How Video Games Can Transform Your Writing (Guest post by Author Allison D. Reid)…

No, I haven’t lost my mind, and I’m not a video game addict either—I am totally serious. I’ve been passionate about writing my whole life; participated in writing groups, gone to conferences, taken more classes on writing than I can remember, and even majored in writing in college. But it was through a video game that I learned to really be a story teller and develop characters that breathed a life of their own.

Find a game where you can roleplay with others.

I’m not talking about your standard shoot-em-up, follow the canned story line from point A to point Z until you defeat the big boss kind of game though. I’m talking about the open-ended kind. The games that give you an interactive world full of other players, and opportunities to challenge yourself by building skills and going on quests, either of the game’s making or your own. The games where you can engage with other storytellers and actually roleplay. As writers, we sometimes enjoy good reviews or fan mail, but we don’t typically get to experience the immediate reactions of those reading our stories. Getting to not only experience those reactions, but have readers respond back in a way that influences what you write next, teaches you a lot about what it takes to make an engaging character or story.

Build your own narrative within the game, and connect your stories.

My own book series has its distant origins in one such game, called Ultima Online. As far as I know, its servers are still running, though I no longer play. What started out as something entertaining to do in the evenings after work, became an incredible creative outlet. It resulted in a massive collection of interconnected stories and vignettes that I and a small group of other players built upon for years. The interplay between world, history, and character became a wellspring for the imagination—a boundless source of ideas just waiting to be explored. Even though the game world had its own official history and storyline, following it wasn’t necessary. We made up our own history for that world, our own mythology, and tied it into our individual storylines. Everything we did in game continued to feed into the larger story, so it just kept growing.

Become your character(s) when you’re in game, flaws and all.

Morganne and Elowyn

The Original Morganne and Elowyn, circa 1998.

Roleplaying taught me more about character development than all of my previous writing coursework combined. Why? My characters were no longer theoretical. There was no omniscient narrator between me and their deepest inner thoughts and feelings. With no set plotline to consider, and no need to balance out the actions and thoughts of other characters at the same time, all I needed to focus on was being my chosen character at that moment in time. When I stepped into the role of Morganne, for instance, I really pulled on her boots and peered out at the world through her eyes rather than my own. I spoke, thought, felt, and reasoned like she did.

Unlike in a story or novel where I maintained control over what would happen next, I never knew what Morganne might encounter from day to day. Different situations would arise based on the actions of other players, and I would have to react, not as myself, but as Morganne. And I didn’t have days or weeks to mull the implications of those reactions, either. I had to quickly base them on what I knew of her as a person and stay true to her integrity as a character. Whatever I did, whatever I said, could not be taken back or re-written later.

With real-time roleplaying there could always be unanticipated consequences, of course. After all, I was dealing with the varied personalities of other players’ characters and their background stories. I might make new friends who would come to my defense in times of need. Or I might make new enemies, who would from then on make a point of coming after me. But every decision, every interaction became a part of who Morganne was, and got woven into her larger narrative, until thread by thread, a rich and complex character came into being.

Take the characters you love beyond the game.

The game gradually changed; friends came and went, and my own life circumstances left me little time to play. The day I shut down my account, it literally felt like a part of me had died. It’s a strange thing to grieve over people that aren’t real, yet they had become real to me. What would become of those characters I had invested so many years, and so much of my inner self, into developing? Instead of shelving all of those old stories, and resigning my beloved characters to oblivion, I preserved them in the form of my first novel, and then my second, with still more to come. Not just my characters either, but the memories of so many others that I had met and been influenced by along the way. Fifteen years later I’m still drawing from that infinite wellspring I discovered in, yes, a video game. I’ll probably still be drawing from it fifteen years from now, because I truly love my characters and the new world and storylines I’ve made for them.

Other ways video games can help your writing.

I still play other video games on occasion, though I’m careful not to let them suck too much of my writing time away. Here are some other simple ways they can help.

  • If you’re in a game where roleplaying is possible, this can be a great time to experiment with unusual characters or story lines—particularly those that take you out of your comfort zone. Try them in the game before making them part of your current work in progress. Let the other people you play with serve as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. See how they react to your experimental character/storyline, and ask for feedback that will help you decide if it works or not.
  • World building can be challenging. If you’re having trouble visualizing your own world, how can you make it a real place for your readers? Maybe you are trying to figure out a castle’s layout, how a certain village would look, or describe some other important location in your book. Build it in Minecraft. It’s not a roleplaying game, but in it you can build just about anything you can imagine, block by block. I’ve terraformed landscapes, made castles, medieval villages, seaside mansions, and all sorts of other things. Sometimes through the building process you realize that the vision in your head isn’t actually possible or practical, or takes up way more, or way less space than you thought.
  • Sometimes when I’m struggling with ideas or something I’m working on isn’t quite right, video games provide a much needed mental break. Ideas can still be percolating in the back of my mind while I get myself refocused, or re-energized.

So the next time you’re looking for a video game diversion, don’t feel guilty about it—make it count. Pick a game that can actually help you hone your writing skills while you play. You might get more out of it than you ever thought possible.


 

Thanks to Chris Graham for posting my article on The Story Reading Ape blog!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

No, I haven’t lost my mind, and I’m not a video game addict either—I am totally serious. I’ve been passionate about writing my whole life; participated in writing groups, gone to conferences, taken more classes on writing than I can remember, and even majored in writing in college. But it was through a video game that I learned to really be a story teller and develop characters that breathed a life of their own.

Find a game where you can roleplay with others.

I’m not talking about your standard shoot-em-up, follow the canned story line from point A to point Z until you defeat the big boss kind of game though. I’m talking about the open-ended kind. The games that give you an interactive world full of other players, and opportunities to challenge yourself by building skills and going on quests, either of the game’s making or your own. The…

View original post 1,405 more words

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Self-Editing: The Importance of Consistency

When you’re editing your own work for publication, one of the easiest ways to look like an amateur is by not being consistent. Character names, place names, capitalization, spacing, indentations, and general formatting can end up varying a lot when you’re working on a lengthy manuscript that takes months or years to complete.

Even though I’m an editor, I can’t always keep that hat on while I’m in theeditor creative process of writing. There are times when just getting the words out is the most important thing, and the detail work of refining must be set aside for a later time. But that later time must eventually come, and all of those little inconsistencies must be fixed for the sake of the work’s integrity.

To help you understand what I’m talking about in practical terms, here are some actual examples of inconsistencies I found (and fixed) when I got to the final editing stage of Ancient Voices:

    • The name of one of my minor characters had been spelled 3 different ways.
      An easy way to prevent this is to save all of your character names into your spell check. That way if a name gets redlined, you know you need to pay attention instead of just ignoring it. For some reason I hadn’t done that with this character’s name and it almost got past me…almost. 
    • I had sometimes capitalized Winter Festival (making it a proper name) and at other times left it lower case, indicating it was just a general description of the event. I had to decide whether or not to make it a proper name, then go back and adjust everything accordingly. I had done the same thing for words like Shrine and Troll.
      A simple find/replace will work if you have the “match case” box checked. 
    • Ok, so this betrays my age a little, but in High School Business class I learned to type on an electric typewriter. Back then, it was drilled into our heads that you put two spaces after every period and colon. This rule has since changed, but I can’t seem to re-train my fingers. I try for a while, inevitably lapsing back into hitting that spacebar twice after every period. I’ve kind of given up. But obviously I have to fix this before publication, and this involves thousands of minor corrections in a full length work.
      Thankfully, find/replace will correct this also. 
    • At the beginning of some chapters I had included the chapter numbers, and for others just the name was there. For one in particular I had changed my mind about the chapter name, changing it in the body of the writing, but not in the Table of Contents.
      Always make sure that your chapter headers are consistent in terms of formatting, and in content. Do a final check that your Table of Contents page matches up. 
    • Word’s grammar check is frequently dead wrong, but when you’re all finished editing and think you’ve fixed absolutely everything, run it anyway. It caught a couple of errors for me that I was happy to fix. In one place I had written “in” twice but not picked up on it. In another I had used the incorrect word…spelled right…but contextually incorrect. Simple mistakes, yet I would not have wanted them in the published book. 
    • Spoken words are always in quotes, whereas direct thoughts are in italics. I found several places where I had forgotten to italicize thoughts.
      Sadly there is no easy way to find this, you just have to be very aware when you’re proofing. 
    • When your publisher offers you the option of a printed proof or digital one, take the printed proof! Yes, you may have to pay for it. Yes, it will take time to get delivered. All of that is really annoying, when all you want to do is quickly scan through the digital copy and click that “approve” button. But considering how long you’ve worked on your manuscript, you can wait another week. 

Make sure your cover looks good in print and not just on screen. You may have reached the point where you feel like you can’t possibly read through your book one…more…time!  When you’re done having your mental temper tantrum, man up, find a comfy chair, and read it again anyway. Pretend you’re a reader who has just paid for this book and is hoping it will be worth the investment. I found stray errors in my printed proof that I did not see, or could not have seen, in my submitted file. Among other things, I found places with weird spacing and formatting from the conversion process, two places where closing quotes were missing, and not all of the italicized thoughts that I had so carefully looked for and fixed were showing up. I had to correct the ones that had not converted properly. I was extremely glad that I had taken the time to read through the printed proof.

All lessons learned, and I’m sharing them because I know from experience how easy it is to get tripped up by the little things. Self-editing is extremely hard—way harder than the writing itself, and harder than editing for someone else. I hope my book is perfect, but I can’t make any promises. Maybe some reader has already found a mistake I missed and snickered about it. But there are plenty of books out there from big publishing houses that end up with small errors in them, too. I’ve even found some in my beloved Narnia Chronicles collection. Nobody is perfect, not even publishing house staff editors. That doesn’t mean we give up trying, because when there are too many little problems in a book, that’s all the reader will notice and remember. It is a major hazard of self-editing, so if you have to go that route, be prepared to do a lot of extra work, and ask others around you for help. In the end, your creative masterpiece is worth the effort.

Want more self-editing tips?  Click here for another article on the subject from earlier this year.

Dare to imagine an unforgettable place.

fantasy_worldWhat gives an imaginary place life?  You can see its landscape across the written page so clearly that you could very well be watching a movie.  You can touch the objects around you, smell the air, hear every sound.  The author has successfully transported you from this world into theirs.  You’re on a journey with a cast of characters you’re just getting to know, swept along the road to wherever the plot takes you.

Some books make for a fast, entertaining read.  They are enjoyable in the moment, but ultimately forgettable amidst a growing mound of other books you’ve read over the years. But other books stay with you.  For whatever reason, they speak to your heart, burn into your memory.  When you think of that imaginary place, there is a deep sense of longing within you.  You want to go there again and again—you want to believe that it is not just imaginary…that it is real.  When the book ends, you go into a form of silent mourning because you’ve left a little piece of yourself between the pages.  The only way to go back is to read it again, and so you do, and over time that place becomes part of who you are.

How does the author do it?  There’s no simple answer to that.  What speaks to one person’s soul might put a different person right to sleep.  In addition to a well-crafted plot and lovable characters, there are certain qualities that seem to exist in each of those unforgettable imaginary places that withstand the test of time.

  • The world contains wonder and beauty, so vividly described that I can imagine myself there. Going to that world is like taking a vacation from my own, and I care what happens to it as the plot progresses.  When a world contains nothing but darkness and hardship, I can’t get away from it fast enough—what incentive do I have to stay?
  • There is still an element of mystery. The world of my daily routine is pretty tame; well-groomed and largely cemented over.  Convenient, yes.  Inspiring?  Not especially.  But I won’t be braving the wilds of the Alaskan frontier any time soon, so getting to explore an unknown landscape is fun, even if I can only do it from my recliner.
  • The world has its own distinct history and culture. I lived in Germany for 6 years, and driving just a few hours in any one direction could take me to a completely different country, with its own language, traditions, and history.  Each culture was distinct and fiercely guarded.  The best imaginary worlds are those that feel as authentic as the real one, as if I could hop in my car and drive there (or walk, or ride a horse, or take a boat depending on the era).  Authors who can infuse their worlds with a rich history and culture really make us believers.
  • The people have a faith, or at least a mythology, that ties in with its history and culture. This has been part of our humanity from the very beginning—it is who we are.  The nature of our beliefs may be diverse, but we all believe in something.
  • The way people live is real. A whole world full of royalty, or perfect, rich, Hollywood types would make me roll my eyes and close the book, I fully admit it.  While interesting in small doses, that’s not the kind of life experience I can relate to, and what makes me keep reading is the ability to make a connection.  I need to be able to empathize with what the characters are going through and put myself in their place.
  • The author doesn’t gloss over the details of daily life, but lets the reader see how people work, eat, play, sing, learn, and create. This puts me one step closer to being a character myself, and becoming immersed in that imaginary world. When I can mentally make a life for myself there, and all of the other elements of a good book fall into place too, I’m hooked.

For all of you who have fallen in love with other people’s worlds over the years, what won your heart?  What is the source of that internal ache, that longing to go back even when the adventure is long over?