Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

A post about a fortnight ago at Some Space to Think has me thinking about what tools a DM has to build a ‘personal’ game, as well as what ‘personal’ actually means in a gaming context. Of course, this means that what would, to normal people, be a discussion of role-playing tips and techniques has turned into a lengthy series of posts that might as well be called ‘justifying my BA in English literature.’

I promise that the next post will actually be about role-playing. Honest. But a little literary theory never hurt anybody, and it’s important to understanding what I want to talk about next time.

For someone who majored in English literature, I have a generally antagonistic relationship with literary theory. For example, I tend to frame my analysis of work based off of my knowledge of the time period the work was written. It makes me cranky when people insist that a Freudian analysis of an 1847 work is clearly what the author intended. Other things that make me cranky: anything written by Michel Foucault, deconstruction, New Criticism.


If you think this is too hard on literary criticism, read the Wikipedia article on deconstruction

Panel 4 is pretty much how I got through college.

But the point of this article is not to rail against literary criticism, as much as I enjoy doing so. No, the point of this article is to discuss one of the backbones of Gothic literary theory: the sublime and the beautiful. Believe me when I say it’s taking all my willpower to resist speaking at length on the rise and development of the Gothic novel; how socio-political pressures in England influenced the typical Gothic setting; or the subversion/reinforcement of traditional gender roles in these novels. It’s really, really hard.

In modern times, the word sublime has taken on a connotation of something exquisite or transcendental. That’s not the definition Edmund Burke was going for when he wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Burke drew on the original definition of sublime: a force of great magnitude that the mind has difficulty encapsulating. Infinity is an example of one such force. Darkness is another. Because our perception of these forces is limited, an emotional tension is created. On one side is our natural curiosity—we want to find out more about these mysterious forces. On the other side is our natural fear of the unknown, driven largely by our fear of death. Thus, the sublime is a force that compels us, but can also destroy us.

The beautiful, as Burke defines it, something that is well-made and aesthetically pleasing. A painting or sculpture can be beautiful. If I recall right, milk is also beautiful according to Burke.

On the other hand, maybe he was on to something.....

He goes on to say that the purpose of beautiful objects is to create pleasure, and also to calm the nerves, such as after encountering something sublime.

Burke also has a lot to say about pleasure and pain.

Fun fact: literary criticism is a lot more entertaining if you picture Pinhead reading it out loud to his fellow Cenobites. Just saying.

In fact, he spends more time talking about pleasure and pain than he does the sublime and the beautiful. Which is kind of odd, when you consider the title of his book. Both the sublime and the beautiful create pleasure, although through different means. The beautiful, as I mentioned earlier, drawing from the ‘passion of love’ (and not lust or desire, as Burke takes many pains to state), calms and soothes the soul of the viewer and creator. The sublime creates pleasure through a vicarious thrill—we are scared by it, but also relieved that it’s just a story or it couldn’t happen to me.

I’ve gone on for too long on a relatively minor work of literary criticism. And this is a very surface level description of Burke’s work. But it’s a good starting point for what I want to talk about next time. I might need to elaborate some more as I go on, but I’m hoping I’ve covered the most important parts of the work.

In summary:

1) Things we don’t understand are scary
2) Milk is tasty
3) Literary Criticism is a load of dingo droppings
4) Things we find pretty calm us down

EDIT: A quote from my dearest darling husband: “Lies, a BA in English is never justified, only rationalized.” How true, how true….


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Better late than never, right?

But first, an examination for how I did with my resolutions last year:

I, the guilt party, do henceforth solemnly swear to make a concerted effort to write on a steady basis.
I was doing all right until, you know, I stopped in October-ish. So this past year more has been written for just me than I think I’ve ever really done before. Not too bad. All in all, I’d give myself a B- on this one.

I will stop giving head-space to other people’s storylands and expand on my own.
Actually did a decent job this year on this one. My D&D campaign actually has back story! And my own stories are better for it, as well.

I will push my boundaries, and sometimes I will fail, but I will learn something from having gone further than I’ve ever gone before.
This year I picked up some new hobbies, including some things I swore I would NEVER EVER do. Good job, me!

I will actually get off my butt and exercise .
Sword club counts as exercise, right? I go for lots of walks (especially when working on my other resolution on developing my own stories), and even run sometimes. Exercise! Healthy living!

I will change the world, in small mysterious ways.
Uhm, maybe? I don’t even know what I meant by this one, so… probably did not succeed.

My resolutions for the new year?
1) Start and see a new project through to completion. I don’t know what it will be yet, but I’ve been itching to work on something different for a while.
2) Get better at fighting hand-to-hand/grappling
3) Figure out new and better ways to DM my ever-growing hoard.
4) Make one really awesome costume this year, instead of just talking about it like I always do.
5) Get caught up to the current timeline with the campaign summaries on this blog (this one will probably not happen).
6) Failing number five, I will at least try to post more often here. Given my current track record, this could be as often as TWO times a month.

Any of my faithful readers have any resolutions you’d care to share?

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This morning, I woke up with a story idea in my head. A complete story, with beginning, middle, and end. Characters, plot twists, climaxes– the story was ready to go. And despite it all, this troubles me, since this normally isn’t how I operate.

Stories, for me, start as a single image, a frame in a comic book. Perhaps there’s some dialogue, perhaps not. From that one image, I need expand the story. And it’s a long, hard process filled with rewrites, thrown out pages, and bad writing. But in the end, I’m proud of my writing, knowing that I’ve fought with it until it’s the best it could possibly be.

So to have something come easily… I don’t know why that bothers me so much. Maybe it’s part of my personal belief system that anything worth doing is worth working hard for. I want to earn each victory, knowing that I got it through honest work and not through blind luck or drifting by on talent. Perhaps that’s a foolish way to think. Perhaps I’ve just read too much Robert Browning in my youth, and I let it color my approach to life.

Perhaps it’s nothing. Perhaps this story will be as hard a work as the ones that have come before it, just better planned out than normal. Perhaps I’m just getting worked up over a non-issue. Perhaps.

This has me in more of a tizzy than writer’s block ever did.

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Hey, I made it to one hundred posts! How exciting! It only took about 10 months to get here. By my very quick and off the cuff math, that’s about one post every three days. Falling a bit short of my goal of five posts a week, but not bad, overall. I suppose there’s nothing for it, except to post more.

You see, my writing can all be explained by this image. My drive to write is Pac-man, my inspiration is power pellets, and the ghosts symbolize procrastination, writer's block, distraction, and self-doubt. Pac-man is such a deep game.

As large round numbers seem to signal a time for reflection, I’ve been pondering the direction I want to take with the blog. To tell the truth, I’m a bit unsure of what to do. Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop writing! I’m just less sure of what I want to write about. Should I move more towards crunch in my posts, and move out of my relative comfort zone? Or should I continue writing whatever fluff comes to mind? I hate the idea of stagnating just because I’m comfortable, but even so, I can’t shake the feeling that I would somehow be “selling out.” Either way, there will be some changes in the future, even if I’m not entirely sure what they are yet.

Reads left to right

I rest my case.

When describing myself or my role in the group, I usually classify myself as ‘comedic support’ or ‘weird animaly-type sidekick thing.’ I’m usually pretty laid back. I’ll support my friends as much as possible, but being in charge…? It goes against my very nature to act as leader. And yet I’ve somehow I’m… content to be in charge of the weekly D&D game. My newly found confidence also seems to have extended to getting Sword Club off the ground. One of my worst habits is my tendency to self-depreciate, so I think it’s good for me to take a look back and realize how much awesome stuff I’ve actually done. Somehow, I managed to work a create change in-game mechanics and game lore into my campaign, at fairly seamlessly. I still haven’t caused a party wipe! I have yet to grow tired and complacent with the game, which means I’m still not afraid to try new things, even if I end up failing all over the place. Sword club keeps expanding, and I’m still thinking of ways to teach fighting techniques to my little swordlings (although I do defer to two of my friends since they both have black belts in Tae Kwan Do). I taught people how to fight with rondels all by myself! I wrote over 100 posts (some were just too awful to see the light of day). I also learned about the best sport ever.

Life may not be exactly where I thought it would be right now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It’s just different, and that can be good. It’s been a fun trip, and I’m looking forward to the next 100 posts.

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Personally, I’ve never been one for superstitions. Black cats are sweet. The only bad luck I gather from a broken mirror is the possibility of getting cut on a shard. As for stepping under ladders…

Artist's rendition of me carrying a ladder. We call this the Schwarzengrubber maneuver. It's a little something I picked up in the navy. Also the easier and safer way to transport a ladder short distances when alone.

It wasn’t until I said “MacBeth” aloud in front of an actor that I realized how important superstitions are. The actor flipped out, convinced that the show was going to end in disaster. Thinking quickly, I spit on the ground and ran around in a circle three times. That was enough to calm the actor down, and he went out and gave a great performance.

Rituals and rites, especially in a typical fantasy setting, work by belief made manifest. The gods are real because we believe in them, and we believe in them because they are real. It’s a neat cycle, really, thinking about it. And the development of local superstitions can convey information to the players in a  more interesting fashion than straight-up telling them. If, for example, the townsfolk of GenericMcNPCville kill any spider on sight, the players might infer that there have been issues with spiders in GenericMcNPCville in the past, be it the standard giant spider variety or the slightly more divine side of things. Another example: the rival town, Plotdevice City, believes that making direct eye contact will lead to calamitous events. This leads up nicely to some kind of mind control/zombie/possession type scenario.

I’ve done a basic scan of my go-to Forgotten Realms sources, but I haven’t found anything that is really matching up with what I’m looking for. Mixed feelings– it allows for more flexibility on my part, but then again it means more work for me. Boo on work.

Still, even though I know that it’s going to add a stupid amount of work to my planning, but I can’t help but look forward to it. It’s the not-so-suppressed literature nerd in me: I get all giggly over new ways to tell stories. Well, at least new to me. But the point is, I’m curious to see what happens next. And I know whatever I do, my players will throw me a curve ball, and it will be great.

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A Simple Question

I was going through some boxes when I came across an old journal. I flipped through it, trying to place when it when I wrote it, when my eyes fell on one particular sentence.

“What do you want out of life?”

Simple words, words from a lifetime ago. Setting the book down, my original quest forgotten, I pondered the question again, like I had so many years ago. The journal was from right after I graduated from college, a time of transition and flux.

“What do you want out of life?”

The obvious answer to that question is happiness. Around that time, I wasn’t sure what would make me happy in the long run. I had a vague idea that I should go for a career in technical theater, but had no clue on how to make that a reality. That said, I was pretty content with the day-to-day stuff. Reading books in the sunshine; playing with the cats; watching movies in my room and eating edamame. I got a job doing what makes me happiest: keeping active and solving problems. Things were on the up-and-up.

But none of that had happened yet when I wrote that journal entry, at the end of a two-year long breakdown. Writing that entry, I was staring into my future and only seeing an everlasting nothing.

“What do you want out of life?”

Hindsight being what it is, I can interpret this sentence in so many ways. It’s a cry for help, a plea to hold on, an exasperated outburst venting my frustration at my inability to get my act together. Maybe it was my mind trying to find something, anything to attach hope for the future. To tell the truth, I’m uncertain what was really my intent in writing that entry. But I want to think that I was trying to reach out and grab hold of something in the distance. To find some source of happiness that would be coming my way, if I just wait and work hard for it.

“What do you want out of life?”

Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am. I have a lot of what I want out of life. I have friends, family. The ability to work towards my long-term goals. I have things to laugh about, and people to laugh with. Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded that I’m on the right track; that despite the odds, despite people who doubt, despite those pesky quirks of genetics, I am content.

Isn’t that what we all really want?

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Well put, creepy man living in my clock. Well put indeed.

I’ve had problems writing recently. My time has been eaten up recently between the full-time job thing and the volunteering at a local theater in the evenings thing, but it feels that I’ve hit a brick wall with my writing. Maybe it’s because I take fewer walks in the evening now, or has more to do with the unfortunate return of my insomnia. Regardless of the cause, I am suffering from a bad case of writer’s block. I know the key to getting through writer’s block is just to write, but that would involve me getting motivated enough to move from my couch to the computer.

Maybe what bothers me the most is my lack of motivation.

It’s not even a lack of ideas, really. I just haven’t had the time, focus, and will to sit down and type for an hour or two each night. I just need to do it, and damn what my reptile brain tells me, I guess. Any tips out there for forcing oneself to write?

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