WWW: Fiasco Outlining pt3

I’m going to keep talking about this because I keep getting comments to the posts and comments really are crack to any blogger. So in part one of this series, I talked about the general notions of Fiasco and why I thought it might be an interesting outlining tool. In part two, I discussed how building a playset turned into a fantastic exercise in world building. Now we’re to part three, which takes place after I sat down with the playset and rolled the dice.

Give me a few minutes of blabbing, then I’ll post the other half of the playset below, because it was kinda cruel to only post half a playset last time.

I’m both satisfied and dissatisfied with the results of rolling the dice. And that’s fine, it’s rather where I expected to be at the moment. First, I’m satisfied because the entire process went fantastically well. My first experiment was to roll the dice on four characters, who ended up including a pair of outerlands explorers, one of whom was madly in love with the woman down the street, one of whom was illegally providing the results of their explorations to a shady businessman, and rival of the same woman down the street. The dice rolling mechanism did force a few decisions, but that’s part of the fun of Fiasco, and part of why I ultimately wanted to try outlining this way. When I was left with only two dice, both showing sixes, and was forced the need “To get out of the solar system” between the shady businessman and the woman down the street, it provided a twist I wouldn’t have otherwise felt was part of the story.

That said, I’m dissatisfied with the story. My goal was always to roll the dice four or five times and take the result I felt most compelled to write. This…likely wasn’t it. Though I will try a little outlining just to see where it goes. I’m also not certain if the final roll will be for four characters, three, five, or if I might even try something suggested in The Fiasco Companion and do seven characters rolled as two sets of four with one overlapping character. It’s about finding a good process, and I’ll probably conclude this series with an epilogue post in two weeks when everything is squared away and I (hopefully) have my story.

I also threw in a randomizer element other than the dice. My wife. Fiasco was designed for collaborative setup and play, part of the fun of the game is multiple inputs. For this first experiment we worked together setting up all four characters, but I may try again with her specifically taking two, and I the other two. Across means all relationships happen between one of my characters and one of hers. Adjacent means we could each set up one completely internal pairing without the input of the other. I see advantages to both. I may also try pulling in enough people for one per character, though I’m not sure when I’ll have time for that.

I did overcome a lot of the doubts I had about the playset, and how pedestrian some of its elements are. Having a mix of themed relationships and normal relationships worked for putting together the characters much better than if I tried to make ever relationship science-fiction. Even in fake worlds, people still need to have real connections. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t welcome input. The playset will probably be a work in progress until I start writing the story, tweaking it as I go.

So here you go, the relationships and needs tables for my playset, still called “Untitled of the Fourth Planet.”

(continue reading…)

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WWW: Fiasco Outlining, pt2

Two weeks ago, I posted about a game called Fiasco and its potential use as an outlining tool. Since that post, I’ve been working on a custom Fiasco playset, step one along the process. While there is no shortage of playsets offered by Bully Pulpit Games, with new ones posting every month, I decided to start with the creation of my own for two reasons. First, I really wanted to set the story on Mars, largely because I’ve been reading a lot of Ace Doubles lately. Second, I thought it would serve as a fantastic world building tool.

In terms of the latter, I was very happy with the process. I chose to create the four sets of lists required of a Fiasco Playset in an order intended to start with the most unique to the story and drill down to the most universal ones. That order: Locations, Objects, Needs, and Relationships.

Locations was a fantastic process. The table required 36 elements broken into six wider categories, so it meant not just thinking about the broad areas of Mars where a story may happen but specific elements within each broad area. It meant questions about both what mundane locations would still exist on my Mars, as well as what locations could spur intriguing stories. Objects, likewise, ended up being a mix of what we might consider the mundane as well as bizarre.

While I’ve created both Needs and Relationships tables, those are the ones I’m most likely to revisit. Perhaps that says something about my writing style, or perhaps it says something about underestimating those particular tables. While it’s true that people tend to have similar needs and relationships wherever they go, I have concerns that either or both tables are underwhelming. The next step in the process will probably involve refining both how I plan to use these tables to outline, and the actual elements in the tables. Relationships, especially, is important as it’s the most used tables. A standard four person game tends to have four relationships, two needs, one object, and one location. So, yes, I’m happiest with the least used tables.

At this point, even if I don’t end up using the playset to create the basis of a story, the world building that emerged from the Locations and Objects tables has been very helpful, and let me build a planet I’m excited about telling a story, or stories, in.

So I’ll share. Keep reading after the break, and I’ll provide a short background on my Mars and the Location and Object tables. Expect another post in one or two weeks that talks about the actual outlining process, and provides more finalized Needs and Relationships tables.

(continue reading…)

WWW: Outlining with Fiasco

In case you think I only watch Ze Frank and Vlogbrothers videos on YouTube, I also watch Geek and Sundry. Especially Wil Wheaton’s show TableTop, in which he gathers together his famous friends and they play table top games for the amusement of the home audience. This show is why I now own a copy of Small World. It’s also how I learned of a game called Fiasco, a GM-less role playing game published by Bully Pulpit Games. They put the game up in three parts, following the three major portions of Fiasco game play. The whole thing is roughly 95 minutes long. If you don’t have that time, and only want to watch the portion relevant to this post, that would be the set-up.

For those who don’t have the time for even the set-up video, a quick rundown. Fiasco is an RPG about characters with ambitions and no control. The story is generated not by a GM, but through a series of playsets and a pool of D6s, which provide some randomized chaos. During the Set-Up, each player establishes a relationship with the player to the left or right, which could be familial, business, or criminal. These relationships are spiced up with various needs for motivation, objects that the plot will revolve around, and locations where the story takes place.

In the end, it’s as much an exercise in multi-person collaborative story telling than it is a classic RPG.

I bring up Fiasco not as an advertisement for the game (though you can buy it here) but because it’s to be the focus of my next experiment in writing. Sometimes I like to try something new to shake up my process, see if it works. In the Fiasco Companion (buy it here) there’s a short interview near the back with writers using the game as part of their creative process, including one who used it to plot his Nanowrimo novel. Thoroughly intrigued, I’ve started building a playset that will form the basis for my next project, currently called “Untitled of the Fourth Planet.” I’m still in the process of building the playset, which is enjoyably difficult. I’ve started with the Locations table, where everything needs to be evocative. For example, here’s just one sixth of the Locations table from the playset used in the TableTop episode:

  • Clubs:
  1. Third-rate discotheque with a first-rate crowd
  2. All along on a crowded dance floor
  3. Inside Studio 54
  4. On the light-up dance floor of Medallions
  5. Last night of a club called Glamorous
  6. On the balcony at The Nyx, overlooking the dance floor

Evocative. They’re not plots in and of themselves, but they’re specific enough to get the creative juices flowing. It’s interesting that the exercise involves coming up with 35 that I probably won’t use to get to the one that I will. I started with locations not because they’re the most important aspect of the set-up, but because they’re most closely tied to world building and that’s typically where I like to start things.

I suspect, and the interview in the book bears it out, that the set-up will be the only part I actually play through to create my starting point. The game is great as a game, but…it’s a game. It’s designed for players to take turns, which doesn’t necessarily work in a story. It’ll be interesting because there is a certain amount of chaos in the set-up process, and I’ve had both positive and negative experiences with creating stories from prompts outside of my control.

If people are interested, I’ll do another post on this next week or the week after about how well this worked for outlining. If people really like, I can also post the playset once I’m done creating it. It’s all an experiment, trying to approach a story from a different direction. It could crash and burn entirely, but I’m hoping for at least some success.

Video Saturday – Advice to Writers – Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginners

Those of you who frequent the blog may be aware of author DL Thurston’s  previous post on Ze Frank (Motivating Creativity and Motivating Creatively).  For those of you who don’t know who Ze Frank is let me illuminate, aw heck, let me just borrow from Wikipedia –

Ze Frank is an online performance artist, composer, humorist, and public speaker. In 2001, Frank created an online birthday invitation and sent it to seventeen of his closest friends. Forwarded wildly, the invitation soon generated millions of hits and over 100 gigabytes of daily web traffic to Frank’s personal Web site. The site grew to include interactive group projects, short films, animations, and video games, many Flash-based, including children’s educational videos featuring handy tips such as “Don’t vacuum your face”.

On March 17, 2006, Frank launched the daily video program the show with zefrank. The format of the program combined commentary on media and current events with viewer contributions and activities. Each tightly edited three-to-five-minute episode combined Daily Show-style commentary on world events with songs, observations, and occasional games or challenges for his viewers to participate in. Thousands of photos, videos and music files were contributed by the audience. The show appeared each weekday until its final episode on March 17, 2007, exactly one year after its start. 

On February 27, 2012, Ze Frank announced that he was going to do a thrice-weekly show, that will be “same same but different” from The Show. Similar to his other projects, Frank’s new venture will be a collaboration between him and his audience. The show debuted on April 9, 2012 with an episode titled “An Invocation for Beginnings“.

All I can say, is that it is ridiculously awesome and if, after watching this, you don’t want to get up, and get out there, and do something…well, you have no soul.  😉

WWW: Synesthesia

I said something on Twitter yesterday that I stand by, even as it makes me uncomfortable:  “I hope it isn’t belittling the condition to say so, but I’ve always thought it would be fascinating to have that for one day.”

“That” is Synesthesia, a very real mental condition in which the wiring for the various senses gets crossed or confused, and people experience the wrong sorts of sensations for the wrong sort of stimulus.  Which means that shapes may have flavors or sounds may have colors.  Most commonly it results in letters or numbers being associated with specific colors within the mind.  What amazes me about this is the agreement between synesthetes about these letter-color combinations, almost like there’s something very clear that I’m just not getting.

I’m getting uncomfortable again, as though the previous statement makes this sound like something to be jealous of.  Let me stress, I find the condition fascinating not enviable.  Largely because it’s one of those ways where a brain can work so much differently from my own.  On the positive end of the spectrum I’ve seen it described as akin to perfect pitch (which is, from my understanding, a mixed blessing in and of itself) and on the negative end compared to color blindness.  I can’t say where the truth is, I don’t know where it lies.  I do know that some sufferers are just that, suffering.  Which is why I feel so uncomfortable standing behind that statement.

I really do wish I could know what it was like.  Just for one day.

See, as writers, we’re required to create a certain amount of Synesthesia in our work.  We need to be able to convey any amount of sensory experiences in simple words, nearly akin to turning any and all taste, smell, hearing, or touch into a visual experience.  And that’s the part of my writing where I struggle the most.  My beta readers, including the other contributors to this blog, call it my white box syndrome.  I’ll have characters having an interesting interaction in an entirely undefined space.  An empty room, an empty field, a formless void of nothingness.

For the time being, I’m getting around this by cheating.  I’m coauthoring a novel right now with my wife who has every bit of skill I lack in conveying senses of place in a few well chosen words.  I can’t always cheat like that, though, because I can’t force her to tie her entire writing career to me.  So I’ve been doing what I can to learn better use of sensory input.  I played around with a short story where I made a character incapable of seeing, trying to force the use of other senses.  But it still just didn’t quite work.  It’s going to come down to practice, practice, practice.

I’m not sure why I think Synesthesia would help, I really don’t.  But experiencing sensual input differently, having another way to process it through the brain for just a little while.  It certainly couldn’t hurt.

WWW: Non-Fiction 2

A few months back I wrote a meandering post about non-fiction that can be more fantastical than fiction.  Yesterday Day made a post about what we read as writers, and I mentioned I’ve been on a non-fiction kick as late.  The two have been forming together in my head, and more and more I’m considering the idea of how to approach a genre fiction novel from a non-fiction perspective.

The books I’ve read of late, tales of archeological discoveries, theories about crashed UFOs, a biography of a famous stage magician, the history of an island over run by the white man and turned into a state, all of them suggest stories that are larger and more detailed than all but a select few fiction novels on the market.  And part of that is our awareness of the outside world, our understanding that while these things were going on there were events taking place all over the earth, most of which were unconnected, but some that ended up tying directly into the stories.  The history of Area 51 is informed by the entire reality of the Cold War, even those bits that don’t directly involve aerial reconnaissance.  The golden age of magic grew out of an industrial revolution that rewarded cleverness and engineering knowledge, as well as a reconnection with the occult that spread through society.  These things are real.

When we read fiction, we can be too often aware that what we are reading is not real.  It’s the job of the author to immerse us in the world.  This is where I envy the series tie-in novel writers, because they do have a wider world that the reading audience is aware of.  Everyone else?  It’s time for some world building.  And it’s  fine line to walk between presenting too much information and not enough.  Everything that the non-fiction writer has taken care of for them.  We know Earth.  We know a lot of its history, its wars, its religions, its people, its climates.  We can be told a character is “Christian” and know what they believe, and why.  The history of their faith, the major tenants, it’s all part of the collective understanding.  But when I tell you that an alien is a “Murxisalist,” what the hell is that?  It’s then a requirement to explain what that means, how that affects their decision making processes, and potentially what the alternatives are and the differences.

So where does that get us to the idea of a fictional novel written in the style of non-fiction?  It makes us aware that there are shortcuts that any non-fiction author can use in the presentation of a story that aren’t necessarily open to the fiction writer.  Or, that it at least requires an intentional choice of not explaining things that the fictional readers of the non-fiction book (if that statement makes sense) would already know.  They would know what a Murxisalist is, and when the character then chooses to throw a fish at someone, they understand that’s a direct representation of their faith.  The question then is how many readers would feel left behind and confused, and how many would enjoy the little details that aren’t supposed to make immediate sense to them.

It would take a deft hand.  Details can still be sewn in, implied, slowly revealed.  But that slow reveal means early actions and motives might be left unexplained until far later in the book.

I’m still considering writing this kind of novel in the future, and even have a new focus in mind, but it’s a daunting challenge to be certain.

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