Archive for the 'Writing Tips' Category

Drunk on Your Own Words

December 07th, 2007 | Category: Writing Tips

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You sit down in the computer for a few minutes, hoping to whip up a quick story post. Then an idea hits you. It’s vague at first, but it has a certain sparkle of possibility. You start constructing a post, becoming more convinced with every word that you’re onto something.

The feeling grows and grows until your fingers are flying across the keyboard. The words are flowing, and you’re saying exactly what you want to say, exactly the way you want to say it. You bring the post to a close with an ending that you can only describe as, “Perfect,” and then pause to read what you’ve written.

A smile spreads across your face. It’s clever, original… brilliant. You only hesitate for a second before posting it to the story. “I can’t wait to see what they say about that,” you think. You walk away from the computer, sure you’ve written a masterpiece.

A couple of hours pass and you come back to reread your post. As you scan through it, you feel a weight in the pit of your stomach. This post isn’t brilliant. It’s arrogant, disconnected, and desperate for attention.

“What was I thinking?” you ask yourself. And I’ll tell you: you weren’t thinking. You were drunk on your own words.

Master writers have long described good writing as hypnotic. It draws readers in, using its flow and rhythm to put people in a state of higher suggestibility, making it easier for you to sell them something.

It’s a dirty analogy, but it’s similar to getting them drunk. Each point you make is like pouring them another glass, slowly washing away their objections, tugging on their emotions, and leading them toward the sale without them even realizing it.

But it’s a two-way street.

When you’re writing, you can put yourself into the same state. Like a brewer drinking your own product, you can intoxicate yourself during the act of creation.

It’s happened to me plenty of times. Fortunately though, I’ve learned to recognize it and walk away before posting something foolish to a story here on the VE. And thus, here are a few warning signs that you should look for:

1) You Think the Post Is Brilliant

I’ve noticed that, whenever I finish a post and think it’s brilliant, there’s at least a 50% chance that it’s not. Frequently, it’s just pandering for attention, and I’ll regret posting it later.

2. You Think the Post Is Hilarious

Humor is dangerous. Not only do people have drastically different opinions on what’s funny, but there’s a fine line between making your readers laugh and offending them to a point where they lose interest and wander out.

The only way to know for sure is to run it by someone. Comedy writers work as a team for a reason. Sometimes, you’re being funny. Other times, you’re just being an ass. And more times than naught, its the later.

3. Your Heart Is Pounding

If your heart is pounding, then you’re definitely in some sort of heightened state, and it’s easy to move too fast. Whenever I drink lots of caffeine, for instance, my heartbeat and writing output both speed up, but the posts don’t make as much sense. Writing after watching a good movie or reading a powerful piece of writing can create the same effect.

4. You Can’t Wait to See How People React

Thoughts like, “I can’t wait to see what kinds of comments I get on IRC” and, “This should get some conversation going” are surefire indicators that you’ve written something risky. It could be bold, but it might just be brash.

5. Your Stomach Tightens up

Sometimes, you’re writing something that makes absolute sense, but you notice your stomach starting to tighten up. This is your subconscious trying to tell you that a part of you disagrees with what you are saying. Pay attention!

6. You Hesitate before Clicking “Post”

If your mouse hovers over the “Post” button, hesitating for a moment before putting it out for the world to see, then you’ve written something that you know is risky. You should probably hold off and figure out what’s bothering you about it. This is the most surefire method that something is wrong. If you can’t find anything, let someone else read over it by PMing it to them or something of the like.

There you have it, the possibilities that can make you think you have a brilliant post, while in actuality it may just be one that is barely decent, or worse.

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Effective NPCs: A Suggestive Guide

September 09th, 2007 | Category: Star Wars Role Playing,Writing Tips

Before beginning your post or story, you have to take some time to create your necessary NPCs if they are not already provided, unless you get lucky and don’t need a single one. You’ve thought about that post/story a great deal. So get a wiki page running and flesh out all your NPCs. The more your characters are developed as real people, the more your story quality will improve and the more story arcs you can expand upon.

Firstly, names. Choose names for your characters that should be easy to remember, and ones that your squadmates won’t have a hard time with. If you name your ally Xrtjamon it will stall the readers and they make just get frustrated everytime they see the name. Pick names that you like and are easy to work with. If the name is catchy, so much the better! (‘Cartwheel’ McCarthy for example.) In the wiki, make a page for each character with all of their traits and idiosyncrasies such as:

Physical Traits – use your imagination. There is an endless array of physical characteristics in the world. Make your characters different from each other. What color of hair do they have? Are they short, fat, skinny, tall, buckteeth, or bald? Does one have a speech impediment, a limp, a scar?

Habits – both good and bad for no one is perfect. At least one character should have some kind of quirky habit. Readers will remember.

Speech – Vary your characters’ speech as no one talks exactly like another. A character that is college educated speaks one way, and a character who has a speech impediment speaks differently. The more you vary your characters’ manner of speaking, the more interesting they will be. But don’t overdo it or the reader won’t be able to keep track. Having at least one character that stands out as a little backward or “different” will add a great deal of dimension to your story. Dialogue is what moves the story along, so vary it.

For example – Assume we have an uneducated young man, rough, with a mental disorder. Which dialogue should you use to bring this character to life?

“I wont do it, no matter how you try to convince me. In fact, you are causing me great turmoil.” Joey sat down, crossed his legs, and sighed.

Or –

“Hell no I ain’t gonna do dat! No way, man. What, yous think I’m a freakin idiot? You really on my nerves, man. Hey man, I gotta a gun that’ll fit in yer fat mouth real good, if yous don’t shut up.” Joey paced back and forth, mumbling to himself, picking something off his shirt that wasn’t there.

The first example is not true to the ‘Joey’ character at all. He sounds like any other person on the streets of Cephany, giving you no clues to his real personality. However, the second example tells you a few things about him; the manner in which he speaks shows that he is uneducated, angry, and rude. His actions tell the reader that he is seeing things that are not there, showing – not telling – that he has a problem with reality. In just a few sentences of dialogue, you have given the reader valuable information about ‘Joey’ that would take an entire page to tell in narrative form.

Moral/ethical/political/religious beliefs – Do not make all your characters with high standards. There has to be an guy who is dishonest, immoral, maybe a religious fanatic, and just an all around bad person or there won’t be any conflict between characters.

Hobbies – Does one of your characters love to paint and gets a lot of peace from it?
Does another like to watch holomovies and quotes from them? Or maybe a character just likes to be a couch potato and watch the latest holo flick. The sky is the limit here. Remember to write in their hobby as a means to further the story.

Like/Dislikes – What does your character dislike the most? Snakes? Space travel because of the helplessness feeling? The dark? What does he/she like best, what makes her/him happiest?

Your NPC must still be at least likeable in some sense from a writer’s perspective, but the glaring weakness has to form the underlying tension that drives his or her behavior.

You are free to make up people who are all your own in every way that makes a person human. The more your characters are developed, the more your squadmates and any other readers of your posts will come away from your story remembering them forever. Characters are what drive a story, and why should just your squadron lead the push? There is an endless variety of people you can imagine in this universe. Some even seem inhuman. Be brave. Lose yourself in creating characters that are unforgettable. The imagination is a wonderful thing.

Sample NPC 1 Kent ‘Goblin’ Barlow

Goblin is an irascible oddball bringing new meaning to the word ‘weird.’ He enjoys a bit of a reputation as a fierce infighter. His loyalty to the Empire and peculiar enthusiasm are well worth his eccentricies.

A former comedian that was thrown out of the Tadath night clubs for his unusual brand of humor. Forced to find another source of income, he became a bouncer for a rather seedy nightclub in Tadath’s red light district, where he was fired due to his agressiveness against the people he was asked to remove.

Goblin tries to bring a smile to his fellow Stormtroopers, although these efforts usually result in a disturbed gaze. Occasionally he does actually make a joke that everyone laughs at, but those moments are few and far between.

Originally placed into Sceptre Squad, he was transferred to the Black Rose Squad due to the Squad Leader lashing out physically at Goblin for unspecified reasons. In what is declared ‘self defense’ in the official report of the incident, Goblin broke both of the man’s wrists and neck.

He spent his four months in the Black Rose Squad trying to gain the attention of his Assistant Squad Leader without success before he was reassigned with his surviving squadmates to Eclipse, where he still continues his advances.

Sample NPC 2 Peter ‘Cartwheel’ McCarthy

Originally a TIE fighter pilot for the Vast Empire Navy, he quickly earned the handle ‘Cartwheel’ for his favorite maneuvers. Peter McCarthy has an attitude that frequently gets him in trouble with superiors, which explains how he was assigned as a pilot to the Stormtrooper Corps. The Navy did not desire him very much, but did not have the necessary grounds to discharge him; and the Army required pilots to fly the squads into action. Naturally the Navy assigned their least favorite pilot to the Army.

Extremely skilled, his rank suggests a far lower talent and experience than he actually has. McCarthy, assigned to Eclipse Squad at this time, is greatly satisfying the Stormtroopers that are thrill seekers when he pilots their shuttles. Those that don’t appreciate a beautiful, perfectly executed triple-dive with a 720 degree barrel roll and reverse tail flip in a standard Imperial Shuttle generally don’t complain because their mouths are busy expelling their last meal.

Sample NPC 3Katrina Canters

Although rather young to actually be in the military, Katrina Canters excelled at her studies in school and entered Tadath Institute of Technology early as an engineering major. Rising to the top of her class, she caught the eye of the Vast Empire’s Engineering Corps, who offered to pay her college expenses if she would enter herself into the service of the Imperial Military’s Engineering Corps. Accepting, she was assigned to Eclipse Squad as a technician working under Andrew Hawkins while still studying to complete her college studies.

An extremely creative problem solver, Canters worked with Riqimo Pershaw to improve the prototype EAST suits, as well as create some other devices for the squad to use. Although she is rather stubborn in believing her methods and designs are better than others, she is easily befriended, provided that you are not a complete technological idiot.

Should you break something in the field that she worked on, Canters might refuse to talk to you for a few days, but will then flood you questions about the circumstances that caused it to fall apart, melt, or explode. (Her inventions tend to do the later when they have a serious flaw.) On the other hand, if the device worked perfectly, you will be bombarded with questions stating there has to be something she could improve on, and there is a slight chance that the next time you use the ‘re-perfected’ device, you will have a nice scar or cybernetic replacement to remember the occasion by.

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Writing Tips ~ Part Two :: Character Development

July 17th, 2007 | Category: Star Wars Role Playing,Writing Tips

“Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you … the conflict.”
“There is … no … conflict!”

But that lends great depth to a character. Conflict. Whether internal, against another person, against an entire planet, against his or her siblings … according to cinematic and theatric tradition, development comes fundamentally from conflict, and the resolution of that conflict. Consider Revenge of the Sith (Episode III) and the aftermath of Anakin’s slaughter on Mustafar. We have these horrific scenes, bodies lying everywhere, and then we move to Anakin, looking out over a sea of lava, his eyes full of rage, a triumphant master of evil … and then that wonderful, wonderful slight movement of his head which reveals the glint of tears on his cheeks. Look at Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) — Vader after he meets Luke again, outside the AT-AT. Think of Vader’s slouched, helpless stance as he says that melancholic, almost wistful line”

“Obi-Wan once thought as you do … “

then clenching his posture again, and that bitter, agonised line

“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side … I must obey my master!”

This is not necessarily a call to make your characters angsty or constantly bewail their existence; it’s simply an indication that with conflict there is usually a desire, or at least an impetus, to resolve that conflict. Luke, innocent farmboy, the epitome of “The Good Guy,” is in conflict pretty much throughout all three films, too: In A New Hope (Episode IV) he’s in conflict against the Empire. He’s also in conflict with Han — a conflict which is resolved in spectacular fashion by Han saving his and the Rebellion’s collective butts! In Empire Strikes Back (Episode V) he’s in conflict with his own loyalties: does he complete his training, or does he save his friends — which brings him into conflict with Yoda, his own teacher. In Return of the Jedi (Episode VI), he’s obviously in conflict with himself — can he kill his own father (which brings him, interestingly, into conflict with the ghostly Obi-Wan on that.)

So my point is: Look for conflicts!

What’s your character’s relationship with his or her parents? Brothers or sisters? Squad? Friends?

How do your character’s goals fit in or cross paths with other characters?

And most importantly, look for conflicts not just for the sake of having them, but as wheels upon which to drive your characters forward.

Remember, the purpose of the development is the resolution of conflict, not the conflict itself!

Another method of development can be your character’s personality. What sets two gamblers, thugs, or other more-or-less identical character types apart and makes them individuals are their personalities? Even little details about appearance and mannerisms can help your players not only to visualize two otherwise identical characters but also distinguish between them- even though two characters may have exactly in anyother perspective.

The three basic tools for individualizing personalities are appearance, mannerisms, and motivations. if you even assign one distinct quality from each of these categories, and then play these characteristics up in your portrayal of the character, you can bring a character alive in the readers’ minds. Fortunately, it doesn’t take any preparation- improvisational comedians have been doing this sort of thing for years 😉 In fact, the only tough part is remember how you portrayed a character previously, but with a few quick notes, you’ll have enough of a memory jog that you can quickly recall the character and play him again at almost a moment’s notice. (The wiki is most excellent for this)

It can be as simple as a few quick notes:
(“basso voice, acts superior, cracks knuckles when angry”)

Or some short headings:
(“Appearance: basso voice; Personality Traits: acts superior; Mannerisms: cracks knuckles when angry”)

With these simple tips, you will be on your way to better writing in no time at all!


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Writing Tips ~ Part One

July 11th, 2007 | Category: Star Wars Role Playing,Writing Tips

Firstly and most importantly of this multipart series, it might be wise to outline some suggested methods as to how you may be able to increase the quality of your posts, your Vast Empire experience and the quality of your interaction with other players and/or characters.

Before I continue, I’d like to make a note that these are my own personal opinions. As such they might not be shared or widely accepted by our fellow members at the VE. My intention is to provide advice. Whether or not that advice is adopted is another matter entirely. The choice is ultimately yours. It is my sincere hope that suggestions such as this will not be ignored, but rather taken to heart and used as a reference to growing as a trooper or pilot.

If you’re just starting off and you’re unsure as to how to post in stories, don’t be afraid to ask some of your fellow troopers for advice and/or tips. I’m sure that most, if not all, would be willing to take some time out to help someone in need.

Good Writers are made, not born. Just because someone else might be better than you at writing, it doesn’t mean you can’t do the same thing. With time and effort becoming a Veteran writer is quite an easy task.

Most importantly don’t be intimidated by your fellow troopers/pilots. Watch and learn from them. They can often teach you more than you’d be able to learn if you were alone.

Never give up. While in some cases there might not seem to be solutions, facing defeat is something you’ll deal with sooner or later. It’s how you deal with that which is important. You always have a new story coming or even a storynet thread that would welcome you to learn from the mistakes you made in the past.
One of the most important pieces of all, is to remember it is a game. You are there to have fun and to interact with other characters and writers. Don’t take things too seriously and remember to always enjoy yourself.

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