Guidelines and Rules for the December Writing Marathon

Calendar Writing MarathonIn my previous post entitled Who’s Up for a December Writing Marathon? Some Proposed Rules, I offered some generic guidelines to see what you might think. Because December is a little over a week away, I’d like to share with you the specifics of this marathon. First? Some guidelines to help keep this marathon honest and fair.

What Is or Isn’t Included?

Many of my fellow authors and game designers are under what’s known as a non-disclosure agreement for our projects. For those of you who haven’t sold a particular story, you’re working on something that is speculative, so what you share is up to you.

Because our projects and the amount of detail that we reveal may vary from person to person, it’s easier to explain what’s eligible for this marathon by sharing with you what I feel is not eligible.

Words Not Included Toward Goal

    1. Blogging and other internet-related content on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
    2. Outlines and related planning materials
    3. Research, including works copied/pasted from Wikipedia and other sources
    4. Editorials, reviews or lit crit about other people’s works
    5. Business correspondence (e.g. queries, pitches, emails, etc.)

The goal here is to spend the month writing on a particular project, one that is either brand new or existing. In order to do that, we all need to do a little leg work to ensure that we’re working towards a completed story or project. Some of the things I mentioned above, like the research or the outlines, are things all writers do. Of course, if a project comes up that needs to be revised, that may throw a kink in the works. (I have four out there that I’m waiting to hear back on.) However, this is very similar to what happens in real life. For myself, if a revision comes up? I still have to keep going.

How Do I Get Started?

All you need to do to get started, is to figure out what it is you want to write and what your goals for the month are. For beginning writers, maybe your goal is simply to finish writing 20,000 words in a month. If you’re an experienced writer, perhaps you may want to add a layer of difficulty in like an extra revision or a higher word count goal.

Is That It? How Do I Keep Going?

Here’s the fun part. When you submit your goal (see below), tell me what you’ll do if you miss a day. Do you hate sit-ups? If you miss a day, you could do twenty-five of those. Do you loathe laundry? Promise yourself that you’ll do laundry instead.

To help motivate you, I’ve already started working on drafts talking about the marathon in December. You can subscribe to my RSS feed if you wish or you can stop back once-a-week to check in. It’s up to you. For your convenience, I did create a December Writing Marathon on category specifically for this activity.

What Do I Need From You?

If you wish, please blog your goals for the December Writing Marathon by midnight, November 30, 2009. Then, please send me your link using my contact form to your blog post so I can add them to a post about our writing goals. Please include what activity you will do if you miss a day.

If you send me a post at the end of the week, I will be happy to include that in my weekly wrap-up as well. It is not required for you to blog, though, since that word count is over-and-above what you’re working on.

How You Can Keep Track of Your Goals

Many word processing programs have a word count feature. If you want to post your word count on your own website, I recommend using one of these word count tools from this post entitled 6 Word Meters and Trackers for the Word Count Obsessed.

Any Advice On What I Should Avoid?

Recommend avoiding any discussions that cause you to second-and-triple guess either your career or what you’re working on and add to your fears. Be brave. Be BOLD. Write, write, write! The publishing industry will still publish books, with or without you writing them. Also? Recommend identifying your time-wasters up front.

What Happens If You Fall Behind?

If you need a pep talk, give a shout-out to a fellow marathon member or read more for motivation. If you don’t finish by December 31, 2009 – keep going until you do! This marathon is not about speed, it’s about endurance and getting in the habit of writing every day.

What Should I Do When I’m Done?

Since I’d like to do a wrap-up of our goals, I’d like to ask you to write a post describing what you’ve learned from the experience and if there is something “new” that you want. For example, did you learn that it’s really hard for you to write as much as you did? Do you want to find people to collaborate with? Regardless of what your experience was, it’s a good idea to wrap-up what you’ve learned so you can also figure out your 2010 writing goals.

Please send me your link using my contact form by Wednesday, January 3, 2010. From there, I’ll put everyone’s wrap-up together in a post on my blog.

Can You Help Me Write My Goals?

I will offer an optional form tomorrow that you can fill out to help you formulate your goals for this project. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go work on my own to get ready for this too!

How Genre Affects Game Design

Like pulp? How about horror? Superheroes? Awesome. I bet that many of you who are reading my blog have had great ideas for stories or games based on a popular genre. With fiction, you probably already write using techniques to affect the pacing, mood and feel of your story to induce that air of mystery or feeling of awe. Shorter dialogue, use of fragments and punctuation can enhance the reader’s expectations for a story. Couple that with stunning visual descriptions and you have the makings of a spectacularly paced genre fiction story.

But what about games?

Writing games based on a particular genre is a bit trickier because the people playing the game have the ability to create their own mood based on the product you are creating. Unlike fiction where the environment is more controlled, a game’s environment can’t be controlled. Or can it?
Read More…

Reflections of a Gaming Industry Freelancer

GenCon Indy 2007 | Contest Winner This year marks the fifth year I’ve been active within the gaming industry as a freelancer. Within five years I’ve worked on two dozen games, dozens of reviews, attended approximately 35 conventions and gatherings, met hundreds if not thousands of people, spoke on panels, and built some awesome memories. Here are some of my take-a-ways from working in an industry saturated with creative people and a desire to have fun.

(1) Got an Idea for a Game? Great. Then What?
There are dozens if not hundreds of people out there who have a natural ability to design games. Game design is a multi-disciplinary function that may blend psychology, group dynamics, mathematics, strategy, engineering and creativity. There are many folk who run circles around me in game design, but there are just as many that don’t understand what that critical next step is and how it relates to running a business.

(2) Working in the Gaming Industry is Often a Labor of Love
There’s a common phrase that I hear all the time, “If you want to make money in the gaming industry, stay out of it.” Because the people behind-the-scenes are in this industry for different reasons, there are multitudes of levels of professionalism and business conduct. It is not uncommon for a person not to get paid–even when a contract is in place. Communication can either be sparse or excessive, which may create challenges with how much time it takes to complete a project. Yet, people keep coming back year after year because they love what they do.
Read More…

The Difference between Game Design and Writing Games is…

Okay, so now that we’ve spent a whole week talking about writing game-related fiction, I’d like to round out this week o’ gaming by talking about the fundamental differences between game design and writing games. This is an often hotly-contested topic in many gaming companies, but really comes down to a very, simply idea and that is: writing is different from designing. The skills may be complementary, but often the two are not the same thing. Here’s why.

Game Design

When someone designs a game, they are planning out a mechanical system of rules that addresses the player, the environment the game takes place in, and the way that the player interacts with other players and that environment. Take UNO for example:

    Player The holder of a set of cards
    Environment The way the deck is laid out or: discard pile vs “play” pile
    Player Interaction Player plays off of the cards in the environment and interacts with other players through a turn.

Okay, so that’s pretty easy to see where the design comes in because there’s this concept of adding and factoring in mathematical chance and…but wait? Does that mean that every game is designed based on math? In my opinion, great game design is based on a combination of math and logic (as in propositional logic) to keep players focused on that game. Let’s take a look at another less obvious game called the Kingdom of Loathing.

    Player Paris the Fat, a pastamancer (Yes, that was actually my character name.)
    Environment Kingdom of Loathing
    Player Interaction Play is turn-based, where you interact with the environment and the environment mechanically responds based on different actions you take. Player may interact with other players by joining a “group” which offers a *stat benefit.*

Now, with games like these you can see where the design takes a different turn. The focus is on how the player interacts with the environment around her in order to follow the “rules.” This is where it gets confusing. In order to have rules for setting-rich environments, you have to describe those rules. Enter the writing aspect.

Writing Games

Sometimes, people who write games and people who design games are the same people, er…person. (You get what I mean.) When someone writes a game, they are either describing the environment for the player to play in, the type of character the player might play, or the rules. If the rules are established (like they are at larger companies) then it’s the writer’s job to translate those rules into a marketable, attractive setting. The game designer knows what kind of game they want because when done right, the rules are integral to the setting. The Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic classic is a good example of this because within that game, a writer had to come up with dialog that would influence his (or her) Force rating. The way that a player chose to respond affected his character’s mechanics in game either for better or for worse. Here it takes a great amount of skill to come up with dialog that reflects subtleties of meaning — either positive, neutral, or negative — and not every game designer has that skill. Unfortunately, not every writer can design games either. Within the industry, rules can often get outdated as designers often try to remain current with different styles of play.

Besides dialog in video games, tabletop games often run the gamut of writing skills requiring technical, fiction, and nonfiction styles in order to put all the pieces together. The skills that game “writers” require are often different, because if a game designer is building the foundation or the structure of the game, the writing fills in the bricks, furniture, windows, and other elements necessary to what the game is supposed to be about. Game writers will often familiarize themselves with a game’s rules and setting in order to successfully contribute to a project; game designers will often do the same thing, but from their perspective. Sometimes, a game writer will be able to flesh out the setting like I typically do; other times, creative teams that include artists and other folk will map a game’s scenes out through storyboards while the game is being developed.

Hope that helps clear up the difference between the two. Keep in mind that the roles people have within the gaming industry varies depending upon the size of the company. This is true for any business, but especially true in this energetic, creative field. Happy gaming!

Write Games? You Must Work for the Devil! Right?!?!

One of the first issues that came to my attention when I started writing for the hobby games industry and playing more video, card, PC, and RPGs, is the stigma that’s associated with gaming. Enter Dennis, from Game politics who has covered a whole host of articles on the subject, “Violence in Video Games.” (Caveat* I’ve written a few articles for the site.)

It’s funny how many times I’ve gotten weird looks and other sorts of declarations ranging from comments declaring everything from a “lack of maturity” to “video games are the work of the devil!”

And to top it all off, this stunning (NOTE THE SARCASM) article comes out. TV, Film and Game Violence seen as a threat.

Sports are violent. Sports are a game. Take ice skating, for example. How many comedians have done skits on “what went wrong” with the skater’s performance? Our entire media and local TV news are both violent; rarely does either of them specialize about what is great about humanity. Protect the children? Hey, your parents probably played “Cops and Robbers” or “Cowboys and Indians” growing up, with more realistic-looking guns than the ones they have out now.

Don’t agree with me? Fine. I get extraordinarily frustrated with all these studies because, in the end, people “forget” that there is a conscious brain behind the person absorbing the content that’s around them. Yes, there should be levels of play depending upon ages, and I have no problem with that. But if I play Resident Evil, for example, I know I’m smashing zombies — not humans. I don’t feel the urge, afterward, to go hit someone. I’ve already relieved my stress, without drugs, alcohol, or any other “harmful” substance involved and I have *gasp* morals against that sort of thing.

I play games because it makes me a better writer and I get some enjoyment out of it. Screenwriters, fiction authors and game writers — no matter what field you are in within the industry — are entertainers. We don’t create content to be “violent,” we create it to be entertaining within the scope of a license, a team, or our own, little universe for the purpose of selling that media to people who are interested in playing it.

Here’s the kicker: If so-called violent video games didn’t sell, no one would be making them!

Working for the “devil?” If money is the devil, then I guess I should probably let my horns grow. Huh, now there’s an interesting story idea.

Monica Valentinelli >

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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