I have been trying harder to work on my characters' inner narratives. When one writes, they struggle with all that show versus tell nonsense and forget they are conjuring a faux-life. I have been trying to ask myself all sorts of questions about my characters.
What would get on their nerves? Do they have certain words they are fixated on? What would distract them from a conversation? What is something that would endear them to a person, or vice versa? Would they have a social media account, and if so what would they post and how would they use it? What do they do on a day off?
This is all stuff I don't think you'll ever see explicitly on the written page, but it will be something readers will feel through the character's presence. It is already benefiting my current projects and I am excited to ship this next phase of my catalog. If I can say anything as an indie author it's that I have improved in my execution and process. Maybe that big breakthrough is around the bend after all.
2020 has felt painfully long but also as if it is racing by at breakneck speeds. Where did Summer go? It seemed like I spent all Winter waiting to ride my new mountain bike, and now in October I have maybe been on it five times, all in my neighborhood.
Even skateboarding has been absent until recently, but that is because with Summer's passing I renewed my personal commitment to my physical health. I have lost a handful of pounds and built a little strength back, so I felt able and encouraged enough to get back on the board. Of course my son, who I tried so hard to get into skating when he was little, has taken to it now and can ollie and manual at will and is working on kick flips and boneless on our patio whenever he gets a free moment. Meanwhile dad is a flightless bird, attempting some slappies now and then.
There was a major life change for me as autumn hit, one that really upsets stats quo of schedules and mental stability. I'm fine, don't worry, but it has affected the time I have spent on writing. The vampire novel is still in progress over at Omaha Bound and the western-fantasy is all ready but the shootin' (aka revisions and editing). On deck are a science fiction which I am playfully referring to a pre-cyberpunk novel, and I am still goofing around with assorted horror and fantasy shorts. My white whale to write is still a romance that could be adapted into a Hallmark movie.
I recently started dabbling back into the world of 007, beginning with reading the oral history of the movies, Nobody Does it Better. I like looking at different types of writing and try to pick out the approach and techniques. An oral history is an interesting beast, as you have to lump like subjects and work for a nice, smooth segue into the next topic, otherwise its a chapbook with disparate quotes. And, as you are likely aware, people tend to wander when talking.
There is some nuggets of wisdom in the book, both about writing scripts and approaching a visually satisfying story. There is a lot of indirect instruction about adaptation, and some good insight to the trial and error of editing. All of this is stuff I can put to use in my own career, and having it be about James Bond is just icing on the cake.
My favorite wisdom thus far has be regarding the approach taken with the franchise's humor and fantasy elements. They didn't take it seriously but they filmed/wrote it seriously. They knew it would be tongue in cheek, but they had to commit to the world they were in. One writer stated that their attitude was for the audience to "leave their brain under their seat" and to "not ask too many questions." It becomes an easy target for modern pick-apart clickbait but fiction should always be true only to itself.
Another interesting idea is regarding the worlds Bond moves within. When in the streets of Las Vegas, he's in the real world and realism is expected. When he is in the villain's lair, he's in a shadow world, another reality that doesn't need to play by the rules a pedestrian would recognize. The locales seem impractical? The set pieces unrealistic? Props seem conveniently placed? That isn't a gaff. Our protagonist is moving between worlds, and by buying a ticket, you've agreed to suspend belief and enjoy the fantasy premise.
I have a huge soft spot in my heart for spy-fi, but all imaginative fiction shares a bloodline and I feel that what I learn about the creation of James Bond can be useful in the project I am currently working on. I wonder if it will show through?
For all the heat that Lucasfilm got for the Star Wars prequels, I can see the appeal of mining that part of the timeline. Recently there was a news story going around that they are working on a Robocop prequel, without Robocop. Snowpiercer is currently publishing prequel material, and there are talks of that being adapted somewhere, be it TV or movie.
I have been reflecting a lot lately on, well, everything. One of the concepts I have really struggled with is the idea that you can create a certain portion of your own reality. You have heard the adage "Dress for the job, you want not the job you have?" Well, at 45 years old I think there is some deep wisdom to that.
After a lifetime of being a low flying, self-effacing, humble soldier in the blue collar world I am from, I can see where my slacker chic has informed my status. I'm not a great salesman, and even worse at self promotion. Its a defense mechanism for most of us - the ability to point out our shortcomings before others have the chance to devastate us with critique. In fact, a lot of us may have invented weaknesses in order to deflect that same criticism.
Anyway, I have started to wonder if about every shortcoming in my life is in some way related to how I was "dressed." My attitude, my screen printed T shirts, by choice of hobbies... all of these things painted a picture that became Carl. The harsh truth is very few people will spend an ounce of energy to dig through the facade and discover who Carl really is.
Working on putting a better image forward. More professional, more confident, and as honest as always but with a little more reserve. More on this as the situation develops.
One of the frequent frustrations I have with tabletop gaming is how min/maxy and rules-strict they tend to be, especially for a hobby that is ultimately mostly random. I can trace a direct line from my love of D&D and subsequent RPGs to where the flame died. It didn't have as much to do with the discovery of the opposite sex as it did the increase of crunch and death of narrative.
As a writer, I want to be part of a story (or tell a story, as a DM). I expect this as a core requirement in all my gaming, be it video games or skirmish style miniature games. This is why I think Fortnite, despite being just another FPS, snagged me. The world tells a narrative, even though the game itself is a bunch of kids hopping and shooting.
I mention Skirmish gaming because its something I enjoy. Strike that, its something I enjoy imagining the ideal version of. Every several years I get sucked into Warhammer and get caught up in the fluff only to find the same dead-ends waiting. One, the cost. Two, the planned obsolescence. And three, and most pertinent to this post, the lack of narrative in some games. Rolling fistfuls of d6 determined most closely to the amount of dollars spent was a narrative I do not enjoy in my hobby life. I'm already keenly aware of the dagger of socio-economics, thank you.
I have broken my vow and given game design another crack. I am at a spot where I am between novels. I have one at a publisher, one rough draft finished and ready for revision, and a third started. It was as good of time as any to try this ttrpg thing once more. I have decided to design a skirmish game, one with a world I can write stories in as well as share as a sandbox with any willing gamer. The core of the game will be based on the ability to tell a story, both in the theater of the mind as well as with the components on the table. Best of all, you can use about anything you care to for miniatures and terrain - limited only by your imagination.
I will be writing more about this project in the time to come.
I am currently hoping to resurrect this blog, as well as my writing career. COVID-19 happened fast and it murdered a lot of my momentum and motivation. I'm in the rebuilding phase now, so I need to get back out there and build my presence from scratch. So watch this space, I will be posting much more often than I have been.
Perhaps you thought I forgot that this was supposed to be a page about my writing career? Well, I did, sort of.
The truth is somewhat closer to the fact I wanted to work on my writing rather than talk about it. I have been rather productive and am excited about the projects underway. Let's take a moment to visit what is coming up for the near future.
The book formerly referred to as "The Vampire Novel" has been finished and submitted to a publisher. It is in production currently and I will keep you abreast of key milestones in its progress as I am made aware of them. I am pushing for the title "Birth of the Rat."
The next novel I will release is nearing completion of its first full draft. It is a weird western fantasy and I am pretty happy with how it is turning out. I think it has a lot of heart and has a much more humorous approach than my previous releases.
Lastly, I continue to work on the "Untitled" tabletop game. From the ashes of Play Your Own Adventure I hope to build a tabletop skirmish game that is rewarding for solo players, competitive players, and cooperative players alike. I want it to be narrative by nature and offer persistent characters so you can play the story of your own design. Mostly, I want its rules to to provide easy fun (something so many systems forget to bake in when it comes to miniature centered games).
If you are interested in any of the projects, watch this space or my Twitter account @carlsmithwriter
Lake Lord Publishing
A home for the projects of Carl D. Smith - writer, dad, pharmacist, substitute teacher, Chicago Cubs & Dead Milkmen fan. Consistently clever, occasionally humorous, intermittently productive. Proud native of