Monday, September 19, 2011

My Story, My Words, My Feelings

I wrote a wonderful scene yesterday, late at night. Got really emotional while writing it, and really enjoyed the feeling. I finished it, polished it a little and went to sleep.

Then the dreams came.

I woke up feeling unsure about something, as if the scene that I wrote somehow twisted itself into being through my dream. I decided to have another look at my scene when I get back from work, to try and figure out what went wrong.

Oh man...

During the second reading of my scene, I nearly choked. I placed my deepest emotions on the digital paper, plain for all to see. The protagonist expressed them, but it was plain that they were mine. Too plain.  It was like sharing the whole world with something I was not ready to share with my conscious self. What a slap in the face!

I think I now recognize my biggest personal writing "road-block". I'm putting too much of my personal self into my writing. While investing emotionally in my writing should be a good thing, I should not create protagonists that are reflections of me. If my book ever gets published (and it is possible with all the digital publication methods available today) somewhere, someone will notice the details, connect the dots, and come for further explanations.

I have to find a better way to give the protagonist life of its own. While I am exploring some interesting emotional territories in my book, it was not my intent to make it a quest for self healing, or a way to tell the world about my private thoughts.

I should tell the world about the protagonist's private thoughts. I'm going to twist the story a little bit during my rewriting process today, and give the main character story, words and feelings. This time of its own.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stories within a Story

When meeting for a D&D game session, I often try to let the players lead the story. In some groups, where players are content playing cardboard heroes with stereotypical stories behind them, letting the players drive the story means repeating some worn out fantasy story arc. Kill the Dragon, Save the Princess, etc.

These kind of games are easiest to run. These kind of players are easiest to satisfy.

But most of the gaming groups are composed of players with different tastes, different likes and dislikes. We, as Game Masters, need to constantly shift our attention, making sure everybody gets a moment to shine. In a group were one player likes "classic fantasy" and another loves "dark fantasy", after the dragon is killed, they'd better find out that the dragon used vile magic to switch bodies with the princess before the heroes arrived...Yes they killed the dragon (hence the "classic fantasy" guy is happy), but something was not at it seemed (thus making the "dark fantasy" dude involved).

When writing my novel, I sometimes stop and wonder if I should use the same attitude as in my campaign plot writing. Should I try to involve more that the typical reader? Is there such a thing as a typical reader? Or should I write solely for the sake of writing, and not let other considerations pollute my story?

As a Game Master, I try to make everybody happy by asking the players directly: what do you like? what would you like to see in the campaign? what "turns you on"? You would be surprised by the answers the players give you (if they give - but that's another issue).

The process of incorporating the likes and dislikes of all the players into a single, manageable story line is the thing that excites me the most when starting a new campaign. It's a challenge, and one that I really enjoy. There is nothing like the looks on a player's face once he realizes that a plot twist relates directly to his backstory, and nothing is more rewarding than seeing that player grabbing the reins and leading the group after something he himself injected into the story (by telling me what he wants from the game).

Unfortunately, writing a novel is not running a D&D campaign. During a session, you (as the Game Master) react to the whims of the players around the table. If they take the reins to some uncharted location in your campaign notebook, you activate those improvisation muscles and run with it. Sometimes you even ride on those chaotic waves to produce something wonderful. Novel writing is different. No one even sees your work until there's a big chuck of it written, and then it may be too late.

Problem is - I don't get paid for my writing, so I don't have the privilege of an editor looking at my drafts and helping me improve them. With players around the table, you know when you've made a mistake on the spot. With nothing but the laptop screen in front of you, the job gets a lot tougher...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Really Long Break

It's been 4 months since I posted, mainly due some work issues. Real life can be a real pain sometimes...

Now that I have regained some control of my life, I started filling my spare time with the things I longed to do. At the top of my list: reading.

A friend of mine recommended Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen), a novel that kicks off an epic fantasy book series.

I dived in (and it's a deep ocean of text to dive into, spanning ten mighty volumes of over 600 pages each), only to find myself awed by the magnitude of this work. It got me thinking about my own writing, which now looks to me like the work of an eager child compared to the polished product by Mr. Erikson.

That said, I did make some progress. I've got a complete chapter, which doesn't seem like much, but it's a chapter I'm happy with. I hope to get some more milage on both my reading and my writing, and it seems that one activity nourishes the other, so I'm enjoying myself at the moment.

Let's hope this calm weather continues...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rotating GMs

Funny thing happened - we decided to rotate GMs for our new Rogue Trader campaign, after I asked for some time off from GMing this system and theme. I was asked to create a character, and walla! I was min/maxing like hell and diving into the rulebooks looking for the most potent combination of skills and talents to impress my friends at the table (who am I kidding? I wanted this poor GM to get a taste of his own medicine...).

Diving into rulebooks? Optimizing? exactly what I, as the GM, ask the players NOT to do. I keep on going on rounding the characters, thinking about role-playing and character interaction - but as soon as I got the Player's Handbook, the first thing I looked for is the most damaging weapon available...

It was an eye-opener. Almost to the point were I was tempted to say: "Forget it! I'm GMing it!"

It occured to me that I wanted some time off GMing in order to improve my GMing skills. I've been GMing since I remember myself, hardly being a player at all. So rotating GMs, at least for a short, mini-campaign or a serie of adventures is a great way to view the table from another angle. Also, by playing with your "Ex-Players", you are now exposed to all that player talk, those little conversations you ignore as a GM, either because you are busy reading your notes, or because they take place when you are not there...

By rolling up a character, it suddenly occured to me that I want this character to be successful and useful. I wanted the other players to feel that I contribute to the group, I wanted to show off my role-playing skills and bring this character to life. No wonder I want the best possible armor, I want this character to live to see another day!

So maybe the key to being a good GM, is being an occasional, good player?
Can you be a good DM without playing at least part of the time? Or maybe you don't have to be a construction worker before being a good architect?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reality Shift

What happens if while writing your novel, you suddently have a great idea for another novel?
Here goes all the rush you had over the current book, because the new book suddenly looks like a much better project to work on.

I have this issue with my role-playing campaigns. I'm starting to write this new, cool, unique campaign, spending a month or so thinking about it, spending another month writing it, and then BOOM! A new idea takes over and the old campaign looks boring and trivial.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jeremiah Mekler - the Interview Continues

Continuing my ficional interview with the protagonist of my novel, Jeremiah Mekler, here is the second part of this ongoing writing excerise.

I fumbled with my notepad, trying to fold the top pages neatly while exposing a fresh, new page. Each time I did I swore to dump those sheets of paper for a shiny new laptop, but for some reason the notepad stuck around. Maybe I'm old fasion.

Jeremiah looked at me with a smile. "Sorry about that," I said, realizing how much noise I made with my papers. "I'm ready." I drew my pencil and placed the notepad on my knees.

"How old are you?" I asked Jeremiah, hoping that my smile eased him. He looked relaxed as he answered.

"I'm seventy-three," his voice was clear, but not strong, and the weight of the years was audible in the way he pronounced himself.

"Are you married?" I asked, knowing the answer but wanting to see the way he'd handle the question.

His old face moved through a full spectrum of emotion. I saw a small smile, then his eyes lit up, then a hard swallow and a painful expression. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, and shook his head slightly, as if trying to get rid of a mental image that troubled him. The whole process took less than  a second.

I jotted a note on my notepad. A lifetime experience in less than a second. Is that what we get in the end? Images of past experiences that we want to get rid of? Our past is there to haunt us, so it seems. I suddenly felt cold. What about my past, I thought. What about my images?

Jeremiah cleared his throat. "Well, she died last winter," he proclaimed in a soft voice. "But she lives in my mind."

I looked at him and wondered. It seemed to me that much more lived in his mind. I better get more penciles.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cultural Differences

Writing in English means a bigger audience. But does it means a writer needs to be aware of the cultural differences between himself and his readers?

Visiting the United States made me aware of how little do I know about Western Culture. It's in the little details. In the way someone addresses you as you block his way to an elevator, in the way a waitress asks you what you would like for dinner, and even in the way people behave on the road.

It turns out that my story will lose a great deal if I get one of these details wrong, especially if I set it in the states.

Reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods made me realize you can actually write in English without falling into one of the traps I mentioned before. Not that his book does so – on the contrary, this book is all about western culture. But his ability to weave fiction and fact made me realize I can use that technique to avoid those cultural pitfalls. But in order to do that, my book has to be fiction.

Writing fiction, I am not bound by any cultural standards. It's my world, and in my world, anything is possible. I have to be consistent, and give good reasons for things being different than what they ought to be, but I can do it. But then again – I need to be aware of those differences in order to work around them.

Taking mental notes during my stay in the U.S. surely is going to help. Reading Gaiman's works also is going to help. Any other tools for the job? Maybe I should consult my colleagues at

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When The Character's Voice Becomes Your Own

While writing a dialog in which Jeremiah talks about his past, I suddenly realized that Jeremiah's voice was gone, and my own voice took over his own.

I stopped writing and stared at the last few sentences. Clearly, Jeremiah was gone. Instead I found my own feelings, my own ideas and my own past.

Exposing myself in such a blunt way was not my goal. I am not writing to convey an idea, or to express an opinion. I write because I want to tell a story, period. Finding myself taking over my main protagonist in such a way was not a joyful experience. I know my own life's story. I'm not sure I want anybody else to know it that intimately.

Taking a step back and re-writing the section I was working on was the reasonable thing to do. But I wanted my story to Go Forward. So I took another look at what I wrote, decided it was not that personal, and moved on. And yet - it still nags me. I don't want to tell my story. I want to tell Jeremiah's story.

I posted on and asked about the effect of personal feelings while writing. John Smithers offered a great response:

You are cutting off your most valuable writing resource...Free it, or I promise you a massive writer’s block.
He is right, of course. But I do need to find a way to have Jeremiah find his own words, and not use mine.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meet Jeremiah Mekler!

The old man was sitting on a wooden chair. He was reading a thick book when I arrived.
"Sorry for being late," I started. "The traffic was horrible."
"Think nothing of it," He said with a smile. "I've read this book a thousand times over."
I smiled back, and sat on the sofa in front of him. "Shall we begin then?" I asked.
He nodded and leaned back, placing the book on his knees.

Meet Jeremiah Mekler, the protagonist of my first book.

Why am I writing about him? Well, because I can't write about myself. By using Jeremiah's voice, I hope to be able to explore sensitive aspects of my life without exposing myself in the process. Using Jeremiah, I can write freely, relying on the fact that no one will be able to tell fiction from fact, at least not that easily.

But am I Jeremiah? Are his experiences mine? Does he share all my secrets, and all my feelings?


I am not Jeremiah. I don't even know him very well. I plan to get to know him, through my book. Through the act of describing his feelings, his goals, his decisions and actions.

But before I start writing about him, I need to get to know him a little better. So I'm going to interview him. This interview is not going to be included in my book, but his answers might.

Browsing through Writers Stack Exchange, I found a lot of good advice about how to get to know your characters. Fox Cutter, for example, offered the following advice:
For me, I like to interview them. I have a series of loose questions that I like to have them answer. It helps me not only round out there backstory but get an idea how they will react to situations.
This isn't the first time I've heard of the above technique. It sounds reasonable and productive enough, so I am going to apply it and present the various stages of the interview here in this blog as a writing exercise.

"Feel free to stop me if my questions are too nosy," I said with a smile. "I won't be offended in any way."
Jeremiah gave me a sad, knowing look. "I will." he said, and I wondered what does he have to hide.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Google Scare

Google managed to give quite a scare to a small portion of their users, as some logged into their accounts and found it empty.

Ben Treynor, VP Engineering and Site Reliability, dedicated an official Gmail blog post to describe the issue and its cause:
I know what some of you are thinking: how could this happen if we have multiple copies of your data, in multiple data centers? Well, in some rare instances software bugs can affect several copies of the data. That’s what happened here. 
How many of us are using free services such as Google's Gmail to store private (and sometime important) data? I know I am. I use Gmail and a bunch of other free services regularly (Dropbox, Google Docs) as I work on my new book.

I think its high time for me to consider my backup options, and my entire work-flow. Since I'm working on my iPad, every sync to iTunes should backup my Pages documents to my laptop. But my syncs are not that frequent, so I also use Dropbox as an external, free, Cloud Based, storage. So I might one day log in only to find my entire storage's empty.


As I said, its high time for me to consider my backup options.

Monday, February 28, 2011

First Few Pages

The idea of the book is now firmly set in my mind, after several days of deep thought about it.

I started writing, and it is the first time I've written for three consecutive days without interruption. After reading The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, I can tell you that the best advice found there is to Keep Writing, always moving forward.

In my previous writing projects I kept revising and editing on the fly, which really took away from my ability to generate new material. This time, I'm focusing on writing, leaving the process of self-editing to the time when the first draft is complete.

Being able to just write free me from worrying about the end result, and lets me focus on the plot, the story and the way things move forward in my story.

I plan to do some more reading about the Art of Being a Writer. There are many good books out there, but the The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes is definitely worth reading. It presents 38 "don'ts" with good reasoning and good advice on how to avoid those pitfalls.

For now, I simply concentrate on that one advice - keep moving forward!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beast of Burden - Conceptualization

I had a moment of revelation yesterday while driving back home from work. For several days I've been thinking about an idea for my book, trying to describe the concept of the book in one line. I use this mental exercise whenever I'm working on a new writing project (mostly when designing new campaign settings for my role-playing groups).

While driving in the crowded streets of my home town on my way back from work, one sentence poped into my head, and three seconds later I was grinning like a madman.

I've got it.

I won't tell you about it - I want to think about it some more before committing to it - but I shared it with my wife and she approved. All I can say is that it's fiction, it's not totally wild and it should be very interesting to work on it and see how it develops.

More to follow soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beast of Burden

Beast of Burden is the codename for my newest writing project. It's a book - a novel - that I decided it is time for.

I was playing with the thought of writing a book for some time now, and even made some first steps, like acquiring books about style and fiction writing. I know it's not an easy task, but I feel that it can be done, and furthermore, that I can do it.

So, what's the book about? I'm not sure I know...I currently play with some ideas and plan to use this blog as a tool to shape and refine them. But it is fiction. Oh, and if writing a book isn't interesting enough - I plan to do it on my iPad!

Sunday, February 20, 2011


It's a good month. Celebrating my 34th birthday, getting my Masters Degree AND acquiring a shiny new iPad makes this one of the best months I've had in some time now.

So now that I have more free time on my hands, I plan to do a lot more writing. Twittering, Blogging, and even a new book I've started working on, not to mention the tons of GM notes my bi-weekly role-playing group generates.

Here's for fresh starts!