Life — Why I’ve Been Gone

Greetings! It occurs to me that the only post I’ve made in this entire month so far is my monthly update. I’d first like to apologize, but I do have an alibi. I recently took a week long vacation to the Pacific Northwest, which is interesting for a couple of reasons. I’ll give you the gist of it for now, but the travel log isn’t quite ready yet. (I updated it journal style while I was there, so I’ll have to comb over it, scrub out the names of people and places, etc., before I post it here).

This trip is now the longest length of time I’ve spent away from home (a full week). When I went to Portland last year (Pt. 1, Pt. 2), I had a blast because I had basically never taken any sort of trip like that in my life. It was three days spent exclusively with two friends in a state I had never been to. This time, I was staying at my sister’s the whole time, and I had already seen what I knew I wanted to the year before.

The key differences this year as opposed to last is that I didn’t have a travel buddy this time, stayed for twice as long, and had no plans. This means a lot of down time, which was fantastic. I wrote three poems, two short stories (scenes?), and plucked away at some other things. It is virtually impossible for me to be that alone when left to my own devices at home, so the tranquility was nice. It was not so nice insofar as none of my friends would ever text me back, so even when I wanted to have a conversation I couldn’t have it.

Here’s the thing. According to my happiness tracker, this past week was pretty much on par as one of the worst weeks I’ve had in months. A lot of my time was spent either doing nothing, or otherwise doing things I didn’t want to but had to because of familial obligations. The only thing I had to run to was my laptop, and, well, I don’t make a habit of using writing as my happy place… So that felt a little weird.

I learned that moving up there isn’t going to be as simple as packing my things and renting a moving van. I would wilt away into nothingness if I did that. I’m going to need a much more solidified plan, which inevitably turns into waiting a few more months than I want to to leave the nest.

Right now, I want nothing more than to cut ties and start over. But I don’t have the strength to cut all of them, and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. What I need is some thicker cords. I was hoping I would find them after I moved, but I’m not sure my mental health would survive going that long without support. Heck, maybe that’s just what I need as a person. And yet…

P.S. The descent on the flight back home was some of the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I thought my eardrum would burst. So that was cool.

Learning! — You, Me, and the Rule of Three

“The Rule of Three” is something that gets thrown around a lot in many fields. I’d say they’re especially prevalent in my fields of writing and theatre/improv, but it appears everywhere.

In fact, saying “the rule of three” is immediately misleading because there are so many rules of three. That’s simply because 3 is a magic, holy number. You have the Christian trinity, the 3 act structure, the 3 Musketeers, you name it.

To put it very briefly and very simply, 3 is the perfect number to establish a pattern or a group without overwhelming the audience of the message. It’s easy to describe the function of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but as soon as you add a fourth, it starts getting exponentially harder to remember which is which. It’s the same thing with the 3 Musketeers.

If you have 7 of something in a story, you can’t reasonably expect to teach the audience about each individual thing and expect them to hold interest. Their attention span will only last for about 3 or so.

The logician in me thinks its unfair that 3 gets so much praise for being the holy number. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, you see.

So this is to say that when you’re writing something, whether its a story, a piece of worldbuilding, or a plot, you know whatever—use the rule of three. Don’t put five characters in a story that works with three. Don’t put 2 try-fail cycles unless you have a good reason for doing so. When you write a passage using lots of repetition, communicate the idea thrice. (I was about to quote Marc Antony’s usage of the phrase “honourable men” in his famous monologue, but he actually states it 5 times, not 3. Damn Shakespeare and his 5’s!)

You get the idea. But this rule is a bit different in improv (and comedy writing in general). In fact, it’s a lot more specific than just “use the number of three because it’s a good psychological tool”.

When you’re writing a sketch, or performing in an improv scene, the first time you use a joke it’s funny for it’s own sake. When you later repeat this joke it becomes a callback—it’s funny because of the reference. But when you use this joke again, you can’t simply repeat it, because then it becomes repetitive in its own sake. You’re milking it. Instead, you find a way to turn the joke on its head and present it in a way the audience doesn’t expect. In The Three Stooges’ “Slowly I Turned” sketch, you see lots of uses of the rule of three. Funny enough, the actual punchline of the joke is used 4 times, but the last two times its used in a way that isn’t expected.

All this is to say, in conventional writing the number three is a good rule of thumb to know how many times to use a trope or with establishing rules/characters, and in comedy it’s a good way to get punchlines, but only if you subvert expectations on the last use.

 

Voice Acting — Fantasy Script Samples 1

Any time I try to look up bits of dialogue to practice interesting voices on, I’m always disappointed because I invariably end up with ad copies (commercial scripts) or cheesy dialogue from anime 20 or more years old. So you know what? I’ll do it myself, internet. Thanks for nothing. Feel free to use at your leisure. Here are the first four, with more to come in the future.

(Obviously you can do different voices than what I have labeled for each paragraph, I just made labels and wrote dialogues based on them.)

  • Shady thief-type. Face is probably covered in shadows:
    “A little birdie told me you were headed for the Swindler’s Claw. Dangerous place if you don’t know the right folks. If you’ve got the coin I can take you there. I’ll introduce you to some colleagues of mine. Just don’t make the mistake thinking that anyone you meet around those parts is trustworthy. Half the town would shiv you as soon as look at you, the other half will just pickpocket you. The good news is, if you give me your coin now, you won’t have to worry about misplacing it when we get there.”

 

  • Lord of the Realm. A valiant hero everyone respects:
    “This is a daunting quest you speak of. As far as I’m aware, there have been none brave or foolish enough to venture into the Sundered Wastes in ten years. I’m afraid I must decline your request for a detachment of my guard to accompany you. For as noble a goal as this is, I simply do not have the disposable resources for such a task. I’m afraid you’ll have to go alone. Still, I would never hear the end of it if my son caught word that I left you empty handed after all you’ve done. Here, take my signet ring. It bears the emblem of House Raidell, and can serve to protect you in times of dire need. I bid you a safe journey and a speedy return.”

 

  • Sword-master who’s getting too old for this:
    “There is no weapon made by man or elf that can harm the likes of Thaleus. His control over the darkness has grown too absolute. the only way to stop him is to shatter the crystal atop his staff. That crystal is the true source of his power, but it is also his greatest weakness. If you’re clever, you can find a way to separate him from his power. Without that crystal he is no more powerful than any typical conjurer. Now go! Time is of the essence, my friends. Thaleus grows more powerful with each passing minute. And remember—take the staff, then break the crystal. Only then can you defeat him.”

 

  • Evil Wizard. Might be nasally, but could instead be quite sinister:
    “It’s a shame you’ve come so far in your quest only to be defeated at the hands of mere pawns! Who do you fools think you are, anyway? That minotaur skeleton was hard to find, you know. He was my favorite, and for that you’ll pay dearly! Come to think of it, I do seem to be short a few undead servants now. How would you like to join the ranks of my minions? It won’t be so bad. You’ll never have to eat, sleep, or contemplate your meaningless existence ever again! Oh, what am I saying, you don’t have a choice! Now, hold still and I’ll only make this hurt to a moderate degree.”

 

Future dialogues to come! If you’d like to add some to my list I would be happy to include them in the next post.

  • Grumpy Old Man:
  • Demon Lord:
  • Tiny Sidekick. Never been sure of anything in their life:
  • Smallfolk. Won’t take ‘no’ for an answer:

 

Learning! — Are You Creative?

A while back I wrote about what creativity is. I have a different way of looking at it because my improv experience has taught me that most people think of creativity as the ability to pull things out of thin air, but it’s just not. You’ll have to read that post to hear my full thoughts on that, because today I’m going to talk about something slightly different.

I would say a lot of people also think of personality traits as sliding scales on a Sims game. (I really hope that’s how Sims games work or else I’m going to look real dumb here.) You have 2/10 laziness, 7/10 attractiveness, 5/10 intelligence, etc. Creativity is no different, right?

I actually think it is very different.

All my life, I’ve had things swimming around in my head. Dragons single-handedly fighting off armies of thousands. Powerful spell casters throwing hurricanes and tidal waves at each other, sundering the landscape around them. An evil king increasing the gravity in his throne room to literally force those around him to kneel.

There is always. Always. Something like this in my head—even if I don’t have the willpower to put it to paper, like right now.

This is just part of the way that my brain works, so I was a little surprised when I found out that not everyone thinks like this. To be honest, it still seems a little strange sometimes. But maybe that’s just it.

Maybe having a creative mind isn’t something you put a scale to. Maybe you either have it or you don’t. This is only an inkling of a theory, so I could be way off base, but perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in here somewhere. Hear me out.

If you split it this way, turning it into a dichotomy, it becomes easy to differentiate the sort of people around you. It’s easy for me to split everyone in my writer’s group between creative and non-creative people.

Now, being creative doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with scenes of a book. Maybe it’s hearing new melodies or seeing magic in poetry. Whatever it is, it’s breathing life into something new.

It is important to note that when I say non-creative, it isn’t an insult, merely a descriptor of how our brains function. In fact, some of the best writers in my writer’s group were far more technically inclined. They weren’t creative at all.

You may or may not agree with me, but thinking of people in this way has helped me better accommodate for the strengths and weaknesses of those around me. Putting creative people in technical fields can yield interesting results, and the opposite holds true as well.

You could probably immediately tell me whether or not you’re a creative person with my definition, and if you start thinking about your friends and family, you might be surprised to discover that their profession is something contrary to their personality. Well, you might think it’s contrary, but in actuality they’re just bringing different things to the table.

Just because it’s unconventional doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Me — How to Find Your Energy

I had a really heavy workload last semester of school, as you might have guessed by my unprecedented absence from this blog. I was working a lot, directing a play I wrote, and doing what I would simply describe as a mini dissertation for one of my classes.

Towards finals, I was starting to get really stressed. I would get home from work or class, and based on the schedule I outlined for myself, I would often have a single two hour chunk of free time to get work done before it was due in the morning. Problem was, I would get home with no energy to do any of that; the only thing I’d want to do is sleep.

This problem was surprisingly and miraculously solved when I watched a video from one of my favorite “public” figures: Day9. He’s a streamer (known for Starcraft) that I’ve talked about a while back, an old post of which I did not re-read, so browse at your discretion. He has a very casual and sociable persona, and he’s one of the people I admire most because of that.

That video was a snippet of one of his streams; just a conversation where he’s talking about this very thing: How do you structure your life in a way that allows you to get the work done with the time that you have? You can watch the video with that link, it’s about 9 minutes long (he does occasionally curse, though). But I’ll also just talk about it in my own words.

The solution is actually alarmingly simple. You can start tomorrow, in fact, and you don’t need to prepare. You’re not going to like what I have to say, but let me tell you, all it takes is the discipline to commit to your own promises and the ability to restructure your day to day.

All you gotta do is wake up early and do all the extra stuff then. If you’re trying to learn a language, write an essay, whatever doesn’t matter, don’t set yourself up for failure by pretending today will be different. It won’t. You’re going to get home from work exhausted like always and then you’ll hate yourself for looking at Instagram or Reddit for two hours after you get home.

But let’s say you have work at 9. Here’s what you do: You get up at 5am. Yup. 5. You cry a little inside, maybe take 20-30 minutes to get up and you curse me for convincing you to do this, but then you get up and get ready for your day. By 6am you’ve showered and eaten, you’d be ready to walk out the door now if you had to. But now you have 3 hours to just do stuff. The house is quiet, nothing going on, you’ve got the whole day ahead of you, and now that you’ve woken up you’ve got the energy to work.

That’s when you write that essay, or go to the gym, whatever you want to be doing more. You devote some time in the early morning, and by the time you get home after work, you’ve already done the stuff you want to, so now you won’t hate yourself for wasting the rest of your night. Maybe you’ll go to bed a few hours early, but who cares? You’ve already done the things you need to. Plus, if you go to bed early, it’ll make getting up earlier that much easier.

I tried this in the middle of a work and school week, throwing caution to the wind, and it changed the way I did my day-to-day. I’d get home with so much more energy because I wasn’t dreading the work I’d still have to do after work. And because I got up at 5am every week day, sleeping in on weekends meant getting up at 7-8am. I felt like every day suddenly and magically had 3 extra hours.

So, that’s it. Watch that video if you’re not convinced. Give it a shot. Trust me, I know waking up that early is awful. But if you can do it, you’ll feel better, and every day after that will be easier and easier. Especially if you’re a morning person like me, sleeping in until even just 10-11am feels terrible because there’s no morning left.

I wish you the best of luck, and as a farewell note, I highly recommend doing things that wake you up immediately. Shower and eat right after you get out of bed because there is no being tired after that. If you jump out of bed and immediately start working on an essay, you’ll just fall back asleep and you’ll hate me all the more.

Learning! — Fantasy Name Generators

So this post is sort of a cross between my typical ‘Learning!’ posts and a ‘Review’ post, but I thought it worked better here because it will serve it’s purpose better as a tool for learning rather than a subject of scrutiny.

Today I’m going to talk about a website: fantasynamegenerators.com. It is a resource for a lot of things. First and foremost is that it gives you random names for various purposes. If you can’t think of a name for a character in your book, this works well. It isn’t simple “generate thirty common fantasy names” situation, either. It has very specific generators for every situation.

Let me clarify a little bit. Let’s say you can’t think of a name for an elf character. Does the site have an elf name generator? Of course. It also has a name generator for dark elves and half elves, too. Three different generators for elves is nothing to sneeze at, but this site goes deeper. Blood Elf and Night Elf name generators from World of Warcraft, Elf and Half-elf for Dungeons & Dragons, Elf and Half-elf for Pathfinder, all the Warhammer elf races, generators for Lord of the Rings AND Lord of the Rings Online, as well as Magic: The Gathering, The Witcher, The Inheritance Cycle, Dragon Age, as well as a name generator for Harry Potter house elves. You want an elf name? Well, you’ll need to be more specific because there are nineteen different elf name generators on this site. Are some of them duplicate generators? It’s entirely possible, but even if there are lots of duplicates there is still more than enough variety to keep a creative person flowing with inspiration.

This site works for everything. All of the naming conventions for whatever fanfiction you want to write are all given to you, because a good chunk of the name generators on the site are from pop culture. But even if you’re working on a unique world of your own design, this site helps a good deal.

Whenever I’m trying to develop names for cities in my Dungeons & Dragons campaign, or in any of my fantasy worlds in my fiction writing, I use this site. Not every generator works for my purposes, but at least one works every time. If anything, I just need to do some digging to find it.

Do I always use names from this generator? No, of course not. In fact, I wouldn’t even say I often grab names from it even when I am actively using it. Instead, I use the generators for inspiration, or insight into the naming conventions of whatever it is I’m looking for. Remember, it’s all about the creative spark. This sort of site isn’t meant to tie you down into any sort of rules. Quite the opposite. If it gives you a name you like, if it only started with a ‘P’ instead of an ‘F’, then it’s a success, because guess what: it is entirely in your power to change it. It would be silly to keep looking until the site gave you the perfect name. Instead, use the generators as foundations that you can throw your own color onto. That way the site is still pulling the brunt of the effort and allowing you to add the flair and the finesse. When I use this site, I often splice the names it gives me together, or sometimes the names I see spark an idea for an original one, in which case I have only the website to thank for pushing my own creativity along.

But maybe I haven’t convinced you of how useful this is as both a worldbuilder’s tool and a writer’s resource. This website also gives instructions in its spare time. It can give you description generators. It has society descriptions, armor descriptions, backstory descriptions, planet descriptions, you name it. If your town is too boring to interest a reader or your D&D party, pull up the town description to help add some flavor!

But wait, there’s even more. Recently, Emily, the website’s creator, recently launched a second site, called rollforfantasy.com. This site is geared more towards worldbuilding and roleplay than it is towards writing, but I still find it very versatile. Not only does it have guides for how to handle certain situations or how to build a stronger campaign for you and your friends, but it also has specific tools to augment the experience for you. It has puzzles you can implement into your game and free music you can use to set the tone of each session.

And you know what my favorite thing about all this is? It’s not the ingenuity or the vast amount of knowledge there is to gain with these sites. It’s the fact that they are constantly updated on a weekly basis. Not only that, but she responds to e-mails within days. She’s so active on these sites, and really, it’s a resource I couldn’t do without these days.

Any person working in any creative field (even as a hobby) could gain a lot using these sites. I highly recommend checking them out, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll exhaust yourself clicking all the links well before you think you’ve learned enough to solve all of your creative problems.

Learning! — Writing Weaknesses

One thing that sucks about the aspiring writer’s process of growth is learning to deal with your weaknesses. Obviously, everything anyone does will involve personal strengths as well as weaknesses, and writing is no different. One person might suck at writing compelling or believing dialogue, or be terrible at developing characters or plot, or not actually have a solid concept of how much description is too much or too little.

The difficulty with this is that, while everybody has strengths, these aren’t very prevalent. Writers often get two kinds of responses to their work. The first, and most common, is “This is great!”, of which there is no reply. In my experience, this sort of response is numerous, but unhelpful. It just means the reader doesn’t care enough to look for or point out your mistakes, or perhaps they are even lying just for the sake of encouragement. It is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it is pretty much useless.

The second is a little better, and that is constructive feedback. Telling you what’s wrong, and where you can improve. This varies from simple edits to overarching plot holes. This can be of varying use, but it too has its problems. The biggest is that it can be hard to remember to weave in strong points of a story while pointing out its mistakes. When I’m editing somebody’s piece, the only time I write down a compliment is when I find something so entertaining it throws me out of the story.

The problem with these two critiques is that they don’t give you a good picture of what you handle very well in your writing. The only time you could really find out is when somebody familiar with your work is pointing out general strengths, and even then it can be hard to know if they’re honest or knowledgeable enough to be accurate in their comments.

On the other hand, however, your weaknesses can become glaringly obvious, because the constructive feedback always includes the same sort of feedback. For me, it’s description. I never describe rooms or people. Often I just jump back and forth between dialogue and action, with a little exposition thrown in. Everything I ever write seems to be lacking in description, even when I compensate and intentionally describe more about the circumstance.

It is a little frustrating when you don’t seem to learn, but there is a way out. I’ve found a solution to my weakness: backtracking. I’ve stopped worrying about how little I’m describing in any scene. Instead, I just write it as I normally would, then go back and add description where it would make sense. What do I need to describe? The room? The people? When does that need to happen, and from whose eyes? That sort of thing.

I don’t think of this part as editing. I actually think of it as writing still, but that I’m filing in the gaps once I’ve poured in the foundation. If I tried to write description while I’m writing the rest of the piece, I would just get bored and end up describing too little. This way, I’ve already written the piece, so I don’t have to worry about what comes next, I just have to make sure I put in enough and ensure it makes sense with what comes before and after.

This actually works with a lot of weaknesses. If it’s grammar, don’t worry about it. Just write it and read it afterwards. If something feels off, change it. If your dialogue is lacking, maybe you could use some more. If not, channel what emotions the characters might have as you write. Either way, it doesn’t need to happen the first time through. Just get the words down, then work on the stuff you’re bad at. Once you’re done with that, then you can show other people.