I like dice. I'm not a gamer -- not a larping, cosplaying, role-embracing, miniature painting, up-all-night D&D-er. But I do like dice. I'm designing a polyhedral dice solitaire game. Maybe two. And I like board games. And I wanted another chance to discover new games and to hang out with writerly folks and friends from Writing Excuses and to hear wise instruction and tales from living-making authors. So I traveled to GenCon again this year.
It was bigger than ever. Mostly that meant more crowded, even though they spread things out more, too, more, that is, than the other time I attended, which was 2015. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First there was The Journey, a leisurely six hour drive to Indianapolis with a stop in Louisville for some Skyline Chili. I listened to a small portion of The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It's 36 CDs long, so when I say a small portion I mean about a twelfth.
It turned out I drove a little too leisurely, forgetting that Indianapolis, despite being almost due north of Huntsville, is eastern time; so instead of checking in to my hotel first I went straight to the Indianapolis Table Tennis Club. I played a good couple of hours there and then headed back to the other side of town and my La Quinta home for the next 4 nights.
Like all the area hotels it was sold out largely with GenCon attendees. I smiled to see the lobby full of gamers gaming. Even the desk clerk had done her hair blue for the occasion. It was late and I went straight to bed after showering and eating and channel surfing for a couple of hours.
On to the Show
I really wish my first Writer's Symposium panel had been truer to its title: Writing 101: The Basics -- From POV to Punctuation. At one point Kelly Swails (moderator) started to dive into something, maybe dialogue attribution and when you could skip including "she said" and the like but quickly stopped herself saying that was more like Writing 201. Exhale. We did get some story and self-motivation basics:
Persistence, Time, Discipline. Know what the characters want. Know what the villains are planning to do. (Eric Scott DeBie)
First Draft: What you want to say (Heart). Final Draft: How you want to say it (Head)(Howard Andrew Jones).
Starting reluctance means the scene isn't right (work your outline?) Read. Look at grammar and sentence structure in what you read. Butt in chair. "I won't screw this scene up if I don't write it." Allow yourself to write a bad story. (Swails)
Time management. Write for yourself first. (Dan Wells)
Panel Two: Real Monsters and Vicious Animals (Elizabeth Vaughn, Larry Corriea, Christopher Husberg, Eric Scott De Bie)
Do description through POV reaction.
Use other senses (than sight).
Contrast the mundane with monsters.
More on YouTube than most of us can stand. Shaved bear. Cryptozoology. Wikipedia.
Perception gets blurry in a fight -- go a little bit random and sparing.
Action scenes can be wordy and okay but really wordy can confuse a reader. Movies have the luxury of dragging a viewer forward to the next scene, words on a page can't.
Quick Trip to the Convention Floor
After two panels I had a break and hit the exhibit hall. It is huge. Hundreds of vendors and thousands of people. I found Howard Tayler's booth and chatted with him briefly while he drew. I bought the well-worn version of the Schlock Mercenary Maxims book. Howard signed it for me. Then I found Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells' booth and bought some of Dan's audio books. Later I had him sign them for me.
Next I went to the Calliope Games booth. I had backed a Kickstarter for a new game called Dicey Peaks. The game wasn't expected until October but had come in early and they had arranged pick up and demo games at GenCon, which was sweet. I picked up my signed copy and later got to play a round with the game's designer, Scott Almes. I did not win. But I did get to ask him whether there was a way to play it as solitaire. He said there was no official variant in the rules but that you could play and try to minimize the number of turns it takes to plant your flag atop the mountain. Did I mention I'm designing my own solitaire dice game? Cool to get to talk on the subject with an accomplished designer.
Worldbuilding: Creating a Universe of Worlds (Susan J. Morris, Brandon Sanderson, James Sutter, Dave Mack, Marco Palmieri)
I was here, like dozens of others, to get a dose of Brandon Sanderson, but as usual everyone was terrific. In particular Susan J. Morris is a great moderator. Marco is also an editor so brings that perspective.
How to avoid info dumps? Have a newbie/fish-out-of-water character that has to have other characters explain stuff to them. or just bring stuff in gradually, sci-fi/fantasy readers don't need everything clear from the get-go.
Brandon: A grand skill is to be informative AND entertaining.
Avoid tokenism, consider having more than one character from a culture and show differences and similarities.
James Sutter is with Paizo who's new science fantasy role playing game, Starfinder, dropped on Thursday. Their booths had hundreds of people in line all day to pick up copies.
Writer's Craft: Are You Overthinking the Story (Kelly McCullough, Richard Lee Byers, Beth Cato, ??)
Stay in writer brain for first draft, keep editor brain at bay.
World building iceberg -- only a seventh may end up visible in the story but the rest needs to be there, but not fully formed. How much? Who knows...
Stuck on a scene? Look at it from another (tertiary) character's point of view.
I'm interested to check out Beth Cato's Breath of Earth.
Not To Be Missed
An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss
He sold out the large ballroom, so 1,000 or more seats and it filled. Once again he had us agree to not share the grittier details of his regalations, but if you get the chance, he is funny and real. A good storyteller. He's a relatively new parent and has found new connections with parents, the way he had with geeks before that -- just another tribe.
He also asserted, strongly, something that I had already settled on in my mind: in stories, you don't have to kill people for drama. There doesn't have to be horrible death to make a story compelling. You need tension, and stakes, but it doesn't have to be gruesome and final. Especially not for works targeted for all ages. He had some psychology to back up why it might not be good.
He also had some psych on why "spoiling" very young children is a good thing. The young brain decides what kind of world it lives in: nurturing and safe or cutthroat and dangerous. It gets ingrained and manifests in "do unto others". (My words, but I think I got the meaning.)
Me and some of my fellow Writing Excuses Retreat alumni met Dan Wells for dinner about 10:00 pm at the Ram restaurant. They had reprinted their menus just for GenCon (this con is a big deal for downtown Indianapolis). I had the occasionally named "Fry Haddock and Release the Dogs of War". It was delicious. They had also swapped the in-house TVs from their normal sports fare to showing Bladerunner. It had been a long day and dinner was cozy but sedate.
It was followed by my 15 minute drive to La Quinta and a much shorter session of channel surfing.