Writing Advice From Non-Writers

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Serdar did a lovely post on non-writing influences on his writing. I decided to do my own – and challenge you to do your own! We ought to share tips (send me your posts).

As for me:

Agile Methodology

(Yes, I post a lot about it, but it’s worth hitting the high points)

  • Success is in what you don’t do. The more you make unnecessary, the more waste you avoid, the better.
  • Value comes first. Know the value of what you’re doing – even if it’s just “it’s fun.” Learn not to do things that have no value.
  • Fail fast and learn.

Movies (especially indies)

  • Persistence pays off. Many amazing movies are the results of willpower.

Role-playing Games

  • Find ways to make “systems” for your writing – outlines, checklists, ways to rank characters, etc. They help you see your work anew.
  • Story and mechanics (what causes what) are inseparable.  


  • Make things modular. Understand how small parts make larger things and how they connect. It also lets you “swap” things around easier.
  • Doing things right on a small level ensures success on the larger level.
  • Prototypes and rough drafts help you evaluate ideas and learn quickly. It’s also better to have something, no matter how flawed, than nothing.

Stage and Television

  • One interesting character with the right dialogue can hold a person’s attention for hours.
  • Budget lets you invest for success, but it can’t replace talent or passion.

Video Games

  • Keep up a sense of immersion at all times. Stepping out of your world should be a choice, not an accident.
  • Lore brings people into a world, but it has to be hands-on and visceral. Lore must matter and connect to deep emotions and experiences.

Steven Savage

Organization Is Inspiration

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

This is a bit of a personal take on things, not advice or anything. But I was talking with a friend about organization and planning and wanted to share something.

I find Organization inspires me.

Planning, scheduling, breaking work down, and so on gets me going. There’s something about it that gets my imagination going and gets me inspired. So yes, I preach a lot about organizing and Agile and the rest, but I want to note how it helps me imagine.

I realized in that talk that sometimes when I’m down, planning gets me going again.

For instance, recently I was feeling uninspired and didn’t have a sense of what I was doing. So I made some finer-grained plans on my major projects – in fact, I felt driven to do it. It made me a lot more aware, a lot more organized, and a lot more “into” what I was doing.

I think there’s two parts of this.

First, when you plan and organize projects, you get into them. You feel what made you want to do them. You imagine ways to do them. You become aware of them and experience them more intimately.

Secondly, when you plan and organize projects, you can see how to get them done. You see the end goals, you see the path, you know your challenges and your workarounds. You know how to get them done – which probably energizes you as well.

So ironically, now I the planning and organizing guy, realize I may need to do it a little more now and then. That’s a useful realization – sometimes even I need to do a little more work breakdown for reasons over work breakdown.

But that’s why I share these things. Putting it into words makes me think, feedback from you the readers helps me process, and we learn together.

So let’s get organized – in an inspiring way.

Steven Savage

Inspiration from Other Sources: RPGs

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

A few times I and my friend Serdar have discussed how we take inspiration for our writing from sources other than writing. Serdar often takes inspiration from music, I get inspiration from management processes, and so on. Lately I had a strange and interesting inspiration I wanted to share.

Role-playing games – but probably not in the way you suspect.

I began studying RPGs in depth lately for two reasons – first, to study them for my related works, and as I’d taken an interest in trying some game design. Pleasantly, I found inspiration for my fiction writing efforts as well, and I wanted to share my insights.

RPGs are sort of storytelling games – I say sort of because some games or groups have different preferences, such as having more of a tactical military game. But, overall, RPGs tell stories and many game systems in the last two decades or so have been storytelling focused, such as FATE, Cortex, or Forged In The Dark.

You have to turn writing into rules, make rules support story. Just a few examples from my latest studies and past experiences:

  • FATE literally makes character traits part of the game. You define Aspects, vital character traits, that could be everything from “Magical Powers” to “Really awful manners.” That made me think of how many times we don’t think about “what stands out with a character.”
  • The Forged In The Dark games constantly emphasize cause and effect and results and impacts. It’s meant to construct stories (and surprise players and GMs) and keep up a pace, and is a good example of interesting engagement with the story.
  • Among the FitD game, Scum and Villainy, their “Firefly-but-not” game system has various well-realized space western/space rouge archetypes that help me see how you can view archetypes. Probably my favorite is the Scoundrel (aka Not Han Solo But Is) who’s abilities include things like being able to do dangerous things and get special “gambits” to allow them to take more foolish risks. It’s a great example of turning concept into rules – and thinking about concepts.
  • The punishing CRPG Darkest Dungeon added intense psychology and madness rules, which meant generic characters quickly evolved personalities. Sure they were mechanics, but they added the feel of a story and a drama, a reminder of how such things should have impact in a tale.

Of course, as I write this I can see great lessons from older games:

  • Champions, that famous formative Superhero RPG made disadvantages and backstories part of the game. It made you think about characters, and almost forced characterization even if you tried to avoid it (hard to avoid your tendency to go berserk around blood).
  • Villains and Vigilantes, another venerable game, had the concept of points you used to invent things or solve problems – basically you had Brilliant Ideas you could spend. A good reminder of how characters have inspirations, suddenly turn the plot around, etc. – as a rule.
  • The venerable and abused Character Class idea is a good reminder about making characters distinct. From early D&D to the wild classes of Apocalypse World are reminders of how different is interesting.

I could probably make enormous lists of these – and I may if I can find a non-boring way to do it. Either way, that’s one of my latest inspirations – RPGs. If you’re looking for some new ideas or to think over your writing, maybe a break to play a game or at least examine one might unlock some ideas.

I’d love to hear your insights.

Steven Savage