Sunday, September 23, 2007

Conversations Off the Grid

A week or so ago I left work late on a Friday night after a horrible day. Out in the parking deck, a woman was having trouble getting her car started. The security system kept shutting it down. She asked if she could borrow my cell phone. I dug madly through my purse and handed her my I-phone toy.
“What’s this?” she asked suspiciously.
“Um. It’s an I-phone.”
“Hmmph. You going to get that rebate?”

So she called a friend for advice, and after a brief conversation handed back my phone and tried again. No luck. I asked if she needed more help, but she told me she was going back into her office.

A few minutes later, I am out on the road when my phone rings again. I answer.
“So? What happened? Did it start?” the caller demands pugnaciously.
“Well, no,” I said. “Actually, I’m just the person who leant her the cell phone and…”
“Well, where is she?”
“She went back in her office.”
“What do you mean, she went back in her office?”
“That’s what she said she was going to do. I….”
“What’s with you women? You get all these degrees and you still don’t have any common sense. I told her to call back if it wouldn’t start. What don’t you understand about that? Why would she go back in her office?”
“Well, um, maybe you should try her in the office?” and I hung up.

So the next morning I discover my keys are missing. After searching everywhere in a panic, I wonder if I might have dropped them in the parking deck while digging madly for my cell phone. When I get back to school, I call the University Police Lost and Found.

“I believe I lost some keys on campus and wondered if they’d been turned in,” I said.
L&F Lady: “Was this recently?”
Me: “Well, I think it was Friday night. In Schrank Hall south parking deck.”
L&F Lady: “What’d they look like?”
Me: “Well, they were attached to a magic wand.”
L&F Lady: “What did the magic wand look like?” No doubt so she can distinguish it from all the other magic wands turned in at L&F
Me, embarrassed: “Well, it had little sparklies in it that slide around when you turn it.”
L&F Lady: “Mmmpf. What kind of keys were on it?”
Me, after long pause: “Well, there was a Honda key with a thick black base.”
L&F Lady: “Anything else?”
Me, floundering: “Well, some other keys.”
L&F Lady: Were there any…cards, maybe?”
Me: “There was a library card, I guess.”
L&F Lady: “Fine. We have ‘em.”
L&F Lady: “See, the little sparklies weren’t sliding at first so I wasn’t sure if this was the one.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

RPG's and the Writing Life

Young Writer emails me: All my friends are into role-playing games. Would playing RPG’s help with my writing? What games and activities can I do to help with writer’s block?

At first this question made me feel like Old Writer because I’ve never played a RPG.

Unless you count what I did as a kid on a larger stage. My friends and I spent a lot of time out in the woods, slipping from tree to tree, sneaking up on invisible enemies and each other, hanging out in hideouts eating provisions from home, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, pretending to be spies and characters from TV shows and movies.

Indoors, we used Barbies as surrogates. They were never teenage fashion models (unless they were working undercover). They were defenders of the free world. I had a Ken whose felt hair was rubbing off, so he was the bad guy and had to wear the nerdy clothes. The Alan with the molded rubber hair was the good guy and wore the spiffy sports coat my mother had made. Barbie vamped about in a fur coat made from a muskrat collar.

We built prisons and fortresses out of encyclopedias, which could also serve as boats in a pinch. Barbie and Alan floated down jungle rivers in Funk and Wagnall’s boats, armed to the teeth and looking for trouble. Which usually came in the person of Ken.

Did this help me become a better writer? Well, maybe, though I have to say we focused totally on plot and gave short shrift to character development.

Back to your question. RPGs may provide a ready-made character and allow you to give him something to do. In some versions, you create a character and construct a skin and environments (See, I know a few things). You create character and create conflict and that is what story is all about.

But if you want to be a writer, sooner or later you’re going to have to sit down at the keyboard and write. Anything that gets in the way of that is nonproductive.

Here is a foolproof plan that will help you improve your writing:


I’ll address Writer’s Block in another piece.