Monday, November 28, 2011

World building from the map up...

A long time table-top RPG player and game master, I like me a good setting as much as I enjoy creating 'em. I would spend hours over a table with dozens of pencils and a stack of paper -- early on I used square-grid or hexagon-grid sheets, and then moved onto blank sheets.

It's important to say that world building from the map up is always a map in progress because at any given time you can draw a tighter map, focusing on a very specific area with fully-detailed roads, villages, towns, farms -- even that oak tree where young love blossoms.

My world building rarely begins with a coastline. Most of the time it starts as a few letters. An "M" to represent a mountain. See it? Two snowy white peaks... Then as I draw them I change up their size. The larger the M, the bigger the mountain. If I think of a name for the mountain range, I just jot it down somewhere nearby. Then, as I cluster them together I start to think about who would live there. Dwarves? Ogres? Bears? Snow leopards? Wolves? The list starts to form. Keep in mind they're just lists. This is world building, not an enemy list for your heroes. It's all in progress so at any time you can draw a line through any of those creatures, but never erase them. Ideas shouldn't be erased. They should be edited. Modified. Edited into a final draft, much like your story.

And as I would overlap those letter M's some of them get sent into the background. And as I did that I would jot down other enemies. You see the trigger here is what inhabitants and what creatures co-exist and which ones don't.

Eventually, I'll move into other geography. Rivers get the squiggle and bend, just like a letter S, snaking through the world. What might those rivers be like? Roaring, calm, shallow, deep, murky, a gate to the elemental plane of water? You see the goal of a map isn't to immediately define its function. It's to give you seeds...

A map is the place(s) in which your characters live and thrive. Civilizations build and fall over time. Within them are people busy in their routines, hopes and dreams. They have troubles, near and far, some visible, while others search for power.

The important thing to remember here is geography becomes a foundation, not a limitation.

Your characters might feel trapped by the conditions of their life--but that's human nature, not the order of the natural world. Think about why people live in a forest, a mountain, along a river or coastline. Do these people need resources? That's a given. More importantly, what are these people like? Peaceful? Warriors? Farmers? Builders? Or, are they refugees, driven out of their homeland there by some tyrant? Where they exiled as punishment? Or, have they always lived there, perennially, able to trace traditions to their first ancestors? And if they can, how do they? A town square? A monument?

As these details emerge in the map, so will the societies in which your characters live, their political views, cultural expressions, and ultimately the place that gives birth to the heroes that will shape the world as they journey through that map.


Pencils at the ready...

... and...


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Duck season. No, rabbit season... No, bird season

It's official.

I'm officially, unconditionally, anatomically, diabolically, irreverently, enslaved to twitter.

That is all.

Or, should I say, does nanonomicon want a cracker?

Stuff it, beakie!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Music for the evening: Explosions in the Sky

... Listening to Explosions in the Sky while following the characters I've created for the Splintered Lands on some adventures. I've got a few plots in mind. Hopefully the SL Board will bite them.

I've got a three-parter that opens up opportunities for some slowing down. Although the first story was fast-paced in areas and slow in others, I left myself plenty of room to expand on them.

Back to the plotting board, or as our group once did, logged on to the Plot Barn.

Happy writing...

Adventures await!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm getting published!

Yesterday was like a good-vibe overload.

It started early in the day after getting breakfast together for everyone. Scrambled the usual eggs and cooked the usual cut-up potatoes in oil, garlic, and chili powder. (I think I even grabbed coffee, too.)

But honestly, since I opened the e-mail, the last (nearly) two days have been a total blur. A good-vibe sensation. I sent the final draft out to the pub last week and hadn't immediately heard anything. From my experience in this digital correspondence world not hearing right away doesn't mean much, but when a story gets rejected, it gets rejected almost immediately. Who knows why... But so far that's been my experience.

So, for the last week, I checked e-mail. Looking. Wondering. Laughing ay myself for chewing fingernails in my head. But, hey, that's the risk... right?

An artist isn't an artist until he's critiqued...

The story idea started a few months back when a long-time friend of mine tipped me off to The Splintered Lands. Part social-networking, part shared world, part open reserve for unpublished authors to sink their teeth into a post-apocolyptic fantasy setting.

Something about this group piqued my interest. Not sure what. Well, after a few weeks of going back and forth I decided to pitch an idea.

They looked at it, replied with suggestions to make the story fit better; gladly adjusted them, and then sent it back. It was like this for a few e-mails...

Then the writing began.

From the get go I knew that I wanted to try a different convention than I've ever attempted. In the end, I think--at least I hope--the characters and the story benefitted from it. Early on I typed away like a fiend. The first words I typed were: I am.

But as with life things come up. I got distracted. I left the story. Came back to it. Thought about it. Put myself in it. Turned away to focus on the things happening in my life, and for many months didn't touch it.

It's been in the back of my thoughts the whole time.

So, a few weeks ago, I came back to it, and within a few sessions I finished it... phew...!

But I didn't send it. I held it back. And looked at it again a few days later. I'm glad I didn't send it. Needed a polish? Yup. Needed fresh eyes? Yup. (That's my years of journalism talking, BTW.) When newsrooms use the word edit, what they often mean is the reporter is too close to the story to see the (facets of the) story. So the extra eyes accomplish many things. Mainly for accuracy, chiefly for context. Readers are often around longer then the journalists and might be able to nimbly recall historical details the reporter may not.

I gave it another crafting round.

And sent that.

A week later I got the news every author wants to hear: We would like to publish your work.

Cloud 9.

Or, as we say around here: 88-13.

It's an old phrase my girlfriend's daughter--the Twilight fan (remember?)--said when she was a little girl. For her, it meant the ultimate joy. The impossible, possible. The best day ever. Ever. 88-13.

And, guess what. The SL Board wants to see more stories. Oh, what a day.

Can't wait to see it published.

Published. Did I just say that out loud? Really?



Friday, November 18, 2011

A month of well-mannnered frivolity... NaNoWriMo style :)

I'm going to try to say it three times fast.

Band of

Band of

Band of

Yeah, I got nothing on the Weasley twins.

But on NaNoWriMo... I am laying the smack down.

NaNoWriMo, you ask. Let's get a few things clear: it's not haiku for little people, or poetry written by the Space Time Continuum. Although that would be interesting. For me it's about the little things.

I feel a chant coming...

All the small things. Truth care and truth brings... hmm-mmm-hmmm--

My mind is all over the place today.

Got some good news. Some great news... and still waiting to hear about a short story I submitted. Over all a great month. My friends have talked about NaNoWriMo for years. And they've all encouraged me to give it a shot. Why not? It's a month of absolute writing bliss. Well, it's supposed to be that way. One month. That's all. I can do it--

But I'm a very slow writer. My usual daily word count is somewhere around 300 words. Sometimes I can hit 500. On a very rare occasion I can dart passed 1,000. But if you've got kids. You know what I mean when I say that by the end of the day you're exhausted. I have two toddlers. Not so easy. Breakfast by 9:30. First nap at 11:30. Lunch at 1:30. Second Nap at 2:30. Break, for, oh, maybe 45 minutes. By this time I've got either West Wing, Start Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Smallville, or Heroes playing in my computer. Then its dinner prep and cooking. By the time I sit down to write it's close to 8:30.

So, I knew that going into this National Novel Writing Month the obstacles were great. There was no way in hell that I would even approach half of that number, until I put my mind to it.

I said screw it. I'm doing this cerebral triatholon.

Well, it's week three and I've clocked in more than 30,000 words. Not bad for 18 days. Not bad at all. But there have been some effects. I'm tired more throughout the day. Some of my writing rambles. I drink way much more coffee than normal. But really, in the end, what have I done?


What I have accomplished?

For starters. I attempted it.

That's not that huge, but it's huge for me. I don't like starting something and then quitting. Cuz once I'm invested I want to push myself. And learn from that experience. But more than anything, I like writing. I enjoy storytelling. For me storytelling is very much like cooking. How many recipes are there? How many ways are there to tell a story? You get the drift...

So, here I am. Pleased with myself. Wondering if I cane ver go back to writing only 300 words a day. By the way, the word count up to here is 492. (And I haven't even started working on my fiction yet.)

Ahhh. Feels wonderful.

I can't say that enough. Feels absolutely wonderful.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

There's a hole in my fantasy TV time slot...

I miss Legend of the Seeker, the television adaptation of Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth novels.

To get my viewing fix I've been watching it again on Netflix Instant, and I gotta say, I'm still bummed out the show was cancelled, but darn it if I didn't try to help the peeps at with some graphic design to get the powers that be to think about it one last time before dumping it.

There were a bunch of rumors floating around last year as to why the show got the axe, only after two seasons--and of course a ton of fans leaped at the opportunity to support the show and to convince the leadership to either bring the series back or sell it off to a network so that it might continue.

Rumors of a possible courtship between Scifi Channel and a few others (although these few others as far as I know weren't legitimate. I think I even heard Disney whispered in there, but who are we to actually know. These things are hush-hush until they're public. Like James Bond. MGM was getting cut up and so there was fear the greatest spy of movie history might be a 00 without his downturned pistol, that missing number 7).

It's too bad, really. Seeker was an awesome show.

Helmed by Spiderman director Sam Raimi, it featured a great cast of actors and those heroic characters that followed the journey of a hero learning the values of service in order to lead his people out from under the clutches of the villain, Darken Rahl.

Every episode had something memorable.

Sometimes it was a character, like the Listener (the boy who could read minds), the meddling witch Shota (who switched the Seeker with a groom on his wedding day) as well as a revolving cast of Mord'Sith, those treacherous assassin women sworn to serve Rahl.

Ah, it was just good fantasy storytelling. Deep. Rich. Funny. Sordid. Swashbuckling. You name it. the show had it. At least Seeker got to Season Two. The Charlie's Angels reboot didn't even get that far. It's getting harder to keep a good show on the air it seems.

Well, that's not entirely true.

The Walking Dead is doing just fine.

That might be because it's not competing in its time slot. It's on AMC, plus all the other issues affecting programming, advertising, audiences, local station buy-in, the list goes on. I'm no expert on television management but hey, if the show is good, I'll watch it. And buy the box sets.

And watch it again... and again.

Any other Seeker fans out there?

p.s. Its got 4/5 stars on Netflix. Don't know about Hulu, but I've heard good things there.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I don't suffer from short-term commitment loss. I'm a graphic artist!

For the past, oh, six months or so I've been balancing -- and when I say balancing I mean juggling, and why I say juggling what I really mean to say is working on several short stories (one a candidate for an anthology) and a few others an ongoing project with a few friends of mine, an iPhone video game app (with all the art done by yours truly), and an RPG game setting that if all goes well on that front will be publishing sometime next year.

But as will all projects, a deadline isn't a deadline until it's broken.

Good thing I don't have newsroom editors anymore, cuz crazy talk like that is just asking for trouble.

I was a newspaper designer for many years, so juggling projects even on deadline isn't really stressful.

Right now, it's finding the time to concentrate.

Designing A1s, Section covers, doubletrucks, you name it, for me like being a flowing river. I can work slowly, gently and find the idea, and then blitz over rocks, and then roar around bends. Design has always been easy to do. Problem is when I'm in the zone, everyone around me notices.

It just happens.

I start by warming myself up. Could be anything from checking Facebook or e-mail to calling a friend I haven't heard from in a while. And if it takes an hour to catch up, so what. Work can wait, because in the end, when I start designing my fingers are flying across the keyboard and holding down those hot keys.

A few hours later, I've got a mock-up, or a shell, as its referred to on the inside. A few rounds of does it work, does it flow, does it make sense, is it the right vision, the right message, the right art, and then its off to the finishing touches--unless its ripped because the news changed. Happens. I've designed an A1 twice in twenty minutes. Sounds monumental, but not really. Only some story packages get reworked.

That's the nature of the biz.

So, with all this experience is it any wonder that I'm always juggling a few projects simultaneously?


The goal is to balance them and complete them.

So, here's to completing them, while doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, finding time for a shower and brushing my teeth, oh, and going to grocery store.

Hot keys, my friends and readers. It's all about the hot keys!