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.

A Spooky Ghost Song

The Haunting Of Hill House

Happy Halloween everyone!

I was watching The Haunting of Bly yesterday and reminiscing about how much I loved The Haunting of Hill House when I remembered something. I wrote a silly rap song about the series last year. This seems about as a good an opportunity as I’ll ever get to share it. I hope you enjoy!

Also, I wanted to thank my old co-workers for inspiring such a silly endeavor. Miss you guys!

The Haunting Of Hill House

Hat Boi Floatsin

When I drop the mic

you know it falls 9 feet!

Creepin in your room

to find you under your sheets.

Slinking down your hall

sending spiders crawlin,

Look under your bed

leaving all the children bawlin.

I see what you tryin to do

puttin my hat on your head.

When I finally bend down

you gonna wish you were dead!

Tap tap tap

hear the rap of my cane?

I’m right behind you now

filling your needle with pain!

So shoot up all you like,

to your family’s distain.

Even if you turn away,

I’ll be there inside your veins!

Writing Partner: A Small Friend With a Big Hook!

Zarbag half painted

For the first post for this topic, see Part 1: On The Hook.

After a day of writing, I have edited and, in some ways, reworked the first two chapters of my book. I wasn’t expecting this, but it ended up being a really rewarding process. Not only did it result in 2 more pages to my total length (I’m nearly at the average mystery novel length), I also had a lot of fun! Maybe I’ve turned a corner and editing will be fun now? Doubtful, but one can always hope.

As I promised, I worked on the goblin warband “Zarbag’s Gitz” as a partner project. He isn’t finished yet, but this is where I’m at now.

Missing a few steps but he’s coming along well. Just need to finish the details, add a wash to some areas and do the metal work.

I usually put a mini down when I move on to a new project but I’m going to keep working on this one and the rest of his warband. Why, you might ask? It is because I have a few more chapters to work on before the next big tentpole chapter. When I get to that chapter I’ll put these guys down and grab a new writing partner.

Before I pick a new partner, I’ll post a group shot of all the gobbos together. The other warband members are missing some details and the metal work but they aren’t far behind where Zarbag is.

As I mentioned, I had a surprisingly good time editing today. Maybe this whole writing partner thing is work? We’ll have to wait and see. If this pace keeps up, I might even achieve my goal of finishing this draft before the new year!

Writing Partner: Working on the Hook

Zarbag

I’m finally digging back into my book! I really need a title… But that isn’t what I’m working on this week. This week, I’m working on the hook.

What is “the hook”, you might ask. It is the piece of the story, ideally as close to the beginning as possible, that is meant to pull (hook) in the reader. Think about how I used a nice picture to pull you into what is ostensibly a diary entry.

Speaking of nice pictures, I need to pick a writing partner. I will be painting the Zarbag from the Zarbag’s Gits Warhammer Underworlds warband. If this part of my editing takes longer than expected, I will expand to the rest of Zarbag’s warband.

Zarbag's Gits

The unruly mob of gobos shown above is lead by the eponymous Zarbag. He is a lovely lil’ wizard and I think you would agree he would make an excellent little friend.

Zarbag
He also has a literal hook on his staff… so there is also that.

The first chapter of my book deals with a goblin who becomes an important character in the plot of my book. He may even be the most important character, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

The character I will be basing this off is an old goblin. With this in mind, I plan on using a lot of yellow to highlight his green skin. For the cloak, I plan on using a dark, almost black purple. This play with the yellows and purples will be subtle but should draw the eye to his face.

The other gobos will follow the same basic color scheme. As for the squigs (those mean dog-things), I’ll be paining them with blues and pinks. I want the whole warband to pop in an almost unnatural way.

Both Zarbag and the hook should be a small project. Bite sized as it were. The first chapter of my book has received more attention than any other and Zarbag is, well, small. Even if I include batch painting his warband this is probably doable in a single day of work.

Tune in next time when we will talk about the process of sharpening hooks and painting little friends!

Closing Up 2020

D&D Red Dragon Mini

Before I start discussing my plans for the rest of 2020 I want to close two remaining loops.

What happened to that other story and writing partner?

A few posts ago I mentioned writing two short stories and finishing two painting projects by the end of September. That didn’t happen sadly. Work is still extremely busy and I only managed to complete one short story. The other got an outline and its writing partner is still as sad as he began. I think part of the problem, at least on the painting side, is that I have already completed a better version of it. I was trying to fix a brass dragon with red accents but I have already completed a red dragon with gold accents.

Here is my sad brass dragon:

D&D Copper Dragon mini
Woof…

And here is the Red Dragon I completed months ago:

D&D Red Dragon Mini 2
D&D Red Dragon Mini
This mini has a bit more detail to work with.

So, suffice it to say that even if I did fix the brass dragon it could only pale in comparison to the red dragon I already have. Have you ever had projects that just haven’t come together? Ones that you know you probably could fix but even if you did they will never be great? That’s my brass dragon.

Back in the drawer with it!

He Plays She Plays

He Play She Plays Podcast

I wanted to post something about the podcast because a couple listeners have asked me about its status. Even though we are a couple weeks late for our next episode my wife and I are hard at work on the series. Most of the credit goes to my wife as she does the audio editing, but we have made some major ground in refining the podcast.

We are a bit late because we have had some technical difficulties after upgrading our equipment. Basically, we’re experiencing our first growing pains. We should be back on schedule soon, just bear with us a bit longer. We’re working on a website for the podcast so in the near future we’ll be able to post status up dates there to make sure our listeners know what’s going on.

Plans for the rest of 2020

When I started this blog I mentioned I was here to do the ground work I had been neglecting as an author. I hadn’t really built up a base of publications and I hadn’t attempted to build any kind of online presence. While I’m still working on the publications (it has been a slow year for responses) I have built up a fair back catalogue of short stories and poems this year. In a lot of ways I think it has brought back my voice in a way I haven’t know for years. Now it’s time to bring that voice back to my main project, my novel.

I have mentioned my novel a few times since my blog was established. My novel is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world. It would be classified as urban fantasy but I’d like to think it’s a fairly unique addition to the subgenre. It has been my main creative outlet for a few years now. However, I put it down a while ago so it could cool. Now that I’m focused again I want to return to it and finish my third draft.

I expect there will be five drafts before it is truly finished but this one will focus on the punch up of the key tentpole chapters. I want to strengthen the dialogue as well as the central mystery but my focus is on making sure each chapter pops on its own.

For the next few months my blog posts will focus on this work. I plan to post about my goals and challenges regularly while continuing to pick writing partners to add a visual component to these updates. I would hate to neglect anyone following me for my rather pedestrian painting skills, haha. It also, honestly, helps me focus and I’m going to keep trying to pair new minis with the chapters I’m working on. Much like the short story pairings, this will also help me discuss the plot of my story without giving away any details.

Well, that’s my plan. If you have ever worked on a long piece of writing before please share your experiences in the comments. This is only my second book so I’m still learning how to focus and stay committed to such a long process. If you have any strategies, no matter how novel (loves me some puns), I would very much appreciate the advice.

Talk to you soon!