Writers & Roleplayers, Part 2

Writers & Roleplayers : The Benefits of Collaborative Storytelling

I mentioned in my introduction that roleplaying, or any form of collaborative storytelling, often gets a lot of flack from the writing community. I’ve seen it painted as an exercise in infantilism that will hobble a writer’s ability by miring it into strict amateurism. That it’s a childish game at best, a crutch at worst.

Really, I find any writer taking a high horse on “playing pretend,” as so many are quick to call it, hilariously hypocritical. At the end of the day, every writer is just playing with dolls in a world of make-believe and transcribing the events. It doesn’t really matter if we fancy it up by calling the components “characters” and “setting.” It is what it is.

Sort of demystifies the whole process a little, doesn’t it?

That said, I don’t really see what’s so very different about inviting a friend and telling them to bring their dolls along so you can play together. There are a lot of benefits to adding another perspective to your writing; if there weren’t, there’d be no advice concerning beta-readers, critiques, or editors.

But what does bringing someone (or multiple people) along do to benefit your writing? Well, in no particular order, let’s begin.

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Devil’s Own Luck: He Who Fights with Monsters

Pocketwatch Blog Hop It looks like the Pocketwatch Character Spotlight Blog Hop might just become a monthly thing. (Hint, hint, guys!) So we’re back again.

Previously, I had a whole diatribe about villains and how my evil overlord conquered everything (including me) to become a hero. This time, I’m taking off my scholarly hat, cracking my knuckles, and digging into something visceral.

I’m mainly a fantasy writer at heart, but some years ago, I was taken by an idea for an alternate-Earth espionage thriller. Shortly thereafter, I was completely consumed by its protagonist, and the Devil’s Own Luck trilogy was born.

Last time around, one of the other members of Pocketwatch who is also a crit partner of mine, mentioned she’d love to see an interview with the main character of Devil’s Own Luck, Agent Gray. Something that got under his skin.

That got me thinking. I knew what could get to Gray, but I had no idea who’d have the gall to approach him like that.

Then, all at once, it came to me. There was only one person I could think of who could go toe-to-toe with him, and would have the brass balls to do a vicious cold read.

And then this little vignette was born.


He Who Fights with Monsters

The room was barren, a stark wasteland. Not white, not anymore. The filth was much a part of it as the drywall, too encrusted after years of grease and corruption to ever hope to be clean again.

And there, at the very heart and balanced on a rickety chair, sat the Agent Gray. Hunched over, eyes fixed on the gaps in the hardwood floor. Fleas disturbed the thick layer of dust between the slats, unseen save their movement.

That splintered and jagged edge of the seat cut into his thighs, but like a good agent, he showed no signs of his discomfort. Exhaustion, yes. But not discomfort.

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How, then, am I mad?

The Unreliable Narrator

In my humble opinion, one of the most powerful tools in storytelling is the also the most intrinsically human: the unreliable narrator.

People have biases, and those biases color their entire world. No matter how open-minded or educated an individual is, they simply cannot have the whole picture of an event. Individuals are not omniscient.

Narratives that are in third personeven a limited third personinherently offer us an outsider’s perspective. When the prose speaks of “he” or “she” or “they,” we may have the illusion that the one recounting the tale has a certain level of detachment. In that, the reader has an expectation that it’s more or less unbiased.

But in a first person narrative? This presumed detachment is shattered, and can be used to incredibly powerful effect.

Some of the most celebrated works of the modern era are written in first person for this very reason: The Great Gatsby, which has the distinction of being told from Nick’s perspective and not Gatsby’s, crisscrossing preference and prejudice between the two; Huckleberry Finn, whose puckish voice ties together a story of outsiders; and, of course, the most notorious example of the unreliable narrator: Nabokov’s Lolita, a novel that has arguably changed the landscape of literature and language.

I love the unreliable narrator. I love that how, coded between every line, sleeps some of the very bones of what it means to be human. It celebrates the fact that every story has multiple sides. It makes us question our own motivations and understanding. It allows us to settle into the skin of another mind, see the world as they see it, and become intimately (and sometimes uncomfortably) familiar with their skewed perceptions, blind spots, and convictions.

But the first person narrative has come under strict scrutiny these last few years. For one reason or another, it has become a popular choice for the Young Adult market. Whether I agree or not, this has condemned it to the realms of “amateurish,” prone to romanticizing self-important and self-absorbed teenagers all the while flouncing a complete lack of self-awareness.

In this onslaught of criticism, I’m forced to wonder one thing: are the authors aware of their character’s inherent fallibly?

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The Piety of Others

Rise of a Warlord: Lord General Nikodemus

This is part of the PocketWatch Character Spotlight Blog Hop! Take a look at the others characters and their writers spotlighted at the bottom of this post.

I have always loved villains.

More often than not, I had found the antagonist more of an engaging character than the protagonist, especially in fantasy. They were the great ruling despots, said to have so much charm or force that an entire kingdom bowed to their whims.

They were painted in broad and vivid strokes, meant to be the impassable obstacle for the hero to overcome. In that, they were untouchable, and that air of mystery and power made them fascinating.

But I always wanted to know how they got there.

What was their rise to power like? What drove them? How did they see the turn of events, their reign? No one ever thinks of themselves as a villain—we are all the heroes of our own stories.

I wanted to see their side. What the hero’s journey looked like through the eyes of their adversary.

But, unfortunately, books usually left me unsatisfied in one of two ways.

The first, of course, has been long parodied and for good reason. Our Evil Overlord is kept more or less shrouded in uncertainty, right up until the very end. Then, either any motivation is skimmed over, or if something is given, it’s so rushed that it hardly feels genuine. What would start out as a terrifying and interesting idea would be boiled down to one-dimensional sludge by the finale.

I blamed this on the fact that we were, of course, following the protagonist. Their counterpart’s role was reserved for moving the plot and providing a challenge. Any further characterization was often left to the wayside, or hurriedly tacked on.

But at least there had been a glimmer of something greater there, even if it didn’t come to fruition.

Worse yet were the times where I was given a closer view of the villain… only to have them fall flat. Those times when a Tyrant King was said to be charismatic or brilliant, but then failed to be any of those things when they were on the page.

I was always left wondering how in heaven’s name they’d not been murdered in their sleep at the beginning, much less lasted long enough to become the Big Bad. (Terry Goodkind, I’m looking at you. I still don’t know why anyone followed Darken Rahl and he wasn’t just drowned in a river or something early on.)

So, in my frustration, I began stewing on an idea. What if an epic fantasy was mainly concerned with the villain’s motivations and reasons? Instead of just seeing the fruits of their labor, the already-won kingdom and army, what if the plot was focused on their rise to power?

And so the first seeds of The Piety of Others and its main character, the Lord General Nikodemus, sprouted in my mind.

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The Last Unicorn Screening Tour: Support Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is not just one of my favorite books of all time. It, more than anything else, colored my world.

Before I was even old enough to read, I watched the animated movie obsessively. By the time I was seven, I could quote large sections of it with surprising accuracy, particularly considering the fact I never had a very good auditory memory. To say that it was “my favorite” simply doesn’t begin cover it. Then, once chapter books were finally within in my grasp, I devoured the original. Again. And again.

Before I really even fully understood what it meant to be alive, The Last Unicorn largely informed my perceptions of mortality. To this very day, I am still convinced that there is no immortality but a tree’s love, and I tell my beloved that I will keep the color of his eyes when no other in the world remembers his name.

The unicorn’s sorrow soothed my lonesomeness when I felt there was no other like me in the world.

When I felt like a failure, I would think of Schmendrick, so-called Nikos’s Folly, and remember: it was within his profound ineptitude that slept a greater power than any other magician had ever known. All it took was time, and persistence.

And I certainly have never, ever run from anything immortal.

For as long as I’ve had my own money, I’ve collected the movie and book in multiples. Point in fact? The above image is only a part of my collection. (Missing is the DVD, and I’m pretty positive I have the VHS, a second DVD, and at least one more book in boxes somewhere.)

Without The Last Unicorn, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now. Honestly, I can pretty safely say that, without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

So, when I heard that in 2006 Peter Beagle was barely living above the poverty line because he was not being paid royalties and it took five long years to settle the dispute, my heart broke.

At least now Peter Beagle is getting the royalties he deserves, and has been given permission sell copies of his books, the DVD, and assorted merchandise on Conlan Press, where he’ll be guaranteed his fair cut if you buy from him directly. Not to mention, you can get a signed copy for the price you’d likely pay in a store.

And now, to top it off, The Last Unicorn is being taken on a brand-new screening tour across the world all throughout 2015 and 2016!

This is a huge opportunity, for both Beagle and fans alike. Not only can we support one of the most influential fantasy writers of our generation, but we have the chance to experience the story as a real community event.

Many of us grew up watching The Last Unicorn, and now we can see it on the big screen for the first time. And did I mention that Peter Beagle himself is going to be at every showing? Because he is!

As a big fan of Peter Beagle, I want to do what I can to get word out, even with my own meager resources. Along with this post, at the end of every month, I’ll put up a notice on my Tumblr and Twitter with a heads-up to where the tour is going next. That way, anyone who’s interested can get a little reminder so they don’t miss a showing.

For any of you in New York state, I’ll see you at a screening in November—with a bit of luck, I should even be in my own Schmendrick cosplay. Because who’s surprised that he’s my favorite.

One last time, here are the official links for anyone interested:

Devil’s Advocate: “Originality” Isn’t Important

(Image inspired by Quote Investigator: Originality Is Undetected Plagiarism)

Originality. It’s a word that is used as the highest song of praise or the sharpest dismissal of any creative work.

The modern age is obsessed with the idea of what is and isn’t “original.” More than once I’ve heard it referred to as “the cult of originality,” and I feel there is no better description.

To be completely honest, I think the whole thing is ridiculous.

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Soundtrack to Creativity

I’m always surprised to hear that some people write in complete silence. This has always sounded a bit like sensory deprivation to me. More than perhaps anything else, I require music to write.

In a lot of ways, music is one of my greatest influences; not only do I need it when I actually sit down to draft and edit, but it’s a cornerstone to the very conception of nearly all of my stories.

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