Category Archives: RPG and Writing Tips

Character Study: Paint (X-Men)

So I (somehow, there is no explaining crack ships) fell in love with this idea of Carol Danvers and Hank McCoy having a relationship in our X-Men RP. But the price was that I had to make Hank’s player’s OTP come true and take over playing Lance Avers, a version of Avalanche that appears in X-Men: Evolution and is frequently shipped with Kitty. Of course, I agreed.

Which left poor Piotr out in the cold to figure out what to do with him.

That’s when I remembered a character that I saw pop up in fanfiction a lot. In the comics, there isn’t much to her–she alters pigment, is covered in tattoos, that’s about it when I last looked at her Wiki article. She was very much just part of the mutant population. But could I apply her to movie verse? Well, then I remember a girl in one of Xavier’s classes in X-3 who was taking notes without a pen, just gliding her hand across the page. Ah-ha, I had a basis for Paint.

Unfortunately, not only was the actress uncredited, but there was basically a little wiki-stub article on the comic character and maybe thirty seconds of screen time. I was going to have to come up with the rest of this character, using what I had as the bones. So what did I know? Well, we had dark hair, blonde in the comics, with power over pigment (only in the skin in the comics, but obviously the movie had more fun with it). The comic counterpart eventually ends up married, which I ignored, but was kicked out of her parents’ house when they freaked out of her mutation. We’d already established the Mordocks in Remy’s history.

So I went the route of Paint being homeless in New York, hanging out with Marrow, and eventually them getting found and recruited by Storm and the professor. The actress wasn’t Hispanic, but I liked the idea of her being the daughter of a Spanish immigrant instead, which fit with fact I was trying to merge dark hair and blonde together (very Spain). Unfortunately, I needed a new playby because all of the angles were awkward, so I tagged Jessica Szhor as my new Paint, whose birth name I dubbed Isabella Cortez.

But how to make her different from…all the other characters I was playing. I had a lot of freedom in terms of personality, so I decided to try and think about the situation and what the effects would be. She doesn’t have an offensive mutation at all, in fact hers would almost be dubbed useless by the mutant community. But at the same time, she is a mutant and wouldn’t be welcomed among “normal” people. I went with her being very confident as a child and full of energy…but once she was kicked out of the house, she completely drew back into her shell.

Current Paint is very shy under the public eye, but relaxes when it’s one-on-one or a very small group. This helps with her selective mutism, which flares up when she’s feeling anxious. She tends to think very little of herself, and assumes all the blame if something goes wrong where she is. But there are two areas where she is confident–one is her art, which is mostly abstract but she has a wide knowledge base and talent, which her mutation helps her with. The other is with the younger children, who she has taken over watching over while Storm is busy with the rest of the school.

Illyana ends up being the catalyst for Piotr and Paint to meet, since she falls into Paint’s kiddies (as we call her little collection of kids who follow her like ducklings). While Paint had been one of the older kids helping with the evacuation in X-2, he was a little busy and didn’t really notice the help he was getting from the quiet girl. However, Paint has been a little in love with him, just…hiding it very well. Kitty and Piotr have just now broken up, but with her social issues, it’s going to take a while for anything to happen, but the potential is there.

I feel like Paint fills a necessary hole in the RP as well. She’s not really helpful in an offensive sense, but she can run the security of the mansion and the children trust her. She ends up being an important corner stone to guard the home front as it were, and eventually the core-teacher for the younger children which just cements that fact.

Does her and Piotr’s pace drive me nuts? Oh yes. It is the slowest of the slow burns. But you know, it will probably be one of the more steady relationships in the mansion, so it will be worth it.

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Writing: Thoughts on Querying…

I feel like preemptively labeling this part one, I’m sure I’ll have more as the process continues for me. For those curious, yes, I am still querying. I sent my full draft to an interested agent, but seeing as how staying in contact with her over the last six months became…difficult…I am actively seeking other options. Query Tracker, btw, is a great tool. I was reluctant to use it because I wasn’t sure it was verifying the agents, but nope! It’s safe!

So some funny (or annoying) things that have happened or I’ve seen, and my reactions.

One agent actually had a note on submissions: “No more vampires, sorry.” That made me laugh, and it also made sense? I wish more agents did that. Like rather than giving us broad genres, they specifically said, “I am sick of seeing this, I want to see this.” And no, telling me you want “strong storytelling” and “books I can’t put down” doesn’t tell me anything. That’s super subjective. If you are sick of first person narratives, say so.

I ran into two rather curious things, too, that gave me an amused rant to put on Twitter if no where else. I saw a lot of agents listing interest in LGBT fiction. And my immediate thought is, “Errr, you’re missing a letter?” A is important, especially for my books. In addition, romance tended to run through extremes–either EPIC or don’t bring it to me, it has cooties! Which all of that makes me laugh, since my main character is so far down the gray scale of demi-sexuality she is almost ace. (Which is the A.) It definitely shows room for growth, at least in my opinion.

Another thing I’ve noticed is there’s a mixed situation to the flooding of inboxes that agents get. There’s basically three things going on, and all of them have their pros and cons. Though to be honest, one super annoys me more than any of the others.

One solution is the no response means no. Ugh, that’s harrowing. Because of their work schedules, agents can’t guarantee when they will get to a book outside of a pretty long time frame. I get just wanting to hit the delete button and move on to the next, but I wish they would at least have a form they sent back to end the misery. But again, that takes time, and it’s time they may not even have. Others do have a form response that they send, and they guarantee replies within a certain window. Obviously as a writer, I love that, but I wonder how much it pulls away from the writer’s work.

The third solution is the one that cheeses me off if it’s not handled properly. Having an intern help with the slush pile of new submissions. On one hand, if it’s used as a tool, I feel like it’s the perfect solution here. The agent can go through the queries while giving notes out loud to the intern who is keeping track themselves, and then the intern can go generate the responses while the agent moves on. My issue is when its the intern who is going through the slush pile themselves and determining what the agent even sees. (What I have dubbed “intern-gating.”) I know one agent who does it of the ones I’ve done so far and even stuff that she has requested in a contest or conference to see gets turned back. Thankfully those people email her directly and get told to send it to her, but ugh, what a waste of people’s time.

The amounts of material requested also run the friggin’ gambit. Could we not come to a consensus, particularly one that doesn’t handicap the writers involved? The more pages there are, the more the agents have to read, I get that. I just think five pages isn’t enough. Ten, at a minimum, can at least get you to the action…or if it doesn’t, the writer has bigger problems. (There is a reason Sun’s Guard: Ten went through so many drafts, I was desperately trying to get to Moonshine faster.) I mean, I’d prefer the first three chapters, but I know that’s a lot for some to get through too.

I’m on the fence about a synopsis. On one hand, I think it is a handy tool for agents. On the other, I think it also can be very misleading? I tried to keep mine focused, but that was hard. Ginny had to hold me in from going down some of my subplots, partly to save space and partly to keep agents from getting distracted by seeing what isn’t there. I can’t imagine the trouble that other people went through. My professors weren’t much help, I remembered talking to Chester about not knowing what I was doing, and she said no one does when it comes to synopsis.

So there are my funny stories/observations. If you’ve got anything of your own you’d like to share, give a shout. As it stands now, I’m going to keep poking away at things. Hopefully someone will take the bait…


NaNo 17: Final Thoughts

Technically, I could write till I’m brain dead tonight and try to make 50,000 words. However, I have some final thoughts on NaNoWriMo that I want to write instead. (Plus, I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last week and lost miserably.) So, there’s the “official” goal of NaNoWriMo, which is…a lot more complex than it sounds, and then there are personal goals that you might have within the context of the challenge. Here’s my stance on this year.

The official goal is to write a complete, original book of at least 50,000 words. Well, this has always been problematic for me. Why? Because I am, as Professor Davis put it, a put-er-in-er. What he means is I get my basic framework out of the way in a rough draft, and then I spend the next couple of drafts adding to it to flesh out characters and scenes that might need it, fix my stimulus and response, and if there are any “blank spots” in terms of background or character descriptions, fill those in. Even then, my original books tend to run around around 40,000 for the first draft, and how much it gains varies considerably. I’m not a door-stopper writer, probably because I hate reading those. (Exception being Ginny’s stuff, which I get in nice bite-sized snippets for the actual story, and then when I’m editing the big book, I couldn’t care less.)

The second problem with this goal is that… I already know I can do it if pushed. If I absolutely have to, I will almost kill myself to turn out 50,000 words. But I will then suffer through three months or so of burnout trying to recover my health and motivation to write anything other than RP posts and the occasional fanfic. Not good, especially when I have an agent interested in Sun’s Guard: Ten, and I might be working on future books for that series soon… *crosses fingers*

This is where personal goals come into play. I realized that I was still in the same sort of “brain” as I had in college/grad school. Short bursts of turning out a ton of work, and then long breaks. The problem is without a set deadline, it’s harder to get the bursts going. I also work full time now, I am stepping up in my medieval group, I have a house to keep up with and no spouse to help, plus all my RPs (most of which I paused this year) and other things I do for fun. Add in the neglect I’ve been showing Ginny’s and my MMO concept, putting far too much work on her shoulders, and my crappy health lately? Yeah, writing hasn’t been happening.

Which just makes me more exhausted. Writing is my outlet. I enjoy it, it lets me create a world and people who have an important part to play. But God, it is exhausting to the old brain pan as much as it’s refreshing. And I have forgotten (if I ever knew) how to pace myself when I don’t have anything other than self-applied deadlines, and now that I’m out of school, I don’t know what is considered reasonable for me to do without causing burnout.

So my personal goal for NaNo was, while not to write every day because I knew that was impossible, but to write more and when I got tired, stop. If my head was hurting, or I had an anxiety attack, I was allowed to take the day off. Since it was Thanksgiving during this month, I made time for my family. And at the end of the month, evaluate what I learned.

The end results are pretty satisfying. In a rehearsal month (because yes, I have medieval fair rehearsal in November) when there is a major holiday where I am expected to see my family, and with not only a major anxiety attack one weekend and fighting a sinus infection, I turned out 33,000 words. That is at least half if not more of a novel. I also averaged anywhere from 1700 to 2500 a day on days where I could write, though the 2500 I could tell was me pushing a little harder than I should have. That’s about one chapter for me. It’s definitely a blog post, as you all can tell.

Right now, Heir to the Sky is at a good stopping place, so I’m going to call this the end of “arc 1,” even though I only gained one badge. Next year, unless I’m stupid behind on a deadline for a publisher, I’ll pick it up again for November 2018 and see if I can get us to the Mega Evolution. I’m still going to play the game (once I buy a new charger for the DS, Kari wrecked my only one) and get all my notes done so all I have to do is write… I might even do super-prep and get all my art graphics done instead of doing it as I go, just to save time.

While I may not have met the official goal of NaNoWriMo, I definitely met my personal goal. I know my pacing now, and I have a plan for the next few months. December is gift writing, January is working on Ginny’s and my game and querying Ten some more, since the agent hasn’t given me yes or no yet and isn’t exclusive yet either. February is actually going to be dedicated to some first-arc plotting for both Bree’s first book, Truth of Justice: Touched and Caley’s second book, Sun’s Guard: Page, and then I might start writing Touched if there’s time. March is going to be a “rest month” where I focus on fanfiction and catching up any RPs I’ve let slide, giving my brain a break, mostly because it’s the last month before medieval fair and that’s going to be eating me alive.

And of course, you can return here for your expected blog post once a week. ^_^ I’m not sure what next week’s is going to be, I have a couple half-started, so we’ll see!


Character Study: Xavier

Xavier Headshot

Artwork courtesy Kynim

Name: Xavier
Nickname: ???
Age: 16
Home Region: Kalos
Family: Father, Mother
Starter Pokemon: ???
Hair Color: Blonde
Eye Color: Emerald Green
Build: Athletic, on the slim side, sure-footed
Personality: Confident, likes exploring new places
Favorite Colors: Shades of green

Growing up in a small town, Xavier was raised by two highly experienced and richly decorated trainers after they settled down to have a family with their combined spoils. He made friends with other children his age, and was quickly pegged as both their leader and the one who knew the most about catching and raising Pokemon. Charismatic and sure of himself, he took to the role like a Psyduck to water, and has enjoyed the benefits to the status.

Recently, Professor Sycamore has asked him to round up his friends for a special mission. But he’s asking for the new girl that they haven’t even met yet to join them. Xavier isn’t entirely sure what to make of having a new “student” of sorts, but he’s willing to teach her what he knows, figuring it can’t hurt. His main focus is on figuring out the type of trainer he is going to be, and pursuing that goal with all he’s got.

 

….Xavier is 90% framed by my exasperation with the tutorials, not gonna lie. I wish there was an option to skip, since if you’ve played the game at all (or you know, since Pokemon Yellow like me), most of the rival’s dialogue is just pretentious. Could it be taken a better way? Probably. I just get easily frustrated and hit the A button a lot to keep it moving so I don’t go out of my mind in boredom.

The rest of his personality is a bit of taking everything in the worse way possible, but also trying to hang on to the character. From what I’ve seen, the rival is portrayed as a mentor type rival, one who does honestly want you to succeed, even as he goes about figuring his own self out. Am I making him more annoying than need be? Oh, probably. And who knows, my opinion might change the further in the game I get.

To be honest, the set up I have for Evangeline and Xavier is probably my hatred of certain anime tropes rearing their heads. Seriously, my biggest pet peeve ever in anime is when a girl works her ass off or has talent, but some blowhard comes in and yells alot and is a total idiot and becomes the best at whatever the focus of the story is. Seriously, cheeses me off and nine times out of ten, turns me off from the anime entirely. It’s probably a cultural thing, but still. Irksome. So if my NaNoWriMo is me mostly having fun and writing what I want to write (and hang the Mary Sue/good writing arguments), then Xavier gets shafted…at least a little bit. 😛


Writing: Comfort Food (okay, and some real food)

Most writers have things they are super comfortable writing. Whether its because that’s what they preferred reading before the writing bug hit, or it’s just where their interests lie, it’s a comfort food for the brain that makes you feel better, or can help you get unstuck. Especially if you’ve otherwise been stepping out of your comfort zone with your current works.

Now, what exactly this means for different writers…varies considerably. For example, high fantasy is always going to be my comfort food. If I’m feeling exhausted, I always reach for the Valdemar series to reread in hopes that reading other people’s work will tire me out enough to sleep (or keep me awake!). If my brain is too tired to work on my current original works, I turn to random fanfic ideas that will never see the light of day, but let me dive back into medieval/high fantasy ideas for just a little while. (My current projects are all urban fantasy, or not fantasy at all, which you can guess is a real challenge for me.)

For some writers, comfort isn’t even necessarily found in fiction at all. For example, Ginny has been fashion designing to give herself breaks from the monotony of typing. I have another friend who finds comfort food in the form of doing cellphone games whenever she gets stuck. Maybe you marathon Barbie movies, or play some Pokemon. Either way, comfort food-type writing, reading, and tasking gives your brain a little bit of relaxation, especially from the hard work of learning new tasks or trying new things. I always encourage writers to improve and to try new things and genres, but you can bring those things back to your old favorites too, and it’s important to take breaks or you’ll burn yourself out.

And sometimes, it even unsticks you! We all have moments where we need to walk away from a project for a while. Having several projects going at the same time can be an utter headache, speaking from experience here. But as long as you stay very casual about it, working on something that qualifies as “comfort food for the brain,” can give you a chance to stew about what is blocking you. (Sometimes you won’t like the answer to your stewing, but it’s there.) Of course, if you’re comfort zone is starting new things, then you might end up in a different sort of problem.

Okay, I promised food in here too. So here’s something that is apparently either a Horner family thing, or a very eccentric Southwest thing. I’ve made it to where it’s a little better quality than what I grew up with, and proportions are a bit to taste.

Ingredients:
Rotisserie Chicken, bite sized pieces (I buy one at the store and debone it, I’m lazy)
Spaghetti Noodles (1 box)
Mushrooms, rough chop (I just buy a carton of pre-sliced ones and break the pieces down with my fingers)
Bell peppers, diced (1 or 2 peppers is enough)
Garlic, 2 cloves diced
Butter, 1/2 tablespoon
Can of Cream of Chicken
Can of Cream of Mushrooms x2
Shredded Mild Cheddar (this is an eyeball it till it looks right situation)
Salt and Cracked Black Pepper (to taste)

Get your noodles going in salted boiling water. You want them just under al dente, meaning undercooked (it will finish cooking later, you just want to avoid the pasta turning to mush). While the pasta is going, get a hot pan and melt the butter, then add the garlic, mushrooms, and bell peppers, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Give the ‘shrooms a chance to get toasty on the outside, but don’t get too concerned if they don’t finish completely, they will also get a chance to finish cooking later.

In a REALLY BIG pot (I use the biggest stew pot I got), mix all three cans of soup to heat it up. Once it’s bubbling, start whisking in handfuls of cheese until it’s a pale yellow in color and tastes alright to you. Add the chicken meat first to warm it back up, then the mushrooms/pepper mixture. Taste your seasoning now, it may need a little more pepper (I doubt it will need more salt, but you never know). Then turn off the heat and add your pasta. It should be a little too heavy on the sauce, a lot of that is going to dry up. If you want, you can stop here, just add more pasta and chicken to soak up the extra sauce.

Alternatively, you can pour everything into casserole pans, top with a layer of leftover cheddar cheese, and pop it into the oven at 350 to melt the cheese and finish everything off.


Character Study: Selenay

Selenay is what happens when I get bored and go looking for a different group of RP partners. The original idea was a retelling of Night Circus, supposedly not following the books…and yet I felt like the two people who started it had a clear railroad they wanted to go on and the rest of us were sort of…sunk. That or Night Circus has severe world building problems. (I hadn’t read it, perhaps that was my mistake.)

Selenay, however, is a wonderful little souvenir to have from it. I was given a very broad template to work off of. The Fortuneteller was manipulative, with the passive power of being able to see the future and react accordingly to shape it, and in league with the Ringmaster. Well, I loved the idea of the two of them having previous history, and that being a relationship that she ran away from. Why? Because she didn’t like what she saw in their future. I made her petite and with a friendly, out-going personality that hid her self-centered and manipulative personality, and bam, Selenay was born.

Before the RP fell apart, the Ringmaster’s player and I started working on backstory, and eventually went down an original idea. It didn’t end up working out due to different ways of RPing and the site we used dying, but it did end up fleshing this character out a lot to the point that I love her so much in all her flawed glory, I’d love to do something else with her, whether that’s taking another try at an RP or trying original or what.

So, yes. This character is selfish, self-centered, and manipulative. It’s part of who she probably would have been anyway, and then it got ramped up to eleven because her father abandoned her at a rather awful orphanage after her mother died with cancer. That leaves scars, and it shows. But what was fun was when something wiggled in enough to actually make her feel guilt about her actions. Enter her relationship with the Ringmaster. We ended up making it start as friendship, and an uneasy one at that, which eventually turned romantic until Selenay ran away out of fear of being left first (she has issues trusting men).

I did find something that this character valued more than herself, enough to give up her own comforts and secrecy–her daughter. Yep, she ran away and found out she was pregnant later. Leorna was Selenay’s biggest weakness, because she’d do anything to keep her safe. It was interesting to transition from the selfish brat into the mother that Selenay was. She was very doting, very affectionate, and yet kept secrets from Leorna in the name of protecting her, to the point of contracting a type of magical contamination that was killing her as surely as cancer. Even worked with another magician to try and protect them, which is saying something.

The only thing that I really couldn’t get consistent was her powers. Part of that was because of the way I was trying to give her some level of agency in the RP, which made things a royal tangle. I tried to fix it belatedly, but, well, issues. If I ever do anything again with her, I am definitely going to work out a consistent magic system. Her magic was always passive, though, as she wasn’t able to directly change anything. She saw it, she was compelled to tell it, but she couldn’t change it with magic. She could only change it by forcing different actions a la the diverging time lines effect. It was how the powers affected her physically, and how she used them, that I was horribly inconsistent. The Tarot cards were roughly what I used, but since I don’t know much about fortune telling, there was a lot of fudging going on.

Selenay is possibly the second-most flawed character I ever wrote. (I wrote a sociopathic serial killer once, it was short lived and that makes me sad, I was having fun.) It was part of what made her fun. I didn’t have to make the right decision or the hero’s decision. I go to make the selfish, what benefits this character, decision. It was almost like playing the villain, only without some grand master plan in mind. Normally I play on the sides of the angels, but this time… Well, the best comparison I have is the Lady of the Lake. Neutral, focused on her own goals, and screw anyone who got in the way.


Writing: Music as Inspiration

Okay, so when it comes to music and writing, there are a lot of different “camps” as it were. Some people listen to music as they write because it helps them focus, while others find it to be a distraction. Some writers make playlists for their stories, either before they start writing or after. Some only touch music if they have a dancer or singer or whatever as part of the story and need music for that reason.

I’m sort of in an odd camp. I can’t listen to music as I write most of the time, because it inevitably distracts me. I do have to have some sort of noise, which is why I have YouTube or the TV on with some sort of background nonsense, be it a series that I have seen almost all of the episodes of multiple times (Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU), or a movie I’ve also watched several times (with exceptions, Marvel movies don’t work), or video game let’s plays. But I do use music for writing.

See, sometimes when I listen to a song, I will peg it as a background song or an inspiration song for a scene, and listening to it always reminds me of how the song will go. This was particularly prominent in writing Ten, because several of the scenes (some of which got cut) came to exist because of listening to particular songs. I even ended up using songs as chapter titles as a result. When I got stuck writing something because it was giving me issues for whatever reason, I’d go listen to the song I’d assigned to that chapter to help my brain get in the mood and emotions of that particular scene. In my case, I built my play list both before and as I was writing, because I plotted an arc, wrote it, and then plotted the next arc. It helped the story shape itself organically, and the music helped me set the tone for each chapter and the book as a whole.

The trick with using music as inspiration is to not to be extremely literal with it. Problem one with that is because if you are literally including lyrics as dialogue in the text, you are going to run into copyright issues. Problem two, most music has the same topic, they just have different phrases and tones. For me, I listen to what the rhythm and words are telling me. Songs of defiance or even upset at an ex turn into fight music for me, because of the speed and the anger that they emote. Break up songs can sometimes be about families or friends rather than loved ones. Love songs can apply to someone that the main character is interacting with that doesn’t necessarily mean romance between them, just wanting a relationship, platonic or otherwise.

Music appeals to people on different levels, and you really have to figure out which camp you belong to on your own. I can’t tell you to turn off the music if it helps you put words to a page, and really if someone tries to tell you how to handle music with your writing and acts like they know it all, well, they are lying. To paraphrase Mercedes Lackey books, there is no one true way. I will say, don’t get stuck in a rut with it. If you are struggling, the first thing I would suggest changing up is your sound environment. If you listen to music, stop for a while and see if it helps, or do what I do and change to a non-music sort of background noise. As you age, your preference will probably change, so just keep an open mind to trying different things to see if they help you when you get stuck.


Character Study: Bevan

Ahhh, the first Dungeons and Dragons character. Always fills you with nostalgia. Especially with how broken she ended up being, it was really funny, since I didn’t build her that way, it sorted of just happened.

Like most beginning players, I was an idiot and gave the DM too much to play with. I have a stated preferences of elven characters, and Bevan was no different as a half-elf…whose human side ended up being nobility as we found out later. Further, we crack shipped her with the Lawful Good character in the party, who had issues with non-human races, and she was Chaotic Good, so you can imagine how they got along. In addition, he thought she was a he, because Bevan started as very androgynous in appearance (we eventually time skipped and she grew up a little more so that ended). So I got bored and made a giant genetics chart like you learn in biology class, and yeah… See, I’ve learned!

Bevan was a lot of fun though partly because of how much info I gave my DM to hang me with. She had lots of family problems, serving as an indirect bridge between a hidden village of elves and the nearest human local. While some of her village didn’t view her any differently, some saw her as nothing but a half-human. Similarly, her human family just saw her as an elf getting in their way. Add in the fact her mother was killed on purpose when she was a child, rather than it being an accident, and you’ve got a whole mess of a character arc to deal with. And as awkward as it was to RP a relationship later on with her and my friend’s character, we had some fun too. (Okay, I remain firm that it was hysterical that when he had to “kill” her, he took forever, and in a similar situation, she was like, “NOPE, not my real husband, BYE!”)

A lot of the fun with this character was how broken she ended up being. Some of that came from us modifying a prestige class from version 2.0 into 3.5, because deep wood sniper was the class that made the most sense for how Bevan was set up, but oh lord did it do broken things to this character. Add to that a couple of items we found–a sentient ring designed to protect those of elven descent and turned her invisible at will and a quiver of everful so she never ran out of ammo–and the stockpile of poisons we ended up with and she was the sniper from Hell that no one wanted to be up against. Due to feats and class skills, she had insane range, could fire a lot of arrows per round, and you wouldn’t even see her while she was doing it. I had all the giggles.

If all of that wasn’t enough, we had a wild mage in the party. Wild mages do…interesting things…to the characters who are around them. I’ve had to come to terms with it, despite my hatred of people screwing with my characters. (My control issues are legendary.) Bevan had one of these funny examples. At one point, she got hit with a surge (pre timeskip, I remember that much). And she got a random racial template assigned to her. The problem is, the half-elf race is set up assuming that you are half-human. That part didn’t change. When the dice landed on half-Raptorian on the table, DM ruling was that I got the wings and would be able to be targeted by Raptorian-centric stuff. I wouldn’t lose my human or elf statistics either. The only way that’s possible in DnD is if you are half of each race. So Bevan became, effectively, half human, half elf, half Raptorian.

…All I can say is, “A wizard did it.”

So now the sniper can fly, doesn’t that just fill your hearts with glee? Not really, I know, but it was a lot of fun to play her. And you know, Bevan’s story was so complete, I actually don’t have any drive to write it as something else. We really covered a lot of ground with her, and she had an ending she deserved. Okay, plus I’m not sure if I’m capable of writing her story as a book. So many of the wild craziness was dependent on other people for humor and was so off the cuff, I couldn’t remember it all if I tried. Add in the fact that she was, for the first few sessions, a quiet member of the party, and she isn’t set up to be a major protagonists.

Bevan was my first character, and honestly if she hadn’t been as much fun as she was, I probably wouldn’t have kept playing. But she was, and she will always be special to me as a result. Probably why I’m so fond of the name still!


Writing: Stimulus/Response

Okay, I am going to be frank here. I suck at this aspect of writing. Fanfiction ruined me. So poor Chester had to try and fix the mess I’d made of my own writing style. I’ve gotten to where I catch it as I’m writing half the time, and the other time I catch it during edits. I figure I had better explain a bit about what it is so it helps other people who might have the same problem.

Stimulus response is making sure that for every action, there is a reaction from the characters impacted by it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just a sign to show that the other character heard. Eye rolls, nods, shakes of the head, all count as a reaction, as does a character saying something in response (which in turn requires another response). It’s a giant game of tag, in a way.

There are a few cues that can tell you if you have a stimulus and response problem. For example, if you’ve got two characters present and you haven’t written any sort of action or dialogue from the second in two or three paragraphs, you’ve got an issue. Too much time has passed, they had to have had some sort of reaction to whatever the main character just did or said. Huge swatches of dialogue can also show you an issue. Think about how long you can stand to listen to one person yammer at you before you interrupt, and then time how long it takes you to say whatever the huge bit of dialogue is. If it goes beyond that time limit, guess what? You’ve missed a reaction.

There are also a set of keywords to keep in mind. If you use once, before, after, and some uses of as, then you’ve got an issue with your order. A reader wants to read things in the order that they happened. (Or so I’m told.) Sometimes those words are fine. But I recommend running a search for those words, so you can look at those paragraphs and making sure that things are going in the right order. Even though I think that I’ve caught myself using them, I know I’ve had times when either I’m tired, just trying to force the scene out, or putting words to the page to get unstuck where I slip back into the habit of mixing things around in an attempt to keep from sounding repetitive. There are better ways of doing it than just restructuring the sentence so you’re going backwards.

Another part of stimulus/response is the order of the reaction. The way I was taught was it goes emotion, thought, action, dialogue. You’re going to feel something from a stimulus, first and foremost. Sometimes a character will completely skip the thought step because the emotional response is so strong, and that’s fine. There are exceptions to this order, but if you think of it all in terms of a response, it helps make more sense. When a characters cuts their own dialogue off with an action such as throwing their  hands up in the air or huffing their breath, it’s their response to their own words which is frustrating them. (I know this seems like nonsense, but it does help your scenes flow better.)

Most writers don’t pay attention to their structure, and there’s two reasons behind it. One is writers are under the assumption that their agent and their editor at the publishing house is going to fix everything for them. This is a lie. It used to be yes, they were there to help you out. But at this point in the business, most agents are retired editors who left the publishing houses to make better money, and while they’ll put in some work for you, they aren’t going to help you out that much. And when they lost those editors, the publishing houses didn’t replace them. So what editors they do have are overworked and overwhelmed. They are going to do a pure spelling and grammar check on your work, and that’s it. The second reason why people don’t worry about their structure is they don’t believe it’s important anymore. Stories and how to tell them are always evolving, and for many writers, stimulus/response and reaction order are old-school tools that aren’t needed anymore.

I’m sort of an inbetween on the second one. On one hand, I am not going to kill myself to structure a story in a particular way, and I am certainly not going to follow old pulp-fiction tropes about how my stories are supposed to go. On the other hand, I respect that keeping these old-fashioned structure rules in mind does two things for your story. The first, it helps cut down on your word count. You would not believe the number of words it takes you to mess the order up. While you do add words with missed responses, if you need to keep that scene below a certain order, you can eliminate some fluff wording elsewhere to make room for five words. The second, it helps the flow of the story and the scene. While you know what order actions take, your reader only has the words on the page to go off of. It can be a nightmare to keep track of what happened when with the stimulus response order all out of whack.

It’s helpful sometimes to think of things like a movie, in my experience. Trying to play a scene out like a film in your head can help keep the order straight, and keep track of the various responses. Focus on one-on-one situations first, since group settings can be a b-word in my experience, and build on them with more characters to practice. And if you flub it up, don’t sweat it too much. It takes work and practice to write, and we’re all works-in-progress.


Character Study: Birdie

God, I love this character. I built her as a Fast Hero, which for those who aren’t aware of d20 Future’s interesting class choices, means that she was primarily Dex(terity) based in terms of skills, saves, etc. She was supposed to be fast and speedy. Except I decided to have fun with it, and made her best skill Int(elligence) instead (Dex was a very close second so I didn’t exactly suffer for this decision). Picking my allegiances, aaaand…

What I ended up with was a child prodigy in mech design and computer programming who had good reflexes and an instinct for piloting…who was also a pacifist. Due to circumstances, she had to hide who she was for quite some time, that being the child of two other highly intelligent people who are now both deceased. Except I left some deliberate holes with her family, and the DM had a whole lot of fun with them. I got to be the hero in a Gundam story, and it was a blast.

I think what was fun was how she was this snarky pacifist in a war situation, and how the upper ranks just tolerated it? I mean, she ends up being this ridiculously powerful psychic who could do all sorts of stupid things, and after two or three times of being right…they pretty much believed her no matter what she said. And despite the fact that she was no hero in her own mind, everyone was looking to her, relying on her. The pressure was so heavy on her. And then it was fun to have her rely on other characters…and then the DM kills them because war is like that and it’s heartbreaking.

Birdie’s biggest characteristic, aside from being the strongest psychic of her generation, was her do-no-harm mindset. If she could avoid conflict, she’d do it. If she could resolve an issue with words, she’d do it. And if things had to go to the physical, she would do everything she could to make sure all parties made it out alive. Every death was personal to her, not only because she felt them die if she was close enough for her psychic ness to pick it up, but because she hates violence and war that much. This is  what really drew others to her, making her a bit of a rallying figure for the resistance she got dragged to. Of course, this is also what made her enemies really hate her, whether its the ones who enjoy the fighting or the ones who suffered when she had no choice but to kill someone for her own survival.

Okay, her other big character trait ended up being her hair, because the doll I made for her gave her knee-length pink hair… And I basically got to play with it. She started as my pink psychic princess, and she ended as my pink psychic princess. But in between it turned navy blue and super short, except the crew is struggling to remember this as I play the second half of the campaign as a different character. I’m just endlessly amused by this.

But shortly after we started, I had a thought and realized it would have been sooo awesome if I had thought to make her a clone of her “mother.” Imagining her reaction to finding out her father is actually her uncle, and the confusion that results from it. Questioning how she’d be treated, if she would even be acknowledged as a person or if as a clone she wouldn’t. And then we meet this space royal family, and the fact my character has NO idea who her grandparents are also started twigging in my brain. So through a large portion of the campaign, I’ve been musing about a storyline where those two lines are true. It’d be radically different than the RP, but at the same time, it promises so much amusement.

You all know me. Scifi is not my jam. But I love Gundam Seed (not so much the sequels, but I like the original), and really Birdie was my attempt to honor it. I’d love to keep playing with her character concept, and making it work for a book. I have a loose idea for it, but I’m not sure how much of the war I’d want to take from the RP and how much I’d want to change for the sake of making it original and my own versus my DM’s. There’s the added issue that I am ignorant as heck about space since it has been years since my one college course in the subject, and I am the first to admit I know nothing about machinery.

I might write this in snipets and just kinda see what comes out of it. We’ll see.