Life — The State of Spear Gate

To be honest, I don’t have a whole lot to say today. I’ve had a particularly exhausting weekend, and with the first week of the fall semester happening just prior, I’m a little out of breath… not to mention the fact that I still don’t have a desktop of my own, and that isn’t likely to change until September. So, good on me for being a functioning human being without a real computer for a sizable amount of time, I suppose.

But anyway, I thought I’d talk for a little bit about the state the Spear Gate universe is in right now. There’s a lot going on, but on my blog the only attention it really gets is in the fiction section (obviously) and the little chunk in the monthly updates. That said, it occupies a huge amount of my time and thoughts, so where are we at?

The book just passed 10,000 words, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s historically the point at which I get bored with whatever the project happens to be, so the fact that my feelings towards it have only shown the slightest hint of boredom (in regards to the rewrite) is a good sign.

Consequently, I am starting to plan a little bit further and further ahead. I intend to keep the vast majority of that to myself, but know that I am starting to look further than “what happens in the next chapter” as far as what the characters are doing. The strange thing is, they are starting to surprise me with how much depth they’ve naturally evolved with, and I’m scared I’m not taking enough notes! In fact, as of writing this right now I’m creating a Google Doc of stuff I need to not forget.

I have mighty big plans for this universe. A lot of it is too big for the book I’m currently working on, and require things to be established that aren’t. If it does upset me enough, though, I can throw it in anyway and blame it on a “first draft” thing, promising myself to foreshadow stuff in later. For example, ‘Death Warden’ is a special rank in an army unit that has a very specific job (use your context clues). However, Tebrein’s army has never been mentioned and, for where the story is, it isn’t important. So, I don’t know how to fit it in, but I have a cool scene envisioned. This example is one of many.

The Spear Gate universe is huge. Each planet is intended to be capable of comfortably housing several book series that may or may not be relevant to each other, so I can’t possibly fit all of my ideas into the first book alone.

Also, the more I write, the more I realize that I’m sort of accidentally emulating Brandon Sanderson. I don’t think anyone that knows the author would even put the pieces together because on the surface they’re so distinct, but there are points. Now, I realize this is a consequence of my very picky reading habits, but it is what it is. As I plan further and further ahead, Rozire is starting to feel a lot like Hoid. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it.

Life — August Update Pt. 2: What’s New

Last week I discussed the changes I was making to my blog schedule, which are all already in place. So this week, I’ll just talk about everything else I usually put in an monthly update post.

Monthly Update Topic Order: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things. (Though I’ll skip the blog part, since I already went over that last week.)

My writing plans are fairly straightforward for the time being. My fiction output is purely focused on the Spear Gate novel I’ve been working on these past few months, and I don’t plan on that changing anytime soon. Of course, I’ve historically gotten bored with long term projects that get too long, and this one is nearing that point, but I’ve gotten no warning signs yet. It seems the tactic of “Only plan as far ahead as the next chapter” is keeping me pretty interested in the story so far, so let’s hope that doesn’t change.

As far as video games go, I haven’t been doing that a whole lot lately. My computer died a few weeks ago, and my laptop isn’t good enough to handle anything like that, so my gaming has been almost exclusive to Dragon Quest Heroes II, of which I already have over 70 hours of. It still doesn’t seem like much in comparison to how much time I’ve put into Dragon Quest VIII, so maybe the figure I told people (about ~300 hours) is a bit larger than I remember it being. But in any case, by this time next month I may or may not be back to my regular games. We’ll see.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and listening to media lately. I’m about three fifths of the way finished with Two Towers (and I hope to be done by August 14th), but mostly I’ve been listening to a good amount of Running the Game, a YouTube series on being a better dungeon master, and Critical Role, which I’ve already talked about a lot. It’s the D&D weekly stream of the adventures of Vox Machina. I’m still about seventy episodes (and therefore 200+ hours) behind, but maybe some day I’ll be caught up… I will say though, the original drive for watching Critical Role stemmed from me wanting to watch and indirectly experience more D&D. Now, because of some interesting story bits, I’m watching it for the narrative, because it’s actually getting very exciting. I just wish there was a faster way to get through it!

The fall semester hasn’t quite started yet, but my classes are all set up and taken care of. This time around I’m taking two theatre classes (which will be my first in years) and I’m overall taking more hours in one semester than I ever have before. This means that I will, once again, be busy (in some form) every single day of the week. I’m not excited about that, but it is what it is. I just hope I don’t hate all my classes. I’ll settle for only hating three of them.

In other news, the old leader of my writer’s group has moved away, leaving me in charge of the group. It doesn’t actually add much responsibility to my plate as far as what’s going on in the writer’s group, but I do treat it very seriously. If nothing else, it’s an acknowledgment of both my writing ability and my leadership skills that I was the one entrusted with it, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like having people listen to my direction.

And lastly, I’ve decided to make some small changes to my outward appearance. As a consequence to my closed off personality, I historically don’t make friends. But this school semester I plan on changing that and reinforcing what I call the “Charismatic Introvert™”. A lot of people that don’t know me very well are surprised to find out that I’m a very introverted person, probably because I’m not socially inept like the stereotypical introvert is. So I’m going to make a conscious effort to be more amiable and introduce myself to people, and hopefully I can find people I share things in common with.

That’s all for this month. I’m excited to see where I stand come September. It’s my favorite month (for more reasons than just “It’s my birth month”), but we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Life — One Year Ago (450)

When a lot of people look back one year, they don’t see a lot of changes. For the most part, life rumbles on slowly. Usually only one or two big things will have happened throughout the year to make it memorable, and often one can’t say how a year really went without first coming up with a general emotion to describe it. In my experience, a lot of people will say they had “a bad 201X”. It could, of course, be boiled down to universal culprits, such as the bad economy, or a number of other issues many of us have to deal with.

But when I look back at my year, I try to look specifically at where I used to be and who I am now. Especially with my blog, I can now precisely track where I was in life at specific dates.

365 days ago, the blog was sort of a mess. It was organized, but it was mostly compiled into a lot of information that nobody cared about, not even me. Two reviews, two ‘Me’ posts, and two ‘Life’ posts every single week, wrapped up by a segment of Dreamscape, my second serious attempt at long form fiction. I remember back then I would occasionally write useless blurbs just to get my five hundred words in, and while I tried to avoid it, this ended up happening a lot. (You can only talk about yourself so much before you can’t even think about what to talk about anymore.) A lot of those older posts are thinly veiled vats of useless information, and while that is infinitely better than my zero writing output the year prior, I’ve grown a lot since.

Now, my blog is more refined. I’m down from four Me & Life posts a week to one, giving me much more breathing room to talk about life events that are more substantial. I introduced the Improv 101 and Learning! posts to add more variety. I also added a second fiction day, which is always great.

I think it’s important to look back constantly to make sure you’re going in the right direction. A year ago, I was super proud of the writer I had become. I was finally somebody that wasn’t afraid of putting the ideas on the page, and even when I inevitably got bored of them (as seems to be my curse with longer works,) I still stuck with it for months. A year before that I couldn’t even rely on myself to write five hundred words a week, let alone per day.

So while that jump was about changing the person I was to better fit the writer I wanted to be, the jump from this past year is more about sacrificing quantity for quality. I still have quite a long way to go before I hit that million word wall, but these days I’m not worrying about that as much as I am enjoying the words that I’m putting on the page. I was afraid to give up on Dreamscape because I wanted to at least finish the first draft, but if I’m going to be honest with myself, there were road bumps from the beginning. Problems I ignored because I couldn’t find solutions. I ended up spending the next few weeks being uncomfortable with what I was writing because I knew there were issues with the piece. I told myself it was just to get my “trunk novels” done before I work on real pieces of art.

But really, the art comes first. The very first step on the writer’s journey is to enjoy what you write, and while I’ve known this for several years, it’s a lesson that must be learned and relearned, at least for me.

I’m not the best writer in the world. The stuff I’m working on now probably doesn’t have the most interesting characters, or the most cohesive plot. But you know what?

It’s fun to write. And that’s all that really matters.

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.

Life — July Update

Summer is in full swing at this point, and I must admit, the heat is hitting me harder than I would have guessed. I am still a little disappointed in myself at my failure to adopt a full time writing schedule, but at least it hasn’t come at much of a perceivable cost, as I’m still updating and writing pretty regularly. As a side note to this, I apologize if my fiction blog posts just fuse into continuations of the novel I’m working on. I do prefer publishing standalone short stories once or twice a week, but I do want to make sure I’m focused on my longer projects for the time being. So, let’s dive in with the usual the order of a monthly update: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Like last month, I have no changes I plan on making to the blog. It’s functioning quite well for now. I do, however, have some inklings of things I’d like to change soon. For one, I’ve been having an increasingly difficult time coming up with topics for the Thursday ‘Learning!’ posts, and often I don’t tackle those until late Wednesday night (or in the early hours of the next morning, as the case may be). I honestly don’t feel like I have a whole lot to teach people, or at least nothing that I haven’t encompassed earlier on in this blog. So, I do feel a change is on the horizon, but I still don’t know what I’m going to do about it for now. We’ll see if I come to a conclusion next month.

Writing plans are pretty simple. At this point, I’ve completely abandoned my other projects to focus on the “Spear Gate” novel I’ve been working on this last month. I love the world I’m working in, and it’s enticing because, for the first time, I’m writing this novel with virtually no plans as to what is going to unfold. I’m adopting one of Stephen King’s strategies here: put characters in a situation and make them into real people. What would that real person do in that situation? It suits me because I loathe outlining, and this way can conceivably make for a compelling story both as a reader and as a writer. There’s less chance of me getting bored of the piece if I figure it out as I go, after all.

As for my other projects, I don’t know what to say. Rise of the Riftguard is still very much on the agenda, but I wasn’t really satisfied with the way “Windcaller” was turning out, so I lost heart. If and when I get bored with this “Spear Gate” thing, I plan on jumping back in, as well as finally getting to work on that SPARK story I still have the framework for. Lisa Stenton’s story is still at a dead end, and I don’t expect to return to that until something new and interesting finds its way into my idea-collector. I apologize for that, especially since I like her character so much.

What am I playing? I’m still playing the same games. Heroes of the Storm is still occupying the most of my attention, and Starcraft II after that. I have, however, been playing some games on Steam with friends lately, most notably Iron Brigade, a tower defense game where you’re in a big mech. It’s by no means a Triple A title, but it’s loot system feels pretty rewarding. I also bought Rise of Iron, the latest expansion for Destiny, in preparation for the sequel in October. I don’t really find it very fun alone, but I thought I should familiarize myself with what the game is as well as the latest pieces of lore before the next one comes out.

Having finished On Writing, I’m returning to the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the hopes of (finally) finishing it. I’m currently about a third of the way into Two Towers, and it’s much more enjoyable now that I’ve forayed into plot I’m unfamiliar with. Knowing Tolkien’s personality, I found Fanghorn and the whole bit about the Ents especially amusing. (Did you know he would often spend the better part of an hour looking at trees on his daily walks?)

I’m also catching up on Critical Role, the weekly Dungeons & Dragons adventure hosted by Geek & Sundry. Having started from the beginning, I’m only a few episodes behind where I stopped watching. It’s unfortunate, because I’ve still got nearly seventy episodes to go before I’m caught up. Which is over two hundred hours. I doubt I’ll be caught up by the end of the year, but it’s a lot of fun, so I don’t mind.

There isn’t much to say about school, of course, since I’m not taking any classes for the summer. I did, however, register for my Fall semester of classes. It sucks, because the way my schedule is oriented, I’ll be going to school four days a week as opposed to two, and on two of those days I only have the one class. I’m excited, though. A lot of the classes I’m taking should be a lot of fun.

I do have some miscellaneous things I want to point out before I go. First, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on new Google Docs recently. I’ve been organizing a spreadsheet of my Steam library of games (of which I am not the original or sole owner), and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. It’s a daunting task, as the point of the Doc is to help you find something to play even if you know nothing about most of the games. I’ve set up several columns, such as “how many players”, “how much does it cost”, and “what are the reviews like”. It’s a lot of work, given that the account has over two hundred titles, but it’s very useful.

Another Doc I’ve recently made is one I’ve had in my head for a while now. I call it the “Hype Tracker”, and it’s a spreadsheet tracking the dates I’m counting down for. With it, I can keep track of all the things I’m waiting for as well as get an idea of what time frame things will be happening in. For example, Dragon Quest XI releases on July 29th, and if I hurry I might be able to beat it before my life gets bogged up with school two weeks later. Super neat, because I love being organized and having information readily available! Somewhat related, I’m also in the process of compiling some Dungeons & Dragons ambient music playlists using the soundtracks to games, movies, and TV shows. It’s going to take quite some time, but I’m really enjoying it.

Lastly, the organizer of my local writer’s group is moving to Alaska very soon. Within days, if I’m not mistaken. He’s passing the torch to me, so to speak, and I’ll be heading the group before long. It’s not really a responsibility, as there isn’t much to begin with, but it’s a little surprising. I’ve been going nearly every week (save two or three) for over a year now, and I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve grown quite fond of a lot of those people, and while some come and go, I hope it won’t falter in my hands. I’d feel pretty guilty about that. So we’ll see what happens.

Also, I really need it to cool down soon. For the sake of my sanity and sleeping schedule, I need the heat to go away.

Review: On Writing

Part of my revitalized effort to revamp my daily schedule included a designated physical reading time before I go to bed every day. The first book on my list was Stephen King’s On Writing, and I must say, it’s no surprise that it’s a bestseller. I’m under the impression that this is the only nonfiction book he has ever published, and in some ways, it’s a bit obvious. I think that is also one of the key points of the charm of this book.

First off, at the very beginning Stephen King says most books like this are self help with lots of somewhat abstract knowledge on “how to excel”. He says that this book is meant to be something of a contrast of that, giving the facts of writing alongside anecdote of one success. This book is not a manual. It doesn’t teach the reader about what an appositive is or how to construct a plot. That is sort of what I was expecting going into the book, but it’s actually pretty enjoyable the whole way through.

The first real half of the book is memoir. He talks about lots of important events in his life and what impact it had on his writing career (one example was when he wrote a fiction story based on Pit and the Pendulum and sold copies at his school, not realizing that the film itself was an adaptation.)

The second half is dedicated to the craft of writing. But again, it’s not a manual. It is driven towards providing a learning experience, but mostly he talks about major mistakes and why they’re bad, especially pet peeves of his. (He really hates adverbs and spends a good chunk of time explaining why they’re bad.) This section is focused on what tools a writer has at their disposal. What they are and when to employ them. He explains what they do, but he assumes the writer already knows how to use them.

The last bit is something of a lecture as to what the life of a writer entails, as well as a longer story about when he almost died by getting hit by a van. Finally, the reader is left with an example of one of the most important things he learned in his early career. “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”.

It’s a compelling read, especially for nonfiction. One of the reasons, as I said, is that it doesn’t read like nonfiction. He curses a lot, for one, and is quite sassy in the way he makes his points. A lot of his personality shows just through the way he writes, and that’s half the fun. I never felt like I was being lectured. Instead, it felt more like an informal conversation, and it gives the book a lot of charm.

One thing he said had a profound effect on me, as well. He claims it is a thesis of the book, though he doesn’t call back to it after the section. His philosophy is that there are four levels of writers, forming a pyramid of quantity. The first level is the bad writer. The second are competent ones. The third level, being quite small, are the really good ones, and above them the Shakespeares and the Faulkners. I believe Stephen King himself would place himself on the third level, below all the geniuses, and at first I would have said the same about myself, but after having read this book, I’m a little disillusioned to the idea at this point. He said this, which is equal parts encouraging and disheartening: “While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one”.

He does state that this idea would be rejected by lots of critics, but he makes a very strong argument for this claim. There is both a craft and art to writing, and the art cannot be taught. Before reading this book, I would have placed myself at the third level, but now it seems to me that that level is for the successes that have themselves together. Right now, I’m competent at best, but if Stephen King is to be believed, and I’m inclined to think that he’s qualified to say so, then I could be good if I applied myself enough.

So, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. In fact, I think lots of people that don’t write could get quite a bit out of it. It’s an enjoyable experience, and it dispels many illusions about the writing world as a whole.