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Posts from April 2009

There is a pretty thorough review of the magazine Level Up over at the Flames Rising webzine. Of course, I'm happy to hear good things said of my contribution, the "Deities of Áereth" article:

The deities article stood out to me as being a great article that completely details a faith from both a flavor and crunch perspective. Rules wise all the necessities were there, the Channel Divinity feat and the paragon path as well as a relic appropriate for a champion of the gods to carry into battle. This article really wins however on flavor. The description of the holy texts, rituals and worship were top shelf and the “alternate aspects,” describing the name of the deity for other races and cultures gave the religion a very organic and real feeling. An A+ overall on this article, which is the perfect modular piece for DMs everywhere to drop into their own homebrew world.

Sadly, "Deities" article will probably be a shorter article in future issues, for reasons of space.

Also, I will probably writing occasional reviews (most likely for movies or novels) over at Flames Rising, but you can bet I'll mention them here when they appear.

posted on 04.28.2009

It’s a universal question every writer has to ask himself or herself: do I need to write up an outline of the story I want to write? Outlining is essentially plotting, mapping out the story. Deciding what should happen in advance. What happens that the protagonist(s) must overcome, do they overcome it, what are the consequences? And so on.

Whether you write an outline or not, at minimum I think a writer needs to decide a few important things ahead of time, simply out of respect for a reader’s attention. If you have a lot of ground to cover over the course of the story, this helps you determine the space between each chapter or scene. Does the story span hours, days, weeks, months, years? With outlining comes a deliberate observance to pacing, so it’s sort of built in. What you get if you don’t do this right is a potentially evenly-paced book with a rushed ending. Even authors I greatly admire suffer from the rushed ending. I’ve been accused of that myself, and I don’t deny that it tends to happen. (I think I’ll save talk of pacing for another entry, though.)

Anyway, now that I’m writing something strictly on my own, should I try and outline the whole book?

If you write a book for some publishers, like Wizards of the Coast, you have to, no matter what. They want to know the basics of what happens, where the story goes, what characters show up, what monsters appear, and how the story ends. No big secrets. And when you’ve got a cap on how long your book can be, outlines help make sure you're on track the whole way through.

If I remember correctly, Stephen King (in his book On Writing) advises you to not think too much about outlines, but to just get to writing, to let it take you along for the ride (to discover it, he presumes), and worry later about fixing it up appropriately. R.A. Salvatore, I've heard from several interviews, puts together a superficial outline for his WotC books (again, because the contracts demand it) but then just makes it up as he goes anyway. Both are extremely successful authors. Can I afford to reject their patterns? Maybe not. But of course, they’re sort of anomalous in their respective genres. They’re not the everymen of fiction writing.

The truth is, I did find outlining to be extremely helpful when working on The Darkwood Mask and my second WotC book. In some ways, making an outline makes the story-writing itself less fun, because you feel constrained by it and you already know everything that happens. But at the same time, my favorite elements usually come up in the writing, not while creating the outline. As an example, the character of Aegis (a warforged bodyguard) never appeared in the initial synopsis nor in the outline for TDM. However, by the time I created him as a side character, he was absolutely necessary to the story and its conclusion, both as a character and a plot device.

I am at that stage where I’m beginning to outline, or at least write up a synopsis.

For you writer-types out there, what do you think of outlines? Are they for people who don’t know what they’re doing? Or necessary evils? Or something else?

posted on 04.26.2009

The Kobold Quarterly website has posted up an interview with Aeryn Rudel, staff writer for Goodman Games with whom I’ve worked on a few books now. He’s also Editor-in-Chief of Level Up, the new 4E magazine which is out in the stores now so go get it hurry what are you waiting for it’s only $1.99!

In the interview, Aeryn says a few nice things about me. Thanks, Aeryn!

He also mentions "Deities of Áereth," the rolling series of articles I’m writing for "Level Up," wherein each issue I describe in considerable detail one of the gods of the campaign world Áereth. Originally, all these gods appeared in the Gazetteer of the Known Realms, a 3rd Edition boxed set. This Deities series allows me to update each god, one at a time, in the 4th Edition version of the game and provide a lot more detail around their faith. Each article includes information about:

  • Titles, tenets, and culture of the faith.
  • The clergy (including the difference between regular priests, clerics, paladins, and monks)
  • The laity (non-clergymen of the faith).
  • Symbols and icons.
  • Temples.
  • Alternate aspects of the god (i.e. different portrayals, names, or ideas).
  • Holy texts.
  • Famous relics.
  • Vestments.
  • Alliances, rivalries, and enemies.
  • Holidays.
  • Roleplaying suggestions.
  • A new Channel Divinity feat.
  • A new magic item produced by the church.
  • A new paragon path available to a worshipper.

In issue #1, I describe Gorhan, the Healmed Vengeance, a god of war, valor, and chivalry. The challenge (and fun) about this was that I needed to take a fairly generic war god (who first appeared in DCC#12: The Blackguard's Revenge, by Wesley Schneider) and find a way to give him real flavor and a unique spin on the otherwise traditional "god of war." Ultimately, he's what you get if you take a powerful, yet lawfully good and honest executioner or assassin.

Anyway, I hope people will enjoy it and maybe some will put Gorhan into their campaigns. My goal is to convince players that this god would be an awesome choice for their character's devotion, whether he or she is playing a cleric or not. If you're gung-ho against evil, you might want Gorhan at your back.

posted on 04.21.2009

This is the first entry of Savant Scrawlings, a series of posts wherein I talk about this whole novel-writing thing of mine (as mentioned in my previous post). It’s going to be more a journal than a collection of essays, but I’ll try and keep it as concise and intelligible as I can.

I’d like to start out by talking about what this book isn’t going to be. Quite unlike The Darkwood Mask and its relation to the world of Eberron, this novel isn’t going to be part of a shared universe. A shared universe is a setting where multiple authors tell different—and possibly overlapping—stories yet where the core material (central characters, places, laws of nature, magic, etc.) must always remain the same. For example, if you write a novel in the Star Wars universe, you can’t go and kill Luke Skywalker in your story (unless the Lucasfilm people tell you to, and in which case his death will need to be accounted for in all subsequent novels that take place in the same timeframe.)

It was an unusual experience writing for Eberron shared universe, because I knew full well that most of my friends and family would know nothing about it except what my book addressed. Therefore when the book came out, I wrote up a sort of Eberron primer for them so they could understand just what the heck dragonmarks were, or warforged, or even the race of elves.

But the world of the Savant project is going to be a world of our own. I say our, because my brother John and I are developing it together. We’re not beholden to anyone else in its details, nor the stories that come of it, and the continuity of the setting is my own responsibility to maintain. That’s a responsibility I relish, as I find it lacking in most shared universes.

So…this means no primer will be necessary, unless I somehow incorporate one into the book. I want this story, this world, to be approachable by anyone. Just pick it up and go. There are no other books out there that you will have to read first. Maybe it helps if you’ve read any sort of speculative fiction before, but I expect there’ll be elements of various genres—mystery, horror, and so on—and in doses anyone can handle. But it generally comes down to the two big ones:

  • Fantasy – Fantasy is generally assumed to be fiction that uses magic or other supernatural forces as a central plot device, and usually with a marked lack of technological advancement. Fantasy stories are usually, but not always, medieval in flavor. Without a doubt, Savant will be mainly fantasy in its style and themes, but not exclusively.
  • Science Fiction – Space and robots, right? Well, sci-fi involves speculation about technology, and almost always takes place on Earth in the present day or in the future (and sometimes possibly other planets). Because I intend to incorporate a certain level of real science, and a little bit of modern technology, so there are certainly going to be science fiction elements.

You can analyze and dissect these two genres, but in the end I believe that science fiction is asking, “What if this happened?” and fantasy is asking “What if it had always been this way”? My book is definitely more of the latter. Ultimately, Savant is merely speculative fiction doused with genre elements. I really enjoyed writing the mystery noir flavor from The Darkwood Mask (required for a series about detectives). And I’m a serious fan of horror, so I’ll aim to make things creepy when they’re needed to be. Although I should add that I consider good horror to be about scary monsters, ghosts, or other supernatural occurrences. I have no interest in books or movies about sickos torturing and murdering people. Give me The Ring or The Others any day; I don’t care for the Saws or the Hostels of the genre.

Next topic: To outline or not to outline?


posted on 04.09.2009

I have an announcement. I'm going to start talking about what I've only vaguely touched on previously. Now I have a name to call it—a project name, if not an actual book title. Yet. So what's the announcement?

Savant! <-- Click here!

As that project page says, I'm going to be writing a novel and it's going to be produced by Blindsided Books. And I'm going to be keeping a journal of sorts right here on my website as I do, aimed at giving friends, potential readers, and maybe even potential fellow writers one man's account of the process of writing a novel from scratch. Now, I don't profess to be some veteran author with years of writing experience from which to dispense advice to would-be writers. Far from it, in fact. I've been a writer for a fairly long time, but I've been an author and novelist for only a year or two. I'm about to dig into my third novel, and still have much to learn.

Anyway, teaching people about writing isn't my intent. Half of the purpose of this writing journal is to work out some of my own ideas "out loud." Certainly I hope to do so in an entertaining way, to keep interested parties along for the ride. That said, if anything I do end up talking about is indeed of some interest to you, or is instead mind-blowingly boring, do say so. Really. I'd like to learn from you, too.

Anyway, the first entry of the journal will better showcase what I'm failing to explain here.

The entire Savant project is an experiment, both with Blindsided Books and with my personal goals for this project (and other books to come). The journal I'm going to keep, Savant Scrawlings, is more than just about novel writing—it's also about world building, which scales things up quite a bit more.

Josh Wentz, owner of the Blindsided Books imprint, talks a bit about the project from his view right here.

posted on 04.07.2009

It occurred to me that although I've warned readers in advance (whenever I was able to), I've never officially done so here. So now I am....because I'm still hearing about it.

What am I talking about?

In my novel The Darkwood Mask, most readers will notice an assortment of spelling and grammatical....um, slights. Typos, if you're kind about it. Most, if not all, of these were not present in the final galleys (the printed manuscript sent to me by the publisher for final proofing) when it left my possession. Astute readers will rightly realize that with any book it is the editor's final responsibility to catch such mistakes—and certainly to ensure that none are inserted when the author is finished—but some reviewers have attributed the errors in TDM to the author. To me.

One of the reviews on Amazon (most of which are great, actually!) included this: "The thing that kept jarring me out of a pleasant read was the use of 'sleight' when the author meant 'slight.' It's minor and it looked intentional (it happened at least twice), but it was like having a pleasant car ride and then hitting an unexpected pothole."

Now, almost every book out there has one or more typos. It happens, and I accept that both as an author and as a reader. It's just that the number of unnecessary mistakes in the text of TDM is especially painful.

The most notable mistake takes the form of the word "sleight." Somehow, after the manuscript left my hands, every instance of the word "slight" was changed to "sleight" en masse. Therefore only one placement of that word is correct, the one that includes the real expression "sleight of hand."

Anyone who knows me and my English devotion knows how much of a forehead-slapping, head-hanging, exasperated sigh-inducing thing this is for me. But I've never actually made a big deal out of it. I just hope readers are discerning enough not to hold it against me.

Okay. So that's that.

posted on 04.04.2009
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