How Do I Write A Book?

Mind of a Writer

If 1940’s columnist Red Smith can be believed, “…it’s easy, you sit down at a typewriter, open a vein, and bleed.” But you didn’t come here for sarcasm and innuendo, ok maybe you did, and I’ll probably give you loads, but I really do want to answer this question for you. It is one that many people ask when they first contemplate the notion of writing.

I would like, however, to warp the question just a bit. Many people go in search of answers from people how have been there, who have written books already. That’s a natural, first reaction to the notion of writing. The problem is that like the myriad nuances in people, the art, the craft of writing can be just as different. Where one person might get up an hour early every morning to write, another person might do it during their lunch break, or before they go to bed. Still another writer might start at the beginning with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” while then another starts at the end with, “…and they lived happily ever after. The End.”

So the question isn’t so much “How do you write a book?”, the question, for the person about to embark on this journey, is “How do I write a book?” This is not to dissuade you from asking other writers, but it is done to put the focus firmly and squarely where it belong: your shoulders. After all, no one is going to write this book for you. It’s going to be you, and you alone that does the back breaking, hair-pulling, nail-biting work. So ask. Ask as many writers as you can find. Learn their techniques, their tips & tricks, find what works for you, what doesn’t, and being.

Of the things you will need to decide, there are some basic building blocks to the craft of writing. In no particular order, you will need a smattering of the following:

1. Plot – This is the general idea of what is happening. For example, the plot of The Hobbit is that a homebody of a fellow has a wizard and a dwarven king in exile show up unannounced and carry him off to free their mountain home from the clutches of a greedy dragon.

2. Character(s) – I put the s in parenthesis for the fact that you can have a book with just one character. These are the driving forces of your story. They are the reason there is a plot. Notice in the above example, I gave you four main characters right off the bat. No one wants to read a story about some guy, who helps another guy, go somewhere and fight someone. You need characters that are really someone, who are invested in the story and can drive it further down the road. (Remember characters should drive the plot, not the other way around.)

3. Theme, Mood, Ambience – Whatever you want to call it, but deep down, every story has something it is trying to say. Even a fun little adventure like the Hobbit had loads to say about greed, justice, racism and the qualities of a good afternoon cup of tea. Have something in your story that you are passionate about.

4. Conflict – This doesn’t have to be swords clashing, guns blazing, and out-and-out war. It simply has to show that not everyone agrees with each other. Imagine, if you will, that Tolkien had written the Hobbit with zero conflict. It would go something like this.

Gandalf “Bilbo, want to help these dwarves get back their home from a dragon?”

Bilbo “Sounds fun, sure I’ll go.”

Thorin “Smaug, this was our home before you laid waste to it.”

Smaug “Oh? Right, you are. Sorry about that old chap, here you go, everything as it was. I’ll just be leaving now.”

No one wants to read that.

5. Sit Down And Write – Biggest tool in your toolbox as a writer – WRITING. If you are planning to write a novel, I personally shoot for 1.5K words per day. You can figure that part out based upon your schedule, when you want to finish, and a bunch of other factors that will try to horn in on your writing time. Like Facebook. Twitter. The Dishes. Your children getting cuts and needing to go to the Emergency Room. Don’t do it. Don’t fall into that trap. Your writing time is sacred. Treat it as such.

In conclusion, that’s how you write a book. You sit down, open a vein and bleed… oh wait, no. You sit down every day and write. You have a solid idea of what your plot is, who your characters on, and what you are trying to say. You make your characters disagree (called conflict) and most importantly, you WRITE is.  Cheers!

Finding Inspiration for your next Game Session

Behind The Screen

 

As Gamemasters we all have those days when we are staring at an upcoming session and all we can think about is running straight to the pre-gen modules at DriveThruRPG or whatever is in the back of the book that we’ve been holding out on for a rainy day. This post is designed to give you the tools that you will need to fend off such a gaming block. Instead of relying on other people’s creations, you’ll have the tools you need to fend for yourself when the sharks, I mean players, begin to circle… your table.

Being a GM, a DM, a Storyteller, whichever you prefer to call it, is equal parts writer, storyteller, actor, mediator, judge, jury and executioner… ok maybe that last part is a little heavy handed. Coming up with new and exciting stories falls squarely in the writer portion of the job, and we all know how much writers love that question, “Where do you get your ideas…?” To quote Stephen King, “I have the heart of a small boy… I keep it in a jar on my desk.” Writers hate that question, and the true answer is everywhere. As a writer myself, I constantly get ideas from the books I read, the music I listen to, the t.v. shows I watch, sitting in the doctor’s waiting for an appointment, driving down the road and reading bumper stickers.

What does this mean for you? It means that there are thousands of experiences waiting for you with the seeds of ideas, you just have to look for them. “But I’m not a writer like you. What do I do?” you ask? Very well, here are my top five ways for assauging the creative juices into flowing, or just plain cheating the system, whichever you need at the moment.

1. Movies. Sit down with a few movies that sound compelling. They don’t have to be in your genre, because what you are about to do is genre-less (is that a word?). You are looking for scenes that you can boil down to the bare bones because that’s really all you need. Say for instance you sit down with Apocalypse Now! and as you watch, you start to mull over the horrors of war. Is there one raging in your game? No? Start one. No, I’m joking, you don’t have to, but it is quite possible in any game there was a recent war. What would happen to two men, who’ve been through that, seen what it can do to each other and then are thrust back into civilization? What if… and that’s where the ideas begin. All you need is the bare bones, and a little What If Juice.

2. Books. These are great resources for quick scenarios. I have yet to meet a gamer who doesn’t like to read. Pick up a favorite book, look for one of those chapters or sets of chapters that told a compelling story, that hooked you in right away. Pull it out, boil it down to its basic premise and then build off of it. One of my favorites is the chapters in ‘The Hobbit’ where Thorin and Company are headed up into the mountains. As they seek shelter from a storm in a cave, they are awoken by goblins. Captured and chained, they are dragged to the Goblin King. Basic premise – a group traveling in a deserted area takes shelter from a storm. They are attacked by the local denizens and taken to their leader. This jump off point could be used in any style game. See what you can build off of it?

3. Music. One of my favorites. I love listening to music when I am creating. Especially music that tells a story. A lot of people simply let the lyrics roll in one ear and out there other, without really comprehending what is being said. I recommend truly listening. You will find some great nuggets that can spark the flames of imagination in them. Take these lyrics, for example: “Carry on my wayward son, there’ll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more…” Pretty famous song, right? Use it in a game. A sad, lonely, bone weary traveler comes to town. He keeps to himself, but he seems to be searching for something. Who is he? What does he want? These questions can help you build a story for your game.

4. Your Players. This is probably one of the best ways to build a story. One of my favorite methods is to “pretend” I am calculating experience, or making notes, giving my players time to talk amongst themselves. When they get this opportunity at the end of a game, it normally turns to what is ahead of them. The paranoia and suspicion can give you ideas that you’ve never heard of. For example. Your group has just finished routing the kobolds from Stormfell Keep catacombs. As the players talk, you hear this: John “I’m pretty sure that chalice we found is cursed.” Peter “I bet it is, I bet it came from the chapel up in the keep, I wonder what’s hold up in there?” The chalice was just a random item you rolled for on a table, but now, with this player suspicion you can build off of that. Maybe it is cursed, maybe there is something up there.

5. The Co-Op Build. Sometimes you just have to be honest and tell your players you are having a hard time creating a new story. They will appreciate your honesty and want to help. This is a good thing. Sit down with your players and tell them you’d like to take them up on that help. Ask them where they want to go, what they want to do, what their characters are itching to try out. It might take a bit, but one of them will pony up with an idea. Susan “I’d like my vampire, Rachel, to try to take over the Goth club Wreckage.” This one, character-driven idea, will spark a floodgate of other ideas from the players. In fact, you will probably have so many ideas, you’ll be in spades for the next few sessions.

There you have it, five ways you can use to build stories for your upcoming games. If this post has helped you, please share it with your friends. Cheers!

19 Years, 2 Months & 26 Days… A look at depression from a male perspective

I started my time in the military on April 1995, that will be twenty years in thirteen days. I wentRobin Williams in Las Vegas from the Marine Corps Reserves to active duty in the U.S. Navy on my birthday, I believed I was making the best decision that I could. I was newly married with a daughter on the way; she’s eighteen, a senior and preparing for college next year.

This post isn’t about the beginning, it’s about the ending. I’ve gone through a lot in those twenty years. I lost a friend to a horrific helicopter crash (rest in peace Eddie), I watched an F-18 Hornet crash into the flight deck of the USS John F. Kennedy, not 30 feet away from me, I’ve fought fires, seen people commit suicide, stood helpless as I watched a young man goes through the worst thing I could think of at the time, and all I could do was be there for him. A lot of the time military service gets divided up into two camps: Those who saw combat and those who did not. I want to tell you that sometimes the support side can be just as tough. In the end, it wasn’t any of those things that hit me the hardest, it was something I have dealt with my whole life: belonging.

The last few months I have had to go through some bouts of glaring honesty, and this is one of them. I have never really felt like I’ve belonged. At times, small moments, I’ve felt the rush of companionship and knowing what it’s like to be a part of the team, but they’ve been just that, moments, fleeting and never with any permanence. The last three years, I think, have been the worst. At the end of my Naval career, when my peers are advancing to the rank of Chief Petty Officer (something I dearly desired, despite what I might say), I was past up every selection season for eight years.

I attempted, with great determination and enthusiasm, to become a Substance Abuse Counselor for the Navy (one of the hardest schools to graduate from). Despite being top of the class academically, I was dis-enrolled because I could not display the emotion they were looking for. It would be that point in my life, that I started to take a seriously hard look at what I was doing and where I was going. This left me heading to the USS Ronald Reagan for my last three years, and it would be this time that would prove the most challenging in spite of everything that I had experienced to date.

I went to this command with a strike already against me: a body weight failure in the bi-annual Kenphysical fitness assessment. Under the current rules, if you fail three of these within a four year period you are separated from active duty. In 2011, I failed my first, and immediately began to work to correct this deficiency. Not only did I change my dietary habits (for a second time in several years), I saw a nutritionist, hired a private fitness instructor and took classes outside of my military requirements. All of this, the most extreme measures aside from surgery, only brought me to just barely passing. When I arrived at the Reagan, the only thing that was taken into consideration was that I had failed once, and it meant I would be a problem for the command.

I continued everything I knew to do, I ate right, I worked out and I did my job. However, the weight still would not come off. In 2012, I had been diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a disorder that works hand in hand with several systems of the body. Because I was not getting enough quality sleep, and because of the stress that I was under at work, everything that I was doing to lose weight, was barely touching it. Prior to leaving my last command two medical doctors and my entire chain had agreed to give me a body composition assessment waiver because of these medical issues. When I arrived at the Reagan and gave this to them, I was, to my face, called a liar.

These first impressions, both mine and their’s, would set the stage for the next two years. In the spring of 2013 I asked for a second waiver, as the Navy had failed to provide me with the treatment for my disorder. The Senior Medical Officer for the command had me weighed (at the time I was 251 lbs). He told me that I was a liar, concerning my sleep apnea and difficulties gaining the treatment. The one phrase that has stuck with me to this day is, accompanied with a disgusted sneer, “How could you let yourself get this way?” I felt so ashamed that I walked out of his office. I had previously asked several chiefs in my department to assist me with speaking to him, but each one told me no.

The request for the waiver wasn’t so much to have the opportunity to continue my efforts and pass, but more that the Navy would have been required to send me to a Medical Review Board, where all of my issues would have been addressed and I would have been evaluated for further Naval service. This now left me failing a second physical fitness assessment. I was at my wits end. There were months of days where I went to work, did my job and went home. There were days when I felt like I couldn’t make it any further, and turned to the only solace on the ship: the chapel. Within those darkened walls of solitude, I could break down in tears and anxiety that had built up from the looks that people gave me, or the comments that they made. I could break until I had the strength to shore up my demeanor and go back to work.

I’m not telling you all of this because I want sympathy or advice, or anything from you. I am telling you all of this so that you understand that depression, negative body image, anxiety, and shame are not just things that women or children suffer. Men are just as affected as well. By the end of myo-NEGATIVE-BODY-IMAGE-facebook time on the USS Ronald Reagan and in the US Navy, things had become so bad, that all I wanted was for it to end.  There were days where I had to force myself into uniform and up the brow to work, because if I didn’t, I don’t think I could find the will to keep going on. I would not eat around other people because I felt ashamed by my weight and judged by the sailors around me.

To give an example, a sailor who worked for me had bought a box of girl scout cookies. He offered one to our chief, who accepted and began to eat it. The young sailor then offered me one, being kind. Before I could decline, I saw the chief reach out to stop him, shaking his head at the sailor and saying “No…” Instances like these built upon each other, brick-by-brick, laying a foundation of shame, guilt and anxiety.

February 13th, 2015 was a morning like any other. I got up at 5am, put on my uniform and drove to the ship. I began working at 6:15am (leaders always start the day an hour early or so I was always told). By 9:15am as I was going about my normal routine, I was approached by one of the senior chiefs in my department to talk. As we walked to his office, I tried to turn in my head what the nature of our discussion would be. When we reached the door, I had it nailed down. The message had come from Chief of Naval Personnel, Rear Admiral Bill Moran, that I was to be separated from Naval service within 10 days. On March 5th, 2015 that was what happened, leaving me with a career that had spanned 19 years, 2 months and 26 days per my DD214.

What is interesting about Admiral Moran are these words, as quoted from the Navy Times, “We run into sailors at all-hands calls who stand up and say, ‘I’m a three-time failure,’ and you look at them and go, ‘Pretty sharp. You look good in uniform. You don’t look overweight to me, at a distance,'” and this quote, “There’s no doubt that body shapes have changed in the decades since the Navy wrote its height and weight chart.” As you can see, even the man who ordered my separation doesn’t agree with what the Navy is doing.

As I write this it is 24 March, 2015, I have been a civilian for almost 20 days. I can say, without a depression-quotes-black-and-white-267doubt, that it has drastically improved my mental health. Without the constant judgement from my superiors, without the disgusted looks from my peers and the ever present guillotine blade of the physical fitness assessment hanging over my head, I am improving.  So what exactly is the moral to this story? There isn’t one really, this is my “poison-pen” to the Navy, to the superiors who stood by and did nothing when I begged for their help, to those who turned their back on me when I needed it most. It is my thank you to everyone who stood by me, supported me, and helped me through this. It is a request, to anyone in the military, Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, who feels like there is nothing out there, that it is hopeless, pointless and wants all of it to just end. There is hope.

If you feel this way, please contact one of the following resources:

Military OneSource

Navy Fleet and Family Services South-West

Stigma Fighters

Military Gamers