[Come Up With a Witty Title]

The New Year is upon us, and as most people are growling in frustration as they still end the date in 18 instead of 19, writers are setting up resolutions and goals for their annual projects. Great amounts of time, thought, and energy will be spent as optimism flows as freely as booze at a party. While writers aren’t alone in making resolutions that they hope will govern them over the coming year, they’re also not alone in the fact that most of them will not keep those resolutions. For those of you, like me, who have any form of anxiety, this is where the problem of resolutions truly arises.

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We all know that most resolutions of any kind aren’t kept for a lengthy amount of time. You know this is true if you’ve ever resolved to lose weight and started going to the gym. The first few weeks of January, the building is packed. You can’t find a free piece of equipment. There’s so much sweat in the building it doubles as a sauna. And then, just two to three magical weeks later, BOOM! Instant ghost town. You have the place to yourself. You can luxuriate in the amount of space and free equipment. The lack of humidity is painfully noticeable. Is it because everyone dropped the pounds they wanted to in that short amount of time?

The answer, in a word, is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE! (Bonus points if you read that in the voice of Lana Kane. Double bonus points if you know who Lana Kane is. Triple bonus points if you don’t know who Lana Kane is but do some research to find out. Quadruple—Ok. Sorry. I resolve to stop there.) People fall back into old habits, or they don’t see the results as quickly as they want to, or they get frustrated, or any and all of a myriad of different reasons why people don’t keep their resolutions.

If you’re the type of person who sticks with resolutions and goals, you are sincerely to be commended and applauded. I have no idea how you do it, but good for you! For some people—and we’re going to focus on writers now—not keeping those resolutions is no big deal. They shrug it off and carry on as they would have anyway. But if you have anxiety, every part of the resolution process can be painful. Sometimes it can even be destructive for your creative flow and writing process.

You step into the New Year knowing that you have to be just like all the other authors you know, admire, and adore. They’re posting about it on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and their personal websites, and EVERYWHERE ELSE YOU LOOK. You’re inundated with how they’re going to write 15 million words by the end of the quarter. They’re going to finish 30 novels by lunch on the second Tuesday of the third full moon following the spring equinox. They’re going to be so much better than you ever hope to be, and they’re proving just how much you suck as a writer, and, oh my God! Why do you even bother trying to write when you’ll never be as amazing as these people?!

Or…

You miraculously manage not to see any kind of social media posts from any author about their amazing writing resolutions and goals, and you set your own without comparing yourself to anyone else. Your list is numbered or bullet-pointed. You’ve taken the time to truly consider each one. You’ve moved the list around until it’s in descending order of most to least important. You’ve not only set goals, you’ve color-coded those suckers. And you’ve also taken the extra step of promising yourself a specific reward for crossing each item off of your list. You’re going to do it! This is the year you’re finally going to have every item crossed off of that list. You’re starting now! You make the first day’s goal of writing X amount of words. You feel great!

And then comes the first stumble. Your child gets sick and stays home from school. You have to deal with the co-worker or customer from hell. The dog threw up on the brand-new pair of shoes your partner bought you for Christmas, and you really wanted those shoes, you longed for them, yearned for them, promised Santa you would do anything for them, and now they’re covered in Fido’s barf, and you just can’t deal with it right now! But you’ll relax. You’ll make today’s word count. You’re Super-Author. You’re energized. You can do anything. …Anything except force yourself to sit in front of the computer and write.

But you’ll do it tomorrow. You swear. You promise. It’s just one day. You’ve got this.

And then…

Oh my God! You didn’t write yesterday. Now if you want to make your end of the day/week/month/quarter goal, you’ve got to write at least double what you should be. You can’t do that. You don’t do that. You miss the target by 500 words. You’re a terrible person. You’re a terrible writer. Why did you start doing this in the first place? You’ll never be as good an author as (insert person’s name here). Why do you even bother? How could you be so arrogant to think you could do this? Why do you even bother? You knew you couldn’t do this!

No… No. You’ve got this. Tomorrow will be different. Or better. Or…

It won’t.

Anxiety is a legitimate thing. It is a debilitating and crippling thing. No matter how much you know it lies to you, you cannot shake it. It’s not your fault, but another insidious aspect of anxiety is that you can’t believe that it’s not your fault. You feel like you should be in control. You should be doing these things no matter what your brain is telling you. But you just can’t do it. It’s okay, but you can’t let yourself believe it’s okay. And you spiral ever downward because you took the time at the beginning of the year to say you were going to do a thing, and then something—even your own brain—prevented you from doing that thing.

If this isn’t you, I’m sincerely, truly happy for you. The truth is—as I said above—I have anxiety, and this is what it’s like for me and others who have anxiety. For some, the experience varies. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t set goals or make resolutions. What I am saying is that you have to know yourself as both a person and a writer, and you have to determine if resolutions are right for you.

For me, resolutions don’t work. I know that if I say I’m going to do a specific thing it’s going to cause me anxiety. If I don’t do what I said I would, it’s going to cause me anxiety. Eventually, I’m not going to do anything that even closely resembles writing. So, I don’t make resolutions or goals for writing. I try to be relaxed and just know that I want to do a thing, and I’ll work on it when I work on it. That’ll be okay. I’ll still experience anxiety about it until it’s finished, but the pressure won’t be as bad. I’ll do what I do best, which is to set a deadline—and I know that’s a goal, of sorts, but calling it a deadline works for me—and I’ll have it finished by that deadline. Hell, I’ll have it finished well before that deadline because if I’m on time then I’m late.

I’ll still be the best writer that I can be. I’ll still get it done. I’ll just do it the way I know works best for me.

I’m a firm believer that we do not compete with each other as authors. We support, applaud, and admire other authors, but we get to determine what is successful for us. Your idea of success as a writer might be publishing your first novel, or winning first place in a competition, or just sitting down once a week to write as many words as you can before you have to go clean dog barf off of something. (Seriously, though, if Fido is vomiting that much, see a vet.) Do what is right and best for you. If you don’t have anxiety and can set goals or make resolutions, do it. If you have to trick yourself with semantics and call them deadlines instead of goals, do it. If you need to message me on Facebook and rant about what an idiot I am… Well, don’t do that, but you get the general idea.

Know that you are not alone. Know that it is okay to not do what everyone else is doing. Know that it does not say or mean anything about you as a person or an author. Just have a happy 2019 being the best author, the best you, you can be. However you accomplish that is okay. Tell your anxiety I said so.

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Shannon Iwanski

Shannon Iwanski is the former president of the Tulsa-based writing group Nevermore Edits, a member of Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc., and Editor-in-Chief of Inkubus Publishing, LLC. To learn more about him and his plans to turn the world into a dystopian society, check out shannoniwanski.com.


 

Getting a useful critique and what to do with it

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There may be no shortage of advice offered at your critique group, but how much of it is useful? It's important to remember that not all critique is created equal, and some of it should be ignored utterly. But which advice should you ignore and which should you carefully consider?

In order to get the most out of your group, you have to learn to ask for what you want, as well as separate the good advice from the bad.

Help your group give you the critique you need:

Tell the group what type of advice you're looking for.

Before you take your work to the group, figure out for yourself what kind of advice you're seeking – plot? characterization? dialogue? If you point out the specifics of what you're concerned about, then your group can focus on that. If there's something you're not concerned about, let them know as well so they're not wasting their time or yours.

Set up the scene.

Unless your group has a fixed membership who always attend, you will find yourself reading a scene to some member who isn't familiar with your work. Therefore, be sure you give the information they need to understand the significance of what you're reading.

Example: “Billy is confronting Rick, who he believes killed his father. There is a red bird in this scene, and every time we've seen a red bird, violence has followed.”

This will help prevent non-helpful comments like “Why is Billy being so mean?” and “Why did you spend so much time describing the bird outside the window?”

Ask for what you want.

Don't be afraid to ask for specifics. Often if you say something like, “Did the description of the red bird work?” then you'll get more helpful answers.


Evaluating your critique:

Perhaps the worst mistake you can make is to comply with every suggested change from your group. Carefully consider the source of each comment and decide if it works for you and what you're trying to say with your writing. Some advice can and should be ignored!

Damning with faint praise.

We all love to hear that our writing is just perfect – but that's not terribly helpful because it's almost certainly not true. People want to be nice, and that will sometimes prevent them from saying they don't like something. They may offer non-specific praise because they weren't paying attention, and people rarely press for more information on a compliment.

Be thankful for the negative.

Would you rather hear the criticism from a group of friends or from a publisher rejecting your work in a form letter? Someone responds to your writing with, “You went on about the bird for half a page, and then it just flew away! I got bored with the description and then I felt cheated because it seemed to be an unimportant waste of my time!” It would be easy to focus on “bored” “cheated” “unimportant” and “waste of my time” and either get angry or depressed, but instead, look at what he's saying. Is the bird important? If it is, then you failed to communicate that adequately. This is an opportunity to find a way to make it clear how important that is, or, if you have to admit that it's not that important, to maybe cut it down to a few sentences and then get on with your action.

Beware of the personal preference.

If one of your group prefers cozy mysteries and historical romances, they will probably not love your dark and gritty post-apocalyptic tale of revenge. Hopefully, your reader will understand the problem is the genre, but if not, they may inadvertently offer advice that could drastically change the tone you're striving to set, like “I think he should be able to save the girl!” or “Did you have to describe all the bodies at the pillaged farm? I thought it was just too much.”

Also beware of the “expert”

Unless the person in question is an actual publisher, they can't speak for the entirety of the publishing industry. And if they are a publisher, they can only speak to their own preferences. Watch out for comments like, “Publishers aren’t interested in these kinds of stories!” and “Publishers are tired of dark stuff and want happy!”

Respect “the rules” but know when to break them

Never open with a discussion of the weather. Never open with waking up. Never open with looking in the mirror. Never open with a flashback. Never use the words “suddenly, almost, or seemed.” Never open with a prologue or dialogue. Never, never, never...

If your story is about tornadoes, opening with weather is probably appropriate. If your protagonist suffers from a sleep disorder, then starting with waking up may work for you. Most of the items on the writing “never” list are more appropriately on a “you should be careful with” list or a “use sparingly” list. While these things got on the “never” list for a reason, if that “never” is appropriate for your writing, then ignore the never and do what's right for you.

Having said that, many of these rules are so entrenched that your writing may be dismissed as soon as the reader encounters it. I received feedback from a writing contest that one judge quit reading as soon as the story started with a character waking up. Was it fair? No. But we don’t live in a fair world.

You'll need to handle conflicting advice.

“I love symbolism of the red bird!”

“I hate that red bird and think you should get rid of it!”

This is real life. No matter how wonderful or terrible your work is, someone will love it and someone will hate it. This is where it falls most squarely on you. Do you love the red bird, or is it not that important to you? If you believe in it, keep it!

I don't understand why...

        “I didn't get why Billy blamed Rick.”

         “I don't understand what happened to the girl.”

         “I don't believe Rick would just accept the blame.”

         “I'm sorry, but what's the deal with the red bird?”

Always pay attention to “I don't get” and “I don't understand.” These kinds of comments tell you one of two things – your group wasn't paying attention (which begs the question: why aren't you holding their attention?) or you failed to adequately express your point. As writers, we walk a careful line between making things too obvious and making them too obscure. Sometimes, the confusion comes from someone missing an earlier scene, but if not, you need to address that problem.

Someone telling you they don’t believe what happened doesn’t mean you have change what happened, it means you may need to change the set up for it.

What is the importance of this scene to your story?

           “Where is the conflict?”

           “How does this scene advance your story?”

Perhaps the biggest red flag of any comment, questions about the importance of a scene to your story should make you look hard at what you've just read. Does the scene progress your story? Does the scene have conflict? Is it important for establishing character, setting, or plot? How would the story be changed if this scene were removed entirely? If you can't answer those questions, you should consider removing it or heavily editing it.

Or, maybe it is you.

           “I am SO tired of hearing about that red bird!”

If you keep getting the same comment, over and over, from different people, take the time to carefully consider that advice. No matter how much you love the symbolism of the red bird, if it's just distracting your readers, it either has to be fixed or it has to go – or you have to accept that you're going to keep hearing criticism for it.

That is the challenge:  When you have something in your work that you love, but you consistently receive negative feedback on it, it is time to make that hard decision.

Taking it home:

Once you've asked for the critique you need and then sorted out the wheat from the chaff of the critique you got, you just have to take it home and make the changes. Be thoughtful and remain true to yourself and what you have to say. Remember, it's your work, it's your voice, and in the end, it's going to be your name on that cover page.

Happy writing!

This post has been modified from one originally published on The Chipper Muse

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Donna A. Leahey

As a child in school, Donna Leahey turned her vocabulary homework into short stories. Years later, she is still crafting stories. Geek, gamer, writer, mother, procrastinator, and pet lover, Donna is a practicing veterinarian and free-lance writer as well as an active creator of podcasts. You can hear her and her friends on Beyond the Cabin in the Woods: A Good Ghouls Guide to Horror, Collective Snark, and Once More With Feeling: A 20th Anniversary Buffy Fancast as well as her 4th podcast, The Family Business: A Supernatural Fancast. You can follow her on Twitter.

How to Give a Good Critique

1.) Identify What the Author is Trying to Do

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In my first workshop at the University of Hartford ten years ago, Ben Grossberg dragged a desk into the center of the room, perched on top of it, and asked us how could we make this desk into a good chair. We gave him plenty of reasons. The desk lacked back support. The seat needed a cushion. It was so high off the ground so his feet were dangling.


Then Ben asked us how useful our feedback would be the person who made the desk.


Not very.

The the rest of your feedback is built on the bedrock of identifying what it is that you’re talking about. The description of the squelching sound an eyeball makes when it splatters on the bottom of a boot fits perfectly within a horror story, but would send romance readers running. Your advice needs to be tailored to the piece your reading, or it’s useless.


2.) Explain It to the Author

Once you figure out what you’re reading, the next step is to tell the author. They know what they meant to do, not what they did. As Stephen King puts it in his excellent On Writing, when you write you “engage in an act of telepathy.” The person who wrote the piece is projecting out into the world. In a workshop, you’re an early receiver, and the most useful thing you can do for them is to tell them what you received.  Whatever advice you have on how to make the narrative more taut, how to make the characters pop off the page, or how to imbue the symbols with the deepest of meanings won’t matter at all if you don’t first make sure your vision for what the author is trying to do matches their intent.

3.) Restrict Yourself to Talking About That

The role of a workshop isn’t to question what a writer wants to do. A good critique focuses on shaping what they’ve attempted into the best version of itself. Value judgements are the responsibility of gatekeepers (editors in traditional publishing; the author themselves in self publishing), not workshoppers.

You can respond to craft elements of any genre whether you particularly like that genre not. The question isn’t ever whether or not you like it, but how to make it the best version of itself.

4.) Be Honest and Kind

Being nice isn’t worth a damn in a critique. To be nice is to hold a punch, something that spares pain temporarily at the expense of the person you’re protecting. Anyone who’s submitting to a critique group is doing it to get their writing better.

Being kind is everything. To be kind is to tell someone how something isn’t working, to give them a specific page number or a quote that demonstrate a problem, and advice how you think it could be fixed. You don’t need to be mean to be honest, and specificity mitigates whatever pain that you might cause. It’s hard to be mad or hurt when someone is paying such close attention to your fiction.

5.) Don’t Forget Taste is What Brought You Here

Ira Glass has a great quote floating around the internet a few years ago about what it’s like to be a beginner. There’s a gap between your actual skill level and where you want to be, “But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.” And that taste, what makes you want to be a writer and go through the critique process in the first place, is still there. Turning it toward someone else’s work and thinking of how to make it the best version of itself possible, helps you more than them .

That’s the weird secret about critique groups. You aren’t going to get that much better hearing what other people say about your own work. You’re getting better as you respond to theirs. Talking about someone else’s work allows you to disconnect from it emotionally and eventually, you can apply the advice you give them and apply it to your own work.

Since that’s where the learning, the growth take place, make sure you’re allotting your energy accordingly.


6.) Remember that A Critique Group is a Community

You’re not paying anyone for their critique when you join a group. Everyone is in the same boat as you: they’re doing their damndest to make their writing the best it can be.


Every few years at my current critique group, a new member joins and railroads a novel through the critique process. They submit every week until the novels done and then we never see them again (or worse we see them at a Con and they awkwardly pretend they don’t see us). It’s self-defeating because it’s a misunderstanding of the process. The improvement comes from working on other people’s pieces. So does the community and the friendship, and those might just be the most valuable part.

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Ryan C. Bradly

Ryan C. Bradley’s work has been featured in The Missouri Review, The Rumpus, Dark Moon Digest, and in other venues. He regularly contributes to Wicked Horror. You can learn more about him at https://ryancbradleyblog.wordpress.com/

Bringing Up Baby

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As authors, we want people to enjoy our work. While the process from start to finish can often be a circuitous route and may not even end once the product is released, getting feedback from peers or trusted readers is important. However, it can also be one of the most difficult parts of the process. After all, the piece we’re working on—whether it’s flash fiction, a short story, novella, or novel—is our baby, and having someone tell us that our baby has issues or is outright ugly isn’t pleasant. So, how do go about bringing up baby in the least traumatic way possible?

The saying “It takes a village” to raise a child definitely applies to writing, and finding that village can be a crucial first step. You want to find a group of readers and critiquers who have your best interests at heart. These people should be willing to give fair, honest advice and support without just resorting to the “I love it! Don’t change a thing!” statement that most authors’ loved ones trot out when they don’t want to hurt your feelings by commenting on your baby.

The process can be made easier by first of all finding a group that is warm and welcoming to newcomers and established members alike. While familiarity will definitely give you a better feel for that, trust your gut right from the start. If you’re made to feel like an outsider or a burden, take your baby and run. In my experience, the writing world is a supportive one that celebrates the success of others. As with any group, there are those who can’t or won’t do those things, but that should be the exception, not the rule. You want a group who lifts you up, not drags you down.

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The group should also encourage you to look after their own babies and welcome your assistance with helping them grow. If they just want to constantly tell you how to go about rearing your piece from infant concept to full-grown final product without giving you the opportunity to do the same for them, the relationship is going to get stagnant or toxic. Part of the process of critique is giving one as well as receiving one. The more you look at other author’s children from an objective, analytical mindset, the easier it is for you to do the same for your own baby.

You also need to know what critique about your baby you should accept and which to disregard to give lesser weight to. As each parent must bear the ultimate responsibility for their child’s upbringing, authors have to accept that they will get full credit or blame for how their piece turns out. If one person tells you they have an issue, it might be okay to disregard the feedback. However, if multiple people have the same issue, it’s probably in your best interest to listen. When it comes down to it, you are absolutely entitled to stick to your vision and your voice as the author. Just know that if you do that, you’re going to be standing alone once your baby ventures out into the world. It’s a reflection on you, and if you’ve disregarded advice you shouldn’t have, people probably won’t want to have anything to do with your next child.

As well as helping to mold your babies into great children, a critique group should help to mold and change you into a better parent. (That means author, in case you’re having trouble following the potentially convoluted metaphor that I’m using.) In the six years I’ve been involved with my critique group, Nevermore Edits, I’ve definitely grown and changed as an author as the number of babies I’ve birthed has grown. That is thanks in part to the amazing people who have taken an interest in my babies and helped them grow. Some of my babies have won awards, and some of them have been bitter disappointments. Such is life. Especially the life of an author.

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But that’s why we do what we do. We want to create. We want to leave a legacy and continue our name after we’ve moved on to whatever may come next after this life. That’s why our stories, our babies, are so important. If you’re smart, if you’re truly serious about making your babies into the adult-like pieces they should be, you’ll take the first step and find the village that will help you in bringing up baby.

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Shannon Iwanski

Shannon Iwanski is the former president of the Tulsa-based writing group Nevermore Edits, a member of Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc., and Editor-in-Chief of Inkubus Publishing, LLC. To learn more about him and his plans to turn the world into a dystopian society, check out shannoniwanski.com.

Roleplaying and Writing

So today is a day of new, exciting, and scary things!  Why, you ask? Well I was asked by A Murder of Storytellers to write a blog.  I’ve never written a blog. I tend to have insecurities about my writing as well, despite being an experienced Game Master and being responsible for creating unique and diverse worlds.  Well I was honored to be given this opportunity to contribute to the quality content that aMoS(yeah I did that) puts out so I accepted.

First step? Build up the courage and get over insecurities.  That took a week to accomplish(mostly) and so here I am on this exciting and scary day.   You may have noticed the topic is on “Roleplaying and Writing”. This is a very broad and general topic and can cover a multitude of things, but I think we can all agree that it’s a pretty cool and interesting subject.

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I will be breaking this down further into how roleplaying influences and inspires writing, especially when it comes to long standing campaigns with deep and rich world building.

Let’s start with an example.  Read the following micro story and take note of how it affects you.





 

The Bishna Carrier sounded its evacuation alarm just as another plasma torpedo slammed into its aft section, separating it from the bulk of the ship with a thunderous and violent explosion.  The Bishna captain remained on the bridge and looked grimly at the viewscreen, the display filled with the inescapable enormity of their hopeless situation. Seven Command Battlecruisers fired indiscriminately upon her vessel, including the escape pods, intent on leaving no survivors.


What do you think?  Do you even know what’s going on?  If not, you may be interested in learning more.  Who are the Bishna? Who is this Command? Why are they fighting?

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On the other hand, I can guarantee if you are a member of my gaming group, you will know exactly what’s going on and probably have a wide variety of emotions and memories as a reaction to what you’ve just read.   Those players have had characters who have impacted critical moments in that campaign. Those events have profound meaning to those characters and, I hope, the players. This is what I mean when I speak of the inspiration that roleplaying causes and how it can create fantastic works of writing.

The above little blurb is from a Space Opera campaign that I’ve been running for my gaming group now for more than 15 years.  The campaign is called “The Space Between”. The world, or universe if you will, within this campaign has blossomed into a living entity.  The history is deep. The storylines are complex. The characters are epic. I don’t consider myself a writer, but in a way aren’t I? This world I’ve built and verbally expressed over nearly two decades is a saga in itself right?   It’s thoughts like these that help to inspire me towards one day writing a book or series of stories around this campaign universe that I’ve engineered.

You may also be in a similar situation.  Perhaps you have your own campaigns that you run for your gaming group.  Or maybe you have one that you are working on for an upcoming session. So why not expand upon that world of yours and put it into writing?  Creating short stories, blogs, journals, log entries, or any other kind of written content will only serve to further deepen and enrich your campaign world, which not only benefits you, but also your players as well.  

So how exactly is all of this meaningful or impactful?  Well for one, it helps to solidify your campaign world and the characters within.  You can cover topics and subject matter in writing that you may not have had time or the ability to cover in the game session itself.  Even little things can all add up to create a more substantial and cohesive gaming experience. You have the unique position to convey really cool and interesting information to your players about your world you are building through your writing!  Think of this type of writing as a way of reinforcing your creations.  These creations also give your players the opportunity to develop their characters with accurate information relevant to your world!

Oh, and this inspiration goes both ways.  I’m talking about the players perspective.  Do you have a character you have grown attached to because of awesome and amazing experiences they have had in role playing games?  Write about it. You may have already done it. Which is freaking awesome! For people like myself, who have trouble writing, it’s something on my to-do list.  Sometimes it doesn’t even take a long standing campaign to inspire the want to write more about a character.

For example, I have a character named Three who is a steampunk golem with a kind and compassionate heart...errr..core?  Anyway, I’ve only played him a handful of times and he quickly became one of my favorite characters to play. He is named Three because he is the third creation from his builder who was attempting to make a sentient golem.  The first two didn’t end up so well. I’ve always wanted to explore his background further. What was his awakening like? What did he think of his brothers? What are his future dreams and goals in the not so pleasant world around him? A world that views him as a mindless husk worthy of menial labor at best.  I should write about it right?!?!? And you should too.

Check this out:

Severnanos traced an ancient demonic sigil of plane shifting into the air and immediately felt its effects on his body; he would be in the Nine Hells any moment now.  He reached for the ruby amulet so that he could leave it behind as a parting gift to his companions, and smiled wickedly when he realized it was missing. That thief, Luca, had already pilfered it.  How perfect. He laughed joyously, a feeling he had not felt in many years, and regarded his soon to be expired companions. “I would expect nothing less of you Luca. Enjoy the gift. Something to remember me by.”  The final word barely had time to escape his lips before he was gone from this Shadowfell plane of existence. Luca eyed the intensely glowing amulet in his hand and gulped when he realized it was growing hotter and hotter and hotter……


What do you think?  I didn’t make that up.  It all actually happened!(well not in real life mind you)  How cool is that? What happened above was an epic climactic moment in a Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition game being run by a friend of mine.  The scene will be with me forever and I could easily keep going writing the whole saga of what has transpired in that game. These moments in games are the untapped fuel that writers can take advantage of to help weave their stories.

In conclusion, it’s important to note that the Murderers have always encouraged me to write.  So I’ve determined that this exercise was an elaborate plan concocted by them to light a writer's fire under me, fueled with ink and inspiration.  Well played aMoS, well played.

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Brent Iwanski

Although writing can be a rare event for Brent, when prompted, he seeks it out from the dark, mysterious, and uncharted recesses of his mind.


Can Writing be a Truly Calloborative Effort?

Role playing games are a kind of interactive storytelling. They come in many forms, such as Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), table top dice led games like Dungeons and dragons and text-based chat games. While I have a little experience playing a table top RPG many moons ago, my focus is going to be on chat-based games, as that is what I play the most, and how they can help us as writers.

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 Writing at its heart is a solitary sport. We may discuss ideas, beta read, and offer assistance, but the actual act of getting words down on a page is done by one writer and usually in solitude. Because of this our ideas ferment in isolation. There isn't a single writer in the world that will have a first draft that is exactly the same as what they first envisioned when they plotted it out, but those changes come from the writer alone, unchallenged, untested, at least until the editing stage. But what if we could write our first draft with another person? Someone who we can constantly, and in real time, bounce ideas off and vice versa.

 

My latest foray into RP came about as a direct effort to collaborate on a story with one of my best friends. Other games I have played began simply, just a bunch of writers wanting a virtual meeting of characters. Narratives sprang out of it, including one thread that lasted for roughly three years, but there was very little planning in the beginning and we had no set incidents that we wished to reach. For this game we started a little differently. My friend and I planned out some major incidents, created rough characters, and started the game off with a monologue each to set the scene. After that we let the narrative run its course. We have played for roughly four months and have maybe reached the halfway point, and what has happened within the narrative is extremely interesting.

 

In the first instance, the characters we had started out evolved quite quickly from their original brief outlines. Not only did they go through the natural growth process in all writing, where using a character automatically fleshes out their details, but unexpected backstory and personality elements popped up purely from their interactions with the other players' characters. We had characters move away from others we thought they would make alliances with, main characters shift from top billing to side quests, and in one strange instance, one of my characters developed set nicknames for other characters that I never mixed up, until I was made aware I was doing it.

 

With the characters changing the story followed suit. The new main characters shifted story points to different locations, and plot points we have played have sparked off other idea we hadn't envisioned at the beginning. We can look back on our original plan and see that the idea we first had is still there but it is a remarkably different animal. A better one.

 

Of course, this is something every one of us who has ever written a story will be familiar with, but role playing, especially the style I play, adds an interesting element to the usual fleshing out of a story. The role play I do takes place in a chat system. One person will make an opening statement to kick off play and the other players will join in. there is no turn system, no dice roll. If you are included in the scene being played then you can comment when you want with what you want. That means that if the game is completely free play, then we cannot plan very far ahead. I may have decided that my character is going to invite another out for ice cream and that they will order mint chocolate chip when they get there, but what if the other character says no? What if there is no mint choc chip? What will my character do then? The dice roll in table top games will serve a similar purpose. While you can plan some actions, you cannot plan them all, and having those curve balls thrown at you can result in some interesting changes in your story that you may never have thought of alone.

 

 

Role playing is a collaborative process, and the style of game and set up will determine the amount of interaction players can actually have. Maybe something like World of Warcraft, where there are strict parameters on what you can play, is not the best place to road test an idea, but RP can be. Whether it's fleshing out a character before dropping them into your story or writing a full piece in collaboration with someone else, role playing gives you something no other form of writing can. We are not in charge of the whole story, and when we don't know every word that's going to come out of the characters mouth who knows where our stories will take us?

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K.Lawrence

K.Lawrence hails from the wilds of north east Scotland and has been writing for longer than she can remember. Her first novel, The Raven And the Nightingale, is currently available through Amazon and Inkubus Publishing. The sequel is in the works. K has also written several short stories which have appeared in Inkubus Publishing Anthologies and one short story that has appeared in the latest A Murder of Storytellers anthology.

When she is not writing, K likes to play guitar, go to concerts, take photographs of everything and anything, and paint. She is also an avid collector of Funko Pops and other geek memerobilia.

You can keep up to date with her works through Instagram and Facebook .

 

 

Logistics of Roleplaying

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Every writer gets their start somewhere, and, as I’m sure you’re tired of hearing from me, I got mine in forum roleplaying, entirely by accident. I was just browsing topics about the games I had been playing last when I stumbled upon a topic full of people creating their own characters and fitting them into the already established world. I spent an afternoon creating my own addition and found I liked it. I joined in other character creation topics, creating more elaborate and connected backstories each time. It wasn't much longer when I found my first RP that writing became as much a hobby as the games that led me to it.

A friend, made during those times, once called roleplaying, “multiplayer Notepad,” and I'll be damned if that's not how I’ve thought of it since. You still deal with all the work and wonder and stress of building characters, stories, and worlds, but you share the process with others. The friends that you may use as sounding boards for your private works become intimately involved not only in the ideas you bring them, they take on a responsibility to help you execute them within the work. When you're stuck and flailing for any ideas to write yourself, you can always wait and see if anyone else will add to the story before you, to change the situation that has your creativity stymied. More writers bring different styles, points of view, and, importantly, diversity.

But for those positives, there are negatives as well. There will inevitably be drama between writers, but in an RP, that can cause anything from a temporary obstacle to a withdrawal of individual writers to the sudden death of the entire collaborative work. People will vanish, with or without (but mostly without) warning. The odds of actually finishing a story in a group without at least one long hiatus, missing writers, or story implosion are ridiculously small. In almost ten years experience with a fairly dedicated group, I've never made it to the end myself. Not to mention that switching from roleplaying to private writing has been difficult; now if I get stuck in a story, it's up to me to write myself out! (Results on that are… well, nobody's perfect.)

There's a multitude of ways to recapture that feeling of collaborative storytelling (or even experience it for the first time). Not every fandom actively roleplays, but fanfiction is a fantastic way to begin writing in established settings. Gaming helps me find inspiration at times; I still enjoy creating characters in video games and figuring out how they fit into the setting as I play, and tabletop games scratch that collaborative itch. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, you could even find a like-minded friend you could co-author a story with!

Ultimately, how and where you write are up to you. I've been told roleplaying and fanfiction are amateurish and derivative, but sometimes that's the vehicle that brings you to love writing. And in the end, that should be all that matters.