I suspect this has more to do with my own ignorance of the subject than anything else, but from what I can tell there hasn't been a whole lot of literature — in the sense of fiction — on the subject of role-playing games as a social and psychological phenomenon. I further suspect a big part of why I haven't delved too deeply into this was because one of the most visible examples of same was Rona Jaffe's fairly terrible Mazes and Monsters. (If you have recommendations for better works in this vein, make them.)
Welcome to the Fold features role-playing games as a major component of the story, but not, I hope, in a bugaboo sort of way. They're not the source of anyone's problem; they're an arena in which a number of different conflicts are enacted. What I'm trying to do is show how that's the case without making it seem like the game is the problem, or the way the urge to escape into a world of the imagination is the problem.Read more
When I'm on the ramp-up to a new writing project, I often put together some suggested reading to myself, and I'd bet if you were an outsider looking in you wouldn't be able to tell with any degree of accuracy what the book was actually about. Last time around for Vajra that reading list was everything from Thomas Merton to Aung San Suu Kyi. (Those who have read the book will have no trouble understanding how those folks are reflected in the story.)
This time around, with Welcome to the Fold, the list is going to be possibly even more esoteric. To that end, I'm going to enjoy being deliberately vague about the story up until it's put to bed and I start publicizing the details. But one of the first big subjects I started reading up on — maybe better to say re-reading — is the mechanics of cults.Read more
Something occurred to me after publishing my previous piece about organizing data on a forthcoming writing project (Welcome to the Fold — sorry, no subsite for it just yet). There, I talked about how I wasn't crazy about, e.g., character sheets where you plug the key attributes of your characters into a bunch of blank fields.
A bunch of different things bugged me about this approach: it's not my template most of the time (I solved that by creating my own, but it was still a template); too often such approaches end up dictating the direction of the work; and when they're deployed as part of a general paint-by-numbers approach to such work, you still get paint-by-numbers results.
My way of working around all this was to think a little differently about the whole point of setting up a wiki for such a project. Timelines and factual information are fine; most any story will benefit from having those fiddly little details nailed down and kept somewhere authoritative. But the more complicated, human stuff, like characters and their behaviors, the larger meaning of the story — how to deal with all that without simply writing something that ends up encapsulating the work and dictating its direction?
The answer I came up with was to think of the wiki as a kind of critique of the work, where instead of trying to define what it is, exclusively, you're talking about how it is about what it is. I know, putting this into words has driven me about as nuts as it's driving you, but that's as close as I can get to it for now.
Why I'm choosing to do it this way is manifold. For one, I'm trying to avoid falling back on talking about the work as a substitute for working on it. It's too easy to get caught up in the details of creating your world — a lot of which never make it to the page — instead of actually telling the story that the details are there to support. If you're Werner Herzog and you want your actors to feel like they're in the jungle, you take them to the jungle for real (and endure unbelievable hardships as a result), but not every writer has to pull a J.R.R. Martin and write the 267 interlocking mythologies featured in his story's world, of which only five are actually mentioned in any detail. (What would we call that, I wonder — the "voodoo of backstory"? Another Werner Herzog reference there for you.)
The other reason I'm taking this approach is so that when I do write the thing, I don't feel like I'm just filling in a bunch of blanks. That was another reason I used to avoid outlining like a vegan steering clear of an Arby's: the process always felt like simply creating a bunch of blanks to be filled in by me at a later date. Bo-ring. Also, when you write anything at the sentence-by-sentence level, down at the ground, you see things in it that you never saw when you were up in the chapter-by-chapter stratosphere.
In time, though, I did had to ask myself: was that a valid reason to do no outlining at all? No, I knew it wasn't; it was just the most useful excuse to preserve my romanticism about the process. The process doesn't have to be romantic, but the outcome should never lose the romance that motivated you to engage in the process in the first place.
Maybe by the third time I write about this subject I won't be so annoyingly abstract.
Back when I began work on Flight of the Vajra, it didn't take long to realize I was going to need a good organizational system for the book's notes. I settled on TiddlyWiki, a tool I've written about before and stuck with despite the occasional stupid issues I have with it. (For writing, I stick with Microsoft Word; until someone comes up with something genuinely better and not just conceptually better, I'm staying put. Sorry, gang, LaTeX files and diffs are not an improvement from where I sit.)
The main thing I came to like about TW is how it didn't impose a particular structure on me; I could create my own organizational system for each work. What I quickly discovered was how having too much freedom can be just as bad as too little, and so I set about trying to come up with a general template for a writing project.
Problem was, I'd always resisted using other peoples' templates for such things, and so didn't have much of a model to draw on.Read more
"Hectic" doesn't begin to describe it. Between starting a new job (come see me at Infoworld), doing some major house renovation, shaking my head at the way the world is turning into the post-capitalist circus Pohl and Kornbluth saw coming as far back 1950-freaking-2 (The Space Merchants; what do you mean you haven't read it?!), and gaping at the most deranged political climate since the Clinton impeachment hearings, it's been downright unreal.
So, obviously, not much bloggo de blog in the interim.
Once things settle down a bit, here's what I plan to be doing:
I'll try to post more this weekend; there's a number of interesting discussion posts stacking up in my outbox.