Organization Is Inspiration

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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

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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

Writing Fiction By Ignoring It

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Serdar and I are always discussing where our inspirations come from, and as we’re both Death Star-laser-focused on our current novels, that’s foremost in our minds. We’re fired up to know where our ideas come from, how to improve them, and of course understanding them so we can share them. Fortunately, we have a common conclusion.

The best way to write fiction is to read, watch, and listen to anything but fiction.

I’m aware you’ll probably want an explanation for this, so take my metaphorical hand and let’s wander into the weeds.

When you’re reading fiction you’re getting lessons in things like how to write. There are examples of portraying emotions, plotting a tight story, and so on. You may be inspired by some of the ideas, but inspiration from someone else’s fiction can only take you so far because those ideas come from that given author.

If you only take inspirations from fictional works that you are at best A) deconstructing them (worthy but at times limiting) or B) imitating them (which we have enough of, thanks).

So where are the best fictional inspirations? Simple.

Anything outside of the fiction you’re reading, and preferably radically different.

Seek ideas from other sources.  It can be music or video games, it could be the history of state parks or a cookbook.  Expand your horizons in any way but reading fiction.

Here’s where a lot of my ideas come from for fiction:

  • Richard Florida’s research into cities and megaregions. If you’ve ever noticed I like inventing big cities and complex social arrangements, this is where it comes from.
  • My work in psychology and psychobiology. Pay attention to my fiction and you’ll notice a major emphasis on social and political structures that may seem a wee bit organic if you will.
  • A fascination with maintenance of society and culture. How any human institution, culture, or nation survives and prospers is of great interest to me, and I have a “thing” for tales about “how some group of weirdos keeps it from going to hell.”
  • An interest in positive religious and philosophical experiences. This comes from my personal studies but also M.A.S.H. – Father Mulchahey was a huge inspiration, and he can be seen in my past and present work. There’s almost always one humane philosopher or cleric in my tales.
  • Buddhism and psychology. How people work interests me, of course, as does the impermanent nature of our minds and how we affect ourselves and others.
  • A love of culture and all the little things like where toys come from or the history of fonts.
  • Food. I love food and cooking, and you’ll always find it mentioned in my works because food tells you a lot about a setting, and exploring food in a setting helps you worldbuild.
  • A fascination with worldbuilding, of course. How you make a setting come to life has obsessed me for years.
  • Music. I often find songs that inspire me, in various styles, and those energize me. I know people who make whole playlists for their works.

So there’s a smattering of my (mostly) non-fictional and (sometimes) non-written inspirations. Now, a challenge for you.

What are your inspirations on written fiction that aren’t strictly fictional and/or aren’t always written? I want you to write them down, post them, and link back to me. Then go challenge your other friends to do the same.

Let’s learn from each other.

-Steven Savage