Writing lessons I learned from forum RPGs

Posted by on Apr 9, 2015 in Advice, Inspiration, Resources | 1 comment

Let’s talk RPG.

Cait and I both cut our writing teeth on these. Also called play-by-post RPGs, they are a form of collaborative storymaking in which a group of people come together on internet forums with their own characters (sometimes predetermined by admin, but more often BYOC) and throw them into a world–unique or a fandom–where they can interact and create a story together. This taught us many great lessons that apply to traditional fiction writing.

Listed below in internet brief are just a few of these valuable writing lessons. With gifs!

Your character has to be interesting and tied in some critical way to the world’s story. Otherwise, no one will want to play with you. (Or read your book)

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Collaborative writing can open up so many possibilities. In storymaking, two (or four, or six) minds really can be better than one. So don’t be afraid to call upon your writing group, critique partner, or editor to throw ideas at each other until rainbows of magic spout between your heads in rays of awesomeness.

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There is joy and value in people breathing down your neck with a deadline. Writer’s block? What’s that? My RPG buddy editor needs a post book STAT!

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When two characters are in the same scene, don’t rehash all the details. That’s Boooooo (wait for it) RING. Highlight the differences in their POVs and skim the rest. Keep the story moving!

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Don’t put words, thoughts, or actions into another character’s head.  Especially when it’s impossible for the invading character to know the info. That’s just rude.

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Writing on RPGs really does make you a better writer. So does writing fanfiction. So did writing that woodshed project you dust off every now and then. The lessons you learn from writing in these different modes will vary somewhat, but the ultimate outcome is the same: you’re a better storyteller by virtue of getting the words down, doing it a lot, and interacting with other writers.

Who knew learning could be so fun?


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Catch That Idea! (The danger of working in a vacuum)

Posted by on Oct 19, 2013 in Encouragement, Inspiration |

Wanted to get a quick post up about an idea my husband (a songwriter/mixer) and I were talking about recently. He was describing how tough it was to write pop songs, which are deceptively simple. (The elements are straightforward but executing them successfully is tough…sound familiar?) This got us started on the topic of the blank slate. The beginning of new projects.

As we talked, I realized one reason why it may be difficult for writers to get momentum on their projects.


In our everyday lives, we let a lot of things slip through our fingers–moments of time, opportunities, fleeting thoughts. So many things are tossed out of our heads in favor of mundane survival requirements. That’s how we’re made, to enhance that which is important to our lives and chuck the rest.

Getting morning coffee > Writing down an interesting dream

For creativity, this can be deadly. We may start to believe that “I don’t have any ideas.” We think, “I just don’t know what to do with this.” When the truth is, we have simply let the ideas flit away. We lost good solutions somewhere on the road behind us, a road we cannot travel again.

This is why it is so important, essential, for writers to put their ideas on paper. Do the cliched thing and leave a notebook on your bedside table. Put one in your kitchen too. Have a voice recording app on your phone. (They have those! Who knew?) Have a file on your computer specifically for tidbits of ideas.

The next time the creative doldrums hit, you’ll be prepared. You’ll have an arsenal. You’ll realize that you actually DO have a lot of great ideas…and there they are. Ready to be worked with.



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Five Ways to Make Your Writing Social

Posted by on Oct 11, 2013 in Encouragement, Inspiration, Resources |

Are you feeling lost with your writing project? Do you need fresh inspiration or direction? Do you find yourself staring at your manuscript, reading it without comprehending it?

It may be time to call upon the power of writing partners.

These can come in many forms. The five I’ve listed here are just five that have helped me personally, and I’m just scratching the surface! I’m sure I’ll post more ideas in the future, but for now, here are five ways to get out of the writing cave and into a writing village.

1. Critique Partner: This is a classic. Find a person who matches you well in reading preferences, writing genre, skill level, and availability. Swap manuscripts. Read. Critique the work. Return. Talk (a lot). Be amazed at the power of a fresh perspective.

2. In-Person Writing Groups: Say you’re blessed with actually having real life friends who are as writing-obsessed as you are. Don’t let that kinship go to waste–put it to work in a symbiotic critique group. Meet at a predictable time every week or month and rotate through the group members’ work, reading and debating. These groups can also work as actual WRITING groups, where you simply get together and force each other to write via peer pressure.

3. Co-Writer: This is a trickier option, though potentially a powerful one. If you can find the right person and the right project, a co-writer can make an idea double the fun, double the creativity…double the awesome. (Just look at Bear & Black Dog!)

4. Forum RPGs: It’s co-writing, but in a low-stakes environment. The premises for these vary greatly and range from “RL” (real life) games to fandom spinoffs. Forums RPGs can be found through companies like Invisionfree and are wonderful tools for improving your writing skills in a fun, addictive way.

5. Writing Forums: If you’d rather find support for your writing in the form of commiseration, tips about publishing, and craft chats, consider writer-specific forums. There are many excellent communities out there that are only a search away!

For all of these, there is the possibility that you’ll meet people you don’t get along with, or maybe your skill levels or philosophies are opposed. But honestly? Every time I’ve come across that situation, it’s been a great learning experience.

A fresh perspective is always useful. Give it a try!




A fresh perspective is always useful. Give it a try with Bear’s Five Ways to Make Your Writing Social: http://bearandblackdog.com/?p=267 Click to Tweet! 

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The Brain Scoop

Posted by on Oct 7, 2013 in Inspiration |


If you’re cool with blood and guts, if you like biology and science-y things, and most importantly, if you like to include that kind of stuff in your writing–you should be watching The Brain Scoop.

TBS is a YouTube channel produced by Hank Green (author John Green’s brother!) and hosted by Emily Graslie and the Field Museum in Chicago. Emily takes you behind the scenes at the museum and shows you dissections, answers questions, talks about animal habits and physiology, all kinds of cool stuff.

You can subscribe to the channel through YouTube or an RSS reader (I use Feedly), and I highly recommend it. As an example, check out this recent video featuring a dissection of a giant anteater named Hosenose:

[WARNING. I’M REALLY NOT KIDDING ABOUT THE BLOOD AND GUTS. Please don’t watch if that kind of thing bothers you. ] 

Pretty cool, right?

The Brain Scoop can be a great resource to you as a writer if you have any kind of beasties or gratuitous violence in your writing (watch the second Hosenose video to find out what guts really sound like when they’re falling out of a stomach, for example). Plus, Emily Graslie is totally adorable.

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Banshees, Keres, Cerastes, Oh My!

Posted by on Oct 1, 2013 in Inspiration |

One of my favorite things about speculative fiction is the creatures. Whether it’s mythical beasts in your high fantasy or creepy aliens in your sci-fi, lesser known folk spirits or a reinvention of the big guys, vampires and werewolves–it’s cool. More importantly, the creatures you use (if any) can help to set your book and its universe apart from the rest.

So, are you writing a book with lovely beasties, but want to do something different? These two books may help give you some ideas.

OnMonsters1-390x590On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, by Stephen Asma

This book is a philosophical examination of concepts of “monster” from the classical Greek and Roman era through the modern day and into possible future “monsters.” Asma puts monsters in a historical context, but not in a “The Church was in control and they didn’t like midwives therefore they burned them as witches.” No, in a far more interesting turn, Asma explains the ideological reasoning that, in this case, allowed witches and monsters (deformities, etc) to exist and be acknowledged by a period that believed in God’s absolute design. He shows how, through the ages, humanity has grappled with the idea of a monstrous other–and how, no matter what the reigning ideology of the day is, there is always a monstrous other.

Since it deals so much with the philosophy behind the visceral conflict of man v. monster, I think this book could prove indispensable to writers seeking to flesh out the emotional level of their manuscripts. You could very easily take the rationales and ideologies in this book and apply them to your characters. What does Character A believe? How does that affect their view of a creature or another character? If Character A’s belief is counter to the society in which they live, why is it? How did they come to that conclusion? Asma reminds us that all positions, no matter how strange or counterintuitive, have reasoning behind them. Bringing that reasoning to your characters will help to flesh them out.

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9780857383372Breverton’s Phantasmagoria: A Compendium of Monsters, Myths and Legends, by Terry Breverton

If you want material for your re-telling or alternate universe, look no further. The Phantasmagoria is an extensive encyclopedia of people, places, and folk tales from a wide variety of cultures. Breverton describes his subjects in brief blurbs, frequently accompanied by lithographs or other contemporary images. From historical figures who are shrouded in mystery (famous philosophers recast as wizards, for example) to the monstrous races mentioned in On Monsters plus some, to artifacts and ruins, this book offers glimpses into a rich world of the strange and unusual.

It should be obvious that this book may serve as an invaluable launch point for speculative fiction research and brainstorming. I very highly recommend it!

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In the Comments

Do you have a favorite inspiration book when it comes to myths and monsters? Tell us about it!

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Want #unusual beasties in your story? Find #inspiration in these books, recommended by editor @CaitSpivey: http://bearandblackdog.com/?p=280 Click to tweet

ON MONSTERS and PHANTASMAGORIA can provide a lot of inspiration for the #monsters in your fiction: http://bearandblackdog.com/?p=280 Click to tweet

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