much about it, because I was sick, but I do distinctly recall my parents bringing one of our chaise lawn chairs into the living room so that I could sit in it and comfortably watch TV.  My illness just happened to coincide with a Star Trek marathon, so I wound up sitting there for hours and hours watching the amazing adventures of Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the gang.

For this reason, Star Trek has always had a warm spot in my heart, but I didn't consider myself a "fan" in the completely obsessed, fully-devoted sense until recently.  I watched episodes when they were on TV and I was in the room.  I was conversant enough to talk about tribbles and transporters and the whole bit, but I've only seen a tiny percentage of the shows (though I am slowly rectifying that), I've never read any of the books, and I don't speak Klingon.

I believe the gamer term for what I am is "filthy casual."

Anyway, all that started to change when the Fire Nation attacked when I wound up becoming unhealthily obsessed with Red Letter Media's oeuvre in general and with the Plinkett reviews in specific. For those who don't know, Harry Plinkett (a character voiced by Mike Stoklasa) is a dangerously insane old man who dissects popular movies (most famously the Star Wars prequels) with the incisive analysis of a film scholar.  While portions of his reviews are extremely dark and can be problematic, Mike's/Plinkett's insights into film are top notch.

I burned through all three of the Star Wars prequel reviews in rapid succession and found myself hungering for more.  Luckily, there was more!  I discovered that Plinkett had done reviews for all of the Next Gen movies.  They weren't as in-depth as the prequel reviews, but they were still really good and offered a lot of insights from a guy who (despite playing a violent, murderous sociopath for the purposes of making an entertaining review series) deeply loves Star Trek.

While Plinkett panned all of the Next Gen movies, his enthusiasm for all things Star Trek kindled a tiny spark of nerdiness deep inside my breast.  "I remember watching Star Trek," I said to myself.  "The episodes that I saw were pretty good.  Oh, and I have Netflix now!  And Star Trek is on Netflix.  That means I can watch all the Star Trek I want.  Forever!"

I started with The Man Trap and went on from there.  Yes, some of the stories are hokey, and some of them are downright dire (not that you care, but despite all of the faults of Spock's Brain, I find it to be a more enjoyable watch than The Alternative Factor), but there was something charming about them that kept me watching.

And while I was watching, the part of my brain that likes to make things (let's call him Hindbrain) was already whirling away.  I think it was right around the time that I finished The Devil in the Dark that my Hindbrain and my Forebrain had this conversation:

HB:  Hey!  Hey!  You know what would be a cool idea?
FB:  What?
HB:  A Star Trek role-playing game! That's my idea!  Isn't it great?
FB:  Wow, that's extremely clever.  No one's ever thought of that before.
HB:  I know, right?
FB:  Yeah, no one other than FASA, Last Unicorn, Decipher, or the publishers of Starfleet Universe.
HB:  Oh, come on!  Stop being such a killjoy.
FB:  Fine.  What did you have in mind?
HB:  Well... (furtive whispering)
FB:  Actually...That is pretty good.
HB:  See?
FB:  All right, all right.  I stand corrected.  Maybe this is an idea that has legs. Not that Paramount would ever give us the license for it.
HB:  Oh, I know. That's why I want to call it Velour and Go-Go Boots.
FB:  What?!

Thanks for making it all the way to the end of my ramble, Faceless-Yet-Extremely-Patient Internet Person!  Next week, I'll talk about some of the initial ideas I had for the game and how some of them even worked.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ye Glossary

One of the bad habits that fantasy writers have inherited from Grandpa Tolkien is their reliance on glossaries. These can be found in some (but not all) fantasy novels, tucked neatly between the resolution of the heroic quest and the acknowledgements page.  They contain definitions of all the unusual words that pepper the piece, offering additional information on lineages, foods, magic, religion, religious magic, and cultures.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am also guilty of doing this.  My very first attempt at a fantasy epic included, if memory serves, about twenty pages of glossary to describe the world and its inhabitants.

That epic, in case anyone is wondering, was a terribly-written slog that never approached anything close to a resolution (or even a plot), despite clocking in at a weighty 300 pages.

But that is another story and will be told another time.

A glossary can be a useful tool for the writer.  They're handy for keeping track of your world's continuity. If you, like George R.R. Martin, have a cast of many thousands, a reference sheet that lists the name of Walder Frey's third cousin can save you valuable time that could be better spent writing the scene where he is butchered and flayed alive.

That said, writers need to be careful about using glossaries as a crutch for world-building.  There is a big difference between writing down a list of people affiliated with the Pajjak's court in Goragas and using your glossary to provide background information on Goragas that isn't otherwise present in the text.  I've seen quite a few aspiring writers fall into this trap, where, when I say, "hey, I don't quite understand how this works or what this means," they say, "oh, well you should check out the glossary.  I explained it all in there."

Don't do this.  If something is important to the story, make sure that it goes in the story.  You need to build your world and describe it in such a way that the important details are woven into the narrative, not stuffed into the back of the book where they are out of sight of the reader.

How do you do that?  Here's some hopefully helpful tips!

Make Your Characters Memorable
I'm going to continue to flog the Martin example, because it works really well here.  The Song of Ice and Fire series has a glossary listing the noble houses and the people affiliated with each house.  The glossary is very sparse, listing only names, familial order (wife, sister, etc.), professions and, in very rare cases, one or two key details about the characters.

There are a lot of different characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, but Martin does an excellent job of making those characters memorable. I haven't read past book four and I haven't read any of the books in at least ten years, but I remember a majority of the principle characters, and I know enough to know the basics of the noble houses and where they stand.

Most other people who have read the series can do this as well, so much so that when I name-dropped House Fray above, anyone who knows the books (or TV show) has an idea of who and what I'm talking about.

Strive to do that with all of your characters, even the ancillary ones and the one-scene wonders.  If you can describe a character well enough, through their words and actions, that they stick in the minds of your readers, that does way, way more to immortalize them than any glossary entry ever could.

Pick Good Names
There is a tendency for fantasy and science fiction writers to come up with non-standard names for their characters.  This is all right, for the most part.  With enough repetition, any random collection of letters and symbols can be made to stick in the reader's mind.

Try to make this easier on the reader by using either real-world names or variant spellings on real-world names.  If you want to make up your own names, make sure they actually look like names and not like you threw your Scrabble tiles down the stairs and picked through the remains. 

If you must make weird or alien sounding names, try to make them short and easily pronounceable.

Names that are easy to remember are easy to make memorable, especially combined with the character advice given above.

And yes, for those people who know me outside of this blog, I know this particular piece of advice is very amusing coming from someone who named a character Callenghast Mapurtaine.

Keep a Narrow Narrative Focus
Your fantasy world likely features twenty nations, dozens of cultures, and hundreds of languages and regional dialects.  Including some of these in your story will make your world feel richer, larger, and more lived-in.  Knowing that these diverse places will be snuffed out if the Dark Overlord wins makes the reader much more invested in the heroes' success, because they will like these things and want to see them survive.

Including all of these things in your story, on the other hand, is a bad idea.  You will find that you either don't have the room to flesh everything out or, if you try to make room to flesh everything out, your story will begin to stretch to a truly staggering number of pages. Both of these approaches will only serve to mentally exhaust the reader; the first through over-stimulation and confusion, the second through boredom.

Pare everything down to its barest essentials.  Is your story on the border between two of your twenty nations?  Good.  Does most of the story take place in one city on the border?  Even better.  Focus on that city.  Hint that the world is larger by having one or two characters from different regions show up to offer their unique cultural perspectives.

Suggesting that there is a bigger world outside of the plot, but providing concrete detail for only the immediate setting will make your story easier for the reader to grasp, which means less time fumbling around with a glossary.

You can always use some of the other stuff in your next book!
Limit Unusual Terms
The temptation is great for fantasy authors to come up with new things.  Most of the time, these new things are actually old things with different names.  For example, your Goragas don't drink wine, they drink v'jaalka.  They also don't fight in ritual combat.  Instead, they participate in rajjakan.

Swapping terminology is fine and encouraged, as long as you don't overdo it.  A little bit of this will make your world feel different and strange and wondrous, drawing the reader in. Too much of it will render sections of your book opaque to the reader. Consider this pair of hypothetical sentences:

"Velkar, the Goragas champion, took up his v'jaalka and scowled. On the morrow, he must travel to the as'bara-tlenoska, then to enter rajjakan and face Nolak at garagastarak."

Any forward momentum our hypothetical writer has tried to build up comes to a screeching halt as the reader flips ahead to the glossary to look up the necessary terms.  There, the reader discovers that Velkar must travel to his ancestral homelands, where he must face his old rival Nolak in a knitting contest.  Only he who crafts the finest scarf shall emerge victorious.  The reader now knows what's going on, but at a cost of being pulled completely out of the story.

It may feel less evocative to replace some of the words in the sample sentences with things like "wine" "ritual combat" and "knitting," but most readers know what those things are.  This makes it easier for them to focus on more important things, like reading and enjoying your story.

Define the Terms You Do Use
If you have a few terms that you have your heart set on using, make sure that you use the text to define them for the reader.  You don't have to drop blobs of exposition, either--most of the time, you can infer the context of the terms in your text and get the meaning across that way.  To continue with the example from above:

"I am afraid, Domasta." Velkar looked away and absently rubbed his wine cup.  "I do not know that my knitting skills are such that I will defeat Nolak. I should never have answered his challenge to rajjakan."

"Do not worry," said Domasta.  "There is a fire in your heart that cannot be extinguished.  Surely this will give strength to your hands as they hold their needles.  You will best Nolak in this duel.  I have spoken!"

Our example writer has limited their terms and, from context, the sample reader now knows that Domasta, Velkar, and Nolak are people and that rajjakan is some kind of duel or challenge.

In Conclusion
Heeding all of this advice should leave you with a tightly-focused story with well-defined terms and well-written characters with memorable traits and names.  This will make a glossary no longer necessary and allow you to leave the obsessive categorization up to the people who are best suited to do it:  your legions of fans who will be creating wiki entries aplenty in your honor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Defense: Characterization Through Dialogue Tags

A friend of mine critiqued the first two chapters of The Eye of Cruax, which is one of my many, many partially-abandoned works in progress. I'll finish it one of these days, I swear.

The work is (one of my) homages to Terry Pratchett, so it is a (mostly) lighthearted fantasy story that plays with the tropes of the fantasy genre. 

In the second chapter, the reader meets Ganthis, a lieutenant in one of the city's two major criminal syndicates. He is meeting with several of his associates in ye local pub.  One of the associates tells Ganthis about a job that she's just completed and, in response, Ganthis does this:

Ganthis gave one sharp bob of his head. “Good work.”

My friend informed me that the sentence was excessively wordy. He suggested that I replace it with the shorter and cleaner phrase, "Ganthis nodded."

It's possible that he's right about this, and it's possible that some Future Geoff--who will likely be wearing a silver jumpsuit while he's revising this story--will ultimately agree with him and make the suggested change. However, Present Geoff would like to take this opportunity to leap to his own defense and explain why he chose the words that he chose.


"Ganthis nodded" is a perfectly cromulent sentence. It works just fine. A reader will see, as if in their mind's eye, Ganthis nodding along with the conversation. The only problem is that "Ganthis nodded" is a completely neutral sentence.  From it, we know that there is a person named Ganthis who, at some point during the conversation, moves his head up and down.  The statement, while describing an action, doesn't tell us anything about Ganthis as a character.

The original statement "Ganthis gave one sharp bob of his head" is quite a bit wordier. It conveys the core conceit of "Ganthis nodded" in a much less efficient way (it's eight words to two, so it's four times less efficient), but it also, hopefully, tells the reader a little something about Ganthis.

This is not a man who is merrily nodding along with the story.  This is a man who is listening intently and who acknowledges his associate with a single, very precise, downward and upward motion of his head.  This is a man who does not talk very much (note now many more words are taken up by his action than by his dialogue). The reader may get the feeling, from these two sentences, that Ganthis is a careful, taciturn man who does not mess around.  They would, of course, be right.

At least, that's the idea.  I want to stress that, while this was my intent to convey more about the character through a slightly wordier digression than was strictly necessary, it may not have actually worked.

Time, and future revisions, will tell.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You Must Fail Three Times

While at a convention some years ago, I happened to sit in on a panel hosted by Algis Budrys.  The name of that panel is, alas, lost to time, but its purpose was for him to relate some tricks of the trade.

He explained that he wanted to tell us a story. By his own admission, it wasn't a very good story, but he hoped that it would get across the point that he was trying to make.  It was a story about a girl whose name I cannot remember, so I'm going to call her Hannah.  The story went a little like this:

Hannah is a teenaged girl who has been playing the violin since she was five years old.  Her dream is to get into Julliard.  After a great deal of practice, perseverance, and patience, she has managed to arrange an audition in New York City.  She travels into the city by train on the day of her interview, ready to wow the admissions staff with her skills.  When she arrives, it is raining heavily.

Upon her arrival in the city, things start to go wrong. 

Confusion at the taxi stand outside the train station results in a situation in which a busy New York City business person winds up driving off in Hannah's taxi with Hannah's violin.  In a panic, Hannah runs off after the taxi, only to get badly splashed by another car.

She is soaking wet and has lost the cab, but Hannah is a pretty smart kid.  She goes back to the taxi stand and gets the contact information for the company that owns the departed cab.  Calling them, she manages to get a message to the driver to wait for her at the station.  Hannah takes a second cab over there.

Hannah recovers her violin, but now doesn't have enough money to take a taxi down to her interview.  She gets directions and hoofs it down there.  She's wet, tired, and hungry, but she keeps right on trucking like a champ.  At last, she arrives at the interview site.

Forty-five minutes late.

The people on the admissions committee are not pleased and they don't seem to be particularly moved by Hannah's excuses.  Hannah pleads with them, telling them that she will do anything to play for them.  Life has conspired against her, but she is here and she is desperate to showcase her skills.  At last, the committee relents a little, but Hannah's total play time is drastically reduced.

Hannah is relieved and more than a little nervous.  She takes out her violin and, while preparing to play, thinks of all of the hardships she has endured in getting here.  She realizes, for the first time, how badly she wants this and somehow, someway, that unlocks something deep inside of her.  Hannah plays for the admissions committee and they, enraptured, allow her to go well over her time limit.

At the end of the piece, the head of the committee says to her (and this is pretty much a direct quote from Budrys):  "My dear, before today, you were a musician.  Now you are an artist."

Budrys went on to explain that the story, while somewhat contrived, works for this reason:  Hannah fails three times.

  1. She loses her things in the taxi (getting splashed is the frosting on this awful cake)
  2. She gets her things back, but in doing so, she can no longer take the "easy way" to get to her interview.
  3. She travels to the interview on foot and arrives late, eliciting disdain from the committee.

Why does this work?  A few reasons:

  1. It generates empathy for the character:  We have suffered setbacks and defeats in our own life, so we feel badly for Hannah when it happens to her.  She seems like a nice kid, and the things that are going wrong aren't really her fault.
  2. It makes the story interesting:  If the story didn't have failure, it would be completely flat.  Hannah getting to her audition without issue and then getting into Julliard is not very exciting and not at all memorable.  As readers, we would read that and think, "that's it?  Bleah."  The fact that I remember this story so many years after hearing it one time is a testament to how well failure works.
  3. It makes us happy when Hannah succeeds:  The end of the story (getting into Julliard) is the obvious payoff, but there are plenty of lesser payoffs throughout as Hannah defeats each challenge.  We can root for her as Hannah gets her violin back, or cheer for her as she trudges through an unfamiliar city.  It builds up her likeability as a character and makes her memorable to the reader.
  4. It strengthens Hannah's character: When we see her rise to and pass each challenge, she grows, becoming more capable and more interesting.  This develops her narrative arc.

So why three times?  According to Budrys, it's the sweet spot in the formula.  Less than three failures makes it seem like the hero gets off easy.  More than three pushes the story over the edge into melodrama.  If Hannah keeps hitting failure after failure, the tragedy of the story stops having an impact and may, eventually, transform into comic farce.

"Oh man," says the imaginary reader, "I wonder what terrible thing is going to happen to her now.  Will she be struck by lightning, perchance?  Pass the popcorn!"

This panel of Budrys' was a transformative moment for me.  It was one of the first times that I really internalized that there was a formula to writing; that stories had an underlying structure that needed to be followed in order to make them work.  I could have all of the characters and events that I wanted, but it was just stuff happening without failure.  A story happens when you allow your characters to fail, in big ways and in small, and then overcome those failures.  That's when the magic happens.

To close out this piece, I would like to make mention of a final memory from that long-ago panel.  Budrys' wife sat in the row across from me during his talk, staring indulgently at him the entire time.  Afterward, I heard her tell someone that he had told that story many, many times, and that she always liked hearing it.  It was kind of beautiful.

I'm Doing a Thing!

Hi there.

My name is Geoff.  I'm a writer, a LARPer, and a game designer.  My writing focus tends to be on fantasy and science fiction, but I've done some other stuff as well.  At the time of this writing, I'm working on revisions to a dystopian novel.  I hear they're all the rage right now.

This is my blog.

I'm not entirely sure how much I'm going to be writing here.  It is possible, like many projects of mine, that this one will be abandoned shortly after it begins.  My brain, you may come to learn, is a fickle and ridiculous thing.

The reason why I'm staring this up is because I've learned quite a bit about writing and game design in my time here on Earth.  Maybe what I talk about here will help you with your own writing and games?  Maybe you will find what I have to say interesting?  I don't know.  Time will tell, I suppose.

Since this is my very first post on this blog, I thought I might talk about what sorts of things you're (probably) going to find here.  They include:

  • Wisdom I've gotten from older, more experienced, and better writers. Hopefully not too name-drop-y.
  • Tips and tricks I've picked up over the years.
  • Interesting writing problems and observations that have come up in my writing group.
  • Maybe some reviews.
  • Random intrusions from Forebrain, Hindbrain, and the other voices in my head.
  • Maybe examples of my own writing to better illustrate my points.
  • Some random LARP memories from games I have run and played.
  • Shameless shilling of my own games and stories.

Now, with all that being said, let me see if I can cobble something together and make an intelligent and engaging second post...