Writing a 200 Word RPG

Some time ago, I heard about the 200 Word RPG Challenge. The name is pretty much the concept—create an RPG in 200 words. I’ve never created an RPG before, but I wanted to give it a shot in between flash fiction pieces. And it’s opening up to entries in a little over a week!

The main purposes of the challenge are to encourage people to write a complete RPG and collect a variety of ideas for the community to build on. There’s also a competition component. To that point, entries will be judged based on actionable rules, new/overlooked stories, and engagement.

Of those, the second criteria is the one that stood out the most. Normally, I think I’d be inclined to write a more generic fantasy-adventure type RPG. But I like the fact that the contest encourages creators to expand into less common stories and settings.

All that said, the setting is probably what I’ve spent the most time thinking about. I have a draft, but with the contest opening to entries on May 18, there’s still plenty of time for revisions (whether they’re major overhauls or minor tweaks). But as it stands right now, I think the concept jives pretty well with the current game mechanics.

Which brings me to my second-most-thought-about-element: mechanics. (Otherwise known as how the game actually plays.) It’s not uncommon for tabletop RPGs to primarily use dice and character sheets. But in reading previous years’ entries, I really liked how these games (especially finalists) introduce other elements of gameplay, like playing cards, matches, or even paper towels. You want to use something that’s both common enough for people have on hand and also won’t use too much word count to explain.

Speaking of, I think that the 700 word limit I try to work with in writing flash fiction has been valuable training. But 200 words is still really short! And since it’s providing the framework for a game, it needs to set the stage concisely in terms of settings and characters while also explaining mechanics/rules just thoroughly enough for players to understand what to do.

At the same time, it take a little pressure off because it doesn’t need to include a scene with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s up to the players to create 🙂 But still, 200 words, man.

Anyway, that’s what I’m writing these days! Every entry will be published on the website after the contest is over, so I’ll be sure to share the link when it’s live. Think this is something you’d ever be interested in trying?

Getting GDPR Compliant

If you’ve been following digital privacy news lately, you’ve probably heard of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and know that it’s going into effect. I’m loosely aware of it, but understand enough to know that it affects both websites of organizations based in the EU and websites that collect info from EU citizens.

But wait! This does in fact have something to do with writing (a little). Because this blog is both a record and instrument of my adventures in writing, I think it’s appropriate to write about any and all topics that affect this journey.

That sentence should make it clear that I’m not a lawyer or digital privacy expert—so don’t read this as legal advice or a guide to best practices. It’s just what I’m doing to try to make sure this blog complies with international law.

Note that I’m not trying to be dramatic! These regulations are primarily about the information websites collect from/about visitors, so I believe they were largely written with big organizations and social media in mind. On this blog, I’m not aiming to collect a ton of information—just share this adventure and the occasional insights with those who are interested.

But.

The Internet is all about data. By simply visiting, your device is sharing your IP address with the server hosting this website. And while I personally don’t do anything with that data, the GDPR still regulates how it can be used (and what EU citizens can do with it). You can read all of that on the official website.

Right now, the blog/I only collect data when someone posts a comment. Before you post, you’re required to input a name and email address (and optionally, a website). When you do, that data gets stored in order to show the comment (your name gets displayed above your comment—your email doesn’t). With GDPR, you as a commenter would need to explicitly give the blog/me consent to store that data (such as checking a checkbox that grants permission).

Posting a comment seems like an obvious example of someone granting permission at first, but you may not realize that your email remains stored, and is associated with that comment. GDPR is meant to offer users more transparency and control when it comes to that kind of data, so you can decide how it gets used.

For example, down the line, I’m thinking of creating a newsletter mailing list. With GDPR in effect, everyone I put on that list would need to give explicit permission, confirming that they’re signing up to receive those kinds of emails. I couldn’t, for example, create some sort of giveaway asking for email addresses, and then proceed to email those people my newsletter. Or go through a list of comments on this blog and add all the email addresses of commenters (not that I would do that). And when people sign up and grant permission to use their emails for just that newsletter purpose, I couldn’t turn around and sell that list to another party (again, not that I would do that in the first place).

Things like buying and selling mailing lists and using giveaways to collect people’s information are common marketing tactics. But the digital environment has exponentially increased the number of entities who have access to that information—and therefore, the number of ways it could be accessed by parties who don’t have permission to use it.

The official GDPR website says, “​The aim of the GDPR is to protect all EU citizens from privacy and data breaches in an increasingly data-driven world …”. All this may be inconvenient (and boring (and inconsequential for a small-time writer’s blog)), but ultimately, it’s meant to help all of us (well . . . people in the EU) secure the digital parts of our lives. I don’t think I even have EU visitors, but I’m on board with the underlying principles.

So. What am I going to do about it? Well, I need to create a privacy policy that explains how I use visitors’ data. I’m also trying to find a WordPress plugin that lets commenters know the site will store some of their data. And going forward, I’ll be sure to be super clear if the newsletter mailing list ever comes to fruition (not to mention continue to monitor relevant sites for more information on how these regulations *specifically* impact bloggers).

Note: James T. Kelly’s posts “GDPR for Indie Authors” and “My GDPR Journey” were an immensely helpful resource in researching/navigating this topic. Thanks, James!

Some of My Favorite Graphic Novels

A few months ago I shared a few of my favorite books. But one thing you may not have guessed from that list is that I also happen to be a bit of a graphic novel fan. There’s something about seeing the story visually come to life in front of you that makes you experience the story in a new way — and it’s cool to see a variety of art styles across the graphic novel genre, much like authors have their own voices. It gives you a reason to slow down and appreciate the craft that went into creating the art. So in no particular order and with the caveat that this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some of my favorite graphic novels.

Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy. I don’t remember how I first heard about this book, but I’m really glad I did. It tells the story of a boy with diabetes who gets transported into a fantasy world during one episode when his blood sugar drops. The story bounces back and forth between his quest to defeat King Death in the fantastic world and his attempt to raise his blood sugar level in the real world. This sets up some really cool parallels between both worlds, like his pet rat becoming his anthropomorphic warrior-rat companion in the fantasy world. These cool insertions and imaginative illustrations combine to make an awesome portal fantasy.

reMIND by Jason Brubaker. This began as a webcomic, so I first read it online (where it’s still available to read for free). Putting aside the fact that Brubaker using the blog format to both host the webcomic and chronicle his journey in publishing reMIND is awesome itself, the volumes also tell an engaging story. Though it begins with a normal girl living in and maintaining a lighthouse, it soon introduces a talking cat, lizard-men, and an underwater kingdom to create a story much larger than what you see on the surface. This quirkiness is complemented by a unique art style that blends Brubaker’s background in storyboarding with textured colors, and was designed from the ground up to play with different ways of filling the pages.

Bone by Jeff Smith. This is probably on more than a few top 10 graphic novel lists, and it’s easy to see why. The story begins with the antics of a trio of cartoony brothers getting lost and gradually but consistently growing in scope until it becomes an epic. After getting separated, the brothers begin exploring a secluded valley, meeting its inhabitants, and discovering that life there may not be as idyllic as it originally seems. It has just the right mix of humor, adventure, drama, suspense, and romance, and Smith’s smooth illustrations demonstrate what a labor of love it was for him to craft it from beginning to end.

Mouse Guard (series) by David Petersen. I think the first book in this series (Fall 1152) is what first got me into graphic novels. In this world, mice live in a pseudo-medieval civilization, and are protected by the Mouse Guard, who are essentially knights who travel the land to protect villages and travelers from threats. The story of the first entry begins with a patrol out on a mission where they soon discover that the Mouse Guard itself may have threats of its own to worry about. Each entry develops the world even further, introducing different elements of life in the mice’s world. This setup, combined with Petersen’s wood-engraving-esque style of illustration and the square format of the books, make this a really unique series of graphic novels.

Rust (series) by Royden Lepp. One of the advantages of graphic novels is the ability to read them without technically reading words. Rust is probably the best example of that that I’ve read. The series follows a farm family who takes in a strange boy with a jetpack after he protects them from a massive, violent robot. But while he’s trying to keep his past a secret, others are doing everything they can to uncover it. It’s set in a alt-history world where robots and steampunk-esque technology aren’t out of place on sprawling farms and prairies, but the sepia-toned artwork helps it all to feel timeless. And Lepp isn’t afraid to let that art tell the story by itself. Action scenes in particular can go on for pages without word bubbles interrupting them, allowing this graphic novel to really play up what makes this medium so special.

Again, these are just a few of my favorite graphic novels — and I’m always looking for new ones! Do you have any suggestions?

Goodreads Updates

It’s that time of year again … when Goodreads puts together its users’ Years in Books! Of course 2017 isn’t over just yet, and I think I’ll finish a few more before 2018 rolls around, but I’d thought now would be a good time to post the link to my 2017 Year in Books.

As you can see, it’s been a pretty solid year in terms of reading. I think there’s even been a few books that I forgot to track on Goodreads. The official count currently stands at 16 books, just shy of 6,000 pages. That’s about 500 pages a month! I’m pretty proud of that (even if about a third of these are graphic novels, haha).

In other Goodreads news, I’m moving closer to the point of posting “reviews” on books more consistently. (You may remember my mentioning this a few weeks ago.) But when I do, I expect they’ll look a little different than most (popular) Goodreads reviews.

For one, they’ll be shorter (two paragraphs, max). I also don’t think I’m going to include ratings In my opinion, ratings detract from the main content of review. I’m sure this perspective has been influenced by Kotaku’s video game review system. It’s also loosely similar to Brandon Sanderson’s Goodreads policy (which, like everything else he writes, is brilliantly thought-out and written).

I already have a loose system in place on Tumblr. First, I provide the title, authors, and date finished. The actual review begins with a description (really a sentence fragment) that I feel encapsulates the idea of the book. I then devote a few sentences to describing the plot without giving away too many details, almost treating it like copy from the back cover. Next I talk about some of the more metatextual elements like characterization, voice, or other aspects that stood out to me. Finally, I end with a “Recommended for…” sentence where I suggest what kinds of readers may be particularly interested in it. They may not be very in-depth reviews, but to their credit, they don’t take much more time to absorb than glancing at a rating. Plus, it’s the format I’ve used for years on Tumblr, so I don’t feel a strong sense to change them just yet

In the meantime, I’m still not sure whether reviews will make it to this blog in some fashion or another. I guess we’ll find out in 2018!

Goals for 2018

As we’re heading into a new year, I’ve started thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in terms of writing in 2018. I’ve never big been on resolutions, but I think these are good goals to pursue to help strengthen my writing. They’re loosely arranged in order of priority, but not necessarily in the order that I’ll tackle them.

  • Set aside a consistent weekly time to write. This is the basis for all the other goals. Right now, I don’t have a time of the week dedicated to (personal, creative) writing. Life gets — and will always be — busy, but if I want to take my writing more seriously, I feel like I need to give it the time and space it deserves.
  • Submit a flash fiction piece for every Splickety prompt. Already ⅙ of the way done! I didn’t quite achieve this over the past year, but it definitely got me writing on a much more regular basis. You can see the full list (getting a sneak peek at some potential stories!) here.
  • Publish a blog post every week. Depending on how things go, this could be the toughest goal. It won’t be enough to just write something every week — I’ll need to come up with some form of content that’ll work as a blog post. On my secret blog I would just do weekly status updates, but for this one, I want to write more posts of actual substance.
  • Submit one short story to another publication. Flash fiction is great, but this year I want to expand into slightly longer stories. I’ve done a little research into short fiction markets, but not nearly enough to say exactly which one I’m most interested in. I’m also not sure whether the better course of action is to pick a publication and write a story targeted to them or to write a story based on a preexisting idea, and then shop it around.
  • Complete a narrative-driven game. This one may be a stretch, but I really want to try my hand at writing a game! There’s actually a decent number of systems out there that make word-driven game writing quite accessible. The one I’m mostly to attempt is Twine (essentially a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure creator), but there’s also StoryNexus, InkleWriter, ChoiceScript, and probably plenty of others that I haven’t heard of yet.

There you go — my goals for 2018. One thing that I’ve intentionally chosen with these is to not pick a goal that’s beyond my control, such as being published in a publication. After all, why create a goal that ultimately depends on other people? (The thought of setting a goal to grow my following/brand crossed my mind — and I’m sure there are steps I can take to do that — but it still feels beyond something that I can do on my own power.)

It feels really good to have these written down, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they drive the theme of future blog posts. But for now, they’re just here as a reminder to help me focus on a select few things and keep writing!

Filigree in Shadow

Last year I backed The Mysterious Package Company’s Filigree in Shadow project on Kickstarter. Even though it was the first time I’d heard of the company, I was immediately intrigued by their concept: telling stories through series of packages sent to your home. I recently received the last Filigree in Shadow package and thought it’d be fun to write up a (minimal-spoilery) post about the experience.

If you’re familiar with monthly subscription boxes, that offers a pretty good comparison for what this was like. The main difference was that this was limited to a series of five mailings, and instead of products, each mailing contained a collection of realistic documents and items that told a story together.

In terms of a meta-story for the packages, they were presented as items that were being sent by the executor of a will after a distant relative’s passing, which gave a nice rationale about why we were receiving these in the mail. Without giving too much away, the items largely composed of documents like letters and journals, with each set providing just enough info to piece together one installment of story. While most of the items were things to read, there was one particular package that required us to interact with it to piece that part of the story together.

This overarching story followed the history of an English estate as it passed through different owners’ hands. Each package introduced a new episode to the story and also gave a reason to look back at the previous items. I’d categorize the story in the mystery/suspense/pseudo-horror genre, which lent itself well to the piece-the-story-together-yourself element of receiving packages in the mail. I don’t mean to be too vague in describing this, but I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone that might stumble across this!

Overall I had a really fun time with the experience, and would recommend it for anyone interested in seeing how you can use a very unconventional medium to tell a story. They have about a dozen different experiences with a variety of themes (most of which seem to have a suspense angle just like Filigree). Alternatively, they also market themselves as a unique gift — basically signing up someone else to receive the packages as a surprise!

Intrigued? Check out their website!

On Social Media

For those of you who visit this website (as opposed to simply subscribing to the RSS feed), you may have noticed some snazzy-looking social media links in the right-side column. I’m by no means an expert in any of them (I’m downright irregular when it comes to the stuff), but as I chart this journey into writing, I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I’m approaching social media.

The biggest ones out there (… as far as I know) are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, and Pinterest. Since I’m focusing on writing, I don’t quite know what to do with the latter two (though other authors do use them!), and I’m also throwing Goodreads into the mix.

But having social media accounts and using them are two separate beasts. I’m still in the early stages of navigating all this, but I thought I’d share how I’m considering approaching each of these.

Facebook

Currently the biggest name in social media. I have both a profile (which I’ve had since college) and a DolanWrites page (which I created a short while ago, but is currently not published). I’m not super active (this will be a running theme), but I anticipate this would mostly be announcements of published stories/other projects. That said, given its user base, it’s probably the best place to actively try to engage people.

Twitter

As of this writing, Twitter just increased character counts to 280 characters. I’m not very active on Twitter either, but I usually use it to share cool links or the occasional witty thought. Going forward, I hope to be a little more active — especially because of the big social media sites, it’s the one that most lends itself to focusing on the writing.

You may also notice that I have a Twitter timeline along this blog’s sidebar. Having one that updates regularly will in turn make this site more attractive to search engines.

Instagram

Similar to Twitter, but with pictures. So this relies on me not just doing something cool, but something visually cool. Currently, I have it set up so that anything I post here automatically gets posted to my Twitter profile too.

The thing is, writing isn’t a very visually-interesting process. So I’m not sure if there’s a way to consistently create compelling pictures that are writing-focused. There is a #bookstagram subculture of Instagram, but it isn’t something that I’ve dived into, and I’m not sure how well it would mesh with writing rather than reading. Needless to say, I’m still figuring out what to do here.

Tumblr

Unexpectedly, this is possibly the social media service I’m most active on. While I don’t engage with any broader Tumblr community, I’ve been using it to keep track of the books I’ve read for a few years. When I began, I’d just take a picture of the book’s cover and include a brief description of the story. Over time, it involved into a micro-review that’s rarely more than two paragraphs. Really, they’re so short that I hesitate to even call them reviews — they’re essentially a brief collection of thoughts about the book.

My anything-goes perception of Tumblr also makes me think that it would be a good place to consolidate all my random thoughts. Book reviews, cool links, clever witticisms, etc. While I think this blog should be focused on writing, stories, and my personal authorial journey, Tumblr could be the metaphorical window into my mind.

Goodreads

You might ask why I’d write book reviews and then post them on Tumblr but not Goodreads. Well, the first Tumblr post I wrote was literally a two sentence summary of King Solomon’s Mines with incomplete punctuation. I had a feeling that wasn’t going to fly on Goodreads. But since then, these posts have grown in length as I’ve injected more personal thoughts on each book. They’re still a paragraph or two, but they’re long paragraphs.

I’ve posted a few of these reviews on Goodreads, but it’s nothing I’ve done on a regular basis. I’m not sure what the standard Goodreads review length is, but I think there’s value in short, paragraph-length reviews that (in my opinion) hit all the main points. The rating system is a big turn-off for me, but I think I could get back to just posting reviews without subjectively rating each book.

– – – – – – –

Going forward, these are the social media sites I hope to use. There are other ones out there (YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat, Patreon, Google Plus, etc.) that may merit a new post one day … but for now I think these five will be more than enough for me and my schedule.

All that said, social media is an enormous resource, and it’s not uncommon for companies to devote several employees to maintaining their presence. Fortunately, I’m not aiming to be a great success in that realm. Right now, I view these as opportunities to interact with readers, boost SEO, and basically “get my name out there.” I don’t intend for them to replace writing, and I’m not going to worry about neglecting them if it means I’m focusing my attention on that pursuit.

But enough about me. What are your thoughts on social media? Can you recommend some writers who use it really well? What do you think about its relationship to writing?

Quick Update

In lieu of putting a lot of time and thought into this week’s post, I’ve been focusing on some submissions for Splickety. (See the 2018 themes!) So know that even if it doesn’t seem like I’m writing, I actually am. My goal is to write a few of them in quick succession and then dedicate time to longer projects. Which hopefully means a more substantial blog post next week. See you then!

Course-Charting

Let’s talk a little about inspiration for this blog. When I started it, my biggest motivator was Lunar Eclipse being published, and wanting to have a writing-focused web presence. (This website/domain was previously my online portfolio.) I knew I could’ve spent forever coming up with a “strategy” and/or writing posts before going live, but the story’s publication date wasn’t going to move. Since I wanted to have something ready when the story got published, I jumped right in without much of a plan.

And here we are, several weeks after Lunar Eclipse’s pub date, and I feel rather in over my head. But it’s been a great in one area in particular: I’m writing more regularly. Even though the first few posts had two or three weeks between them, I’m now more into the groove of posting every week. Around this time last year, I used Splickety’s monthly prompts to get myself to write on a monthly basis (and it mostly worked!). So it’s nice to have this as a motivator to post something not just every month, but every week.

The key word there being “something.” Right now, posts have run the gamut from flash fiction pieces to a list of favorite books to thoughts about this website to podcast links. There’s definitely a writing theme, but not much else tying things together.

I’ve realized that my issue is less about the content of posts, and more about the purpose of this blog/site. I think that once I identify that, I’ll have a better sense of what to post about. And even though I’m reluctant to pick one, I think the point of this blog (at the moment at least) is chronicling my journey of taking my writing more seriously and developing my stories/projects.

My biggest inspiration for this is Jason Brubaker’s reMIND blog (there’s also an inkling of post about this). While he was releasing his graphic novel online page-by-page, he also posted about the process itself — website hosting, advertising, coloring, printing, running a Kickstarter, etc. It was super insightful! And I think that’s what I want to do with this.

It sounds rather meta, but it’s the approach that most intrigues me. I do still want to include posts about things that I find inspiring, or progress I’m making on projects (assuming consistent forward progress). And I’ll definitely post about published pieces as/if they come along. But since this is still a work-in-progress (and I have so few readers!) I think there’s plenty of room to experiment and course-correct as things evolve. So let’s go.

Some of My Favorite Books

Since I’m still pretty new to the blogosphere, I’m still in the process of brainstorming and developing post ideas. And, as a writer, it seems only natural for some self-generated content to include some of my favorite books. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the books aren’t arranged in any particular order, but they’re some of the first titles that come to mind when I think of some of the books that have had the biggest effect on me.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. When people ask what my favorite book is, this is my most common answer. I vaguely remember being really intimidated by its size as a young kid, but eventually mustered myself to tackle it. And when I did, it blew my mind. The self-referential narrative and scores of characters with unique stories expanded my idea of what I thought a book could be, and, ultimately, inspired me to start creating my own stories.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (and whole Narnia series) by C.S. Lewis. The Neverending Story may have got me started on storytelling/creating, but The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe got me started on reading. I wasn’t much of a reader at a really young age, but my mom insisted that I read the Chronicles of Narnia. I in turn insisted that I start with LWW because my brother and I watched the animated 1979 version on VHS. By the time I finished, I was hooked. I devoured the series, moved on to other fantasy books, and never looked back.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. My mom (sense a theme here?) read this to my brother and I when we were young kids, and I fully intend to do the same with my own one day. It took me quite some time after that to move on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I really loved how The Hobbit gave us a shared family memory.

Sabriel by Garth Nix. I read this classic YA adventure on a week-long Boy Scout trek. I had no idea what to expect, but was drawn into the world Nix created and revealed through Sabriel’s eyes. The combination of reading such a an engaging adventure while hiking through the Northern California forests made reading this book such an unforgettable experience. Even better, I was able to share this story with Nix in person at an author event where he signed and personalized it, and we were able to talk about our scouting experiences together!

Neverwhere and Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Once again, what made these books so special was their stories plus the memory of where I read them. I actually bought my copies of both books while studying abroad in London, and read them that same semester. It was so cool reading Neverwhere while living in London and able to go out and walk to the different places it references in London Below, and I really enjoyed reading Stardust at a time when I was going out every weekend and exploring other parts of England.

Like I said at the beginning, this is just a smattering of my favorite books, but there’s probably a reason they’re the first few to come to mind. I’ll most likely revisit this idea over a number of posts, but hopefully won’t resort to this theme too, too often, haha.