Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

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Never Ending.

May 17, 2011

There was a sound, nearly subsonic. He couldn’t actually hear it, but he knew it was there. Dreams are like that. You know stuff, without sensing it in the conventional sense. He couldn’t hear it. But he knew the words to describe it.

 

“There was a sound, nearly subsonic. It was a rapid babble of syllables spoken through wet lips by wet gums chewing saliva and tongue.”

 

He was sitting at a long table. Wooden. Old. The strangeness of the dream, or rather, of dreams-in-general, struck him again. The way that you are never really aware of a whole scene the way you would be in waking. Your senses come in at the wrong times, disjointed. A badly conducted orchestra of stimulus. Or a poorly organised scene description in a bad story.

There was soft golden light, comforting and familiar, from somewhere in his earliest memories. You could be comfortable in that light, it meant you were in a safe place. The kitchen he sat in was a calm place.

But there was still that sound. Or rather, the dream-narration telling him there was one. And it’s source was at the head of the table. But still, dream-him kept looking at the table, or around the room at familiar cabinets and counter tops, soaking up the familiar, safe, golden light.

 

“You’re going to look up now” The dream narration told him. Not out loud, of course. This dream was told in words simply placed in his head. Or that were already there. No voice over, no captions. Just sentences in his internal monologue, telling him how it was.

 

“And it’s not going to be safe here, not anymore.”

 

He looked up.

So.

Very.

Slowly.

His head pulled up, creaking against a great weight. His dream-body was near paralysed, and each inch was a battle.

Its body language, the angle of its head and the way it held its arms, told him It was looking directly at him. That was all there was to go on. The face that looked right at him was without any feature, or even particular shape. A blank sphere, its surface rippling to the rhythm of that noise which he was at last actually hearing.

Frozen again, seeing only the Thing. And the dream-monologue was silent.  The other senses wandered off, leaving him only with sight. No explanation, no dream knowledge telling him what this Thing was. The emptiness of its face was immense. It’s not-anything-ness had a terrible gravity.

Suddenly, he was running from it, instantly outside the door and turning to the stairs, which yawned, chasm-like, in front of him, and swallowed him up as he fell.

As he fell, he knew

“It stood up, and took some steps towards the door, making Its noise again. When you finish falling, you’ll land right back at the head of the table. It has taken the seat next to where you will land, and it is waiting.”

 

And he saw it again, while the viscerality of the fall through space made his body lurch and recoil, propelling him towards waking. Right before the shock-near-impact-jump awakening, he saw It take the seat beside his, and begin pulling chunks out of its head, and rolling little clay spheres, miniature self portraits, and placing them in a row in front of him.

He would have that dream again the next night. 17 days later, he would dream it again, but forget upon waking. Two months later, he would have that dream four times in as many weeks.

Three years later, the dream began with him sitting next to It. It reached into its own face, tearing a gap that make a leering, face-splitting mouth. It tore two fist sized chunks out above its mouth, making ragged, wide eyes.

It spoke.

And again, he woke up.

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Two Beginnings

April 29, 2011

Two things got Sami into trouble with his Mother.

Those two things were wondering, and wandering. He went wandering whenever he could get away from his chores, and he wondered while walking to and from his chores. He had poked and pried and explored every single corner of the Warren. The Warren was a maze of interlinked tunnels, some high enough to fit a human person, and some so small that even Sami, who was not yet a fully grown Goblin, had to crouch and crawl to get through them. If you were to follow the tunnels, you would find hundreds of caverns, like buildings along a street. The small caverns, some of them carved out by Kobs, some of them carved out by nature, were used by Goblin families as homes. The bigger caverns, the ones made by roaring underground rivers and ice flows in the far away past, were the centres of the goblin settlements, where they built their root farms, where they built their strangely on-top-of-themselves marketplaces and taverns.

The thing which Sami loved most about the Warren was the smell. The smell in the Warren was a lived-in smell. A lived in and not cleaned very often smell. It was a mixture of sticky goblin sweat smell, damp earth smell, and a mishmash of spices, roots and cooking meat, and some other smells that humans would generally prefer not to think about. Sami adored the smell. Like other Goblins, he found it comforting to be able to smell the people around him so strongly. The filth just added to the effect, meant the smell was real, made by real Goblins living real lives, right here beside him. In his mother’s burrow, he could smell her and each of his seven siblings. In fact, he could taste them, because the smell filled the air so fully. If you sat near the entrance hole, you could smell the burrows of the families that lived further down the tunnel. It gave Sami a great sense of community, to be able to smell his neighbours living just a short distance away.

Sami was a clever and curious gob, but clever and curious weren’t the virtues Goblins looked for in their children. They preferred cunning to clever, and everything else to curious. Sami’s mother always said that her mother always said that her mother always said that curiosity is even more dangerous for Goblins than it is for Cats. Sami had never seen a cat, but he very much wanted to. He was clever enough to realise that his curiosity to meet a cat was not the intended outcome of his mother’s advice, but curious enough not to let it stop his wondering and wandering. He wanted to see every part of the Warren, and he had seen most. Only one of Sami’s traits was considered desirable by his fellow Goblins. He was very good at sneaking. So good, in fact, that he was able to sneak around without other expert sneakers noticing his sneaking.

Today, however, was different. Wandering alone would have gotten Sami into trouble, but it was the second thing, the wondering, that was most dangerous.  Today, Sami wanted to see something that the Goblins in the Warren had not. After all, curious isn’t something many Goblins were.

Sami sneaked a furtive look around him, checking that no-one who would recognize him had noticed he was there, and slipped away down a rarely used tunnel…

2. Bump in The Night

Like so many ghost stories, this one starts with a child.

Alone.

In The Dark.

Katie used to like the dark. With nothing else to see, she could fill the emptiness with whatever wonders she could imagine. But lately, the dark had been filled up by other things. Little sounds that spread out into the silence and became very big indeed.

Lying awake, long after bedtime, Katie listened to all the noises filling up the dark. She waited for one noise in particular, the one that started everything.

BUMP!

She started to fill the darkness with scary pictures of what the noise might be, and hoped that she wouldn’t find out if she was right.

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Some musings on writing scenarios for conventions.

March 10, 2011

It’s been a while since I wrote a pen and paper RPG scenario for a convention. The last one, I believe, was for Confess 2008.  In the intervening two years, I’ve been writing LARPS.

Today, I’m finishing up my scenario for Itzacon

 

Famous Last Words

Come One! Come All! And witness the finest outing of the White Hart Players! Marvel at a tale of fornication, opium, and murder most foul! Be amazed by exploits of daring, acrobatics, and skill!

Will the many splendoured talents of the White Hart players aid them in reclaiming Christopher Marley’s mysterious last stage play in the face of nefarious betrayal and thievery?

A 7th Sea Scenario

 

The best part about writing a LARP is that you know that you’re it’s only going to run in one room, with the author(s) running it. Because of that, the only thing you actually have to put on paper are the characters. The rest, you can have loosely in your head and allow plenty of space for improv.

 

With the Pen and Paper variety, there’s a good chance of a second or third table, which will be run by someone else. So you have to write everything down in such a way that someone else can run it. This is more work that you think it is. Even when you’ve done it before. You think “It’s all in my head, I’ll just transcribe that.” But we all know how much sense one’s internal monologue really makes when you do that. You’ve got to put a structure on it. A real, actual structure.

 

I’m never sure of the best way to write scenarios for others to run. I don’t neccesarily know the person who’ll be running the other table(s), so I don’t know how much they’re used to improvising – do they prefer a loose plot, and then let things roll? Or do they like it all laid out clearly for them? The latter is the safer, if more boring to write, option for a RPG writer to take, because the former kind of GM will be fine either way, and the latter kind will be a bit lost if you’ve left them little to work with.

 

The other thing is timing. Pen and Paper RPGs involve combat scenes, with dice, and these always take longer than I expect to resolve. I think for a simple combat system, three combats (of any real size) is the most you want to be handling. I think back to con games I’ve played in that went well and were well written and that’s the shape I see. 2-3 major combats, with investigation bits in between.  So that’s what I’m going for. Even if I find it hard to resist the urge to pack in more because I’m writing 7th Sea, and in swashbuckling games the massively dramatic action scenes are the best bits.

 

The last thing is the Rules Stuff. I think it’s good practice to write a 1-2 page “cheat sheet” of the system’s rules in case you end up having a table run by a poor random staffer who doesn’t know the system. Most game systems can be boiled down to a simple enough rules set. It’s also useful for players – there’s a good chance some of them won’t know the system either. It’s also a good idea to note, in simple form, what the stuff on the character sheet means and how they use their skills/abilities. Luckily for me, 7th Sea is pretty straightforward that way – most things do what you’d expect. I really hate writing Con games for D20 though. Blargh. Them’s a lot of rules to explain on a character sheet.

 

And a last thing to round out this not-very-informative rambling:

‎”Ours is a high individualized culture, with a great faith in the work of art as a unique one-off, and the artist as an original, a godlike and inspired creator of unique one-offs. But fairy tales are not like that, nor are their makers. Who first invented meatballs? In what country? Is there a definitive recipe for potato soup? Think in terms of the domestic arts. ‘This is how I make potato soup.”‘ – Angela Carter (via Tanya Dean and the wonders of Facebook)

 

This is true for all art, but I think particularly true for convention games. In the history of the Irish Con Circuit, someone has probably already written and run a game a lot like the one you’re writing right now. There are no completely original convention games. (Campaigns have a bit more wiggle room to become properly unique, if not 100% original)  But that’s not the point. How do you do your amnesia game? Or your dungeon bash or swashbuckling? Even though the 3 hour slot is restrictive, you can bring a lot to a game you’re creating that other people can’t.

Try and make it so players tell other con-goers afterwards “You had to be there.”  That’s the thing that RPGs/LARPs have, that so few other media do.

 

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World’s Blankiest Blank.

February 25, 2011

I hate blank pages.

Blank pages are the second hardest thing to deal with when you’re writing.

 

They stare at you, waiting. Expecting you to write something on them. But picking up a pen (or reaching for the keys, or whatever) and making the first marks on it is always a slightly terrifying thing to do.

 

Ideas are easy. They’re better than easy. They’re addictive and wonderful and make you feel like Superman on steroids riding a Tyrannosaur. You move through the day, and all the little fragments of information flow through your brain. Fact and fiction, random banter, that thing you overheard on the bus. Then fragment the first latches on to scrap the second, and the third thing jumps in and all of a sudden it all falls together and you know it’s going to be something and then it’s Something. You scribble it down on the nearest scrap of Thing That Holds Ink (the back of your hand and up your arm is perfectly acceptable in an emergency) and before you know it you’re grinning like The Joker in a Candy Store filled with Policemens’ Children.

 

That’s the easy part, and it’s a huge amount of fun, and absolutely the best part of being a writer because you’ve just Thought Of Something New and you tell yourself that’s what makes you a writer.

 

Then you go to turn the idea into a story.

 

You try to get in touch with the mood you were in when you had the idea, and only get the dialing tone.

 

And the blank page looks at you.

 

You don’t want to start writing. It’s scary.  There is nothing there, and because of that, it still has the potential to be anything. It’s just an idea in your head – and there, it’s free to grow and move and mutate. As soon as you begin to commit it to a page, the possibilities are culled. Every scratch on the page reduces the potential from Anything into more of a Something, and by the time you’ve finished it it will be a very definite thing and that Thing might not be very good. It almost definitely won’t be as good as that initial Idea felt like it could be. Collapsing possibility into actuality… if you do it and you make a mess of it then maybe you’re not a very good writer.

So you hold off, waiting for the idea to develop, until you have it “fully formed.” Until it’s “ready.”

 

The problem is, it never will be.

 

And if you don’t write it, you’re not a writer. You’re just a guy who has ideas.

 

That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.

 

But blank pages still scare the hell of me, whether I’m writing a story or a thesis chapter. The Thesis is the biggest piece of writing I’ve ever undertaken, and I want it to be good. But the fear of words being written that aren’t has had me not writing anywhere near enough for the past two months.

 

I had the idea flood this past week. It felt pretty damn awesome. But the ideas aren’t finished, and I want to  keep them in my head while I read more and “refine” them. I had to tie myself to my computer for a silly amount of hours this week, but I actually managed to get words on paper. They’re not very good.

 

But they exist.

 

And that means I get to say I’m writing.

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Cryptozoological Dreams

January 17, 2011

I have been dreaming some deeply unusual dreams these past months.

I usually enjoy that bit of the sleep cycle that occurs when you wake up mid-dream and you drift in and out of waking and dreaming. While in that state, my dream recall is better and I get to write down what I’m dreaming about when I drift into awake without really waking up. It’s a fantastic palette of strange imagery and events that can inspire stories and games. Some of my best bits of strange storytelling have sprouted from this kind of dream.

But more often than in recent memory (by which I mean “they’re happening at all”) I have been dreaming dreams the likes of which I haven’t had since I was very young – the kind that leave you with that creeping feeling, an adrenaline feedback hum that tenses all your muscles and makes you want to leap for the bedside lamp. The kind that puts sentences in my head like “Do not go downstairs after having a nightmare – they are heavy, like treacle, and gather thickly at the bottom of the stairs to entrap you again.” Admittedly, this line has managed to generate a children’s story that is gathering shape quite nicely indeed. However, it remains an unusual character for my dreams to have.

As far as the “Meaning of Dreams” goes, I am not a fan of any of the “systems” out there. Since Freud, psychology has remained pretty quiet on the subject. Mostly because Freud made it up as he went along. But despite that, I’m still fascinated by the content of my dreams, and often wonder where it comes from. I’ve come to think of the content of dreams (rather than their actual psychological function, which remains difficult to pin down in psychology last time I looked – admittedly, I don’t look often… but I may have a gander now while it’s in my head) as not dissimilar from one’s internal monologue. When you honestly appraise your internal stream of consciousness, you’ll discover it’s a lot weirder than you think. Try sitting and writing literally every word that passes through your head, without thinking about it, commenting on it, or judging yourself for it. (Particularly when you are stressed or excited about something.) If you were to keep that as a diary on a daily basis, any casual reader unaware of the premise would probably think you’re slightly unhinged. It certainly reads the way many writers write pathologically scattered or crazy people. But the words that actually run through our heads on a constant ticker are not often organised or at all linear.  I find that the way in which your internal monologue meanders between ideas to have a not un-dream like quality to it. There are beginnings of good ideas or insights there, and on occasion, actual ideas and insights, but for the most part it’s simply an idle brain firing out arbitrary bits and pieces and trying to paint a picture over it.

And another thing…

I noticed this morning, shortly before I was jolted awake by the aforementioned adrenaline tingle, that dreams have what I can only describe as “the wrong emotional soundtrack.” Those bits of TV soundtracking that exist only to set the mood – the horror movie’s deep vibrating note of tension, the action movie’s rising brass… the “mood” soundtrack. In many of my dreams, the underlying mood of the dream in no way gels with the imagery and narrative that is apparently unfolding. The mood of the dream continues to be light hearted and merry as terrible and strange imagery surrounds you, and the waking happens because you become suddenly aware of the rats swarming out of drainpipes and leaping onto the stairs into your house as you climb them. And of course, they’re the damn terrifying stairs that don’t have risers. Rats have never been a particular fear of mine, but stairs without risers freaked me out immensely between the ages of Learning to Walk and Four, and my first home had a big set of iron steps up from the back garden (kind of like a fire escape.) So, good work, unconscious brain, for dredging up that imagery from the deepest vaults of childhood horror.

Other highlights include trying to escape from a zoo populated by Very Strange Animals. And I would swear  that I was on a perfectly benign tour of Something Indoors But Interesting moments before. Animals involved included a massive constrictor snake with the face of a androgynous person, a kangaroo that leapt very high indeed and then proceeded to have its already substantial feet grow to massive, shadow-coming-down-on-your-head-that you-can’t-quite-escape-from-as-it-descends proportions, and something lizardy with a leonine mane made of strips of golden scales.

And then there’s that dream with the Thing That’s Outside The Bedroom Door that only exists when you believe in it, and you’re okay because you know it’s only a dream, but it’s very fast and nasty so if you forget for too long that it isn’t real it’ll be able to get you before you get to the bedside lamp and banish back to imagination.

It really seems like my dreams are loving the “childhood horror” and “evil animal kingdom” genres these days. Which has been wonderful fodder for a children’s story. But still darned unusual fodder for my usual dreams.

This all inspired me to look back on Tweets I’ve made about dreams… highlights include:

“People using scalpels to extract eyeballs from their abdomens. Also, people vomiting snake hatchlings” Um… not for use in the childrens’ story.

“Dream Diary: “Of course it’s Sarah Palin, the squirrel is playing paddleball”” Um…. Your guess is as good as mine. The only thing I remember from that dream is that “soundbite.”

“Dream Diary: Airport Snafu leads to being at a High Fantasy Style Asian Temple during a service/blood splattery massacre”

“If dreams are rehearsals for dangerous situations, then my brain is primarily worried about Lions, Dogs, Orange Things, and Daleks”

The “rehersal for danger” theory is one fairly popular psychological theory for the purpose of dreams, but given the content of mine, I think my brain is either still stuck in childhood, or working in the extreme abstract. Unless you can feasibly add non existent animals and old schoolmates pretending to be Grimlock to that list. And the predominance of Highlighter Orange as a colour in my dreams which veer towards the scary is a really odd motif.

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Difficult Language

June 2, 2009

Inspired by this post: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2009/05/26/hard-words/

I’m currently in the process of trying to write a childrens’ novel. A small group of people trusted to be brutal, honest, and absolutely glowing in their unmitigated praise have been allowed to read the draft so far. One comment has emerged more than once that has set me to thinking – “Isn’t some of the language a bit complicated for a young audience?”

This question goes hand in hand with another often asked question – “What age group are you writing for?” It’s a question I can’t really answer. Apart from the fact that I know it’s aimed at children, I have no idea. I’m just trying to tell a children’s story as best I can, without worrying too specifically about age group – I feel that would impose unnatural restraints on my language.

One of the reasons for this is the fact that “age group” is a pretty poor way to judge an individual child’s reading ability. I read above, below, and horizontally left in relation to my chronological age. At least, I did so in terms of attempts to age band the books I read. It’s an experience shared by most people I know who would classify themselves as “readers.” While my training in statistics makes me wary of drawing from a sample as small and biased as “people I know,” it seems like an intuitively correct assertion that most people who read a lot as children are not often constrained by age banding, except for the giant steel band dividing “childrens’” and “adults” stories. (Not “adult” stories. No snickering at the back) And many children make their way over that barrier as young teenagers, depending on parental attitudes and propensity to censor. This, I think, makes it veyr difficult to judge what “age group” a childrens story is for.

Now, you might argue that children who are prolific readers are a deviation from the norm – certainly, a majority of primary school aged children (5-12) that I have encountered in classrooms do not read for pleasure as a matter of habit. They read few books, if any. But given that we’re talking about writing to a target audience (Surely the aim of age banding is to help books find their target audience. Unless you take the view that it is more motivated by issues of censorship) then my target audience is the minority of “readers” – The very people who seem to flagrantly ignore age banding and just read what they like.

So I should just try and write a story that any reader would like to read. But what if my language is indeed too difficult in parts, and I drive away those who would like the story but will struggle with some of the language? That is not an argument I accept – If storytelling is a form of play, a way to exercise the mind and improve cognitive skills as many psychologists believe, then it ought to be challenging. There should be words you don’t know. Finding out the meanings of new words should be a source of pleasure, part of the mental exercise – You wouldn’t enjoy playing sports if it was always easy, so why should childrens’ literature be any different?  Reading is supposed to expand the vocabulary, and it can only do that if some amount of the language is outside the readers’ current comfort zone.

Further to that argument, I find a great deal of childrens’ stories (in any medium) tend to underestimate their audience. It’s why avid readers tend to abandon their “age band” in looking for good stories to consume. I believe the majority of children who enjoy reading can handle fancier language than we give them credit for. We should write for them in words that are as beautiful as we can manage. Children deserve gorgeous language, not coddling simplicity. I would like to think that any story I write, for children or adults, lets them appreciate the beauty, quirkiness, and general wonder of the written word. I don’t know yet if my ability are up to it, but I’m sure their ability to appreciate it if I pull it off is there in spades.

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… Is a four letter word.

May 27, 2009

So I went looking for a challenge on Monday morning. Then Monday day happened, and then Tuesday day, and suddenly I’m two days behind the blogging schedule I set myself only a week ago. Not an inspiring start. There’s plenty of perfectly valid sounding excuses I could make, but really I’m sure many people manage with more distractions than I had. Catching up and keeping up is now a priority for the rest of the week.

Anyway, back to the challenge. The first suggestion I spotted was from Angpang on Twitter –

“no four letter words (not just rude, but literally not any with four letters).”

This seemed intruiging, so I decided to go for it.

It was very, very hard. Diabolically so. The piece I produced is barely a few hundred words, and each sentence was a struggle. I made a list of all of the four letter words that popped into my head as “right” for the sentence but I had to work without. Here’s the list:

More, must, name, even, love, hurt, pain, from, scab, sure, tell, barb, name, pain, like, time, when, hour, will.

The worst offenders – will and like. Will because it made the future very difficult to speak about. Like because I love similes. On that level, it did make me aware of how often I turn to simile as a descriptive tool. Crutch, or indicator of personal style? Not sure right now, but I’ll look harder at my own simile use in future because of it. That was also problematic, as was then.

When looking for a theme for the piece, I thought about the nature of the challenge. It was about not being able to say certain things, so I got the idea of something unspeakable as the psychological driving force for the short monologue. Maybe you can guess what it is (I decided not to say it, even in a non four letter word form). I also looked at the numerological significance of four. I found that 4 represents body (3 represents soul, 4+3= 7 which forms the sacred hebdomad). And that the fourth sephiroth in Qabbalah is Chesod – Love, Mercy and Forgiveness. So I decided to have the protagonist neglect the thing that 4 represents like I was eschewing four letter words. Maybe a bit of a stretch, but it was fun to look for a story to emerge out of a challenge that had no seed of a tale in it inherently.

And to the point – The short short story

I cannot say it. To say it would be to grant it power, and it’s already taken it’s due and extra besides.

The wound happened because something was ripped out. It was beneath the flesh, something hooked in it, or an organ, it was difficult to be certain. The damage it has inflicted is not easily healed. All wounds are not healed passively, by waiting and hoping. You protect the wound, to let it stitch itself together again. So I never speak it again.

Silence is not enough to abjure against further wounding. It requires further magic. Symbols carved on the flesh. Crude symbols, no-one else would see the power of them. In the release, in the bloodletting. Get the bad blood out to let the healing process begin.

I cannot speak it, but my brain continues to bellow it. So I imbibe the potions and the powders, and enjoy the silence. Or, at least, the drowning out by louder voices of the one inside. Nutrition and sleep weren’t neccesary parts of the process. Especially sleep, because in sleep you can see the thing you cannot say, and desire to see it on waking. Cannot allow it to be spoken, thought, or dreamt.

Getting better requires a bottom. An ultimate despair. I’m not there yet. So I can keep digging and cutting and imbibing, knowing it is not neccesary to begin healing yet. The wound is not clean, because it continues to be spoken by others, dreamt, or bellowed by internal monologue. Every utterance of it is a fly feeding on the blood and pus. Until I exterminate every one, I cannot let the wound be stitched together. Malignance would remain. SoI abjure, through potion, powder, symbols in the flesh.

One day the wound has to become clean,and be closed. But for now, I cannot speak it.