Friday, November 13, 2009

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind the Curtain

Just a quick post today because I was somewhat irresponsible last night, and while I should have been writing, I was finishing Dragon Age. Totally worth it, by the way. The ending was disappointing only in that it meant I could not continue to keep playing this game. I may talk more about it later, but I'll wait a bit until the glowing haze of joy has faded.

So, I'm grabbing the keyboard in the few minutes I have this morning before I need to start work to answer a question. The inestimable Paul Tevis asked me what my process was for writing this stuff, which was a little bit of a head-scratcher because I don't really think of it as a process, but Paul is awesome, so I thought about it for a bit.

I tend to think about this writing in terms of seeds - little ideas that could use some fleshing out. Sometimes these pop up in other places, like blogs or twitter (the recent spin on running raids in 4e was inspired by a comment on twitter) and I think they need a response or elaboration, sometimes they're something that I'm twigged to by a piece of news or fiction[1], sometimes they just come out of left field.

I actually have been writing about things like this for years, but it usually just ends up in one of my black notebooks (Moleskines or Piccadilly - I'm a notebook and pen enthusiast, but that's another topic for another day). I'm almost never without pen and paper to capture random ideas, and I make a habit of keeping them on hand, even if I can't use them immediately. It doesn't always work - I sometimes come back to discover some entirely enigmatic note which I'm sure made complete sense to me when I wrote it, but is now entirely incomprehensible. A few of those experiences have burned me enough that I try to be a little kinder when writing notes to my future self now, because as far as I can tell, he's not that bright.

For all my good intentions, these remain kind of disorganized, spread across several notebooks, which is bad in terms of being methodical, but is great in terms of the voyage of discovery that comes out of flipping back through them. As an example, one of my current idea pages has the following list:
  • Games as Service and the WOTC business model
  • Drama Fatigue
  • Mechanics are like superpowers - if you have one, it's what you use.
  • Myopia, Isms, and the Dawkins Effect (where people who might agree with you reject your ethos because you're an ass)
  • Internet Toxins
  • The Creative Advantages of Genre Ignorance
  • Ideas that work once ('I Am Hope')
  • Neil Gaiman's Terminator (I have no idea what I meant by this one, but I wish I did)
  • The Harmonium as Canadians
Some of these might get fleshed out, some might not. I tend to write them up in a method similar to how Iwould try to explain them conversationally, and that provides something of a natural filter on how much to write, and what to write about. If I could explain it concisely, then I've no reason to write for very long[2], but if I feel kind of idiotic explaining it to my hypothetical audience, then it might not be that great a topic.

The ideas that don't will continue to rattle around and may show up in other things, but the physicality of the notebooks means they'll stick around as long as I need. Certainly, some of these are not fully fleshed out ideas, but the process of writing or talking about these things helps me work through them (something I think Paul understands), and as far as that goes, there is a very selfish element to my writing.

A lot of what I write is for my own sake, which is why I've historically been perfectly willing to do it in a private environment like a notebook. I'm enthusiastically willing to be wrong, or to invest a lot of energy going down a rabbit hole that ends up going nowhere, for the sheer joy of it.

Translating that process to something public is, to be honest, a little weird. I find myself checking page views and comments and engaging in the usual blog neurosis of wondering if I'm talking to the void. But even that is a little selfish - each day's writing brings me one day closer to being able to set aside that worry, which is good. It's an ugly, unnecessary monkey.

Anyway, I could probably ramble on, but time is short, so I'll get this posted and just wish everyone a happy Friday. See you next week.

1 - If it's from the news, it's usually something that's interesting. If it's fiction, it's usually seeing something done very well or very badly, and wondering how to capture that in a game.

2 - This can also spawn its own ideas. Sometimes an idea is very simple to explain, but only if the person you're speaking to already grasps another idea or set of ideas. Canadian harmonium, for example, is a really potent idea to me, but that comes from an investment in A) Planescape and B) The history of the RCMP, and the contrast between the ethos of the Cowboy and the Mountie. With those two things together, it becomes possible to really flesh out the Harmonium as something more interesting (and more positive) than red armored bully-boy-stand-in-fascists. But that's a pretty specialized focus, so that one gets put in my pocket for bar talk (or maybe a home game) until I decide I really want to write a post about Mounties and my profound love of Due South.


  1. Neil Gaiman's Terminator

    Obviously the line on the Earth where the sun sets and Neil can take off his sunglasses and reveal his true self. Although it does make one wonder what the other terminator would be called <grin>

    And the Harmonium of Canadians was interesting even without the footnote. With the footnote, it becomes rather more interesting, eh. Are there people that don't love Due South?

  2. I'm pretty sure they're the people who haven't _seen_ Due South, thank you kindly.

    -Rob D.

  3. Plus one vote for the Due South post!

  4. Just posting to say thank you for what you ae doing. Interesting ideas that are well presented. Thanks.

  5. Due South was an excellent show, but I've never seen a Mountie walking around in the Reds outside of a summer parade...

    Though interestingly my dad just told me a few weeks back that my grandmother's family owned the breeding stock for the first Musical ride horses... which is pretty cool.

    Also not all Canadians are super-nice. For-instance, some ppl disagree with me strictly because I can sometimes be an ass, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the exception that proves the rule because I know people who are bigger asshats than me up here.

    Now to do more research on this Harmonium...

  6. Also, sorry for the odd, disjointed comment. Just givin a shout-out. All those note ideas sound wicked and I want to see posts on them all! Get on it will ya!


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