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!

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!

Writing Partner: A Killing Machine

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

It took a couple of weeks but I have finally finished my new short story. This one is a case horror story about an every day item posed with intent and malice. As I promised I worked to refurbish my poor abused Iron golem as my writing partner for this project.

As a reminder, this is where we started:

Iron Golem mini

After a couple sessions of layering and tarnishing it, here is the completed golem:

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

Over all, I think it turned out pretty good. As good as an old, rusty, souless guardian can be at least. There are a few things I would have liked to fix but I think they would have required striping the mini and that wasn’t in the spirit of this project.

My short story focuses a lot on sound and I like to imagine what it sounds like for this golem to walk. I moves slowly, joints grinding together, almost screaming, as particles of rust flake off. It would be painful if it was alive. But it is not alive, you are. As it slowly and inexorably moves toward you know that the only thing it wants, needs, is to balance out that equation.

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature Sword

Imagine the sound of it sharpening its blade. Grinding the cutting edge against the plate armor of its forearm. Even with this effort, it is still far too dull to make clean cuts anymore.

The antagonistic machine of my story has no blade. It has no way of doing harm directly. Instead, it poisons minds and souls. Lulling its victims in to heinous acts through its cunning and its voice. It might not have a sword, but its intent is deadly sharp.

I’m going to submit this story to one competition and one journal. Both are ok with multiple submission entries so I’m going to hedge my bets. I have been finding the response times this year have been painfully slow, another consequence of the new world we live in, but I’ll let you know if it gets picked up. If it doesn’t I’ll find another way to get it to you.

I’ll have a post discussing my October plans up in the next week. I plan on shifting gears for the remainder of the year, but don’t worry, there will still be plenty to discuss.

Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 2

Part 1 can be found here: Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 1

I want start off by reminding you that for the purpose of this prompt, I will be building a fantasy RPG character that could be used in D&D, Pathfinder, or any system that uses the same core ability stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

I chose to do this to make it easier to get the point across with a familiar system. I also randomly chose a familiar fantasy race. In this case: a Goblin. His name is Clot.

Clot, King among vermin

Clot’s Stats were rolled randomly and placed in the order they were rolled. After racial modifiers (D&D 5th ed) they are:

  • Str: 14
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 11

Weird stats for a goblin. He could make a good thief, like most goblins, but that doesn’t lean into our prompt. We want to explore weaknesses, hardship and formative experiences. The strength and con are very high, so that is where we will start. Sometimes standing out is a weakness.

When Clot was born, he was nearly twice the size of the average goblin infant. When his mother bore no further children, the tribe determined Clot must have eaten his siblings to grow so big. His size was a strange omen, one that filled the small with awe, but drew the worried gaze of other.

We have now established a myth or rumor for our character. It is unlikely to be true, but its existence can create conflict which is what drives plots.

I don’t want to make Clot into a fighter and I want to lean into his weaknesses. So how do we make his strengths into a weakness to overcome? And what do we do with those middling metal attributes?

As Clot grew older, he soon towered over his kin. His physical prowess was feared, but did not inspire respect. In a fully goblin tribe, Clot would have been a king, but his people were a lesser caste. Those who ruled his class were Orc, and they saw in Clot a rival to be put down.

While Clot has incredible physical attributes for a goblin, he is average by Orc standards. Moreover, the fact that he could potentially overpower one of the upper caste means he was not only feared, he was disdained.

How could he hope to thrive, jeered and beaten by all those around him? The Orcs hated him for rivaling their power. The goblins attacked and spit on him to impress their betters. Clot was relegated to the lowest position in his clan. He slept each night, bleeding in the gutter among the filth and the other vermin.

This harsh treatment can help to explain his high constitution. His skin is scarred and thick. He has been hardened by his life.

But we want to make use of his mental stats too. They have room to grow. Clot’s life is a prison he cannot escape through strength of body. 

Among the refuse, Clot found peers. The rats were like him: dirty, despised, discarded. But they were also strong. He saw in them the fire of survivors. That was something worth embracing.

Among the rot, Clot found friends. As he treated the rats with respect, they returned it. Food and warmth was shared. What started as respect grew to kinship. The rats grew to anticipate Clot’s needs, as if they could understand him.

Among the swarm, Clot found power. He was not imagining it, the rats listened to him. Clot soon realized he could hear them too. They started as many trembling voices. They shrieked in a chaotic choir. But they soon became one voice. His voice.

Clot found his way out. 

One night, the orcs returned from a raid with a stockpile of food and keg after keg of ale. Clot was never invited to feast, but this was his opportunity. He waited until the leaders and their favorite sycophants were drunk, and then unleashed the rage of his swarm upon them.

This is another opportunity to build a lingering myth or rumor for Clot. We know a low level character and a rat swarm couldn’t wipe out a whole clan. But that doesn’t mean this story can’t be exaggerated. 

The rats tore into the unsuspecting clan, aided by the strong hand of their king. In the low light, all the tribe could see was the glint of a thousand eyes and one bloody dagger. By morning, their bones were picked clean. The swarm was satiated – they had eaten well. So had Clot.

A grisly tale to inspire fear and respect. Whether it is true or not can be explored in the campaign.

As for his power, there are multiple ways to explain this. My choice is that Clot is a fledgling Druid. I know his wisdom is low, so his spell-casting potential is going to start off pretty weak, but this is another opportunity for good storytelling.

As Clot escaped to the wilderness, he found himself conflicted. The ways of nature were those of balance. But in his heart, he found little room for such thoughts. Peace was a concept beaten out of him. A cold flame burned in his chest. If he could tame it, he could build a kingdom. If he could not, he would burn his new kingdom to the ground.

If Clot can tame his hatred and anger, we can showcase this by putting all his ability modifiers into Wisdom as he levels. He may even go from being an objectively evil character to one with more of a neutral alignment. From a certain point of view, he could even become a hero.

If Clot gives into his rage, we will distribute his improvements more broadly. We can also express his inner turmoil through multi-classing. Maybe he adds some points to Charisma or Intelligence and takes a level or two of sorcerer or wizard to gain access to actual fire. Or maybe he dips into rogue or fighter and leans into the traits nature gave him. This would be followed by further improvements to his physical stats. In this way, he could augment his shape-shifting and relying on brute strength over spells.

Regardless of the direction we go in, Clot has a solid foundation. Moreover, we built it using the numbers we rolled for more than bonuses to hit rolls.

I hope this article inspires some awesome characters. If you use it and like the results, please leave a comment. I would love to see what you can come up with!

Introductions

My name is Jacob Marsh and I’m just your average everyday Fishman. As a young fry, I spent all my time telling stories. I imagined my future as full-time writer, not as a run of the mill office trout. Unfortunately, that is somehow where I found myself. However, after an occurrence at work reminded me of my dream, I have decided to swim in a different direction. Fish puns aside, I’m actively trying to make the transition from part time to full time writer. This website is intended to be the beginnings of an online portfolio for my work and a way to promote my work once published. As I work on various projects, I will post updates and the odd bit of creative content on this site. If you are a fan of literature, especially horror and fantasy stories, have a look around!