500 and 1 Words At A Time: More Of This Writer’s Process: Notes and Doodles

Today was a quasi-productive day of writing…well a kind of writing. My writing goal for the day, to have a working revision of Tumbledown Patrol and a bit more for Puddles and Whiskers. For some background, Tumbledown Patrol is a short story set in the middle of a much longer, and very muddled tale I was writing. The purpose of Tumbledown Patrol, to introduce a location that would have been very relevant later. Unfortunately, I wrote Tumbledown Patrol back in the day when I one-and-doned  a lot of things. Always with the thought of “I’ll fix it later.”

I kind of did. The version I posted, knowing full-well how bad it is, is a revision I made for something or the other; a game or portfolio. Regardless, the revision, if you have been following along, is not complete. Following along still?

Good. This weekend I tore apart the muddled story to pull out the good workable bits in preparation for making a non-muddled story. Looking over the bits and pieces, I started making notes. But, I kept going back to Tumbledown Patrol, why?

  • I like the setting: I have a page of notes on Tumbledown, created both for writing and for a game setting
  • I like the action: Sorta, needs work (see below)
  • I like the characters: Kinda, needs work (see below)
  • Most importantly, Tumbledown is where Puddles and Whiskers are…

Which is why I spent my back to writing time today tearing the short apart. I know I can do better, if nothing else the writer I was then is not the writer who I am today. I know I can do better, because I have a better idea of what I want to do and how to achieve that goal. With that in mind…

a-messI spent a short bit of time looking a grammar, which while a problem was not the real issue. The real issue, is that there is no substance at all. No reason why anyone is doing what they are doing or any reason for a reader to care. Further, the action could take place anywhere; no visual cues to what was in my head back then, let alone now. Add in, I toss around terms that nobody other than long time game writing buddies of mine would know and what you have is a mess. My notes should give you an idea of how I was thinking.

Siting at the table, the temperature rising as the sun rose, and the humidity reaching drink from the air levels, I took the time to piece together what I really wanted to write for this Tumbledown short. Starting with the beginning, why are Tanx and Ali there? Fixed while watching The Wire, a raid. Who are Tanx and Ali? That is a bit more complicated, I need to introduce them and their roles earlier. What is Tumbledown? Another work in progress, as I attempt to take a page of notes and turn into sentences that convey the environment without weighing down the scene; this applies to Puddles and Whiskers who are currently in Tumbledown.

While answering all of those questions and more, reading over the action not only did I get lost, I got bored. The gangers had no personality, the weapons had names, but nothing else did. What the hell? Where was everyone in relation to each other and the environment? I couldn’t answer any of those questions to my satisfaction. Being a long time Game Master, if I can’t answer those questions, then players cannot take actions that make sense and the game breaks down into an argument. With stories, readers skim or walk-away.

a-mapIf this was a game session how would I fix this? More to the point, what information would I be in possession of before running the game or writing the scene? A map…which is where this doodle comes from. This doodle is the start of the scene. As I determine locations for everything the map will get larger and more detailed. The purpose of the map to allow me to write out the scene without anyone wondering, “Where did that come from?” or “What just happened?”

Decades running roleplaying games have given me a different way to look at story telling. I try to put those skills to use, especially when I am working on revisions. First drafts are what again?

That’s right, shit. Just bang them out and revise them into a diamond. 🙂


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