Story of the Writer, Chapter 224

A particularly unusual day. One of Bernard’s colleagues (twice removed, according to business line structure), known around the office simply as Jim, talked to Bernard for the first time.

“Hey, I don’t think we’ve met before! I’m Jim.”

“Hey; I’m Bernie.” Bernard tried to keep from making eye contact. He failed.

“What do you do, Bernie?” Jim asked, oh-so-brightly.

“Me? Oh, I just take requests and process them.”

Jim laughed. “No, you poor thing, I mean what do you do! Do you play any sports?”

“Oh, I’m a writer.”

“A writer! That’s fantastic! What do you write?”

“Uh, I dabble in this and that, bit of prose, some other stuff…”

“That’s so cool,” said Jim. “What are you writing at the moment?”

“I keep myself busy,” Bernard said; “I’m in the middle of working on a new story at the moment.” He snatched a glance at his watch and then dropped his most agitated expression. “Ah, I’ve got to get back to work! See you around, okay?”

“Sure! Keep me posted about the writing and stuff, I’d love to read some.”

Bernard hurried away.

 

Hours later, in 2.30am darkness at his computer, Bernard gazed hollowly at the monitor. He trawled slowly through story files and blog posts. He revisited his blog. His shoulders hunched.

The blog interface provided him with a cordial greeting: “It seems you haven’t written a post in over 200 days! Click here to get started.”

From the kitchen (through two closed doors and a long hallway), a set of well-kept kitchen knives whisper: “Bernard, Bernard, Bernard…”

Bernard snorts. “Like I’ll fall for that again.”

 

POSSIBLY THE END

Forum Lepers

anarchist

Online forums can be very toxic places. I guess it goes back as far as ancient Greek meeting places (cheers to the roots of democracy), where people would get riled up in their discussions, but the Greeks had an advantage – they weren’t talking on the internet. People hiding behind screens and keyboards can be as abusive, as stupid, or even as ignorant as they like without (generally) taking a hit to their personal reputation. Anonymity has encouraged general anarchy (ever wondered why anarchists are often portrayed with masks?). While I’m not against some forms of anarchy and the ideals behind it, I have to say that it should be infused with education (or at the very least, culture). Uneducated, uncultured anarchy is chaos.

But I digress.

I’ve had some great conversations and discussions on online forums. Some of my favorites have been constructive threads about games (like Guild Wars 2), talking about their concepts, mechanics, and how things could have been better implemented. I’ve run into several other fantastic people who are interested in the things other people write, and when they post they think out their thoughts before saying things; like in any community, it’s those kinds of people who make the forums worth visiting.

And then there’s the forum lepers. I call them that not because I have anything against people who have been diagnosed with leprosy, but rather because they are the untouchables of the forum world. Forum lepers can be divided into a few groups:

  • Trolls: simply there to say junk that may/may not be related to anything that has been said or will ever be said on the forum. Usually not concerned with anything remotely related to relevance. Posts made uzin turribl spelinge or containing unrelated jokes or supporting something that has been proven false/misleading are commonly made by trolls.
  • Dumpers: dump their baggage on posts and couldn’t care less about discussion, but are instead there to unload their minds. It’s not uncommon to find a lot of **** marks or ENTIRE PARAGRAPHS OF CAPS in their posts.
  • Bullies: similar to dumpers, but they’re there to force their opinions upon others. The experienced forum poster can’t be bullied, but less savvy members might be affected negatively. Confrontational, direct insults or lashing out at personal character abounds in their posts.
  • White knights: I’ve only really heard of this happening on game forums (those are the ones I frequent), but I’m sure they could be anywhere. White knights are the Wormtongues of the world: they suck up to a concept/company/person and utterly idealize anything and everything that ever issues from it. Perhaps they don’t personally feel any of the things they say, but it’d be the damnedest thing if they ever say anything negative or constructive about their favored thing. They’re a bit like dumpers in that they couldn’t care less about discussion, but they’re more like a stubborn form of bullies (except on the defensive more often than the offensive).

How do you counter a forum leper? That’s a tricky question. I’m not even sure if there’s an answer. A hardworking forum leper can steer the conversation into a completely new direction, or even cause the thread to be closed or deleted. Confrontation was an option in ancient Greece, but is not actually possible online. Trying to engage with them can encourage them. If someone is unintentionally a forum leper, a private message could solve the issue, but if they’re doing it intentionally, you’ve just singled yourself out for targeted abuse – and whether it affects you emotionally or not, it can leave a trail of destruction behind your own perfectly reasonable posts. The closest thing I can see as a solution is ignoring them, but not alone: the affected forums need to become strong communities of people who actively post around the forum leper to build a veritable bulwark of interesting and constructive/supportive threads. Those threads and forums shine.

So don’t be a forum leper! If you’re visiting a forum and intend to contribute, keep an open mind. You’ll not only have a better experience, but you might learn something while you’re there. Note, of course, that if you’ve fringed on any of the leper groups, it doesn’t make you automatically a forum leper. It’s your goal that means the most.

Flames of Solsgard Again

flamesofsolsgard3

Well, Kickstarter didn’t really go as planned. But I’ve discovered that Kickstarter isn’t the best option for my writing anyways. So (without further ado) – have a look at my Patreon page, which is where my writing will now be released on a pay-per-story basis. $1 each. If you are a first-time pledger, you will receive the four-story collection Flames of Solsgard; thereafter, you will get my latest story. If you join after stories have already been released, don’t worry! I will release them in eBooks later on. Look forward to having you come along!

Unfortunately, the project won’t be able to launch seriously until there is $50 pledged per story. I may launch the first release before reaching that, but further releases will be irregular at best until then.

So come along and support my Patreon project!

Kickstarting Flames of Solsgard

volsark_kickstarter_3 - website

Vaeland’s tribes have finally been bowed by civilization.

Flames of Solsgard is a little collection of short stories that brings a dark fantasy world to life. The main character followed is Talmere of Nerida, a seasoned volsark. His existence was simple: stand vigil at druidic rituals and protect Vaelandic people from invaders. But when war saw the druids destroyed, Talmere and his remaining brethren were left adrift. Times are no longer easy for the once-honored volsarks; their defeat left their countrypeople with mixed feelings toward them. And as the druids foretold: blood is the beginning of even darker tales.

And Flames of Solsgard is a Kickstarter project. In other words, if you’d like to help me add free content (see stretch goals), you can jump on the pre-release bandwagon!

 

Lost Lord

Three guesses who the title refers to. Two if you’ve read Imalion’s Tale.

New story! Check out Lost Lord, the next episode of the Knights of the Moon story.

Also, this story brings a temporary close to Rylacia and its inhabitants. Writing is still coming along fine, no worries there; I’m taking a break from the world I began with Imalion and his diary in 2011 and am starting an exciting journey with Talmere of Nerida. More info soon!

The Pen of Joel

Thepenofjoel. Succinct. Short. Meaningful. It combines the ideas of “pen name” and “writing” and “written by” into a single, easy-to-remember nickname. It is the pen-name of a writer buddy of mine. (Oh, but don’t let anyone know that I suggested that name to him, k? That would be telling.)

Personal achievements aside, Joel is a great writer with a keen eye for story. He does structural editing for Legends of Eisenwald (otherwise the game would be doomed), writes Daniel Roth mystery books (starting off with A Final Portrait), hosts The Morning Bell‘s podcast for emerging writers, and publishes intelligent, thought-out video criticisms of well-known computer game stories on his YouTube channel, thepenofjoel.

Seriously, check him out. Or, better yet, send him a question on his ask.fm page – he monitors it regularly, so go ahead!

If you want someone completely fluent in writing gobbledygook with a keen eye for the little things about stories that truly matter, Joel is your man. And he’s approachable, too. Let me demonstrate: Joel, what started you out on your writing career?

Writing App

Some of you may remember that I once blogged about Storybook. I was just trying the program again before I posted that blog post, and my article turned out pretty disappointed. Now it turns out that the program very nearly died – it only survived due to the charity of the lovely open source community. So it still exists. However, I’m not here to talk about that program. I never found it much fun (although now I’m curious about whether the community has fixed it).

I’m here to talk about another writing program entirely.

 

Subject

Writing App is smooth, portable, and – in my opinion – fun. It costs $3, and I’ve used it long enough for it to have earned every cent. If there’s one downside to the app, it’s that it is only available on the Apple store. That bothers me a tiny bit (what will become of me when my aging iPad dies?), because I’m not a fan of Apple policies, Apple prices, Apple cables, Apple formatting, Apple hype, or apples. Well, okay, apples are fine. This app probably means that I’ll be scouring eBay for an unused old iPad when mine dies, but if it continues to deliver, I’m okay with that.

The app lets you create a project. This can be either a short story or a novel. I only ever pick novel, due to the type of writing I do (I either write novels or collections of related short stories). Within your project you can add characters, items, places, notes, and chapters. Each item – except chapters – has sub-pages, such as eyes, hair, strengths, weaknesses (for characters), descriptions, etc. These are totally optional, but I use them to help me flesh out the stories and characters. It’s no secret that an author should know a lot more about his world and characters than the reader does. After you have whatever information you need, just add a chapter and start writing. (Oh, and it has a fantastic font for fantasy writing: Bradley Hand.)

Pros

Kudos to the app developer, Thomas Sillmann. I’ve chucked several comments (including bug reports) and compliments at him, and he has responded every time. Generally within a day or two.

The app has a clean interface. None of that messy jumble we get with half our apps these days (what do all the little buttons do?). The menus are easy to navigate, the sidebar makes swapping between characters/items/chapters easy, and saving is automatic (I had a lot of problems with that with other apps). As messy as we writers can be, it’s important to keep at least a reasonably clean writing space.

Dropbox integration. That means you can upload entire projects straight to Dropbox to access them on your computer. You can also upload each file individually to Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, or an email address.

Cons

The Dropbox integration is currently a little buggy. An update to the app did something weird, and Thomas is working on fixing it. Individual files still upload correctly, but project backup is out of the question at the moment. Bit sad, because I like to look over my project on my phone when I’m on the run, but I’m looking forward to the update.

The chapter-writing interface isn’t necessarily as pretty as I’d like. Some authors (myself included) get a little dazzled by blank white pages, and this is about as white and dazzling as they get. Put a paragraph or two on it, and it’s fine, but I’d really like some kind of border option (on the sides) or something. Or a slightly crinkled parchment backdrop. Ooh, that’d probably even kick a few extra dollars out of me. Well, anything but an absolutely blank page.

Overall rating

4.5 stars. I’m finding the app very clean, as well as helpful for sorting information and writing short pieces, and I’m impressed by the developer’s swift responses to my questions. Customer support is one of the most important aspects of the app market, but even more so when a writer is having trouble with an app and needs to keep his pen to the paper.

Story Structure

I’ve got this thing against people swearing by a single story structure. I don’t quite know why it is, but – oh, yeah, I do. Watched a new Hollywood release recently? Seen it before? I have. Seen it too many times before? Me too. And I just can’t get over the idea that while each and every release has a thread – or maybe even two threads – of potential, someone or something is throwing it away.

And then another movie comes out. Same story. Quite literally.

Cinema has so much potential, what with all the tech, all the costumes, all the actors, and the studio community. It strikes me as odd that production teams with so much skill and experience just settle for basic, over-used stories. I don’t like being able to predict absolutely everything that is going to happen during the film. Maybe I’d like to just think of myself as some kind of gifted prophet, but I can’t – other people seem to have the same gift.

It happens a lot with books, too. I used to like to say “it’s all the fault of our teachers”, but if they were anything like my teachers (that’s you, Earl), then they were giving us good structural advice for when our stories are in trouble. In other words, you’re going nowhere. Kaput. Not as an “if you don’t use this structure, you aren’t writing a story” statement. Writers who took any kind of course all heard the fantastic and miraculous tale of the ultimate structure: The Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell). We’ve probably all seen Kurt Vonnegut talk about three simple story structures. And then, if we still read books, we see it in action.

So when I bumped into the short stories about Geralt of Rivia (who some of us know as the witcher), I was thrown off my feet. They weren’t particularly fantastic. They weren’t extremely comprehensible. Heck, they didn’t even seem to be in any particular order when I first read The Last Wish. But they were interesting. They were unpredictable. What I saw in them was a kind of new potential for storytelling: little snippets of adventure. They felt more like events than structured stories. Instead of reading through them and thinking “ah, yeah, so now he turns around and goes sad about life for a few minutes before someone sets him back on his feet”, I found that the stories were organic. Sure, there were small overdoses of heroism, but that’s nothing compared to overdosing on story structure. I’d rather see a (kind of) invincible character doing interesting things than slog through a story where a true-to-life character runs through the motions (and yet, is that really true to life?).

That’s not to say that I like superhero stories. They are endurable, sometimes (except that most of them follow the same story structure anyways), but I’m talking about something else. I want to read interesting stories with relatable characters.

Hence the title of this blog post. I’m working on episodic stories. They are more for interesting content than any kind of structure. Sure, I might slip into some kind of clichéd structure for one or two stories, but my focuses are content, setting, action, world. Organic storytelling and interesting content.

The Knights of the Moon

This year, I’ve decided to focus on something different. I’m working on a collection of episodic stories about the Knights of the Moon. These aren’t the same chaps you will have met in Imalion’s story, but yes, they are related. The knights I’m focusing on are part of a remnant army that traveled north of Jarbia (that’s right – off the map!) and across a thick mountain range. The army was sent while Rylacia was largely under the control of the Vieran empire. This campaign to expand the empire turned out too costly. Viera’s remaining army was too small to protect the empire as a whole, and so the empire split into three kingdoms (which later turned to Brucia as client kingdoms). The northern army never received word of this, as it had its own problems.

Empirical collapse aside, there were Knights of the Moon that traveled north with the army, and now – some two hundred years after they went north – we get to see something of their lives.

It’s the north. It’s the dragon lands. It’s somewhat colder. It’s isolated.

There’s more information and (so far) one episode on the Knights of the Moon page.

Enjoy!