Tag Archives: author toolbag

Author Toolbag: Inspiration

what-inspires-you-v2Anyone who has ever tried to write a story or poem knows the most terrifying thing in the world is a blank page.  You can spend hours, days, weeks, months, even years paging through books, reading online, checking facebook… all to avoid that dreaded first page.

For those of you who have written that first page, there are many more obstacles.  There’s the dreaded middle, where you know where you need to end up but there is all this “stuff” in the way that has to be done first.  For me, there’s the hundred page blues, where I hit one hundred pages and I just start wondering, is any of this good?  There are points where you feel like you’re writing the best story ever and then suddenly you are stuck, everything has gone horribly wrong and you don’t know what to do.

The good news is: the answer is simple.  Sit your butt down in front of the computer (or typewriter or pen and paper, etc) and write.  If you’re stuck on your current story, write something else.  Put words to page.

Sounds easy, right?   Well, if you’re like me, finding that time to sit in front of the computer is the hard part.  So how can you best prepare yourself so that you ensure the time isn’t wasted?

Seek inspiration.  I commute to my day job, which eats up around two hours a day (even after having moved closer, traffic in Denver is absurd).  I spend a good portion of that time thinking and I try to spend it thinking about plot, characters, and writing structure for works-in-progress and upcoming stories.  I also listen to music, which helps getting the creative juices flowing.

Getting outside is another source of inspiration for me.  Seeing the sun is always good.  Walking/hiking in a scenic setting is great for wrapping my head around a fantasy setting, especially with the mountains here in Colorado.  Going for a run and doing a morning workout is also good for me, since I generally get so bored running that I have to think about something.  Exercise is also cathartic, it helps you to relieve stress and releases all kinds of good chemicals in your body and brain.  What that means in layman speak is if you do some physical exercise, you might be a little less stressed out when you sit down to write.  If you have a busy life, it can clear your head so that you focus on what you want to do.

On the other hand, sleeping on it is a viable technique.  If I can get a short nap in before I write, I generally find I write better.  (It is a rare occasion with a very active toddler in the house.  Waking up to being hit in the head with a metal tractor is not a good way to start writing your novel).  A nap can act as a sort of reset, letting you get into things after letting your subconscious sort things out and quiet itself a bit.

These are all techniques I use, but everyone is different.  Writing is a personal experience, what inspires you to write is also going to be personal.  I know a writer who can only write in absolutely quiet conditions, distant music, a conversation in another room, these all make it so she can’t put words to page.  I know another writer who cranks up loud music and still another one who prefers to write while listening to the TV.  These are all viable tactics, I suppose, though some are easier than others to achieve.  In short: find what works for you and do it!

Author’s Toolbag: Gaming Part Three

Some games are more realistic than others...
Some games are more realistic than others…

In Part One I talked about a general overview of what gaming provides a writer, while in Part Two I went into a bit more detail about how roleplaying games can help a writer develop his plots, characters, and worlds.

Here in Part Three, I’ll talk a bit about how wargaming can help you craft and design more realistic scenes for your books.  Obviously this advice holds a bit more true to those of you writing military or combat themes in science fiction or fantasy, although if you have even a small fight scene in what you write, it may behoove you to pay attention.

So, what does wargaming offer?  Well, it gives you some basic understanding of tactics and planning.  This, in and of itself, can show in your writing as your characters refer to flanking an enemy or massing fires.  Knowing even just the basics of how a fight would play out can really help when you go to write up that fight scene.

It can also help you to visualize where characters are and what kinds of odds they face.  Knowing that Throk the barbarian has to face a hundred orcs is one thing, putting a hundred markers out to show just how insane that would look is something else entirely.  Where this plays out is that it allows you to keep your fight scenes somewhat grounded.  It makes no sense for one person to hold out against hundreds without some huge advantages… unless you’re writing manga or some kung-fu movie type scenes.

Also, wargaming gives you a sense of the scale of a fight.  If your characters are taking part in a huge battlefront where tens of thousands of warriors are clashing, seeing that scale can help you to write scenes that feel more epic and with high stakes to increase the tension.  Whereas if you have a small skirmish deep underground or with a handful of people in a forest, that close, intimate description can set the tone and the immediate consequences for characters can set the tone.

Where do you get started then?  Well, there are a variety of games and a variety of methods, but the easiest is to probably go to your local gaming store on a Friday night and just ask around.  Most gamers are pretty welcoming and would love to talk about what they play.  If you tell them you’re an author and you’re researching for a novel, you’ll probably have several eager gamers willing to talk about the basics.

In general, games like Warmachine and Hordes are small skirmish games with a handful of fighters per side (squad and platoon size), games like Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy are larger, small armies (company size or larger), while games like Flames of War are for larger scale battles (company and battalion).  There are a variety of ship-combat games, ranging from fighter level to capital ships (X Wing, Star Wars Armada, Battlefleet Gothic, and more).  Game rules range from very complex to absurdly simple and most give you at least a decent approximation of how a fight might play out.

One thing to remember as you go about converting what you learn with what you’re writing: don’t get too caught up in the technical details.  Writing is about characters, so spending a long time discussing the technology, tactics, and advantages of one side or the other is a good way to put your reader to sleep.  Slip that kind of thing in here or there, but focus on the characters, the stakes, and anything else to drive up tension.  A fight scene (whether between hundreds of capital ships in a distant galaxy or just two characters locked in a grapple with knives), is there to show conflict, increase tension, and to make the reader excited.  Dry, technical dialogue is a good way to ruin an otherwise perfectly good scene.  Don’t take pages to get to the point, do it quickly, establish the stakes, show the danger, and complete the scene in a manner to accomplish your plot goals.

Another point: the main character doesn’t always need to win.  In fact, oftentimes it is far better for the story if they don’t.  They might be defeated ingloriously and either left for dead or taken prisoner.  They might be forced to withdraw in the face of overwhelming odds.  There are lots of options for you, as a writer, to use conflict to batter your character, to force them to grow and into introduce themes and plots that you couldn’t explore otherwise.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!