Tag Archives: Gaming

Writing How-To’s for Fun and Profit

I have many author friends who get burned out after writing a book-length collection of short stories or a novel. They start dreading their next project, having just toiled away for weeks or months.
“Why not cleanse your palate by writing a non-fiction book,” I’d ask. After some grumbling bout how tough it is to write non-fiction, some actually do give it a try—and they add to their published bibliography and, sometimes, their bank account.

Everyone has something they like to do, or they have some special knowledge that they think is too mundane to do anything with it. For example, I have an ancient hand-written notebook of recipes from my great-grandmother and grandmother. This was at the turn of the 19th century, before refrigeration and electricity were commonplace on farms, through the Great Depression and the first World War. They didn’t waste anything back in those days. Actually, there’s a cookie recipe in there specifically for milk that had spoiled. Yes, they are delicious and they don’t smell like rancid milk.

I’m going to take those old recipes and put them together in a period cook book, padding them out with some recipes from my dearly departed mother and my brother, Gilbert, who is quite the accomplished chef. His pumpkin cheesecake is to die for. Gilbert will be a co-author, as will the rest of the family.

I used to be in the Information Technology field for 37 years. I have a large collection of installation guides I wrote for software installation, as well as server installation and maintenance. I’ve been putting out short how-to guides under a pseudonym for a while, and combined they provide a nice revenue stream to support a charity I selected. That pseudonym is now seen as an expert in the field, even though he technically doesn’t exist.

You have plenty of things you enjoy doing, I’m sure. For example, if you enjoy being the Dungeon Master for your local Dungeons and Dragons group, consider publishing your homemade modules using one of the open, generic gaming systems. A great place to find samples is to visit DriveThruRPG.com and look for some of the freebie modules. I’ve published a couple of books back in the 1980’s with some of my unique items, creatures, traps, and modules. I have over 300 that have been used during the years I played consistently. In fact, consider designing your very own game, possibly centered around gaming systems like Savage Worlds or Pathfinder, or even one of the open-source gaming systems.

I enjoy target shooting, so I wrote a short tutorial under a pseudonym for authors who want to have additional realism added to their gun-wielding characters. I’ve also produced books on topics ranging from how authors can use QR Codes to improving your WordPress author website.

All of these are things I do anyway for fun, so by taking the time to write things down, organize them into a coherent work, and then convert and publish, I get to have another book for my revenue stream and to increase my authoritative stature in my chosen fields. Sometimes, it even brings in a trickle of funds. Enough trickles can eventually combine into an Amazon-sized river. (See what I did there?) I have also collected articles together and either used them as a giveaway on my blog (combined into PDF, ePub, and Mobi versions), or sold them for a very low price, such as 25 cents using Amazon’s price-matching system. Other times I use them as a fund-raiser for charities.

If you need a break, consider writing something non-fiction. After it’s published, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle that 500-page tome of fantasy you’ve been contemplating.

The Magic of Jutoh

jutohAs I said about Scrivener in my previous post, Jutoh is also a software program that can make you cry with joy or frustration…probably both. In both cases, I had to spend a lot of time on Youtube, forums, and the help page in order to figure it out. Other than the fact that they’re both extremely useful, the similarities end there.

Jutoh is a program designed to take your already written book from word processor format to ebook format, and it does its job well, including links, artwork, font, drop-caps, etc. You can write within the program, but I wouldn’t generally suggest it. My only exception to that might be game design. When I put together my game module, The Hologames, for Sojourner Tales, I outlined the game elsewhere but because of the intra-document links required, it worked well to do the writing within Jutoh.

jutoh sampleThough I don’t generally use the program to write, I’ve never seen a program that can compile ebooks better, especially if you want some professional touches. To the right, you’ll see an example of a book manuscript in progress. This is the way it will look in epub format. This is a rough version, and I’m not finished with it yet, but it should get the point across. I can use graphics in my title or with my title, drop caps are a cinch, I can customize page breaks, etc.

When I’m done assembling my chapters, copyright page, title, contents (all linked, of course), glossary, author page, etc. I hit the “Compile” button and it puts everything together in the format of my choice: epub, mobi, ODT for smashwords (yes, this is a little different), and a number of other formats. I find that running my book through Jutoh then sending it back to Word in odt even makes for a cleaner document to prepare for pdfs and paper publishing markets.

Loading a document to createspace or kobi can be a fairly easy process, but often there are mistakes that you won’t see until your readers point them out to you. After compiling, Jutoh has another handy button, “Check.” Though problems that don’t really exist might come up, it tells you that it’s not likely a real problem. And real problems always come up. Wouldn’t you rather deal with them before you send your book out to the world instead of finding something you need to fix months after readers’ annoyance.

Last, but certainly not least, is the “Launch” button. With the download of a couple of other free software programs, Jutoh allows you to view your finished document in mobi, epub, and other formats. I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve caught just by looking at my book as it will appear to readers. It may be aggravating to fix, but it’s nice to get that aggravation over and have the confidence of a well-done product when you launch.

Last year, I won the first-ever IndieRecon Live Total Package Book Award. I credit much of that success to Jutoh. I put in a well-written novel, and Jutoh helped me knock out a great looking format. The combination allowed me my blissful moment of fame.

How about you? What’s your favorite way to get your book out into the world?

Bio: Colette BlackAuthor Pic
Colette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance.

Exploring Story Concepts Prior to Writing

Slot canyonThis month we’ve discussed great games that inspire, games that highlight effective storytelling, or that identify pitfalls in the creative process. We’ve also discussed some of the dangers of trying to port game scenarios directly into book form (review that excellent post here).

I’m going to visit that topic from a slightly different angle and discuss the effectiveness of finding avenues for creative input. It’s hard to build a great story, and harder still if we try to do it in a vacuum. Utilizing creative input sources can prove effective in developing foundational concepts for your story. The goal is not to try writing a book directly from a game scenario, particularly if it pulls in any material that may be copyrighted elsewhere. However, it is possible to utilize a RPG or other creative input source to explore some of the general concepts you might be kicking around as the foundation of a story.

For example, if you want to flesh out a new magic system, inviting your gaming friends to utilize that magic system in a game scenario can really help. They’ll try to break the rules, and they’ll try to use it in ways you never expected. The experience will force you to think deeper and broader than you might have on your own, and lay down rules and boundaries you had not realized you needed. This is particularly useful if you don’t have someone who makes a good sounding board to brainstorm ideas and plumb the depths of your new concept.

You can also explore other aspects of the world building in a game. What are the nations and races that exist in this world? Do they get along? What motivates them? What do people eat? What kind of money do they use?

diceIn my family we play a customized RPG that utilizes only one 20-sided die for all decisions. It removes a lot of the technical hassle of similar games and relies more on the storytelling skill of the person leading the game. It’s also an excellent creative workout routine. I rarely plan out the details of a game beforehand, so am forced to come up with each element in a just-in-time delivery sort of way. I’ve found it helps break down creative barriers and triggers some exceptionally creative moments.

I’ve used this process as a way to explore multiple story concepts. Many of them prove mediocre or uninspiring, so we drop those and try something different. A few have resulted in ideas with lots of potential. Those I set aside for later exploration, or launch secondary game scenarios to consider further.

Once I’ve got what I need, I throw away the specifics of the game, including the characters, and start building my story from scratch – drawing upon the foundational concepts we explored through the game.

Storyteller
The Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais, oil on canvas, 1870

But RPG gaming is not the only creative input I use, and it’s not even my most productive. Even better is good old storytelling. In our family we tell a lot of stories, and I’ve used that verbal story time to develop magic systems and explore plot concepts with my kids. It’s proven highly effective. Kids (2 of mine are teen-agers now) provide instant feedback, and they are brutal critics. If an idea isn’t working, I know about it instantly. On the other hand, if a story generates lots of enthusiasm from them, I might be on to something.

The danger there, just as with using RPG games, is to recognize that the novel you write will not be the same as the game (or verbal story). A couple years ago, I spent a lot of time developing a story line with my kids. They actually came up with the original magic system idea, which I then fleshed out and used to launch into a series of stories where we explored many other aspects of the world building. The resulting story proved so engaging that I decided to write a book based on all the material we produced.

At first I tried to follow the story line we’d developed, since we were all so enthusiastic about it. However I quickly ran afoul of the hazards lurking down that road. After those hard-learned lessons, I threw away that unproductive plotline and made a hard break – the story would not be a novelization of our hours of storytelling. Instead, I would craft a novel from the ground up, building upon some of the foundational elements we explored in that storytelling, but the plot and characters were entirely new. The resulting novel is a YA fantasy titled Set In Stone, which is now in the hands of my agent. Hopefully we’ll find a home for it soon.

Take Away: Use any creative avenue available to you to explore creative ideas, but remember the limits of what you can accomplish. Take the foundational elements, strip out the rest, and go build a great novel.

Where else do you turn for creative input to explore story concepts as you begin working on a new novel?

Barbie Queen of The Prom: A Cautionary Tale

The Barbie Queen of The Prom board

I’ve always been a big fan of board games. Although my taste in board games has become more refined with the likes of Dominion, 7 Wonders, Agricola, Age of Empires III and more, I had to start somewhere. And I started with Barbie Queen of the Prom (BQP).

First, some background. Growing up, I primarily lived with my dad and my brother. I had to sit through countless hours of He-Man, college basketball, pro basketball, G.I. Joe, golf, and occasionally baseball. While I do appreciate all of these things, let’s just say I paid my dues. So every now and again, my dad and brother let me pick out which board game I wanted to play, and I would almost always choose Barbie Queen of the Prom. And I’m just going to write it now so the embarrassment for them is over quickly: my dad or my brother almost always won. They always got to be queen of the prom! *Folds arms, grumpy face*

The dreamboats.

Anyhoo, something funky was going on with BQP. I had the re-boot version of the 1960’s board game, and apparently the rules weren’t any clearer in the 90’s than they were back in the 60’s (kind of like actual prom – ZING!). The basic premise is this: you start out with some Barbie bucks and with those you accumulate a dress, a hairstyle, a ride to the prom, and a boy to take to the prom (you didn’t have to pay for the boy, thank goodness). Then, when you got to the prom, you spin (sometimes over and over and over) until somebody gets to be prom queen.

But here’s the weird part – when you got to prom, if you landed on a friend tile (a token with one of Barbie’s friends on it), you picked it up. But the rules were extremely vague about what you actually did with this token. Before this point, every token accumulated was used in exchange for something. After some careful speculation, my dad, brother and I could come to no other conclusion but you could trade in one of your friends for an extra spin – that is to say: another chance to become queen of the prom.

What. The. (Youknow.)

All social conditioning from the first part of the game aside, what’s up with this trading in your friends thing?! That’s so not cool, man.

The moral of my story is this: when things aren’t clear, people can’t help but assume. In writing and in life, if you don’t make things clear, things will start to go awry.

Also, if something doesn’t ring true, people will notice.

All games take a bit of imagination and fantasy in order to come alive. Make sure that whatever you develop rings true and leads the audience in exactly the direction you want them to go (even if that direction is misdirection), or they may just start trading in their friends for a chance to be queen of the prom.

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Kristin Luna is a Marketing Consultant by day and writer by break of dawn. She prefers to wear t-shirts. Kristin, a descendant of the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts, is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy trilogy. When she isn’t contemplating marketing campaigns or writing, she’s crocheting, playing board games, figuring out yoga, teaching her cats sign language, reading, or getting in cabs saying, “To the library – and step on it!”. She is kidding about only two of those hobbies.