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…

Writing Partner: The Unusual Suspects

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

So I’ve finally finished redoing my previous chunk of editing and I’m ready to get back to fresh work. In the next tent-pole chapter, our protagonists will be at a location with all the principle murder suspects. In this edit/re-write, I’ll be focusing on emphasizing these suspects and strengthening red-herrings for the plot. Because of this, I have chosen to represent each character with a unique figure to paint. Introducing: the unusual suspects!

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

Look at this lovely police line up! This diverse group of individuals may not all look like my characters, but they do a good job embodying them.

Lets start with this great wizard from the Cthulhu: Death May Die board game:

Wizard miniature from Death May Die

This wizard will represent a colleague of the victim and will provide unique insight into his profession work in alchemy. He will also allow me to talk about the amoral nature of science and discovery through the lens of magic. The figure itself is a great fit for my book, as it’s a fantasy book in an early modern setting. Death May Die has a 1920’s aesthetic which makes it a perfect fit for this kind of project. Not to mention the monsters in it are gorgeous; I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from this set in the future.

Next up is a fellow Goblin:

Goblin miniature from Warhammer Fantasy (AOS).

This is one of the ornamental Goblins from Feast of Bones Warhammer set we covered a while ago. Because it looked plain by itself, I added one of the Ogre daggers to its back as if it was a Goblin sized broadsword. I think it looks pretty cool like that. In the book, this character is an ex-lover of the victim and will give me a natural way to talk about Goblin culture without it seeming like exposition (though it is). I picked this mini specifically because of that accusatory finger point!

The Third suspect is an Elf. My Elves are not Tolkienesque and are instead diminutive fae-folk so I chose a halfling from the Wizkids D&D line:

D&D Halfling Miniature
This one is a little rough…

I find that the Wizkids minis are extremely good for their price, especially the large ones. The smaller minis are sometimes a tad half-baked. This little guy, representing the prime suspect, needs some serious work. I have mold lines and extra resin to trim and it’s lacking detail in a lot of places. What I do like about him, is that dagger and posture. Much like the character I’m writing, he is much more dangerous than he appears.

Our fourth suspect is a Dwarf crime boss:

WizKids Dwarf warrior, D&D miniature.

This miniature is also from the Wizkids line and has some of the same issues ad the Elf. It is probably the least fitting mini of this group but I’m trying to avoid kitbashing it for the sake of time, so I’ll try not to let it bother me. The character it represents is one of the main crime lords in the city and has many reasons to hate the deceased. But did they do it?

I saved the best for last. The final suspect is a Demon:

This Wizkids demon doesn’t look much like the demon in my story, but I think it is a great visual representation of its inner evil. I love the detail of this mini. In D&D, this is called a Nalfeshnee, which is a mid-tier demon. I like its pig face and tiny wings. It is almost a parody of grotesque excess, which is perfect for my character. I’ll need to close up some gaps in the model but otherwise this should be really fun to work on.

There you have it! A new group a minis for a new chunk of my book. Like last time, painting these will likely last longer than the work on this chapter. I’ll probably keep working on this for the next five or so chapters or until I hit another notable section of the book.

Work is starting to get back to normal so I’m hoping I can start posting more regularly again. I don’t like posting once a week as it really only leaves room for updates. Hopefully, some time soon I can post another Upping Your Game article. I have a good one in mind. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the month goes!

Writing Partner: A bit of Lost Time

Hello,

It’s been a couple weeks since we have discussed my writing progress. The truth is, that’s because there hasn’t been much. Two weeks ago as I was finishing my first big chunk of editing in the third draft of my novel the worst case scenario happened: my computer crashed while saving and the file corrupted.

All is not lost, with my wife’s help and a few hours of work we managed to recover most of it by reverting to a previous version of the file. Over all it was a huge relief, but I still lost 2 days worth of editing. The weekend after was Halloween and the day I was going to sit edit that weekend I found out The boneless had been published (check out the blog post here). After such good news I felt like I had done enough for my career that weekend and I have been making similar excuses ever since.

The truth is, I hate redoing work and the idea of spending hours editing the same chapters just isn’t motivating. I’ve also finished my writing partners for this piece and, up until the crash, I felt like this step was complete.

I had a group shot of these guys but I guess I deleted it… Irony.

So now I’m sitting here again today trying to motivate myself to get back to the grind stone. Luckily I found a hack for this. I’ve made a commitment to it.

I’ve joined a local writing critique circle that specializes in novels. Pretty soon I’ll be forced to keep up with my editing for else I’ll have nothing to show them! I work well with structure and I’m hoping this will give me the push I need to buckle back down. In a sense I’m trying to social engineer myself, which is the kind of crazy I do apparently.

On another note, you might be able to tell from the photo today that I have upped my game. My wife got me a lightbox and that pushed me to pull out my DSLR camera and take some proper pictures. The results varied but I think there is already a slight improvement. The lightbox has different lighting levels and I’m rusty with my camera so I have a lot to fine tune.

I have a bunch of time off coming up this week so I should have more to talk about soon. I already have a new writing partner picked out for the next section of the book so stay tuned!

The Boneless: Published

I’m writing today to share some good news: one of my recent short stories has been published!

I wrote “The Boneless” for a horror journal called Coffin Bell, for their issue on myth and legend. I was really happy with the result so I’m glad more people will now get to read it.

Here is a link if you want to read my story: The Boneless.

Thank you, and Happy Halloween!

Some Assembly Required

The crib was one of those kit builds. Just twelve pieces total and all the hardware was included. Even so, John struggled with it. He was not terribly handy, at least not in the traditional sense. As he worked, sweat ran down his body, stinging the cuts and scrapes on his arms. Fatherhood was trying but rewarding. His son was his whole world now and it was all worth it.

When strangers met his boy, they always said he looked like his father. They even suggested he took after his personality, his mannerisms. John wanted it to be true, but he knew it wasn’t. The truth was the boy took after his mother. John winced as he nailed in a support. His side still hurt, but it was crucial that the crib was strong. Even with his lack of craftsmanship, he knew it needed to be made stronger.

John was not accustomed to caring for an infant, and he had never expected to do it alone. Still, he was proud of his work. He was proud of his boy. John completed the final modifications to the crib. He hoped the metal mesh would hold. It was supposed to be for chickens, but it was stronger than it looked. The full moon was coming, and he didn’t want to resort to barbed wire again.