Sharing Interesting Things

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One thing I did this Christmas was to gift some people various games that deserved their attention as they were:

  • Indie games that were original or interesting.
  • Early access games that deserved support – and were usually Indie games as well.
  • Games that broke the mold or redid things in smart ways.

The reasons for this may seem obvious, but to be obvious:

  • I want to support Indie games so that the games industry continues to innovate. There’s fantastic stuff out there.
  • I want to support Early Access so games can evolve with proper feedback. I know what good feedback can do.
  • It’s fun to blow people’s minds, so they think outside of the box and experience new things.

I want to strongly encourage this behavior because there’s enough sameness out there, enough watered-down media. If you’ve got something good, share it – and a gift is a great way to share it. Hey, if nothing else, people feel obligated to try it.

Besides the obvious benefits of sharing and so on, remember this includes giving people cold, hard cash. That dev probably needs every cent spent, and you can pay a few extra cents to help out.

Steven Savage

Always In Touch

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As noted before, I replotted and restarted some of my sequel to A Bridge To The Quiet Planet. There were many reasons from stress to the fact I’m frankly playing above my game – it’s less romp more messed up magical mystery with twists and turns. But these moments teach us plenty of lessons – and here’s another to share.

Lately, life has been chaotic (this has fortunately calmed). This chaos has meant that some days I haven’t been able to write, or I had to take breaks. As I was working on writing and plotting, I observed something interesting.

While working on the novel, starting on anything – from plotting to writing – would be hard to start. In time, though, I would get into it – and I decided to analyze why. I found that taking time meant I “got into” and connected with the work. It wasn’t just unblocking things or getting up to speed – I re-connected intimately with the work.

I also noticed something else. If I were to do these things day after day, it felt more normal – as long as I didn’t pressure myself. “Write X a day” or “you must do this by Monday” didn’t help. I just needed some form of contact with the work.

Finally, I found that there are times one gets deep into a work, be it writing or plotting, that its best to continue. You get into the zone, which means when you start a creative work, it may be best to have buffer time so you can keep going.

I realized when I looked at some of my best works, I keep in touch with them almost every day during their creations. It may be only a few minutes or taking notes, but it works and keeps me in the zone. It kept me in touch.

So ask yourself how you can “keep in touch” with your work. Not something stressful or burdensome, but something that helps you “feel” your work. Maybe you can do something every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 12/23/2019

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A few big announcements!

We’re heading for Christmas, so let’s round up.

Fair warning, not gonna do much blogging this week for obvious reasons! Also I know I’ve not spread my posts across all my sites – I do hope to correct that. Life has been hectic.

Now, where are we?

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: The Gods and Deities Book’s draft is done!
  • Chance’s Muse: Is out! You can get it at at this link! I also need reviewers!
  • A School Of Many Futures: Chapter 4 is nearly done (plus I have stuff written past that).
  • Seventh Sanctum: Taking it easy right now, but am setting up new update plans for next year – I want to streamline it, use some new code, etc.
  • General: Holiday preparation.

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: I’m going to edit it and get it off to my editor. Now if all goes well it’ll be out early in the new year!\
  • A School Of Many Futures: Finish Chapter 4 and do more replotting, as well as get some editing in. Let’s see if the holiday is kind to me . . . or if I just play videogames.
  • Seventh Sanctum: Nothing right now!

Steven Savage

A Thought On Scrum And Story Plotting

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As you are painfully aware, unless you have never heard of me, I’m big into applying Agile to creative methods. Writing nonfiction, however, has eluded me – but I may have had a useful breakthrough.

First, assuming you somehow didn’t know anything about me beyond my name, an explainer. Agile is an approach to projects that emphasizes adaptability, adjustment, communication, and not-overdoing. It’s most common variant is Scrum, which I practice in my career as a Scrum Master – which surprisingly is not a minor He-Man villain, but a kind of process improvement enabler.

Second, if you wonder who I am, I’m obsessed with creative improvements and development. I kinda write on it a lot – so I like reconciling creativity and Agile.

But as for taking Agile, specifically my beloved Scrum, and applying it to fiction? I’ve been challenged. First, let’s take a look at Scrum.

  • Scrum at its very basics is this:
  • A backlog of stuff ranked in order of importance – these are called Stories.
  • One takes a timeframe (called a Sprint), takes a certain amount of stuff from the backlog, and does it. Sprints are usually the same size, and usually have themes – they produce deliverable results. You focus just on the Sprint.
  • At the end of the Sprint, you re-evaluate your work, apply lessons, and do it again.

Scrum sometimes is extended in various ways. One of my favorites is “Epics” – groups of related Stories. There are also various scaling methods and so on.

On one level, you can see how Scrum may help a writer. A story is orderly sets of distinct things – events (organized into scenes). But writing is also very unpredictable; it’s certainly not a simple 2D backlog as things change. Plotting is challenging as well – with so many arcs, etc. a simple list of “write this in order” doesn’t seem to work.

This has troubled me over and over because I like writing, I like Agile, and I’m too hard-headed to give up reconciling writing and Scrum. I also want to plan my book – but I overplan it and have to back away – something Scrum could help with.

Then it hit me – this can be done. Here’s how – grab some notecards or spreadsheets.

Write down your major story arcs. There will probably be about 10-30 of them if you go into fine detail (I usually assume each character has 1-3). These are your “Features” – big bundles of events that are kind of their own tale. Think of it this way – your story “Features” several story arcs – but I’ll call them “Arcs.”

In each Arc, write down the main things that need to happen in order. Remember order – not chronology. This isn’t a timeline of “X happens in Y month,” this is a sequence. In Scrum, these are called “stories,” but for the sake of clarity, I’ll call them “Events.”

Now you have major story Arcs. In each are major Events that need to happen, which will probably either be scenes or part of a scene. Now how do you plot this out?

Simple – we use Sprints. Sprints become Chapters.

Now we have a way through.

  • Create one Sprint for each Chapter. If you have no chapters, perhaps pick an arbitrary number (I recommend ten or twenty, easy to get a percent complete). I’ll just call these Chapters.
  • Take the Arc that spans the entire tale, and sequence out its Events spread among Chapters – take your best shot and when they would happen when. Make notes as you do so.
  • Now, take another Arc and do the same – choose one of the larger ones. As you do this, you may start switching around some Events from your first effort – that’s fine.
  • Next, take one smaller Arc and place out the Events in the various Chapters – it probably won’t span the entire set of Chapters, of course. While you do this, re-sequence the Events – figure what order they happen in.
  • Finally, just do this for all of your Arcs until, adding and adjusting and rethinking. Take plenty of notes as well, scenes and inspirations and ideas are going to come to you. Also, remember, everything should be in the order of occurrence.
  • Eventually, you have a set of Chapters, containing Events, that fulfill Arcs.
  • You’ve just created an outline for your book using Agile – in a kind of mutant Scrum using different terminology, and slightly violating the idea all Sprints are the same duration (hopefully they won’t be).

By the way, note how easy it is to switch things around if you change your mind? Move one event up or down to different Chapters? Yes, very easy – because you have a rough idea of what order things happen in, but you’re not locked in – it’s all still pieces.

When you write the Chapter, then you can plot out the specific scenes. Take the particular Events, recheck their order, group them in scenes, and go. Why plot it in fine detail until you’re ready?

I used some similar ideas when plotting my current novel – but then overdid it – and as soon as I did, things felt less fun and fluid. The reason? I thought too far ahead. When I “Deplotted” it, it worked much better. Novel after this one, I’m going to try this system (unless I invent another).

Know where you’re going and in what order. But decide on the specifics when you’re ready to write them. That way, you can react to what has to be done, not have your mind three chapters ahead, and two chapters behind.

Steven Savage

Games, Sustainability, And Expectations

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Lately, I got into the game “Portal Knights,” a charming Minecraft-meets-Action RPG video game. It takes a lot of lessons from various games and combines then for a solo or with-friends adventure in a broken world. There are a few polish issues, but for $20 there’s a lot of value.

The game also has optional downloadable content, from a fancy one with new stuff to simple ones with extra hats or buildable items. It all seems quite reasonable, but then I found online complaints about the game having a “money grab.”

Note that for $20 you get a pretty complete game people are supporing, even though it’s been out in Early Access and complete for over two years. It didn’t seem that way to me, but . . .

This made me think about the challenges that game publishing faces – and how much it costs.

  • First, people expect a supported game. But if you make your money on sales, then you need ways to keep paying for it unless you make a lot of money.
  • Second, many people expect games to be around for a long time – that requires some kind of support model.
  • Third, subscription fees of some kind seem to have long ago faded away.
  • Fourth, DLC and extras are reasonably accepted ways to keep the money coming. Heck, it goes back to Team Fortress 2 and hats.

We have expectations of long-term support and endurance of games in the video game community. But how do we reconcile that with the simple financial need to pay developers? Even when we do that, do we have a way to declare a game just simply “done” and move on?

I thought about this and simply realized . . . I don’t have an answer.

We want a way to get good games. We want a way to support them and have them grow. But the methods we have are piecemeal, or limited, controversial, or misused (loot boxes). There has to be something else out there we haven’t invented yet.

I’d like to see a lot more discussion on media production, monetization, and patronage. It’d be great for games, yes, but it might be something we can extend to other media. Right now, we’re probably too confined by current models, past ideas, and recent failures.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 12/15/2019

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A few big announcements!

First, Chance’s Muse, my book on random generators – is out! You can get it from a variety of sources at this link!

Secondly, I’m back at generators with the Promare-Inspired Super Professions Generator!

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: The Gods and Deities Book’s first draft is almost done – I expect to have it this week!
  • Chance’s Muse: As noted is done. Out, published. Launched! Whew!
  • A School Of Many Futures: I took a break on this to replot some things, so though a lot is written, I’m only “confident” out to Chapter 3 – but oh, what a Chapter 3!
  • Seventh Sanctum: I got out a new generator, the Super Professions Generator! Back in the swing of things!
  • General: Prepping for the holidays of course.

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: Finish the draft this week, then off to my editor, who hopefully has time . . .
  • Chance’s Muse: Well, it’s done. But I have ideas for the future.
  • A School Of Many Futures: Editing Chapter 3 while doing some more replotting. A few twists surprised me, and I want to get them in there – I mean when you suddenly discover a three-century old conspiracy in your story . . .
  • Seventh Sanctum: Nothing right now, mostly some tweaks. But I’m feeling that mojo again!

Steven Savage

Plots, Pants, And Flows

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Writers have heard this over and over again.

Some people are plotters, detailing out their stories before writing.

Some people are pantsers, charging ahead writing with little or no outline.

Some people are “plantsers” walking a line between both.

Though these are convenient ways to classify writers, they’re limited. These classifications are much like the classic and oft-mocked D&D alignment chart – interesting originally, but restrictive in the end. Are any of us one of the above all the time, in all of our writing?

As of late I’d struggled with my latest novel – I tend to more of a “plotter,” but it hadn’t quite worked for me. At the same time, pantsing or “plantsing” didn’t work for me either. I felt disconnected from my work, my writing lacked an intimacy.

This had rarely happened with my nonfiction work. Indeed, it seemed I could step into that work with ease for the most part. This wasn’t surprising, as I’ve done mostly nonfiction the last decade – a second novel being a challenge presented no surprise.

So as I meandered towards a solution, I decided to replot a troublesome chapter. This suddenly awakened my imagination, that intimate connection with one piece of my work to the exclusion of all else. Everything felt alive.

Then, I took a look at authors I knew with both challenges and lacks of challenges. Those who had trouble with their works had lost a connection with it, from not liking it to fearing audience reaction to not caring. Writers with few troubles felt an intimate connection to their work – it could be love of characters or joy in “mechanizing” a story, but it was intimate.

My rewrite of a single chapter felt more intimate. That told me what I’d been missing – I’d let so many things distract me from my work. Replotting a chapter reconnected me.

Looking at my past works I could see when works had been easy, I had a sense of intimacy and connection. I had made books on potentially boring subjects and had been absolutely enjoying it. I write many worldbooks and those involved a well-polished system, and it’s fun.

So let’s stop thinking about pants, plotting, and “plantsing.” Let’s ask what methods keep us connected to our works and intimate with our goals. Maybe one time we plot, maybe one time we “pants,” and another time we do something else.

If you’re not feeling connected to your work, then it’s time to switch up how you do things. Who knows, you might invent an new way to classify writers we can all misuse . . .

Steven Savage

Deadlines Are Tools

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After an eventful few months, I was trying to keep up on all of my various projects. It was starting to get stressful – one book being published, the next worldbook in progress, and a novel in the works. How could this be stressful, I wondered? I had plans and outlines, and well-thought out deadlines, shouldn’t that make life easier?

Of course the more I examined, the more I realized a few things:

  1. I had my deadlines disrupted by assorted life events and those in the lives of friends and families.
  2. I had reassessed these deadlines during this time and adjusted them, but not given thought to my situation.
  3. Some of the projects with deadlines were ones that were new or experimental. An example would be my second novel – with one under my belt, I’m still perfecting my methods.

After having a discussion with some fellow writers, one suggested taking a break from some projects – just a few days. The more we discussed it, the more I came to a conclusion they were right, but also they’d revealed something else.

I’d used deadlines inappropriately.

I’d chosen deadlines to keep up on my projects, and to keep things under control. They were “realistic” in the way they were estimated using what knowledge I had – they were unrealistic for a trying time and with several experimental projects. This got me thinking about how we use deadlines inappropriately.

We often treat deadlines as unavoidable, sandrosanct, indeed required. Its probably the result of school, of previous industrial cultures, and of a busy time. But having deadlines we often jump to them without asking if they make sense or are even a good idea.

But what good is a deadline? A deadline is a tool- it should help you.

  • A deadline can help you allocate resources, deciding what to do in order to meet a deadline.
  • A deadline can help you coordinate, giving something to someone in time for them to take other action.
  • A deadline can result from trying to figure when you can get something done (and let’s you evaluate if you were right).
  • A deadline can help you prioritize.
  • A deadline can challenge yourself.

Deadlines are useful – but the thing is they’re just a tool. But its not a tool you have to use all the time. Maybe you, like me, are giving yourself deadlines you simply don’t need.

Maybe a project of yours doesnt need a deadline – perhaps its new so all you can do is your best.

Maybe a project of yours is play. It doesn’t matter when its done as long as there’s progress.

You get the idea.

So take a lesson from my experience. Evaluate your deadlines and see if they’re doing any good. There’s a good chance that you’re not using them for the right reasons or using them in a way that helps you.

It’s OK to give up on deadlines sometime, as I found.

Steven Savage

Writer’s Sharing Good And Bad

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As mentioned previously, I help run a group of writers who are current and future self-publishers. Each month we meet to discuss how to improve and focus on a given subject. Once again, I have a useful insight from the event.

In this case, our specific theme for November was thought-provoking – we discussed what we were our good and bad points as writers. The idea wasn’t venting or bragging – the idea was to see how we could help each other out. Someone’s good practices could make up for another person’s flaws.

So the first thing we did was go around discussing what we’re good at – and why. The results were productive because we went in-depth – not just what we did, but why and how we learned it. The group quickly had an idea of new ways to be better at writing and how to get there.

For example, we realized that several of us used a “when in doubt, power through” approach to writing. The idea was to write no matter what and edit later. Someone who spent three days straight writing an entire book’s first draft confirmed this worked.

And, yes, I am tempted to try that.

When we discussed our flaws, however, something became apparent. We had a lot of the same issues, just in different forms or manifestations. Not only did this build a sense of camaraderie – and relief – it let us share ways we dealt with our similar issues. We weren’t alone – and we had a wealth of tips to share.

I recommend this “Good and Bad” session for your writing group, team, meetup, or what have you. Come together, find what you do good and share it, see what you do poorly and help each other out. There’s a lot to be learned.

Now I have to find a free three days for an experiment . . .

Steven Savage

Jojo’s Bizarre Aesthetic

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Aesthetic, that artistic and thematic sense of creative work, is vital to things like writing, art, and video games. Sadly we forget this fact as we’re deep into code or plot outlines or arguments about Pantone. To help bring us home to this importance, I’d like to talk about musical jokes and psychic powers.

Specifically, I want to discuss Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure, often referred to as “JJBA.” JJBA is a continuing manga and anime series that helped me understand the importance of aesthetics. If you’re familiar with Jojo, you’re nodding, if not, read on.

Summing up JJBA is difficult, but it starts with fighting vampires, then becomes a generation adventure with psychic powers. Most characters are musical references, the art looks like Tom of Finland saw Cirque Du Solei, and elaborate outfits abound. It is in every way “its own thing.”

To say it has continuity or worldbuilding would be off – the author clearly and joyfully incorporates whatever works. What it has, however, is a theme, a feel – an aesthetic. The series in all its forms is about theme and feeling first.

When I saw a discussion about the aesthetics-first approach of JJBA, it got me thinking of other places aesthetics were important.

Games require aesthetics. Two of the foundational “Forged in the Dark” RPGs, “Blades in the Dark” and “Scum and Villainy,” contain information on “example media” to understand the settings. My friend Ewen, an indie game developer, also focuses heavily on aesthetics and outright gives thematic ideas in some of his works like a D&D parody and High School weirdness. Getting the feel of a game is necessary to play it – and make it.

After looking at the idea that JJBA is “aesthetic first,” after thinking over these games, I realized any creative work needs an aesthetic. Including yours.

After this realization, I asked myself what my aesthetic is for my current fictional work, A School of Many Futures. Set in a world where a fantasy planet evolved into the space age, it’s a place of technology, sorcery, and internet-using gods. Thinking of it aesthetically helped me understand it better and made my writing better. When you know what something should “feel” like, you can create it easier.

For instance, I realized that the setting was one where the normal contained the weird (in a world of magic anti-counterfeiting is challenging), and the strange contained the normal (gods send email). Just this small realization helped the world come to life further in my latest edits.

So I want to challenge you to find the aesthetic of your current works – fiction or not. Here are a few ideas I’ve gotten from various sources:

  • Are there any books, comics, or films that have a similar aesthetic?
  • What music fits your setting? Can you assemble a playlist?
  • Are there any significant artistic rules? In JJBA, most characters dress strangely, and in my setting colorful robes are commonplace.
  • Are there any emotional or intellectual elements that are prominent?
  • List five outstanding aesthetic rules of your current work to see if you can quantify the “feel” of what you’re doing.
  • If your work was adapted into other formats, what would not change, and what would be essential to avoid changing?

So I challenge you to find your aesthetic. Go on, explore it, write it down, share it. It’s a new way to look at your work. It certainly helped me with my own, helping me find a kind of intellectual-emotional guide.

Besides, who knows, finding your aesthetic might inspire you to further greatness. After all, if I told you a major international comic and anime sensation was about musical jokes and buff guys fighting with psychic doubles, would you believe me?

Steven Savage