Looking for advice on writing? I maintain a weekly advice column on Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog called “Writers Don’t Cry,” covering topics ranging from Total Reader Immersion: Writing Evocative Description to Sympathy for the Devil: How to Write Killer Villains. I also interview some of my favorite authors on the things they do best, like R.A. Salvatore on How to Write a Damn Good Fight Scene.
If you have a burning question about your novel, short story, or piece of flash fiction–or even just a general question about fantasy writing, editing, or publishing–please send it in, and I’ll try to answer it in my column, or find some author who can.
To browse my columns by subject, check out the Writers Don’t Cry index.
Thank you to everyone who came to my presentation on Bringing D&D into the Classroom! I really appreciate your taking the time to hear some of my ideas. You can download the presentation here. If you have any questions about books I referenced, or anything else, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me!
I’m thrilled to announce that Writers Don’t Cry will be at PAX Prime this year! I’m doing three panels—come by to say hi and check it out!
2PM Saturday (9/1): Making Magic Work: Designing Magic Systems for Games and Books with special guest New York Times Bestselling author and game designer Rich Baker, award-winning game designer and author Bruce R. Cordell, and award-winning author Erin M. Evans.
8PM Saturday (9/1): How to Craft a Damn Good Fight Scene for Games and Books with special guest award-winning game designer and author Bruce R. Cordell, award-winning author Erin M. Evans, and author and game designer Erik Scott de Bie.
4PM Sunday (9/2): Sympathy for the Devil: Creating Killer Villains for Games and Books with New York Times bestselling author Philip Athans and award-winning author Erin M. Evans.
For more information, check out the full schedule here.
I remember when I first had to learn how to write for an audience. It was a writing class which shall go unnamed, and I got my first less-than-spectacular grade on an essay. I was floored. I had just gotten a stellar grade on an essay in a writing class known for having a very harsh teacher. This teacher was not known to be harsh at all—quite the opposite in fact. But this teacher complained that my essay wasn’t in the five-paragraph style, and didn’t start with a sentence that stated my purpose.
It took me a minute to realize it: she hated my style. It had nothing to do with whether my style was good or bad, it was just that she hated it. I was devastated. I worked hard on developing my essay style. I was proud of it. I’d gotten awards for it. And this teacher didn’t just not love it—she hated it!
But, of course I wanted a decent grade. So, swallowing my pride, I asked for her to tell me what she wanted—what a good essay looked like. And then, on the next essay? I made sure my writing would do what I felt she wanted while still being something to which I’d be proud to attach my name. And I got a good grade. She complimented me on my improvement. And I bit my tongue, nodded, and moved on.
So: will I go on to write in that style forever? Heavens, no. Do I think that style is superior to my own? Obviously not. But it was an incredibly useful exercise. I had a goal (to get a good grade) that defined my audience (my teacher)–and being able to write for an audience like that is super handy, especially for corporate writers, or anyone else who wants to be able to write for someone unlike themselves.
When I talk about considering an audience? I don’t mean that when that audience says jump, you jump, and when they say write about a pink gnome who smells like sauerkraut, rides a unicorn, and wields a mean mandolin, I don’t mean actually write that. I mean that if your goal is to write a book that a particular audience–be it the experts or the a subgroup of sci-fi fans–will enjoy, then just like when you buy a gift for someone, take their taste into consideration. Figure out what it is that tickles them about that sour-smelling gnome, and what you could do to give them more to enjoy in your book without sacrificing your style or your comfort.
The most obvious example for me in terms of considering your audience is kids. If you’re writing for kids, not keeping your audience in mind is silly. I mean: you’re not a kid! You like different things from kids. Like, you should probably use less swear words in a kid’s book. And it might be a good idea to focus on problems kids have, such as identity and relationships, rather than issues specific to adults. It’s also likely helpful to think about your word choice and sentence structure a little—both in terms of difficulty, and in terms of what kids will find funny. (Kids, for instance, tend to find shouting “diarrhea” way funnier than adults.) That doesn’t mean talk down to them-–they are far smarter than I remember being at that age!—but it does mean if you’re writing for kids, try to write something they would like.
My GenCon schedule–I hope to see you there!
So, You Want to Be a Hero: Creating Captivating Heroes for Games and Books
4pm Thurs/Aug 16/Convention Center Rm 211
Sympathy for the Devil: Creating Killer Villains for Games and Books
4pm Sat/Aug 18/Convention Center Rm 211
For more info on my seminars, go to my Writers Don’t Cry article about them.
Games & Novels
11am Thurs/Aug 16/Convention Center Rm 211
Panelists: Dennis Detwiller, Matt Forbeck, Susan Morris, James Wyatt
Making Room for Daughters
2pm Thurs/Aug 16/Convention Center Rm 210
Panelists: Michelle Lyons, Susan Morris
10am Fri/Aug 17/Convention Center Rm 211
Panelists: Tavis Allison, Susan Morris, Stan!
How to Get a Woman (to Play Your Game)
12pm Fri/Aug 17/Convention Center Rm 211
Panelists: Jess Hartley, Michelle Lyons, Susan Morris, Elizabeth Shoemaker, Christina Stiles
+5 Sword of E-publishing
1pm Fri/Aug 17/Convention Center Rm 210
Panelists: Wolfgang Baur, Susan Morris, Gareth-Michael Skarka, Stan!
Fancy title, but what does this mean, you ask? This means I get to participate in a bunch of featured panels and seminars, which I don’t know the details of yet, but which I hope will all be focusing on my favorite topics from Writers Don’t Cry, because my last Writers Don’t Cry panel, Sympathy for the Devil: Creating Killer Villains for Games and Books, hosted by Emerald City Comicon, was a total blast.
See you in Indianapolis!
I’ve played in a great variety of awesome campaigns, from super serious, complex homebrews to goofy, irreverent escapades. And yet, somehow, whenever I join a campaign, I’m so starry-eyed with excitement that there are certain relevant things I always forget to ask prior to playing. Not what other people are playing, when and where we’re meeting, or what kind of campaign it is. Those, I manage to remember. No, I’m talking about the important questions. You know, the ones that govern every decision you make, whether your adventures end in brilliant success or bitter failure—the ones that determine your destiny. Those questions.
So, to make sure I’m properly prepared next time, I wrote up a helpful survey that covers my bases. Next time, I will be totally, absolutely, and completely prepared! And just in case you also want to be totally, absolutely, and completely prepared, here they are, in all their glory, for all perpetuity (questions are not edition specific):
The Devil DM’s in the Details
A) Will run away and get eaten.
B) Are medieval cars.
2. Running out of food & water:
A) Will be your doom! Mwahahaha!
B) Oh, I threw that stuff out ages ago: more room for more treasure!
3. Carrying capacity and item location are:
A) Moot: I am a Human Trapper Keeper! (Sewing profession FTW!)
B) … You mean, like where I wrote them down on my sheet?
4. Dying from “exposure” means:
A) Heheheh. What do YOU think it means?
B) &@#%*$!!! (“Winter Is Coming” my ass!)
5. Dressing well and bathing are:
A) Hey, what are you trying to say? I always bathe before playing! /sniff
B) Many a barbarian’s downfall when drinking tea with the king of Cormyr.
6. Time-sensitive quests:
A) Wait for their hero! (Who ever heard of letting evil win?)
B) Are a bitch.
Get Your GAME FACE On
7. Get “In Character” means:
A) Stop joshing around and play!
B) Costumes required, accents recommended
8. Out-of-character jokes receive:
B) Death Threats
9. Thieving from the party is:
A) Hey, you knew what I was when you invited me in!
B) Grounds for expulsion
10. Character vs. Player knowledge is:
A) Strictly enforced!
B) (Wait—there’s a difference?)
11. Unoptimized characters are:
A) Doing it wrong!
12. Suboptimal character-based decisions are:
A) Jerky, especially in combat!
B) Fun, especially in combat!
Death Is Always an Option
13. You see a beholder:
A) Wave and say hello. (It could be a GOOD beholder!)
B) Kill, loot, win XP!
14. The odds in this fight are overwhelming:
A) Run away! He’s going for a TPK!
B) He’d never give us a fight we couldn’t win…
15. Straying from the beaten path is:
A) Asking for punishment.
B) Sometimes the most fun!
16. Missing a game or PC death means:
A) Your character will suck now, hahah!
B) You miss some of the awesome adventure
17. Traps are:
A) Inescapable killing fields of infinite woe!
B) Fun for the whole family!
Thems the Rulez
18. Creative skill & spell interpretation is:
B) What this game is all about!
19. Playing a mindflayer is:
A) Always a problem in towns!
B) Overpowered awesomesauce.
20. Note taking is:
A) Absolutely essential.
B) Of what, all the different kinds of monsters I kill?
21. DMs are rewarded with:
A) Crushed soda cans
When encountering fantastical fiction in the wild, it can be quite the chore to classify it, what with all those characters, monsters, and exotic forms of magic. Sometimes, it seems, one man’s Gothic Fiction is another’s Paranormal Romance—not two genres you generally want to mistake! Luckily for you, dear readers, we have found the solution: this ancient Fantasy Flowchart, a “field guide to fantastical fiction,” should suit your genre-classifying needs perfectly. With it, you can be assured you will not be embarrassed when entering into discussions with like-minded literati on whatever fictions have taken your fancy.
There is a point in doing things at times for exacting quality, and at times for endurance. They have different purposes. Sometimes, it’s good to do ten perfect push-ups, nice and slow. And sometimes, to do as many as you can in a minute. The point is that it’s teaching your body different things, and they are both useful skills to have, and are both hard in their own way. Hating on those without perfect form when they’re working endurance, or hating on those who only do ten when working on form misses the point.
But I’m not really talking about just push-ups here. I’m talking about writing. And running. And all of life, really.
In life, there is a difference between learning and performing. When learning, you play. You take risks. You try new things. You do things you would never do in front of an audience or for a finished product. Otherwise, you’re never going to reach your full potential—you’ll be stunted at what you could do before you started taking everything so seriously. We should always be willing to learn—and to support others when they’re learning. We’ve all been there. And besides, you never know when someone you’ve helped will turn around and show you something brilliant and new, something you never thought of before.
Performing, on the other hand, is doing something practiced to produce a finished product which is as perfect and as flawless as possible—and here, you take fewer risks. You use those skills you built when learning. Because performing is all about working thoughtfully and intentionally. Performing, of course, also takes practice to get good at.
I don’t think anyone believes NaNoWriMo is about performing. It’s about learning. And I will always support learning, and playing, and taking risks in order to grow.
Respect what other people are working on, even if it’s not for you. There’s no reason not to.
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”—Michelangelo
Even though it’s meant for sculpting, this is how I see editing. The writer produces a beautiful block of marble with a rough figure emerging from it, and it is the editor’s job to help the writer refine that figure, marking where more stone needs to be carved away and helping them see the lines more clearly. And then, once the writer has fully freed the figure from the marble, it is the editor’s job to polish it to a fine shine, and set it out for display.
Writers are visionaries and storytellers. Wizards with words. They pull forth whole worlds from their imaginations. As an editor, I need to be able to share in the vision of different authors, to see each dream as clearly as they do, and to be able to draw it into even sharper focus. I shouldn’t be carving the statue myself, or making every statue adhere to my standards of beauty. I shouldn’t be making them carve in the manner of my school of carving. I need to be flexible, adaptable, and clear-sighted enough to be able to fully immerse myself in different styles, with different authors, and help each of them realize their wholly unique visions.
It’s an incredibly rewarding process. Being chosen to share a vision with an author, when it’s still so young and raw, is an honor. But it’s so much more and so much less than it’s made out to be. It’s not about being a capricious judge any more than it’s about fiddling with commas. It’s about having a five-year-old’s honesty and a muse’s love of art.