New D&D Podcast – Nerd Poker: Dungeons and Dragons With Brian Posehn & Friends!


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What happens when a brute barbarian, a runaway dwarf, a hippie shaman, and an elf named Blackie Green wind up on a rogue cruise ship together?

To find out, check out Brian Posehn’s new Nerd Poker podcast. The first episode just came out yesterday and I must say, it’s pretty great.

If you’ve never been interested in D&D, consider this a fantastic lesson in impromptu storytelling and world building. While listening, I found myself pleasantly entertained by the characters and story.

I myself have never played D&D, but listening to this first episode has certainly piqued my interest.

WARNING: This podcast is for mature audiences only. These guys don’t hold back.

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Each week, under dark of night, a group of warriors lead by Brian Posehn gather to play Dungeons & Dragons, and you’re invited to attend!

Nerd Poker Podcast

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Pixar’s 22 Rules for Storytelling


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Writing Excuses did a podcast this week on Pixar’s Rules for Writing a Compelling Story. These 22 rules come from storyboard artist, Emma Coats, who began sharing them on Twitter earlier this year.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Writing Excuses – Pixar Rules for writing a Compelling Story

Emma Coats on Twitter

Pixar’s 22 rules… Lego style

A sweet poster that PBJpublishing put together. Pixar’s rules made fancy!

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An interesting thing happened today…


I was working on a scene that takes place outside a bar in Boston. I was struggling with my description of the bar, and remembered that Neil Gaiman has a similar setting in his prologue of Neverwhere.

When I remembered his scene, I had this vivid picture of the pub he was writing about. In my mind, it was full of light and laughter and warmth. I could see the people standing around the bar, joking and laughing together as they celebrated the protagonist’s departure. I saw the bartender, drinks in hand, a menagerie of bottles and glasses arranged behind him. I saw color and lights and tables and I thought, “Hey, I’ll just read that scene again and maybe get some inspiration from it.”

So I took out the book, thumbed over to page one, and began to read. And you know what? Neil never even describes the inside of the pub.

He vaguely mentions the door opening and light spilling into the street and the noise coming from inside but that’s really it.

Needless to say, I was fascinated and slightly proud of my mind’s ability to fill in all the gaps. Not that my mind is anything special, but the fact that we as readers are capable of creating so much with so little… It’s astonishing.

Just one more example of how the right words used the right way can have such a tremendous impact on a scene. Thank you, Neil Gaiman, for that reminder!

Stephen King on Imagery


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If you’re the type of writer who struggles with describing a setting or scene, then you’ll be happy to know that Stephen King once wrote an essay on the subject.

In the essay, he talks about the pitfalls many new writers fall into when trying to create imagery in their fiction. He also uses examples from his own writing, and gives insight into the process he uses.

If you’ve ever asked….

How do I describe a scene?

What is imagery?

Where does good imagery come from?

Which details do I include and which ones do I leave out?

How do I convey the mood and texture of a story?

… then you’ll want to check out this essay.

Imagery and the Third Eye by Stephen King

How to Keep Your Story Going – Mur Lafferty Tips


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Mur Lafferty is the host of “I Should Be Writing,” the podcast for wanna-be fiction writers. In her most recent episode, she had some tips for all you NaNoWriMo’s out there on keeping your story going.

Rule number 1: Don’t edit as you go.

Quit worrying about the words, quit complaining about how terrible your writing is, quit reading what you just wrote over and over and over, quit pulling out the thesaurus, and quit listening to your internal editor. In fact, Mur says to put that guy in a box. I keep mine in a casket… it’s kind of the same. Anyway, do whatever you have to do to get him off your shoulder. If something is bad or something doesn’t work, just write a note to your “editor” that he can fix it later… If he’s nice. A few weeks in the Cave of Wonders ought to chill him out! (Yep, that’s an Aladdin reference. Deal with it.)

Rule number 2: If you don’t know what to say, just write what happens.

Look, there’s going to be places that trip you up. Something just doesn’t sound right or the dialogue isn’t achieving the emotional impact you wanted. That’s going to happen. What you have to do is let it be. Don’t sit and stare at it, don’t rewrite it over and over, and don’t cry about it. Just write what you want it to convey and move on. “Dialogue goes here. Tom strikes a nerve and Sally runs away crying.” See how easy that is? Don’t sacrifice the words you could be writing for the words you aren’t able to write right now. Move on.

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Rule number 3: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture. I don’t like doing it! Don’t show people your work.

We know this one, right? You’re all excited. You give your first three chapters to a friend, say “prepare to be amazed”, and proceed to stare, breathless and unblinking, while your friend scans your manuscript in awkward silence. What happens next? Your friend shrugs, hands it back and says “Neat idea. I like it.” Then starts asking where you want to eat.

I have theories as to why this happens, but won’t bore you with them here. Suffice it to say that your work is for your eyes only. At least for November.

For the full episode, check out Mur’s podcast at www.murverse.com (episode 266)

Story Structure – The Dan Wells Method


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Dan Wells is the author of I Am Not a Serial Killer and Partials. He also guest hosts the highly acclaimed Writing Excuses podcast with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Also, I hear he does not have a tail bone. So in summary, Dan Wells is a man of many tales, though he has no tail to tell of.

Anyway, he is also an advocate of the Seven-Point Story Structure method of plotting, a method I have recently discovered and am anxious to try. Check out these links for more information.

Dan Wells on Story Structure (YouTube) Part 1 of 5

Writing Excuses: Seven-Point Story Structure

The Story Structure Powerpoint

Other helpful links…
Dan’s website
His podcast
The Roundtable Podcast (Workshop episode)

Portraying Character Personalities – With Help from George R. R. Martin


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I’d like to share some thoughts on a spectacular piece of fiction called Sandkings by George R. R. Martin.

It’s a short science fiction/horror story about a guy, Simon Kress, who is a remarkably bad person. The story begins with him purchasing a number of strange pets and turning them against one another for entertainment.

While reading it today, I found myself in awe of George’s ability to reveal a character’s personality without flat-out telling me that “Simon Kress was vile.”

Simon Kress lived alone in a sprawling manor house among the dry, rocky hills fifty kilometers from the city. So, when he was called away unexpectedly on business, he had no neighbors he could conveniently impose on to take his pets.

The carrion hawk was no problem; it roosted in the unused belfry and customarily fed itself anyway. The shambler Kress simply shooed outside and left to fend for itself; the little monster would gorge on slugs and birds and rockjocks. But the fish tank, stocked with genuine Earth piranha, posed a difficulty. Kress finally just threw a haunch of beef into the huge tank. The piranha could always eat each other if he were detained longer than expected. They’d done it before. It amused him.

When reading this passage, I am totally engrossed. Kress’s little dilemma is appealing, but I believe it’s his way of thinking that hooks me.

… he had no neighbors he could conveniently impose on to take his pets.

Could you imagine someone conveniently imposing their pets on you for the weekend? No thanks… Consider the difference it would make had the sentence read “Kress had neighbors, but hated to burden them with his pets on such short notice.”

Each example presents a very different character. In the first, he is a jerk. In the second, he is considerate. Most new writers won’t allow you to make these assumptions. They simply state the facts and move on. Doing so detracts from the narrative. Don’t tell me Simon Kress is a jerk, show me how he is one.

The shambler Kress simply shooed outside and left to fend for itself.

The image of Kress shooing this thing outside was very comical to me. The door swings open, out pops the shambler (whatever that is), and the door slams shut. Very Pixar like. All of that action from one simple verb: Shoo.

A good action verb can go a long ways. Many times we forget just how creative our readers are. We often feel the need to spell things out and list actions step by step. In result, we slow down the pacing and risk losing our readers.

Take this for example:
The ghost could be seen standing outside his window. Frightened, the man got up out of bed and ran for the door.

That’s 22 words! Yikes. Let’s write the same sentence using strong action verbs instead:

Outside his window, the ghost appeared. With a yelp, the man leapt from his bed and bolted.

Not only is this sentence shorter, but the stronger verbs paint a much more frantic picture for the reader. Plus, we see that he is frightened by his actions, so there’s no point in saying it in the sentence.

The piranha could always eat each other if he were detained longer than expected. They’d done it before. It amused him.

This is just icing on the cake for me. This is where the reader goes… Oh man, this guy’s worse than I thought!

It’s also a perfect example of show vs. tell. It’s disturbing how easily this choice is made. You can almost see Kress smirking at the thought of it.

So, in eight sentences we get a very clear picture of who Simon Kress is. I don’t know the color of his eyes or how ripped his chest is, but that’s okay. Eye color was never much of a hook for me anyway.

As seen above, Simon Kress is unsettling at best. We know this from the start, and are fascinated to watch this little seed of evil grow in him as the story progresses. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s a terrific story that is sure to leave you satisfied (if not a little disturbed).

Here’s a prompt for you. In ten sentences or less, present a character struggling with a decision. Do this for two or three completely different characters using the same dilemma. How does each one resolve the issue? What does their solution reveal about them?

Thanks for reading and, as always, good luck.