Feb 15

Don't Sell Lessons, Just Tell Stories

Whilst burning away my life and generally being unproductive today, I came across this post. The OP was lovely and wonderful in its own right, and I hope it all goes just beautifully for all involved. But this comment, in particular, made me really happy. I've been in a rough patch the last couple weeks and haven't written a single word, and this comment hit me right in the important parts. Which, I think, would be the heart and mind. Maybe my foot, I can't tell with all this squishy anatomy.

As the commenter said; just tell stories, the audience will find meaning all their own.

Have your own meaning
I'm not saying, in "just tell stories," that you should just write meaningless tripe and expect people to find some great poetic heart deep at its core. Everything you write should have meaning to you, it should be a part of who you are and it should be a story that you genuinely want to tell. If not, if you don't ache to tell the story being told, then you're wasting your time as much as any reader/player/alien observer. This even goes for gaming campaigns. While I don't set out to create morals, life lessons, or heartfelt epics in my D&D campaigns I do have genuine emotional motivations for my villains and the most important NPCs.

Lord Bauer (a hero of my current D&D campaign) isn't just a powerful hero and ruler of the city; he's a protective father, and he worries that he puts himself more into looking after his city than he does taking care of his three beautiful children.

Baroness Lafitte (a villain of my current D&D campaign) isn't just a controlling, arrogant wizard with a penchant for subterfuge. She's someone whose intellect has brought her to knowledge that she never wanted to know. She is frightened to the core of her being, and she doesn't know how to react to the things she's learned.

Tanja De Witte (a villain of one of my books, and a personal favorite of mine) isn't just a self-absorbed sociopath with a superiority complex. She's...well she's exactly that. But she's also deeply in love with her husband, in a very selfless way, and she feels lost in events that are bigger than she is and over which she knows she doesn't ultimately have any control. A villain, true, but one who feels trapped by the villainy of her own ancestor.

Care about what you write. Just don't force it on whoever reads your book, watches your movie, or plays your game. All of this should be there, but there's absolutely no reason to tell it to the audience. When I write about Tanja there are no scenes that talk about her devotion to her husband, at least not in so many words. There is no scene that details how trapped she feels, or how frightened she is of the very power she wields. Yet it's all there when I write her dialogue, when she reacts to something, and when she makes decisions. Even if I never tell my readers these things, it informs the whole story. Without them, I feel that scenes involving Tanja would miss something, would be bland and uninteresting. That I feel these things when I write her scenes, I think, makes each one of them richer.

Don't force meaning on the audience
Yet, as talked about, I never tell the audience these things. In my D&D campaign, it's almost guaranteed that I'll never discuss with my players the fears that drive Baroness Lafitte (nor, likely, would they care...I'm really rather proud of how much they hate her). If I were to sit down and detail to my players the full motivations of each NPC in the game, sure it might be interesting to them, but it would detract from the story that's being told. It isn't the Baroness' story, or even Lord Bauer's story; it's the player's story.

Even in a novel like the Charge, wherein Tanja is a supremely important character, I won't go into this kind of thing. As we learned from the Star Wars prequels compared to the originals: always have a back story, never tell it. If I went in and detailed everything about Tanja's psyche, it would cease to be supportive element of the narrative and become part of the narrative itself. Which would leave it without a support. To not tell it, to leave it unsaid, makes the story that much more intriguing.

I maintain, for many reasons, that what characters don't say is more important than anything they do say.

Enjoy when people find their own meaning (even if it conflicts)
All of this of course means that players, readers, or viewers might infer meaning that you never intended. Someone might see Tanja in a completely different light than I ever imagined. Already I've had people describe Mirron, the protagonist against whom Tanja finds herself pitted, in ways that I never would have. I could think of this as a failure on my part to get across the kind of woman Mirron really is. For a while, I did. But that's not it at all.

When someone sees an aspect of your story that you didn't intend, it's because your story touched a part of their psyche. They are not you, and can never react to something the same way that you do. So when they react to something, it's all them. When someone describes Mirron in ways that I never expected, it's because they found something in her portrayal that spoke to them. They see her in the light of their own perspectives and experiences, and that wouldn't be possible if she didn't mean something to them. If they saw no meaning in the story, in the characters, they'd only get the surface elements because they wouldn't care enough to dig.

That someone sees meaning in your work, whether you put it there or not, is everything. Absolutely everything.

Feb 15

Self-Sufficiency Tastes Like Rice and Potatoes

So, I've never been much of a cook. I once tried to fry an egg and ended up destroying it (and I don't mean it just became scrambled eggs, I mean it was inedible). Yes, put me in a kitchen and I can do the impossible, but not in the direction one might hope.

For the longest time, I just thought I didn't have any aptitude for it. I thought, like many skills for many people, it was just one that I didn't have. However at the same time, I also didn't feel much of an interest in cooking at all. It just wasn't there. Food is fuel, it makes my stomach shut up, and I don't want to spend any time making it that could be better spent doing things I actually care about.

As I transition, though, among the many things that are beginning to change is my approach to cooking. In general I've found a focus that I haven't had in a long, long, looong time. This focus is wide-spanning, and includes a capacity to pay attention in the kitchen that was never there before. I don't suddenly care about cooking, I'm still only interested in eating so that my stomach will shut up and let me game/write/lounge. But I do find myself with a newfound ability to focus in the kitchen that allows me to do things I couldn't.

Previously, such as when I killed that poor egg, cooking just seemed to not work. The fog that I lived in got in the way, I couldn't pay attention enough; my mind wandered as it always does, but to an extreme degree. I had less control over it then than I do now. So, with this newfound focus, I can actually pay attention to what I'm doing and make food. And this brings me to the point of this post:

Nobody told me how fucking good self-sufficiency tastes.

I've had Rice-A-Roni before. I've had mashed potatoes before. But to make them on my own stove, in my own apartment, with my own two hands, using my own pots and pans, somehow changed everything. I have never in my life encountered food that tasted so good. No potato was ever so savory, no rice ever so rich and flavorful. I quite honestly, I must admit, had to force myself to resist eating the entire heaping servings of both all in one sitting. It was way too good, and the satisfaction I felt from eating food that I'd made myself was far too powerful.

Yes, yes, there's an obvious joke here about embracing womanhood and suddenly finding a capacity for being in the kitchen. Gofuckyourself. I'm just excited that suddenly I have this skill I could never do before. Like it was unavailable during character creation and so was locked to me, but now I unlocked it and I can explore this direction.

I wonder what kind of skill perks I'll unlock!

Jan 15

Let's Try This Again

So obviously I haven't had anything here in some while. Life has been doing its thing, and I most certainly have not. Most prominently I have not worked on the Patreon campaign that I was so excited about.

Part of that is disappointment at watching as absolutely no one came to support the campaign. Granted, I wasn't expecting droves or even clusters, but my inability to draw anyone at all has led me to reevaluate the entire endeavor. No matter how much interest people expressed when I told them about the idea of my campaign, it was just too unwieldy. It's difficult enough to get people to click once to buy a book; expecting them to look at a list of characters, vote on one, wait for the book to be written, then click to get that book, is a cumbersome and annoying enterprise. There's too many steps involved and it demands that people wait. Multiple steps and waiting are both features that should never exist on the internet. It was a dumb idea.

So, in the coming couple weeks I'll be rethinking and restarting my Patreon campaign. I already have an idea what I will do, and I'm going to work at actually keeping this going. Fuck, I'm so lazy. 😛