bonny_kate: (kaylee)
Writing and GMing* are both creating stories, but I have found them to be very different ways of creating stories. I thought that it would be interesting to my fellow GMs and fellow writers to explain the differences (although this comes with the major caveat that writing styles vary a lot, and GMing styles also vary a lot, so your experience may be entirely different).

Perhaps the biggest difference between writing and GMing is that GMing is inherently collaborative. When I write a story, I am the sole creator. I control the characters, the setting, and the plot. I am also not a collaborative writer. I have tried collaborative writing, and I'm quite bad at it. I don't like sharing my stories. But of course in a role playing game, the point is to create a collaborative narrative. The GM directs the narrative (to a varying degree depending on the group and the GM), but it is everyone's story. For the steampunk RPG that I'm currently running, I have to hold the story loosely because it isn't just my story; it's everyone's story. 

And because it's everyone's story, the players may take things an entirely different direction than what you, as the GM, intended. For instance, in a recent session the players entirely avoided combat. I had not planned on this. I had plot points that hinged on combat. But the players decided that they really didn't want combat and had several exceptionally good dice rolls, so I just more or less winged it and they never found those particular plot points. In a story, I could have had someone fail to see a trap or decide to confront the villains, but in an RPG the players can sometimes avoid plot points or take things an entirely different direction. 

This brings me to another, related point. When you GM a story, you are at the mercy of the dice. Sometimes players fail when you expect them to succeed, and sometimes they succeed when you expect them to fail. I had one session in which the players needed a vital piece of information from the barkeeper. This was supposed to be an easy roll, and yet one after another, they all failed it. I had a moment of not knowing what on earth to do, because I had no backup plan, before quickly bringing in another NPC. And that barkeeper who was supposed to be helpful is now a tough and acerbic barkeeper, which wasn't my intention at all. And on the other hand, as I mentioned above, the players had several exceptionally good dice rolls and managed to sneak past the Russians (twice) and then disable all the (difficult) traps, and I didn't think it would happen at all (I did manage to improvise an overheard conversation with the necessary information). 

Additionally, when GMing you have to be careful not to throw tantalizing hints or clues at the players unless you are prepared for the players to go haring after them. The players don't have the same sense of what is important to the story, and they may not react how you expect them to react. For instance, I had a beautiful idea for one of my scenarios. I thought that the villain would taunt the players by telling them that their boss, someone who they trust, wasn't being entirely honest and that they should ask what happened to the group before. I liked this, but I wanted it to be a throwaway line. In a story, it could be a throwaway line and the brave heroine could respond that they implicitly trusted their boss. But I cut the line from the game because I didn't know how the players would react. They might laugh at this clear and obvious plan to distract them, or they might find it something interesting to spend three sessions looking into, and I didn't really want to spend three sessions on it. 

Perhaps it comes down to control. When I'm writing a story, I have complete control. I can throw in tantalizing hints or foreshadowing, I can have the characters miss something extremely obvious, I can choreograph a fight so that they defeat a monstrous enemy or are nearly killed by a stupid mistake when fighting a small enemy. But when I'm GMing, I have to consider the players and their reactions and the arbitrary nature of dice, so that the players may ignore a plot point or interpret something entirely differently or roll poorly or roll very well, and it all affects the story. Because when I'm GMing it isn't entirely my story anymore, but something that the players (and the dice) also contribute to and shape. 

*I am currently GMing (that is, Game Mastering or running) an RPG (role playing game). It is an over-the-top steampunk action adventure in a fantasy setting with elves, dwarves, vampires, and Lovecraft monsters using the Victoriana system. 
bonny_kate: (book love)
Murder at the Brightwell is a delicious murder mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Much like Christie, it is about flamboyant portrayals of odd and interesting characters. In a sense, the murder is really only an important plot point. The book is less about solving a murder and more about the people involved with the murder. Similar to Agatha Christie's work, the book has dramatic reveals and hidden secrets, and is set in the 1930's. 

It is something between a cozy and a hard boiled detective novel. The murder isn't terribly clever, but also it doesn't matter because it is a background to the characters. And the characters are brilliant. The novel is told from the view of Amory Ames, a woman with an insatiable curiosity and desire to get to the bottom of things. 

But I really loved this book for Amory and Milo. Amory is married to Milo (and they've been married for several years), and they are madly in love but wildly incompatible, and yet trying to figure things out. It's something that I see so rarely in fiction, and this was beautifully done.

Even better, this is the first book in a series, and the series only get's better. In the second book, Death Wears a Mask, the characters are quite brilliantly written (I occasionally confused characters in the first book, but never the second). And while Amory and Milo can be a bit trying at times, the secondary characters carry the book. 

The third book (A Most Novel Revenge) is the best so far, as we see Amory and Milo's characters further develop. I appreciate that the author makes it a slow process for Amory and Milo to slowly find their way into a mature relationship. 

While the books aren't perfect (Milo's jealousy is very tiring at times, as he has no grounds for it), they were such a wonderful read, and I'm waiting impatiently for the next. I picked the first up at a whim on the library (I've just begun to dip my toes into the mystery genre), and I'm so very glad that I did.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes Agatha Christie or that general style of murder mystery.
bonny_kate: (book love)
 I've been reading the occasional linguistic blog, and I stumbled across a lovely little book on the history of various punctuation marks. Shady Characters: the secret life of punctuation, symbols, & other typographical marks is a charming, light read. Houston follows the history of various marks, sometimes through previous shapes and as far back as Ancient Greece. It is both easy to read and entertaining. Houston also peppers the text with amusing footnotes. In the chapter Titled The Asterisk and the Dagger the first footnote reads "in honor of their role as footnote reference marks, I plan to fill this chapter with numerous lengthy and entirely tangential footnotes so as to take full advantage."

On top of that, the typesetting is lovely. Whenever Houston talks about a particular punctuation mark, the mark itself is in red text. This greatly enhances the readability, and just makes for a more visually interesting book. 

I did find some chapters on more modern marks, like the interrobang, to be less interesting, but overall this is quite worth the time.

If you have even a passing interest in punctuation or typography, I think you'd enjoy this book.


Jan. 13th, 2016 05:34 pm
bonny_kate: (Default)
Some days, like today, I have a hard time telling the difference between "I'm feeling unmotivated and just need to do stuff anyway" and "I'm beginning to come down with a cold and should take it easy." I'm pretty sure it's the second, though. This is sad because today I was going to work on my birthday cake, and instead I sort of puttered around the Internet.
bonny_kate: (Default)
I thought about doing NaNo this year, or at least an abbreviated version in which I tried to write every day. But then I got really sick at the beginning of November, and then had a whole bunch of job searching things come up.

But in honor of NaNo, I'm writing a quick little fluff piece involving a secret government organization,* a government conspiracy, and the End of the World. It's supposed to be an action / thriller, but it is currently mostly dialogue. I'm also zipping along quite well. I've been averaging 300-600 words on the days that I can carve out to write, which for me is phenomenally good. Generally a good day for me is 150+ words. 

So far this month I've written about 3,600 words, which is really only about two days for those of you seriously doing NaNo, but I'm still proud of it.

*currently called the NCS, unless I can think of something better. I hope I can, because the letters currently don't stand for anything. 
bonny_kate: (Default)
 I've been reading a few of the books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series, and they aren't very good. They seem to tend towards the formulaic. I have found, though, that they are helpful with clarifying what I think about various aspects of writing, as I mentally argue with the author.

I'm currently in the middle of reading Scene and Structure (by Jack M. Bickham). So far, he seems to be saying that there is One Right Way to plot, and it is by starting with a character, who has a goal, and then throwing obstacles in their way. While this is certainly one way to plot, I've never used it, and I know it won't work with a lot of writing styles. It also doesn't allow for changing goals (in which a character sets off with one goal but ends up with a different one along the way) or expanding goals (in which a character starts off with one goal but ends up with a much larger goal that encompasses the first). 

Bickham basically says that you have to keep that original goal, and discard any ideas that don't throw obstacles in the way of that goal at precisely the right level. If Fred's goal is to climb a particular mountain, that should be his goal through the entire story. And, while this may often be true of short stories, I think it often isn't true of longer stories or books. In fact, I think that changing goals can be tricky, but are often much more interesting. When writing, Bickham says (in essence) that if Fred's goal is to climb that mountain, perhaps the first obstacle is to get funding, for which he might go into a bank and be denied funding. But if you have a brilliant idea that changes the story, say the bank is invaded by aliens, you must discard it, because it isn't in line with the original goal and is the wrong sort of conflict. I think, though, that there are really three possibilities. Bickham sees the first. If you are writing a story that is really about Fred trying to climb the mountain and things that get in his way, the alien story probably doesn't belong there. But there are two further possibilities. It might be that the alien invasion story is a fabulous idea, but it just doesn't belong in the same story as Fred. Then you should set it aside and perhaps write that story later. But it might be that the alien invasion opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, where Fred is still wanting to climb his mountain, but now everyone is telling him it isn't that important because there were aliens (real aliens!) in the bank. It might be that Fred becomes obsessed with aliens after a government cover up and is now trying to find the truth. It might become the story of Fred valiantly fighting the aliens in the bank. If the story changes drastically from the original plot, you might have to go back and rewrite some earlier bits (or even cut out a lot) to make the story fit with what it is now, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Of course, the tricky part is determining whether or not the alien invasion belongs in the story. I suspect that one thing to do is to look at why you want the alien invasion in the story. Were you bored with the story and wanted to spice it up? That suggests that perhaps this isn't the story that you want to write. Did you have a brilliant idea about an alien invasion and just wanted to write that? Perhaps you should write the alien invasion story, or even just jot down the ideas and work on the story of Fred. 

I think that for a lot of writers (or possibly even most writers), writing is a much more convoluted, organic process. If you aren't careful, Bickham's way of plotting out scenes can easily become formulaic and dull, like those essays I wrote when I was first learning how to write essays that began with an introductory sentence, then a thesis statement, then one sentence of support for the thesis followed by two sentences of explanation, and so on. 
bonny_kate: (Default)
Let me start by saying that my RPG group is awesome. They are the sort of people that you want to play RPGs with (unless you want a serious game, because our group doesn't really do serious). They are nice people who have fun and are pretty much the opposite of every horror story that you hear. (I feel so bad for women who say that they were forced to play a certain sort of character, or that their (female) character was a target for romance or violence that other (male) characters weren't, or that the group was just generally misogynistic.) This is particularly significant because there are currently five other players plus the GM (Game Master aka the person running the RPG), and all are men. I'm the only woman in the room, and I'm the only one playing a female character.*

Overall, I would say that my experience playing as a woman has been quite good. Other players take my opinion into account and generally assume that I'm a competent player with a competent character. Reading other women gamers' experiences make this sound like the fluffy unicorn of player groups, because I'm also the GM's wife** and I bring baked goods most weeks. Basically, my group has been pretty awesome at accepting me as a player and being alright with the fact that Joel is the current GM. 

I can't help but wish, though, that someone else would play a female character so that I wouldn't have the weight of playing the only female character in the group. It makes it a little more difficult to play an interesting character and not try to represent all women with one character. It's like how Black Widow is the only female Avenger in the first Avengers movie, and even though she is a really awesome character, she still is only one character and can't show a range of options (whereas for male characters we see Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hawkeye).

And there is the odd moment when someone says something and I do a double take. Or there are the occasional assumptions that all NPCs (non-player characters) are male. (Joel does a pretty good job balancing NPCs about fifty-fifty, so that helps.) For instance, at one point on our first run when we were sneaking into a warehouse, one of the players said (partly joking) that my character, Jefferson, should flirt with the guards. The player seemed to be assuming that the guards were male (not all of them were), that they were interested in flirting with a woman (unknown), and that Jefferson would be the appropriate one to flirt with them. Actually, if the player had thought about it, the opposite is true. Jefferson is not a flirty character and she has very few dice for social interactions, while other characters roll handfuls of dice for just about any social situation. Thankfully, that sort of thing seems to have died down.

I've definitely had a good experience playing RPGs so far, and I think my group is pretty great. There are just some things that I notice that are generally blind spots for the group (like assuming PCs are female).


*I have played a male character, once. It was interesting. I did feel that I got a few weird looks, but overall our group seemed fine with it.

**There was also the session where it directly involved my character, Jefferson, and involved a lot of set up beforehand. Granted, it mostly involved Jefferson getting shot at (a lot) and then we started the session by her frantically calling the others for help because she was penned in by snipers, and Joel said that he's perfectly willing to work out something similar for anyone else who wants to have their character shot at . . . but this is still the sort of thing that would not be ok in a lot of groups because my husband is the GM.

bonny_kate: (Merida)
I have been thinking, lately, about how to explain my experience gaming as a woman. Ideally, I would be able to say that gender only factors into gaming inasmuch as it is part of who I am, but in reality, gaming, board games, and RPGs have a bias towards men. Board games seem to fall into four camps: games that are gender neutral, games that handle female characters rather well, games that are rather decent but slightly problematic in how they handle female characters, and games that are very problematic in how they handle female characters. Interestingly enough, I can't think of a game that is problematic in how it handles male characters (and I've played a decent number of board games).

Some games are gender neutral, and I appreciate it. It doesn't matter what your character's gender is in Settlers of Catan, because everyone has the same little houses and cities and fences. In both Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Island, the characters are little genderless pawns and the descriptions of the various roles are given in terms that don't use pronouns. These games feel particularly friendly, as I can choose any role that I want and play it as a female character if I want. The pilot and the archaeologist might very well be me.

The second type of games, games that handle female characters really well, is depressingly slim. In fact, the only game that I can think of is Pandemic (together with both expansions, On the Brink, and In the Lab). In Pandemic, there is a wide variety of character roles, split approximately equally between male and female characters. The female characters are at least as powerful as the male characters, the language on the descriptions is neutral, and, most refreshingly, the characters seem to be dressed like people who would actually work in a lab. The lack of objectification or sexualization of the women in the artwork means that I can recommend the game to my friends or suggest that we play it without having to qualify it or feel uncomfortable about some of the characters.
cut because this is long and has several images )

on writing

Sep. 8th, 2015 05:51 pm
bonny_kate: (Default)
I am currently not writing. That is, I'm not writing stories. I'm trying to catch up on the journaling that I meant to do in England,  but didn't quite have the time / energy / ability (due to hand pain) to write. I'm writing by hand, because since I started that way I feel that I should finish it. Nothing spectacular, but it is nice to nail down my thoughts. 


Aug. 8th, 2015 10:59 pm
bonny_kate: (Default)
Apparently Joel has no experiential knowledge of wanderlust or spring fever, and I have no idea how to really explain those things. I tried to explain the urge to travel, to go on a road trip because, the feeling that if you spend one more day indoors in the lovely weather that you'll go crazy . . . and sort of failed.

I thought everyone got wanderlust. 
bonny_kate: (Default)
 I finished the first, rough draft of the latest story. It is a hefty (for me) 10,000 words, a steampunk fairy tale of sorts. I think it's rather good, but now I'm at a bit of loose ends as to what to do next.

I really should be editing things, but I'm having a hard time learning how to do that. I'm fumbling around trying to learn how much to trust myself and how much to listen to my various beta readers. I thought I could do this without too much trouble because I've edited papers, but the shape of a paper is very different from the shape of a story (which can seem even more individual). 

But I am writing, and I'm managing to get in a good, solid amount of writing. Three or four hours a week isn't much, but it's a whole lot more than nothing, and I have a 10,000 word story to show for it.

On Writing

Jun. 2nd, 2015 05:16 pm
bonny_kate: (doctor and rose)
 Since the beginning of the year, I have:
-sent out a story to five different markets
-critiqued one short story and one full length novel
-written a 1,700 word story
-found two reliable (and very awesome) beta readers and gotten feedback on five stories
-written 7,000 words of another story (still working on it)
-plotted most of a novella

Of course, the story in progress (a steampunk fairy tale involving mechanical ravens) is probably going to be an uncomfortable length to submit anywhere, and the novella idea is fabulous but there are so few markets for novellas.

Still, I'm very happy that I've gotten so much done (not as much as I would like, but it never is).

bonny_kate: (doctor and rose)
I've been writing more lately. Since the start of the year, I've been managing to find time to write about two or three days most weeks. This isn't nearly as much as I would like, but I keep reminding myself that it's much better than nothing, which is what I was averaging before. Two or three hours a week has put me at a quite respectable point of having a novella outlined and being about 4,000 words into a story (it is steampunk, which I haven't done much, and a re-telling of a fairy tale because nearly everything I write is a re-telling of a fairy tale).

I think that this week I probably won't get any writing done, though, because Life has got in the way. Last week I found out that I have a job test scheduled with a local government agency. I find this stressful and icky, and it's made worse because it is 100% of how they are ranking job applicants (this is super lousy and stupid and I don't know why, and makes it more stressful). Today I found out that another government agency has a likely job opening, but I have to apply before Friday, which requires a typing certificate. It is annoyingly difficult to find a place that will issue a typing certificate, but I managed and so I'm taking care of that tomorrow. And then a staffing agency called and wants to interview me this week, so there goes my Wednesday.

Not to mention that my hand pain is flaring up.

Right now I'm feeling frustrated and stressed, and I didn't manage to get any writing done today. But I'm trying to be kind to myself, and remember that while I didn't get any writing done, I did send out a story to brave the world, I worked on a job application, and I found a place to get a typing certificate.

Some weeks the writing just doesn't happen, and I'm working on being kind to myself and realizing that it's ok, especially if it's due to stress and job interviews.  

Holy Week

Apr. 3rd, 2015 12:27 pm
bonny_kate: (Default)
Some years I feel in tune with Holy Week. Not this year. I haven't been good at keeping up with my Lenten discipline (this year I was trying to remember my friends in prayer every day, and somehow it is so much harder to remember to do something than it is to remember to avoid something). Joel and I are trying to sort some things out, and I haven't really been as kind as I should be in our discussions. I somehow missed doing any of the reading that I wanted to for Lent (it is Good Friday, and yet I still haven't read T.S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday).

Thank goodness Easter season comes whether I am ready for it or not.

I am now off to read John Donne's Good Friday poem, as is my tradition every Good Friday. 

on names

Mar. 14th, 2015 11:39 am
bonny_kate: (kaylee)
I have a hard time naming characters when I write stories. The other day, I had a brilliant idea just as I was drifting off to sleep, so I quickly scrawled it on a scrap of paper. But the next day something niggled at me. The name seemed vaguely familiar. I Googled it, and found that, in fact, "James Tiptree" was a pen name for a reasonably well known author. Back to the drawing board.


Mar. 3rd, 2015 05:34 pm
bonny_kate: (Default)
I think that the thing that I should be doing, my vocation, is writing.  It has only taken me three years of being unemployed to finally realize this. 
bonny_kate: (Default)
 Today I found out that Joel didn't make it to the interview stage for a job that we were really hoping he'd have a chance at (it was a long shot, but it's still lame) and I didn't get a job that I interviewed for last week and thought I had a really good chance at. It's really depressing. 


Feb. 2nd, 2015 08:04 am
bonny_kate: (Default)
 Joel got better, and then I got sick, just in time for my birthday. I had to cancel my birthday plans. I'm still getting over being sick. This means that my New Year's Not-Resolution is sort of broken. I was planning on writing every weekday of January, but what with being sick and not being able to think straight, it didn't happen. 

However, I've made some excellent progress on outlining the next novella (or possibly novel), which is a modern retelling of Dracula with the genders of many of the main characters switched. 
bonny_kate: (doctor and rose)
 Joel is sick with something nasty. I would guess that it's food poisoning, except that the only thing he has eaten in the last 24 hours that was either unusual or something I didn't eat was a banana, and a banana doesn't seem like the sort of thing once can get food poisoning from, and he has a fever.

I'm generally pretty good with sick people. It brings out my mothering, so I fuss and heat up soup and offer to buy ginger ale and such. I have learned, though, that I'm bad with vomit, as Joel was throwing up earlier and it made me feel close to throwing up (yet another reason I don't really want to have kids - I also gagged a whole lot when dealing with a litterbox, so I can guess that I'm not the best with cleaning up those sort of things).

Hopefully Joel feels better soon. He's miserable and there's nothing I can do to help. *sigh*

bonny_kate: (Default)
 In 2014, I read 132* books, per Goodreads. Notable books include The Goblin Emperor and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. (I also read War and Peace, although I wouldn't really recommend the book. Anna Karenina is better.)
*Actually, I read slightly more than my Goodreads number, as Goodreads doesn't count re-reads.


bonny_kate: (Default)
Kate Saunders Britton

October 2017

123456 7


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios