Words of Wisdom, from Author J Robert King

July 14, 2012
Famed author of Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Magic: the Gathering, Planescape, Guild Wars 2 novels, just to mention a few, J. Robert King (@jrobertking) was kind enough to offer me some advice on the preparation of novel writing.

Hey, Jarrod:

For many novels, I've created a detailed outline that breaks the novel into chapters with a paragraph or two per chapter to explain what will be happening.

This approach has a number of benefits:
1. I can explore the whole story arc in a condensed form.
2. The extended outline allows me to work with pacing.
3. Revisions to the story can occur before it is totally organic (and revision feels more like surgery)
4. I can get buy-in from stakeholders at a publishing house (often a gaming company).
5. The outline serves as a writing guide, allowing me to write a chapter a day (if they are short) or half a chapter.
6. The outline helps me pace myself in terms of content written and time remaining.

Having said all of that, the extended outline is just an extended outline--a plan. It isn't alive yet. In the actual drafting phase of the project, all of those initial ideas have to take on an organic existence. Some things in the outline won't work because the characters don't want to do it that way. That's great. When you reach the point that your characters are resisting your outline, go with the characters. They have come to real life.

Then you have to figure out whether this is a small diversion and the characters can get back on plan shortly afterward, or whether you need to rewrite parts of the outline.

Now, though it is true I've written most of my work-for-hire stuff in this fashion, I've written most of my spec stuff in a completely different way. Sometimes I just leap in and write. Other times, I do a lot of research (as I did with Angel of Death) and allow ideas to percolate before I start in. Sometimes, I write a one-line proposal, and a one-page synopsis to get a publisher to buy the concept, and then I just write from those.

This organic approach puts the characters in charge from the beginning. There's no problem of having a book that's dead because it's just a structure with no life in it. This approach allows for amazing surprises and brilliant invention.

However, it also really easily goes astray. Because the characters are in charge, you'll get into a lot of dead ends, and the book will be overwritten and rambling. Cutting will be key during the revision stage. It's also tough to keep going this way because you don't have a map, so you have to simply step out your door and see where the road takes you, to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins.

If you write from an extensive outline, you have control, which you need to gradually lose so that your characters can come to life. If you write from your imagination solely, you have no control, and you'll need to gradually gain it to rein in the chaos. With either approach, you'll be happy with the result if you can cover the whole spectrum. With either approach, you'll be disappointed in the result if you go only halfway.

That's my best advice about how to get started. Choose a method that fits
1. you,
2. the story you are writing,
3. the form you are writing (short story, novella, novel),
4. the people you are writing for (including readers and publishers), and
5. the context you are writing in (how much time you have overall, and how much time you have per day to work).

If your approach works best for all of these factors, you should do wonderfully.

Thanks for your questions, Jarrod--and good luck with the manuscript!


Melancholy - Short Fiction

March 28, 2012
An old, reviled thought rose to the surface.  He was probably the oldest being alive.  Truly alive, that is, disqualifying full-blooded gods.  He'd been around since before the magic left.  Before the magic left...  They were good days, he mused.
He brought the cup to his lips, took a sip, and placed it back on its saucer.

"I was an advisor to rulers and emperors long before you", he muttered to the silent king.  "They were good days", he said, echoing his thoughts.

He was born from a union betw...
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Wednesday's Interview - Short Fiction

March 22, 2012
"Good afternoon, and welcome to the show.  We are lucky to have with us today the Immortal, Wednesday", the presenter said, turning to face the hulking blue form beside her.
"Wednesday, thanks for coming".
"My pleasure, Keri, and thanks for having me", Wednesday smiled.
"Now, you're an Immortal, that must be exciting.  How did it all start?"
Wednesday's smile broadened.
"Well, I have to admit that a few centuries ago, during the Plight of Man, I was a mortal, just like you".
"No", Keri said, feigni...
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The Spirit (or at least skeleton) of Belief

January 4, 2010

Well.  Another Christmas down, and I hope Santa came to visit you with lots of nice presents, as he sprinted in his own private, global race to visit everyone in 24 hours.

Speaking of red running things, or rather, things running red, I've been able to catch up with a favourite game of my past - albeit in digital - Blood Bowl.

The game itself is a fairly faithful reproduction of the board game, although some teams didn't make the cut - like my beloved Undead, and the Dark Elves (which have sinc...

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Quantifiable benefits of story

November 12, 2009

The good folks over at The Narrative Designers Network posted a link to a great article, where they were trying to observe the quantifiable benefits of story.  In their research they came across the Significant Objects project, where a little piece of story, a 'narrative context', is given to normal objects.

The stories created are purely fictitious, but the value 80 or so objects sold rose by over an incredible 2000%!

How did this happen?  Well, Hugh Macleod over at Gaping Void often talks...

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Pictures from GameJam 09

October 29, 2009
As mentioned previously, we've recently had a GameJam 09 event here in Sydney, which was a chance for some of us video game types to get together and discuss what we're working on, some of the popular trends, and also some current problems that this industry is facing.

Not many pictures have emerged at this stage, but there are some here, featuring yours truly giving the presentation featured in my previous bog entry.  I'm the handsome bearded one with the microphone.

It was a great day, and fu...
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GameJam 09 Presentation

October 14, 2009

I recently gave a short speech at Sydney AFTRS GameJam 09, which was great fun, not to mention a good opportunity to meet like-minded people.  I was given the opportunity to talk about one of my favourite topics, story, which I'd like to present here for anyone interested:

"There were some early talks by some of my erstwhile IGDA peers, touching on story and narrative.  Dan Graf looked at the anatomy of game story, Chris Lee delved into non-linearity, and Daniel Dresser talked about story vs g...

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Sorcerer of the Red Dawn

September 30, 2009

An amazing dust storm devoured Sydney last week, turning the harbour city into an orange, post-apocalyptic, nuclear wasteland.  Except that it was full of people, and business as usual.

When I woke, at first there was a deep, blood-red colour, from horizon to horizon.  Very ominous and cool.  My heart quickened, wondering what such a dawn might herald.  I'd been through dust storms in my home town, although I had never awoken to one so pervading and red.

I couldn't help but wonder what our ...

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August 22, 2009
Greetings and so forth.

Do you often buy a game without looking at the blurb on the box?  Or a book without reading the outline on the cover?  Or an unseen DVD without paying heed to the story on the case?

Well, maybe you've taken the gamble on the occasional DVD - sometimes a great list of cast or an amazingly grabbing picture may make you think it's worth the punt.  And to be honest, they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words.

But words themselves are great, powerful, artistic magick...
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