Writing Partner – Nearly There

Hello!

It’s been a while. This edit of act 2 took longer than I expected. In the end, my writing partners did too. In fact, they aren’t finished…

half finished warhammer ghosts and skeletons

See, they’re still a bit ugly. Not exactly ready for glamor shots.

However, as I was considering postponing this post again to finish them, I realized something. In their current state, these intrepid ghosts and skeletons are the best representation I have for where my book is at.

My book is complete, in so much as all of the content technically exists. Like these minis, it has been entirely constructed, all the primary colors are in place, hell, even some finishing work has been done. But they are still unpolished, like my book.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my book. I also know it’s 90% finished; I have way more work behind me now than ahead of me. But it’s at a stage where it just doesn’t show well, like these minis.

You see, there is this stage of any project where it looks its worst. It is a kind of uncanny valley for art, where it is so close to finished, yet still not, that it seems worse than it did when it was half-finished. At least, that’s how it always feels to me. The critical part of the work is pressing on and not getting discouraged by this phase.

I don’t usually post pictures of unfinished projects, but I think it will be helpful in this case. There is this illusion that great works come from the mind of a genius, that they flow effortlessly and are perfect when they are first born. That simply isn’t true. Now, I’m not saying I’ve ever written a great work, nor am I a genius, but I think that the myth of first draft success holds many people back.

 I fear most people never finish their projects because they perfect when they first create them. They think that if it isn’t perfect, they just aren’t cut out for their art. The truth is, I have now spent twice as long editing this book as it took me to write the first draft. From what I can tell, that is relatively normal.

I myself have gone through quite a shift in the last year. It turns out I had no idea how to edit. I thought a bit of a spellcheck and some punctuation correction was all I needed. I was dead wrong.

Why anyone ever published my work before 2020 is beyond me. It turns out, editing time, while far less exciting, makes my stories considerably better. Back when I wrote reviews and essays, my editors must have hated me!

I can also confirm that it gets easier. My editing has gotten better and, dare I say, faster over the last year. I’ve learned to accept criticism with more humility, and I’m better at focusing and working through difficult passages. The next book will be even easier. I genuinely believe this.

My point is, don’t be scared of the ugly stage of the project. The step between the skeleton and polished is not pretty (in this metaphor, I suppose it’s still missing skin…) but it means you’re close to done. Push through the doubt and complete your art!

He Plays She Plays Season 2!

He Play She Plays Podcast

Hello All!

I just wanted to announce that season 2 of my podcast He Plays She Plays has just launched. You can check it out on our brand new website, heplayssheplays.ca.   

For anyone new to the podcast, it is an audio journal my wife, and I use to record our experiences with videogames. It’s less about the games and more about the banter.

This season kicks off with a retrospective of our experiences with Bloodborne. Why now? Two reasons: the first is we’re playing through the PS5 Demon’s Souls remake, the second is we finally got our Bloodborne board game! We were all-in Kickstarter backers about two years ago now, and it has finally arrived.

Look at this:

Bloodborne Board Game All-In Kickstarter
Look at that lil plague doctor squishable photobombing on the side!

This is easily a few years’ worth of writing partners.

Bloodborne Board Game all minis unpainted

I guess I’ll have to finish this book so I can move on to new projects! I may have a plan for that… but you’ll have to wait a few months before I unveil any of that.

For now, I have some ghosts to finish!

Writing Partner: Spiritual Assistance

Unpainted warhammer reaper mini

This post has been a long time coming. I mentioned a few times that I was building a group of scary bois to paint while I edit the second act of my book. They took a long time, but here they are:

Unpainted warhammer reaper mini
Unpainted Warhammer ghost mini
Unpainted Warhammer black knights and hexwraiths
Turns out these minis don’t photograph well when they are un-primed. Something to remember for next time.

I have had this kit for a long time. It is the Allies box for the Nighthaunt faction. In other words, a small number of ghostly friends! I’m not even sure allies are still a thing in Age of Sigmar (AOS), but when they were I grabbed a few of them because I like having a little of each faction. This was before I got into Underworlds, perhaps even before the release of underworlds. Who knows. Time is weird these days.

Unpainted Warhammer Hexwraith
Unpainted Warhammer Black Knight mini

As you can see, I haven’t made all the riders into hexwraiths (scythe wielding ghosts) and have instead made a few of them into black riders (skeleton bois). As I mentioned, I like variety. There is also a good chance these will never get used for an AOS game. This means having a full squad of one or the other doesn’t really matter.

I’ll have to paint these quick because I’m already well into editing this section of the book. I have been writing like crazy lately but I’ve been finding building minis to be a bit more fiddly than fun. It might just be a mood I’m in. Right now I want to paint and write. Sticking together pointy plastic doesn’t feel as rewarding.

Regardless, my fiendish friends are ready to help me finish off these chapters. Stay tuned for the results!

3 Stories, 3 Submissions, 3 Updates

Hello,

I managed to finish the two stories I was working on in time to submit them to their competitions. It was down to the wire, and if I’m honest they could have used more time, but I’m happy I pressed myself and finished. Better yet, that strange story I was working on in Writing Partner: Working With a Group, Part 2 has now been submitted to a contest as well. So I’ve started the year off running. I managed to get 2 shorts published last year; I want to at least double that this year. I think this is a good start toward that goal.

Next on the agenda is finishing this edit of my book. I’m still putting together the writing partners for this work, they are really fiddly, but I can’t wait to show them off! After that, it might be time for a professional editor to take over. I was thinking of using one of the resources on Reedsy for that but if any of you have experience in this realm, leave me a comment. Any information will help.

For now, though, I’m going to spend the weekend on my podcast. He Plays She Plays has been on hiatus for too long. Like everything else, I’ll give you a full update when we finish what we’re working on.

He Play She Plays Podcast

Talk to you again soon!

Mazes: A Weekend Double-Feature

Hello all,

It’s been a while since my last post. January was another month where life got in the way of writing. I’m thankful I have stable employment, especially during such a trying time. Still, over the last month, it took a bit more out of me than usual. Truth be told, I haven’t had much time to write or edit in the last few weeks.

Excuses aside, I’d like to hit the ground running again, so I’m working on two new short stories this weekend. They are both intended for a contest on the theme of labyrinths, but they have very little in common beyond the inspiration for them.  I’ll have to check the fine print on multiple entries for this competition. Worst case scenario, I’ll just pick the one that turns out best.

I haven’t chosen a writing partner for this weekend because I’m still building the set intended for my next act’s worth of novel editing. But I should have that ready to show you soon, along with an update on my novel. Until then, if you’re itching to read some of my other content, please check out my works page. I’ve got a lot planned for 2021; that page should be much more interesting soon!

Writing Partner: Working With a Group, Part 2

Warhammer Underworld's Garrek's Reaver's Painted

Hello,

As I discussed in my last post, I took a break from my book to write a new short story. It was a weird one and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. Well, I finished! It’s also turned out quite well. What’s more surprising is that this project’s writing partners turned out pretty nicely in their own right.

Warhammer Underworld's Garrek's Reaver's Painted

This crew of rowdy wildmen were good company while constructing my story. The Underworld’s line is always a joy to paint. Even this group, which is just a bunch of marauders, is surprisingly detailed.

Painted Warhammer Marauder
Painted Warhammer marauder

All the little scars and details really bring out the character in these minis. It’s like the small connective tissues of a story. A reference here, a flourish there. Scars showing old, aching wounds.

I’ve already found a contest to enter my new story in. It needs a bit more polish and I’d like to get a few more opinions on it before I can call it truly finished. But, it does mean I’ll be getting back to my book this weekend. That means picking a new writing partner. Act two of my book begins with a rather grisly revelation, I will need to consider that when making my decision.

Writing Partner: Working with a group

Hello all,

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m roughly one-third finished the current draft of my novel. It’s going surprisingly well, and the people doing the beta read have been giving me some great feedback. Part of this process has been working with a writing circle on fine-tuning my prose.

I’m not sure if I’ve brought this up before, but I took a break from prose prior to last year and was instead writing screenplays. Because of this, I’m a bit rusty when it comes to writing narration. It’s the natural side effect of focusing on dialogue for roughly 5 years.

Overall I’d say it’s going well. Each progressive chapter has fewer and fewer notes. I’ve been applying the comments as I go so the first 10 chapters are looking pretty polished.

As a reward to myself, I decided to take a break this week and work on a new short story. As usual, it’s a weird one. A strange combination of the occult stuff I tend to write and click-baiting, meme inducing, article titles. Because I suddenly had a new story on my hands, I proceeded to the next step. You know what it is.

I had to pick a writing partner. In this case, I wanted to work with the theme of the week and my new story’s themes. Teamwork, and the summoning of dark gods…

Meet Garrek’s Reavers:

Garrek's Reavers Unpainted
I started painting these before I realized I was going to write a blog about them. So credit to the following eBay post for the unpainted picture: Garrek’s Reavers.

Garrek’s Reavers, are a Warband from Games Workshop’s Underworld’s line. As such, they are easy to construct, affordable, and very detailed. I like these warbands because they are varied but still have a theme to pull the set together. In the case of Garrek’s Reavers, they are a group of chaos marauders who worship the god of war Khorne. Not an exact match to my story, but the team angle is what hooked me this time.

I have already finished priming them and adding the first coat of all the main colors. I did this while I outlined my short story. My job today is to fill out all the detail in both my story and this Warband. If the story turns out well, I might enter into a contest. As for the minis, I’ll show you the results either way. I never claimed to be a professional painter!

I hope to have this done soon, so expect an update in the coming days!

10 Chapters In

various painted gaming miniatures

Hello all,

I’ve finally finished editing the first act of my book. As expected, chapter 6 got the most work, but I honestly think this rough 100 pages is much better now. I’ll need to take a look at the second act and figure out where the problem chapters are so I can pick new writing partners.

However, let’s take a moment to look at the writing partners for the last section, the unusual suspects!

Here is what they looked like before:

assorted miniatures for D&D, Death May Die, and Warhammer

And here is how they turned out:

various painted gaming miniatures
They aren’t too bad, considering they each had their own challenges. Well, every one of them except the wizard.
Death May Die Wizard mini painted.
He was pretty easy to work with.

Working with a variety of minis from different companies at the same time really made certain features stand out.

For example, while this mini is big, I had to create most of the depth myself. It has a ton of flat areas with little texture.

Painted Wizkids demon mini.
He isn’t bad but some of the finer details are rough.

Meanwhile, shading and highlighting even a tiny games workshop mini was a breeze.

Games Workshop goblin. Painted AOS
Imagine, this guy was supposed to be a decoration for another mini!

The dwarf turned out fine, and the less I can say about the halfling, the better. However, overall I’m happy with them. I got a chance to play around with contrast paints, and they were just right for keeping myself busy while I brainstormed.

For the next section, I’m not sure if I should do another set of minis or paint one large one. I enjoy variety, but focusing on one mini does significantly improve the final product. I’ll just have to start working on the next few chapters and see where my muse takes me!

Xander of the Broken Antler

Hello All,

                I recently took part in a Christmas themed one-off D&D session. We did it over Zoom, but it was still great to roll some dice again. I didn’t use my normal random number character building methods for this character, but I still think it’s pretty neat.

This is the backstory for Xander of the Broken Antler.

*****

                It began like any other holiday season. Xander was home tending the hearth, waiting for his parents to return home from their shopping excursion to town. Xander was patient for a ten-year-old and was not concerned that they were running late. He busied himself with preparing dinner and writing his letter to Santa by firelight. It was a short list: a wooden ship, a new hat, sweets and something nice for his parents. The simple list of a kind child. He would soon deliver it by tossing the letter into the lit hearth of the fireplace, as was the tradition in his village, but he would wait for his parents to do that. As the night grew long, Xander could wait no longer and fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire.

                His parents never returned.

                Xander woke in the morning to a knock on the front door of the cabin. He opened it to find his neighbors there; sadness spread across their faces. They could hardly speak, but through sobs and choked voices, he understood what had happened. His parents were beaten, robbed, and left to die in the snow.

                The neighbors offered Xander their home. They said he could stay as long as he wanted. He thanked them and said he would come, but he wanted to say goodbye to his home. When they agreed to leave him there, Xander closed the door and went to his room. He sat on his bed and cried quietly for hours. He has heard of similar crimes committed across the countryside and knew the perpetrators rarely paid for their crimes. That thought crystallized in his mind. They would never pay for this.

                Night was beginning to fall. Xander knew that he would need to leave soon if he was to make his way to his Neighbors’ cabin. That thought floated back into his head, first like drifting snow, then like a frigid blizzard.

                They will never pay for this.

                His parents loved him and raised him to be kind. They would want to be remembered, but also for him to be safe. He knew he should have gone to his neighbors. They had always been good to him. They would treat him like family. Like family.

                Like family.

                He knew he should be charitable. They died due to the cold. The thieves may not have meant to.

                May not have meant to.

                Leave them to die slowly in the cold.

                Xander was unsure if the voice growing stronger inside him was his own, but he was sure of its intent. Guided by confidence uncommon for one so young, he moved to the hearth. For the first time in his life, he knew this letter would be read.

                Xander tore up his previous letter and gathered up a new piece of thick parchment. Rushing to begin his task, Xander cut his thumb along the side of the paper. A deep, stinging wound, but he hardly noticed it. He wrote a new letter to Santa Clause.

                Dear Santa,

                I have been good this year. I have been good all my life, as have my parents. But instead of gifts, they received death, and I misery.

                Know that I have only one request. If you grant this request, I shall never want for anything else.  One single gift for which I am willing to devote my life in exchange.

                I want revenge.

                With that final sentence, Xander felt a weight lift from his heart. For the first time in his short life, he was feeling hate. Admitting that was not only a relief, it felt good.

                Xander began to toss the paper into the fire when he realized he had not signed it. He scrawled his full, god-given name across the bottom of the page. Then, Xander felt a sting in his thumb. Guided again by assurance not his own, he pressed his thumb beside the signature, leaving behind a small bloody print.

                He folded the paper and threw it into the fire.

                Hours passed as Xander watched the fire. He wasn’t sure what he was waiting for, just that he had to wait. As the fire grew dim, the weather outside shifted. The light snowfall of the afternoon turned to a fierce blizzard. The chill wind howled and battered the cabin until suddenly, every candle in the house blew out as if the wind itself were let inside.

                “Do you hate them so?”

                Xander didn’t turn to face the voice behind him. He continued to stare into the dwindling flame. “Yes.” He whispered. “More than anything.”

                “And you would give your life to have theirs?”

                Xander considered this. He watched the flames and wondered if he could walk away. Could these flames be reignited, or would they succumb to this cold wind?

                “Yes, I will give my life,” Xander said.

                The response he received was a loud crack like a bone snapping behind him. At the same time, the fire went out, leaving only dying embers.

                “Take this and exact your task. Only with that can our pact be forged. Only then will I visit you again.”

                Xander turned to find he was alone in the room. Though it was dark, he could see no one, and nothing changed in the room, save for a curious item left on the floor. A bone, no, an antler.

                He picked it up. It was a single sharp tine from what must have been a monstrous antler. As he turned it over in his hand, it changed from bone to blade. The pale dagger glimmered in the dark and tingled in his grasp. He knew right away that it gave him power, but more importantly, it gave him direction.

                Xander disappeared from his town without a trace. He left behind the murderers, stabbed to death and shoved up the chimney of his parents’ now abandoned cabin.

*****

                Woof! I know, pretty dark for a Christmas character. I started with the concept of a warlock who has a pact with Krampus, and it just expanded from there.

                I built the character to be a stealthy magic-user. I picked spells to help him stay hidden and then gain combat advantage. If he had more levels, I would have to figure out how to give him the Sneak Attack ability to use these spells and the theme better. Think Nightcrawler from the second X-Men film, but Christmas themed.

                For the pact, I imagine Xander is compelled to give to the good and needy, but he is then obligated to punish the wicked to balance the scales every time he does. Basically, it’s a naughty or nice based pact. The dagger is the focal point of this pact, and it allows him to sense who is naughty and who is nice.

                I really like this character, and while I doubt I’ll ever play him again, I have a feeling I’ll be writing more about him in the new year. In the meantime, I’m well on my way to finishing my edit of the first ten chapters of my book, and likewise, I’m almost done with the accompanying writing partners. You can find a sample from the group below. Stay tuned for an update in the coming days.

Death May Die wizard miniature

Happy Holidays!

Discovery Writing: Is it for you?

I have mentioned a few times that I’m currently revising a novel. This is the part of writing that I enjoy the least, so, when I can, I have been reading and listening to a lot of seminars on writing and editing to try and learn better methods. While this is not a new topic for me, it has brought the term “Discovery Writing” to the forefront of my mind.

I know people who have said they never use outlines, but I guess I always assumed this was an exaggeration. I thought that what they meant was that they didn’t have pages of bullet points and chapter breakdowns like I use. I was wrong; some people go in with very little prior planning and still manage to have a working story at the end. It seems magical to me, but it does happen. However, is it right for you?

What is Discover Writing vs Outlining

Forewarning: when I describe theses terms, I’m going to do so in extremes. I don’t actually believe in black and white scenarios in the real world, but it is useful for the purpose of definitions.

Discovery writing is free form writing with no pre-planning. Proponents of this style of writing say it is more exciting and it comes out in the writing. If you derive satisfaction from the writing process, this may be for you. However, this method may come with drawbacks such as inconsistency, both in writing style and narrative.

Outlining entails planning out the structure of your narrative before writing. People who espouse the virtues of this style will say that it creates a story with better pacing and structure. If your satisfaction comes from crafting complex plots or from completing works, this may be for you. However, if you are too devoted to structure, your writing can feel stilted and you may miss the hidden gems that come out of discovering something new about your characters and setting.

Again, in most cases, many writers do a bit of both. Like everything else, writing is on a spectrum, and achieving success and satisfaction comes from figuring out what appeals to you. There are no right answers and there is no such thing as normal. You should do what you enjoy.

Why I Plan

Short answer: because I have to. It’s how my brain works. I tend not to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard until I know both the start and the end of the story I’m going to write. Then I write out detailed notes on the structure before I actually start writing.

It turns out, I’m a baker and not a cook. I work best with a recipe. I like structure. Does that make it less of an art form. Hell no. Don’t let anyone tell you you have to be spontaneous to be an artist. That’s just elitist pretension. As you write more, you will figure out what works best for you.

That being said, even with poetry and flash fiction, I need some planning. As usual, I’m going to use a visual medium to explain.

Iron Golem
This is the Wizkids unpainted Iron Golem miniature. Consider this a blank canvas.

I bought that miniature on a whim and had no plans for it. I started adding paint to it over time with no real strategy. I even tested out paint markers on it as I would new writing techniques. This was the result:

Iron Golem mini
Pause for applause.

It was very poor, and by the end I decided I had to fix it. To do this I made a strategy for which paints and techniques I would use to revitalize the golem.

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature
Much better.

Is the end result perfect? No. But having a strategy really helped me in a way my instincts alone could not.

Others people may find better result with discovery writing. As a visual example, here is the first mini my wife painted, no plan, no experience.

It isn’t finished but you can see how it just kind of came together on it’s own. Some people have all the luck, it took me months to work up to wet-blending…

How I Have Incorporated Both Styles

Over many years of writing and with my recent introspection, I have figured out I do a bit of both techniques. I plan a lot, but as I write something interesting happens; my characters take on a life of their own.

I find that over the course of numerous drafts, my plot points and structure changes very little. But my characters change a lot. I think that is because it takes writing, not planning, to find a character’s voice. That voice has to come from somewhere, and as it changes, so does their background and characteristics.

This is something I have only noticed recently and I think this accounts for why some of my previous long form projects have failed. I was too attached to my initial plans. This is why my first book failed.

After I wrote my first book, I received feedback I didn’t learn from because I was hesitant to change what I envisioned. I had fluff in parts so that it was the correct length, my intended word count and date range (dates really mattered in this book), even though none of my readers liked those sections and I didn’t enjoy writing them. When my character started shifting into a morality structure I didn’t like I changed it back to the intended frame, even though it made less sense narratively. I removed the spontaneity because it wasn’t the plan and I refused to adapt to changes in my voice.

Conclusions

Regardless of which side of the writing spectrum you are, you need to have flexibility. Devotion to one path will make you miss the strengths of the other. For me, that was devotion to the plan. For you, it might be a resistance to one. In either respect, don’t be afraid to be flexible. Embrace constructive criticism, alter your plans if it makes a better story and, by God, edit and revise your work!

Anyway. I hope that was helpful, or at least self affirming. Let me know what your process is in the comments. Maybe you have a strategy to make revision fun? I’d love to know it. Maybe next year for novel writing month, I’ll take a stab at discovery writing. Just sit down with a basic premise and see what happens. Knowing me, I’ll mess it up by spending my first day charting it out in a spreadsheet…