Magic Monday Dispatches No 2: A Few Good Fantasy Worldbuilding Terms

To kick off my Magic Monday Dispatches, I talked a little bit about the definition of magic and offered twenty questions to help you worldbuild.

Today, I want to introduce a few worldbuilding terms I use to help you think more deeply about the magic in your fantasy world.

Ability: In this case, the skills and knowledge a practitioner possesses to perform magic.

Area of Effect: Or range of effect. When a spell is performed, all characters within range will suffer its effects. This is used a lot in fantasy roleplaying games, but it’s also useful if you’re thinking about ways to limit your magic.

Backlash: In this instance, an undesirable result caused by the spell. A type of failure. The spell could have been: the wrong incantation, performed poorly, interfered with, had the wrong components, defended against, etc.

Cost: I’m sure you’ve heard the words “magic must have a price” before. The cost of doing magic implies something that must be spent in order to influence the natural world. Costs can be scalable to complement a spell’s complexity and relay rarity or potency. A spell to summon a pixie might have more common components than one to hail a fairy queen, for example. Typically, the cost of performing magic becomes more complicated when types (or schools) of magic are added. Having necromancy and creation magic in the same setting, for example, might generate directly opposing costs and ritual requirements that include time of day, dried herbs or flowers, crystals, candles, animal/body parts, blood, etc.

When there’s no consequence or cost to using magic, then the scale of effect is harder for the reader to place. In these situations, the magic presents itself as limitless and the only thing stopping practitioners from significantly changing their environment is moral fiber.

Effect: Or consequence. The effect is simply what happens when the spell is performed.

Frequency: How often magic is performed and by whom. The frequency of spells performed can contribute to a backlash or it can stretch the practitioner’s limits.

Limit: A limit can mean 1) the maximum exertion a practitioner can extend for a spell or period of time. 2) the limit of what the magic system can do. Or 3) The number of magic practitioners able to perform magic. Building limits into a magic system is a good idea, but often we see a system holds infinite power but can only be accessed by literate characters or those with the proper blood/parentage. There are other ways to add limits without tapping into a user’s genetic makeup by introducing an element of time. Celestial events, time of day, age of ritual components, etc. are natural limits to performing magic because they are recurring states or access points. These limits force the player to conserve the use of magic until replenished. The mage must find new ingredients. The wizard must wait until the next full moon.

Magic System: Also known as a “school” of magic. A set of magical spells and rituals around a common theme. Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Solar, Lunar, Birth, Death, etc. Most magic systems that possess schools have more than one.

Scale of Effect: Or, magical potency. The scale of effect typically shows how powerful the practitioner (or their spell/components) is. A magician who can summon a thunderstorm steamrolls any character who can only conjure a glass of water. The reason why magic often has an associated price (or cost) is to limit its usage which reduces the frequency of magical effect.

Source: Magic can be found in sunlight, moonlight, earth, fire, water, air, metal, blood, words, etc. The scale of effect, limit, and cost can naturally stem from any of these, because the sources themselves aren’t limitless. Daylight doesn’t shine for twenty-four hours; a cloudy sky could spell disaster. The source of magic can be renewable (sunlight) or finite (crystal).

My Jan-Apr 2020 Progress Report

Hello readers,

Underwater Memories Interactive Fiction GameIt’s been a while since I’ve submitted a 2020 progress report and I thought I’d change that. (Yes, even during a pandemic.) It’s been the longest couple of months I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing due to COVID-19. That aside, I did write and develop some pieces I’m proud to share with you.

In January, I re-mixed a soundtrack to accompany a short, interactive fiction experience. It feels ironic to mention Underwater Memories, because its theme is grief and loss. Had I been in quarantine, I’m not sure I would’ve picked this same subject. I probably would’ve chosen something whimsical instead.

In February, I participated in the promotion of the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter. I developed this tabletop RPG with an eye toward existing fans who love Hunter as much as I do. We funded quickly and managed to knock off a few stretch goals, too. I’m going through the chapters to add backer names and make cosmetic changes before handing in the final manuscript with art notes.

Haunting Shadows | Anthology | Wraith The OblivionMarch was fairly chaotic and includes a long and sordid story about a writing retreat-turned-sitcom. On the first day, the sun shines, the hibiscus blooms, the hawk perches on a branch nearby. By the time I left, I’d fallen ill for a few weeks and was in quarantine (both during that time and when I returned home). ICFA, which I’d planned to attend, was cancelled. Sadly, there is no way to know what I had as testing wasn’t available.

While I was on retreat, Haunting Shadows, a collection of short stories for Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition debuted. The collection includes my story “Scritch, Scratch” set at the House on the Rock. I also announced I was running for the SFWA Director-At-Large position; I’m pleased to report I did win–thanks to the voting members. I also started teaching online classes through the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers for game writing and plan to do more.

Wonder Stories | Middle Grade Reading App | Mobile PhoneTwo interactive fiction stories I wrote for middle grade readers then debuted in April through the Wonder Stories app. You can read “The Case of the Popped Balloons” and “The Case of the Multiplying Bunnies” on your mobile phone. This app was set to debut at SXSW which was also cancelled due to COVID-19. My friend Greg Stolze launched a successful Million Dollar Podmate Kickstarter to fund new podcasts–including one with yours truly.

On a more personal note: I spent the first two weeks of April in strict quarantine and began journalling for our local historical society. I posted about my project availability as well, though I should mention I raised my rates. I’m now safer-at-home and have been spending quite a bit of time rearranging, sorting, etc. to tackle apartment therapy and spring cleaning. I’ve been feeling pretty “meh” lately, if only because there’s been a lot of news–both good and bad–in the past month. The cold spring weather isn’t helping: it’s a damp chill that seeps into your bones.

Looking ahead, I don’t know what the rest of Q2 will bring (other than a lot of writing). Forecasting seems premature. It is an uncertain time and this pandemic-caused turbulence is not exclusive nor personal to me. In the smallest of ways, that detail’s both sobering and comforting. It also means I’m focusing on shorter-term goals (what I can accomplish) to offset the uncertainty. I’ll continue to be conservative in any new announcements as well, because the pitch-to-production cycle has also been disrupted. What will this mean long-term for me? For any of us? I honestly don’t know, but I’m confident we’ll figure that out together.



New to Game Writing? Take My Next Class!

Hi friends, a fun announcement today! I am teaching another online class about game writing on Sunday, April 26th through the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers.

Do you love playing games? Ever want to write your own or for someone else? In this class, join industry veteran Monica Valentinelli for insight on how to write your own game or for your favorite type of game. Monica has worked on mobile games, IF games, card games, tabletop games, and more! Questions welcome!Intro to Game Writing Class with Monica Valentinelli

I cover a lot of ground to explain what a typical game writer does, what can be considered game writing, how different aspects of the industry affect prose, how communities form, and where to find work.

If you’re keen on taking my Intro to Game Writing class, more information (including pricing and scholarships) is available on the sign-up page. Happy gaming!



My First Quarter 2020 Update

Captain WhinypantsA few months ago, I had planned on sharing a quarterly update with you to highlight news on the proverbial home front. I had no idea I’d be writing this update from quarantine in my office next to a snoring cat. (Not Captain Whinypants. The other one. The orange ball of floofy one.) I don’t want to dwell on COVID-19 related issues other than to say “Yes, I’m affected.” Luckily, no one is sick in my household. Cross all appendages hoping that holds true! At the same time, I know several people who either do have it or lost someone recently. It’s a little surreal summing up the past three months, because I don’t know how the next three will fare. All I can focus on is one day at a time.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of my year so far. Late December, I started by taking inventory of my 2019 list of publications. I used that exercise to revisit my goals, take stock of what I had, and put together a wish list. I wound up trunking everything I had so I could start fresh. (Zsa Zsa Gabor: “I just hated everything.”) In January, I was also prepping for the Hunter: Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter and had attended Midwinter Gaming Convention for a business meeting. I knew February was going to be busy, because I’d managed and promoted Kickstarters in the past, but I had no idea how swamped I’d be. Most of that month was swallowed up with a lot of news, Kickstarter cheerleading, and new releases. I was thrilled to release Underwater Memories accompanied by a themed soundtrack through Sub-Q Magazine, attend RadCon in Pasco, Washington as a guest of honor, and prepare for the SXSW release of my contributions for Wonder Stories, an app to help kids read.

Following this, I flew to Florida for a Make Art Not War writer’s retreat hosted by Alethea Kontis at the beginning of March. The first week and a half was lovely; we used the time to reset and reconnect. In that first week, I had so much news showing signs of growth and some wonderful experiences–including a SpaceX launch and a writer’s meet-up. Then, COVID-19 hit just a few days later. The launch at SXSW for Wonder Stories was cancelled along with several conferences I’d planned to attend. A spooky anthology I contributed to, called Haunting Shadows, also debuted. On top of this, I fell seriously ill. (Yes, we did check into testing but none was available.) We’re not sure if I had COVID-19 or adenovirus, but we took precautions in any case. During my recovery, I taught an Intro to Game Writing class through the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. I also mentioned I’m running for SFWA Director-At-Large as a write-in candidate. My class was lovely and everyone was enthusiastic and talented! (I still feel awful about my voice going in and out, but we made it work!) I didn’t write much, other than morning pages that last stretch of time. I wanted to be well enough to fly home at the beginning of April; there was a solid week or so I don’t remember.

I am now kicking off the second quarter in quarantine at home. Our state’s quarantine is through Friday, April 26th; the national recommendation is April 30th. However, my office quarantine is scheduled until Saturday, April 18th to ensure I’m not presenting any symptoms, especially after flying out of Orlando. I’m also dealing with a few other behind-the-scenes related issues, too, that have popped up because of this crisis. Additionally, I decided to pen a 30-day journal in quarantine for our local historical society. I feel this kind of documentation really matters–especially right now. I’m writing these entries in lieu of morning pages, but also to pay attention to how I’m feeling. I have a few deadlines this month and a lot of spec opportunities to follow up on, both of which should keep me busy.

I wish I could end this quarterly update with a comment about where my career will be by the end of June–but it’s impossible to predict anything. Change and uncertainty are the new “normal”. I jokingly called this era “The Chaos Timeline” before COVID-19 hit. Unfortunately, that description is very apropos of 2020 thus far. I’m still writing, but I’m also proceeding with extra caution–especially since many people I know and love are immunocompromised. To what end? Only time will tell.

Wishing you and yours health, stability, and a lot of luck in this tumultuous time.



FFS, Writers. Encouraging Shame and Guilt Hurts More than Helps.

We all write for different reasons, but behind that reasoning is a complex web of emotions that motivates us. No matter how much fiction might depict iconic heroes who think more clearly because they’re stoic or focused on logic, the truth is that we’re rationalizing (rather than rational) creatures. The idea that we must and should write every day or write a certain word count every month generates negative emotions like shame and guilt when those targets aren’t met. Negative emotions impact our ability to rationalize, because they can easily lead to distorted judgments of our self-worth which introduces a host of other issues that interferes with the work.

Some people are motivated to create because shame and guilt forces them to show up and prove someone (or the Universe) wrong. I would argue this type of motivation is temporary and not sustainable, because you’re tying a lot of negativity to your creative process which can lead to procrastination. A lot of writers (including myself) aren’t motivated to produce because we feel ashamed. Shame and guilt often lead to a barrage of self-flagellating, punitive thoughts for things outside of our control that do everything from muck up our routine to negatively impact how many copies we sell. The judgments and vast amount of “You should…” leads to gatekeeping and a host of assumptions that everyone has the same body, mind, and circumstances to share a similar process–which is a lie. They also exist for understandable reasons; we naturally want to share advice and position ourselves as experts so people take us seriously. The trouble with that, however, is that there isn’t “one way” to write or tell a story. So much of writing advice should be treated as a tool rather than an absolute, because there isn’t a magical solution to get words down on the page or finish a manuscript. Writing is something you have to make room for and do by yourself.

Instead of spending time focusing on more valuable traits like resilience or persistence, shame morphs the reasons why goals weren’t met into judgments of self-worth. We’re not “real writers” unless we do X, Y, Z. I still get accusations of this. Mind you, sometimes finding the reason “why” we didn’t write or couldn’t finish a thing is valuable–but that can also be incredibly punitive. Sometimes, a bad day is just a bad day and there’s nothing more that needs to be discovered, analyzed, or said. What’s more: it’s okay to have a bad day. If you’re reading this and thinking: “Oh, no… That can’t be right…” Consider where your motivation to write comes from. Consider that you are tying your self-worth to your productivity. That leads to a litany of issues–especially when you can’t produce or when the reception of your work doesn’t match your expectations. We are not typing monkeys. We are human beings who have lives and sometimes? Shit happens.

You are more valuable than your word count. Being a storyteller does not mean you “must” do anything–other than tell stories in your time, in your way, for your process (or business model). How you do that? When you do that? None of that should matter to anyone but you, and thought it is hard you can build and be part of communities if your experiences are different. Your process is yours to manage, develop, and take ownership of and no one else has the right to judge you for your life’s choices. Writing every day is a breakable rule as Tempest Bradford pointed out. In fact, every “rule” is breakable. You simply write until you internalize your craft–even then, your process could change from project to project. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong because you have a different process or you’re a bad writer because you need help.

As a friend once told me, trust yourself. Your story can only be told by one person: you. Enjoy the journey. Each of ours is different, and sometimes our destinations are, too! Good luck!

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