Friday, October 23, 2020

D&D's Worth for a Writer

 Happy Friday, everyone! So, everyone probably has figured out by now that I am a pretty big fan of D&D and tabletop roleplaying games in general. I play in two games, I run another, and I'm in the process of writing two campaigns, which between them get roughly the same amount of time, energy, and excitement as my actual novels. Some of my best memories of the last couple of years come from D&D sessions, and weekly D&D games have helped me keep some of my college friendships not only alive but thriving. So, yeah. Whatever its reputation, D&D can bring about a lot of good things.

But I'm not here to talk about the pros of D&D for people in general (though I totally will write that post if anyone wants to read it). I'm here to talk about how D&D can help writers specifically. And I'm not just looking at people who write and run a full homebrewed campaign; these points apply to players and DMs alike, whether they're working with a pre-written campaign and world or a completely original story and storyworld. Some will apply more to certain situations, but I think they're all pretty universal.

D&D's Worth for a Writer

  1. It teaches you how to hold your stories with a loose hand. For many writers, it can be difficult to see past your particular plans for your story, whether it's a full outline you've built or the way you think a character is or a scene you really want to have happen. We get caught up on these things and, as a result, get stuck because we didn't see the better option. But if there is one truly universal constant in D&D, it's that you can never get too attached to a particular way you want a story to go. Sometimes things will work out how you planned. But there are a lot of factors to consider — the DM, the (other) players, your own ability to speak, and, of course, the dice — and sometimes . . . it doesn't happen. Your players take out the long-term boss after only two encounters. Your DM throws a whole flight of blue dragons at a city you thought was safe. A fellow player turns on the party or decides his character is going to have a mental breakdown. The story you thought you were going to tell isn't going to work, so you have to be willing to improvise — but the story as a whole ends up better for it. The same is true in writing. Maybe the story isn't going to go the way you thought it was going to go. Or maybe your beta readers say that scene you love needs to go. It's not fun. But a willingness to improvise, to hold your story loosely, will bring a better result.
  2. It helps you learn how to tell a story with others. This is related to my previous point, but still somewhat different. D&D is a game in which four or five different people are trying to tell at least that many stories at the same time and interwoven with one another. You have to learn how to share the spotlight and how to build off each other. You have to learn each others' strengths and your own strengths and play off of each other. And these are the same skills you need (in a more intense form) if you want to do any form of collaborative writing, whether that's coauthoring a book, sharing a storyworld, or any other type of collaborative formalized storytelling.
  3. It's a good testing ground for new ideas. This one does apply more to DMs than players, since it's hard for players to bring something in for the short term and then drop it if it doesn't work out. But if you have that freedom (or if you don't mind doing some long-term testing), D&D can be a great way to see how people react to a particular character, dynamic, concept, or so on. You just have to keep in mind that your creations may not come off like you imagined them in your head . . . and they're always at the mercy of the dice. (And that is why a particular NPC, who was supposed to be thoroughly epic and mysterious, instead became the subject of many a joke . . . but it's fine. He works better in written form.)
  4. It allows you to tell stories you can't tell in a traditional form. I am never one to disparage the written word. But some stories, characters, and concepts can be better explored in other media (which is also one of the big reasons I think certain types of anime, graphic novels, and webcomics are super cool . . . but that's a topic for another post). You can take the story of a D&D campaign and write it down as a book, and it may or may not work depending on how you go about it and how much editing you do. But, in many cases, you couldn't have written that story first because you wouldn't have thought to write it the way it happened. The funny thing is, though, that telling those stories helps you write the other stories better because it gives you another perspective and thoughtspace to work from.
  5. It teaches you a lot about worldbuilding. This is the most DM-centric point here. Worldbuilding is key in any fantasy story, but it's especially important in D&D. Why? Because your players need to, in a certain sense, live in the world you're building, more so than readers need to live in a book's storyworld. And you have both less time to introduce setting elements than you would in a book (after all, as a DM, you can only talk for so long before your players start getting annoyed) and fewer opportunities to reinforce those elements. So, you have to make the most of what space you can use, which means making sure you can attach important details to things people remember — which usually means backstory or people. It's a challenge. But once you've done it for a while, or once you watch a DM do it well for a while, you can pick up ways to give your written worldbuilding a little more oomph.

Do you play D&D, or are you interested in playing D&D? What other benefits do you think roleplaying might have for writers? Or, if you're not into roleplaying, what's something you've learned about writing from a not-explicitly-writing hobby? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Autumnal Anytime Reads

Hey'a, all! So, a few years ago, I did a Friday 5s post that I really enjoyed: Summer Anytime Reads, a collection of books (and some bonus recommendations) that I felt were really summertime books. I've been meaning to do a followup for . . . well, years, but never really got around to it (and never really had enough books to suit any one season). However, I have finally changed that fact! Some of these are selected because they actually relate to some aspect of autumn, some because they take place in the fall, and some just . . . y'know. They have the right vibe. So, without further ado, here are your Autumnal Anytime Reads!

Autumnal Anytime Reads

An Enchantment of Ravens cover

  1. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson. I mean, the transition from summer to autumn is literally a plot point here, and Rook is the autumn prince, so . . . kind of an obvious choice? But I would also say that Enchantment effectively captures the feel of fall as well, from the descriptions and colors to the emphasis on making and creating (fall usually feels very crafty to me, though maybe that's just because of Halloween) to the juxtaposition of life and death and the idea of things dying to make way for new life.
    If you liked An Enchantment of Ravens, try: Fairest Son by H.S.J. Williams (for fae magic and fairy tale vibes) or The Dark King's Curse by Wyn Estelle Owens (for seaonal fae and fabulous autumnal rulers).

  2. Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag. I almost put this one as a readalike for An Enchantment of Ravens, but then I decided that it deserved its own spot. Though this book spans multiple seasons, it carries a very classic autumnal vibe all the way through, especially in the author's very rich language and descriptions. But where Enchantment is very early autumn, Plenilune is late autumn, when skies are grey more days than not and the encroaching greys and browns make the last bits of color stand out all the more brightly and fires in the fireplace are appreciated for more than just the aesthetic, if that makes sense. And, once again, it has that feel of death bringing about new growth and life. Plus, this book has a very classic, slower-moving, spiced-cider kind of feel that really seems very autumnal.
    If you liked Plenilune, try: Pendragon's Heir by Suzannah Rowntree (for kingdom intrigue and classic feel). I seriously cannot think of another readalike for this at the moment, but if you have any ideas, feel free to leave them in comments.

  3. The Dragons in Our Midst series by Bryan Davis. This series takes place primarily in fall (all except for book 2, which is midwinter and feels like it). In addition, Books 1 and 3 are very effective examples of two kinds of fall-related stories. School stories often seem very autumnal (mostly because of "back to school"), and a lot of the conflicts in Book 1 begin in or relate to that. And in Book 3, of course, the whole story takes place right around Halloween and takes advantage of the legends surrounding that holiday — specifically, that Halloween is the night on which the borders between realms and dimensions are the thinnest.   
    If you liked The Dragons in Our Midst, try:
    The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson (for allegory and colorful characters) or The Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight (for strong Christian characters and dragons).

  4. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. Speaking of Halloween, we can't go through autumn reads without discussing some deliciously creepy or scary tales! The Screaming Staircase has just the right amount of spine-chilling creepiness without becoming horror for the sake of horror, and it leans heavily on traditional lore while adding its own twists. It also has an excellent mystery, and I'd say that fall and winter are an excellent time for mysteries. For the record, I'd actually say the whole series fits the vibe of fall read fairly well; the first book just happens to be the one I like best.
    If you liked The Screaming Staircase, try: The Crocket and Crane series by Kyle Robert Shultz (for spooky legends and, especially after Book 1, plenty of creepiness, plus snarky friendships) or Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (for lore-based fantasy mystery).

  5. The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs. We end this list with a series that I think effectively bridges fall and winter. The Book of Names starts in November, and it feels like a November/early December sort of book. Part of that is the atmosphere and the book's reliance on Welsh and Arthurian Legend (which I often associate with fall). The other part of it, though, is the aspect of the Nameless and the darkening of the world. Though I love fall and the change in seasons, I often find that late fall and winter are times of the year when I tend to feel much more tired and discouraged than usual, and I think The Book of Names and the rest of the Karac Tor series reflects that struggle in certain ways.
    If you liked The Book of Names, try: The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander (for shared basis in Welsh mythology) or the Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, especially books 2 and 3 (for unconventional portal fantasy and portal adventures that leave a mark).

What are your favorite autumnal reads? Are there any of my picks that you especially agree or disagree with? Please tell me in the comments! Also, many thanks to my sister for helping me come up with readalikes when I was stuck on some of these.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 9, 2020

Reasons to Love the Wingfeather Saga (Part the Second)

Hey'a, everyone! Guess who's actually going to do this in a timely fashion this time around? As you quite possibly know, Andrew Peterson and Waterbrook Press have been re-releasing the Wingfeather Saga with all new covers and artwork, and the second two books — The Monster in the Hollows and Warden and the Wolf King — just came out this past Tuesday. Accordingly, I have Part the Second of my non-exhaustive list of reasons to love (and read, and reread, and reread again) the Wingfeather Saga, this time focusing primarily on the third and fourth book.

Reasons to Love the Wingfeather Saga (Part the Second)

  1. It has its own take on the "after the adventure ends" story. Technically, the adventure has not ended in Monster in the Hollows, but it does deal with the same sort of thing: after you've trekked across the country with foes close behind, after you've faced battles and betrayals, after you've lost friends, after you've found yourself trapped in the worst places, what happens when you try to fit back in to some kind of normal? What does making a new life actually look like? I love stories that deal with this, and Monster is no exception.
  2. It pays attention to those who aren't necessarily the heroes, but who get caught up in their swirl. Arguably my favorite part of Monster in the Hollows isn't the main, Wingfeather-centric storyline, but rather a subplot that deals with Sara Cobbler. Why? Because the Wingfeather trio is Destined. They will do great things whether they intend to or not because others will put them in a place to do that by virtue of their birth. Sara is not, in a narrative sense, Destined. But she got caught up in the swirl of someone who was, ever so briefly, and she chose to keep acting heroically after he was gone. She could've stood by and waited for help to come, but she didn't. She acted. And then, in Warden, we see her, again, not as the hero, but as the one who supports the heroes and tends to those left hurting by evil and the battles against evil.
  3. I said this in the last post, but it bears repeating: It is very, very much a family-focused tale. We have the Wingfeather family, pulling together in the face of both new and old challenges, figuring out how to love even when there's resentment and pain in the way. But we also have found and broken family stories back in Skree that are just as beautiful. So many of the choices in this book are driven by the decision to love a family member well, and I think that's fabulous.
  4. If you read the first and second books, there are revelations you don't want to miss. I can't say a lot more than that because, you know, spoilers. But there are answers to your questions (even some questions you didn't know you had), and they're pretty awesome.
  5. It's a story of brokenness and restoration, and I think we can all use that. I don't really have much to add to this point either, to be honest. I know there are a lot of stories of brokenness and restoration out there, especially among Christian fiction. But the Wingfeather Saga is one of the better ones.

How excited are you for the new versions of the Wingfeather Saga books? What do you love about the series? If you haven't read it yet, have I convinced you to try it yet? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 2, 2020

September 2020 Doings!

 Well, here we are. Solidly into fall, and three-quarters of the way through 2020. As always, there's some Doings to report, so let's go.

Writing!

  • I AM BASICALLY ALMOST DONE WITH BLOOD IN THE SOIL/EARTH!
  • (It only took me two years and two months to get to that point . . .)
  • But yeah. BitS/E and my two D&D campaigns have been my main focuses this month, writing-wise, and I've been really pushing to get to the end of Blood in the Soil/Earth. And I am ALMOST THERE. By which I mean I have two, maybe two and a half scenes left, and I'll likely finish for real sometime in the next few days.
  • Also, I wrote 2.3K words on BitS/E on Wednesday because I'd gotten to the really exciting part of the climax in which various characters come into their own and I didn't want to stop until all the thoughts in my head were on paper. And then I wrote another 1.3K words on one of my D&D campaigns. I don't think I've written that many words in one day in months. (Not since I wrote the end of The Midnight Show back on June 8, to be exact.)
  • D&D campaigns are also going well, for those curious. I have all three paths outlined for the campaign I'm actively running, and everyone seems to be having fun running around and exploring a new city and preparing to hunt pirates. I also have a pretty good idea, I think, of which of the three paths my players are going to choose. (If nothing else, I have a very good idea of which path they're probably not going to choose. Though, y'know, they very well could surprise me.)
  • As far as the campaign I'm just writing goes, progress has slowed down a little, but it's fun too. It's a very different story and encounter structure than that of the Defenders of Serys, simultaneously more and less linear. I'm also having to figure out how to combine puzzles (of a sort, at least) with combat, which is an interesting challenge. (I'm also homebrewing a bunch of stuff, mainly monsters and magic items, and that's fun too.)
  • And, of course, we had the Silmaril Awards this month! I got to host the Most Magnificent Dragon category, and I'm happy to say that it went off more or less without a hitch. If you didn't get to read this year's awards, you should definitely go check them out, see who won, and enjoy all the fabulous ceremonies. You can find the complete list of ceremonies, in order, here on the website.

Reading!

  • This was a much lighter reading month than last month, despite my high hopes of doing lots of pre-Silmaril Awards rereading. (I think that's because I tried to force it instead of going with what I was really in the mood for. So that was a mistake.)
  • I only read one and two halves actual books this month. The first half was finishing Crimson Bound, which I actually started last month. I stand by my initial assessment of the book: it had potential, but it really didn't measure up to what I wanted it to be. Instead of maintaining the intrigue and myth, it got bogged down in romance, angst, and drama.
  • The other one and a half were my reread of the second two Wingfeather Saga books: The Monster in the Hollows and The Warden and the Wolf King. Both were, of course, good, though Monster took me much longer than it should have. (Again: I don't think I was in the mood for it most of the time I was reading it.) I did gain a new appreciation for Sara Cobbler's subplot, though, so that's lovely. Technically I'm still reading Warden, but I'm reasonably close to done at this point.
  • The rest of this month's reads? All graphic novels and manga. I have to admit, it was really fun to explore this medium more (and appreciate all the lovely artwork).
  • The three actual graphic novels were all based off D&D podcasts: two off The Adventure Zone, and one off the first Critical Role campaign. I definitely liked the Critical Role one (Vox Machina: Origins Volume 1) better, but that may be because I'm already familiar with (and attached to) the players and DM behind the characters and story, so I had a better idea what to expect in terms of style. (I also might've had overly high expectations for TAZ, since I'm used to Critical Role and my personal experiences with D&D, and those seem to have a very different tone than TAZ.)
  • I also started reading two manga series: The Seven Deadly Sins (because I have a friend who likes the anime) and Delicious in Dungeon (because it sounded fun). I'm not terribly crazy about the former, but I'm really enjoying Delicious in Dungeon, or at least the first three volumes of it. It really is a cool perspective on dungeon-crawling-style adventures and RPG worlds, plus it's very focused on food and friendship. So, y'know, several of my favorite things in one story.
  • Finally, I have restarted my Lord of the Rings reread! It is going . . . slowly. I'm once again trying to journal the reread, and I think I might need to not do that — I sometimes don't read it even when I have time for a chapter because I don't want to have to write stuff about it afterward. But at the same time, I started the journaling thing and now I feel like I should finish it. Gah.
  • As a quick update on my reading goals:
    • I'm currently at 87 out of 99 books overall, which means I'm ahead of schedule. And once I finish Warden, I have a lot of quicker reads coming up, so I'm confident I can finish on time.
    • I'm still at nine non-speculative fiction books out of my goal of twelve, so I need to get busy with that. Part of the problem may be that I haven't been in the headspace to read Lewis or Chesterton's nonfiction works like I intended to at one point. Still, that's only about a book a month to hit my goal, which should be more than manageable.
    • As for my final reading goal, I have hit my goal of twelve books written before I was born, thanks to The Hobbit and Beauty. Very few of the books I ended up counting towards this goal were ones I planned to read at the start of the year, but y'know? I shouldn't be surprised. I'm very much a mood reader, after all.

Watching!

  • So, I finally convinced my family to give Firefly a try! And they didn't hate it! So that's good!
  • (Not that I thought they would hate it, since I wouldn't have suggested it if I did. But there's always that little bit of concern, y'know?)
  • Anyway. It was really fun to get to watch some of the show again. We just did the first double-episode, but people seemed open to watching more, and I'm hopeful we'll do that soon.
  • On the downside, I forgot how many awkward scenes there are with Inara, even in just the first episode. Gah. I would ask if there's a point at which watching those kinds of scenes with your parents in the room becomes non-awkward, but I find them awkward even when the family isn't there. So. Yeah. (Plus, I'm caught in the "Well, if I bring it up, then it's more awkward, but if I don't somehow show that I am Not Actually Enjoying This, they'll think I'm ok with it, which I'm not, what do I do, panic" cycle. So that's a thing.)
  • We also watched Clue, which was fun! None of us had seen it before, but I was pretty sure I remembered that my roommate liked it, and it was on Prime as part of a promotion, so we decided to give it a try. And I do think it was a good choice; I enjoyed the humor, and I'm almost always down for a good murder mystery.
  • Besides that, I'm still slowly working my way through Critical Role. I am quite liking Caduceus, much more so than I expected. And Caleb remains my favorite character. It's also fun watching this and knowing comparatively little about D&D tactics, so while people in the comments of the videos are getting mad about how this character should've done that instead of what they actually did, I'm just watching and being like "Yeah, that seems like a thing this character would do" (or sometimes "Yeah, that's what I would do as a player if I had a cool new ability I wanted to try out").

Life!

  • As you can see from the picture: I got a new bookshelf! It's huge, and it's really meant more for an office or a library or something, but I absolutely do not care in the slightest. It is immense and beautiful and may allow me to not need another shelf until whenever I eventually move out. And I know I am not maximizing the space on it as well as I probably could, but it's fine. I can rearrange again in November or December if I really want to.
  • On a less cheerful note: something that I technically knew but which hadn't really registered for the last four years is that cooler weather in an older house with an actual yard means Every Weekend Is Yardwork. Or deck work. Or otherwise outdoor work. We haven't even started cutting up fallen trees or raking leaves yet, and it's already a thing. Not that I'm complaining, especially since I've gotten off easy in terms of the amount of work I, personally, have had to do. (There are many benefits to Saturday afternoon D&D sessions, as it turns out.) It's just . . . still kind of a lot. And I am not an outdoors person or a lifting-heavy-things person in the slightest. (I'm also not a fan of anything that interferes with my meal schedule — yes, I'm basically a taller-than-average hobbit, how'd you guess?)
  • Aside from that, we have, of course, the continuing saga of the job search. I've had a few interviews, though most of them went nowhere. I did have one yesterday that seemed very promising, though? So maybe the saga is almost over? If not, well, there's something hopefully happening next month that may let me cast my net a little wider (and expand my skill portfolio even further).
  • I'm also back to working on my cloak, hoping to have it done in time for Halloween stuff. All I have left is the hood and some trim/edging/stabilization stuff, so that doesn't seem like an unreasonable goal.
  • Aaaand I tried a new sourdough recipe, and I have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I severely dislike actually making it. It requires mixing very sticky dough by hand (literally; you're supposed to stick your hands in it to mix it rather than use a stand mixer or even a wooden spoon), and has to be tended every half hour for several hours out of the day, and all the measurements are in metric by weight, which — look, fine, maybe it's more accurate or whatever, but, (1) my kitchen scale is old, so all my weight measurements are almost certainly off, (2) I can't even measure some of the smaller quantities, (3) it's a lot of hassle, and (4) I do not care. I just want to make and eat bread. On that note and on the other hand, the bread is delicious and way lighter and fluffier than the bread I usually make. So that's a struggle. I'm hoping to try to combine the recipes sometime to get a version that gives maximum yumminess for minimal effort, but I haven't had time due to the Every Weekend is Yardwork thing. (I may manage today, though, if all goes to my plan.)

October Plans

  • I AM GOING TO FINISH BLOOD IN THE SOIL/EARTH. I am also going to officially decide on a name. Hopefully.
  • Once that's done, I'll take a short noveling break and then I may or may not start writing my next book. I'd like to. I have a Midnight Snow sequel in mind, and I think it'll be fun if I can get the details worked out. (I do need to plan stuff well before I start writing, though, because I want — and need — this to be another short project like TMS.)
  • I also get to start thinking about Halloween stuff! I signed up for my church's drive-through Trunk or Treat, so now I need to figure out how to decorate the back of my car in a fantasy-ish manner. Or possibly steampunk-ish, but I'm leaning towards fantasy because that gives me a wider variety of costume options to work with and will allow me to adapt more to whatever the weather happens to be.
  • As far as reading goes, I'm going to continue my LOTR reread and my ventures into manga and graphic novels, and I'd like to do some of the rereading that I didn't end up doing in September. Plus, there's the Return of the Thief release, which I am SO PSYCHED FOR.

How was your September? Any exciting plans for October? How do you feel about manga and graphic novels? How would you go about doing a fantasy-themed trunk for Trunk or Treat? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!