Monday, July 27, 2015

Character Development: My Formula

How do you create all these characters? This is a question I've been asked many times. I have dozens to an easy couple hundred characters in my head. I joke that they haunt me and it's pretty much true. As I think about it, how to develop characters can be the difference to a seemingly living thing and a flat piece of paper. Here is how to create that believable character with depth and bring it to life.

Think of everything that makes up a person; right down to the smallest detail. That is what makes up a character.

Appearance: A character's appearance sets the stage for how other characters will react on sight of him or her. Is he a dusty dirty vagrant with torn clothes and matted hair? Or is he meticulous and refined in an expensive three piece suit? Maybe she's more casual in a comfy t-shirt and jeans with holes in the knees? Don't forget to accessorize with jewelry, handbag, or maybe an expensive pair of boots. For an exercise in how people look, just go to any public place and look around. I'm not suggesting you engage in staring contests, but think about what stands out to you as you see different people. For people that really stand out, go to People of Walmart and look through the photos. Imagine how you would describe their appearance in writing.

Behavior: How does your character act and react to their surroundings and other characters? What are his or her standard emotions. Happy go lucky? Constantly irritated? Paranoid? Different people have different ranges of behaviors. It's important that those behaviors interact with setting, events and other characters. Reactions are an important part of those behaviors. How does your character react to a lost puppy or getting a parking ticket? How do they treat people around them depending on how much they care? What if they just don't care? Behavior is the glue that holds your character together and connects all of what they are. For exercises in human behavior just go to Youtube and start watching videos of the things that people do. Ask yourself how you would write about those behaviors and attach them to your character.

Now we get more in depth:

Quirks: These are the aspects of your characters behavior that stand out and add spice to their "makeup". Take my character, Nyhtwulf, for example. His greatest quirk is a love for foil wrapped cream cheese. He eats cubes of the stuff complete in the wrapper. He doesn't understand why humans take the wrappers off. To him, that's part of what makes the treat so delicious. Special  habits that help define your character and give it depth, make them more believable as a living and breathing thing. I once knew a lady who was a heavy smoker. Whenever she exhaled the smoke, she did so through her nose with her tongue sticking out. She had no idea that she stuck out her tongue every time, she just did it. Everyone has nuances to them that make them who they are. Quirks, habits, or what ever you want to call them can be seen in everyday life easily. You don't need a lot of them in one character either. Treat them like salt in a recipe.

Beliefs: What does your character believe (or not) in? Are they ultra religious? Maybe he's an atheist? Does she believe in unicorns? Beliefs are not limited to the religious alone, rather a full scale way of life. Belief extends to political standing and ideals. At their very heart, belief defines a character's alignment of good or evil. Consider the beliefs of a narcissistic sociopath. Such a person believes that all other people are lesser beings, put on Earth for their personal use or amusement. The Bushido Code is a way of  life for ancient samurai.  Political parties, psychological studies, and religions are fine ways to look at belief.  To see belief in action, look to social media like Facebook. What's going on on your friends pages that play to belief?

History: A character without personal history is either flat or a background character. History speaks to the character's life experiences. You can go back in their life as much as you wish to give him or her history. Events of childhood shape a character for who they are today. Past mistakes lend to experience and shape how future choices are made. Depending on the story, characters don't need a great deal of history. Some stories have a greater history on their own that guide and build the characters. History that overshadows the personal. That's okay, so long as characters have believable reactions to those events. For an example of how personal history looks, think back on your own. What events of your life, shaped who you are today?

Fears: Not all characters have major fears, but some will and it really helps define and bring them to life. My character Blacktide has the power to disintegrate any solid matter by touch or even at range. When his powers manifested in his youth, they killed his parents. Blacktide has to be ever vigilant that he not touch people without precise control of his powers. Even with help of a psychic connection with Nyhtwulf, the fear of hurting innocent people is alive in his mind always. Don't forget that a phobia is great for character development too. Major fears should be sparing, but natural fears fit everywhere. Fears go hand in hand with a characters greatest concerns about the world they live in. Take today's concerns for great examples. Do you know anyone who is worried about war in the Middle East or the job market? How would you write about these things to flesh out your character?

Trials and Tribulations: Characters need problems and life events to react to and interact with. Not just the main antagonist of your story, but other things too. Trouble paying the rent on time? Looking for a job in a hard market? Health problems? Or maybe they just have spontaneous runs of bad luck? Problems create empathy with the reader. I know when I read about someone stubbing their little toe on a door jamb, I instantly empathize. Who doesn't know what that feels like? But don't forget that they need triumphs too. They need those upswings that we all hope for in life. We all need that lucky quarter on the sidewalk from time to time. They may be small and not in line with the major focus of your story, but they make your character come to life.

Relationships: Very important for how characters interact with each other. Are they best friends or casual acquaintances? Love, hate, friendship, disdain, all important factors and they change from character to character. Who they like and dislike and how the interact build on all the characters involved. There are many examples already written here and you do your own study in public or on social media. You can even see how that changes based on the circumstances of the conversation. We all know people on social media tend to be more bold than in person.

My list is certainly not the only way to look at character creation, but it's filled with the general basics. It's often the little things that make characters believable and alive in the mind of the reader.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Board Game Quandry: Reader's Advice?

Yes, I'm asking you, the gaming reader, for your advice. Consider that what you post here may become the advice sought out by other game creators like me.

Points to consider:

-I'm not just a game creator, but also an author and I'm trying to make GZ it's own standing universe. It has a long way to go with hopes for apps, graphic novels, and maybe even video games. I'm not just looking to take GZ one direction, but many.

-No matter what is available, everything will get future improvements. New editions with improved art and function are always in consideration. For that matter, I'm collaborating with an exceptional artist and the image is his drawing and my coloring. People are already digging it.

-If I do this, it will put games in players' hands. Players will also be able to rate my game on site.

My board game is fully playable. I'm working on a tweak here and there, but essentially it's ready and I'll have those improvements done first.

What I'm thinking of doing is going ahead and making my game available to order on The Game Crafter website for 45 dollars a copy. A few of you wonderful people were willing to back it on Kickstarter at 50.

Not only will this put my game out there for you and other players, but it will provide me with a modest business income that I can grow with.

So what do you gaming folk think of this idea? If you want to look over the information on my game you can do so at this LINK.

I value your input and appreciate it. Rock on gamers! Keep those dice a rolling!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Writing: How to choose an idea and go forward

It's the creative's curse. You have so many ideas in your head for a story that you just can't sort them by thinking. So what do you do? I had this awesome question recently and realized I needed to put it here to help others. Here's my suggestion.

When you have so many ideas crashing around in your head that you can't sort them just with thought along, you need some writer's tools to help you out.

Get a notebook and label it "For Writing Ideas Only". Feel free to decorate it, color on the cover, whatever. But inside, is only for your writing ideas. Keep it where you can always find it.

Make a list. Jot notes on each idea as you remember them. You don't have to make it long winded half story length stuff, just notes. That way, when you do pick a project and complete it, you can come back to your notes and pick another one.

But how do you choose? That's on you. There is really no best way to choose what your first project is going to be. All of them are likely begging you in your head to be completed. You will have to make your choice and then focus. Yes, focus. One of the hardest things a creative can try to do. But do it you must in order to make any headway on that first project or any after it.

One thing I suggest, after you've brainstormed all those ideas and written them down; is to put them away and leave them be for a few days. Come back and look them over later after writing them down. You may find new perspective on your ideas that needed time to gestate. You may find the act of writing something down as a resolve to the mind storm. You've given your ideas a kind of tangibility that allows them to be dealt with easier.

Will this make the ideas stop whirling through your head? Um, no. I'm afraid there is no cure for that. You can only hope to organize them a little and find a path to move ahead.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your notebook and get to jotting down those ideas!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Chaos Rising: An inside look

So, as many of you now know, my third book is officially available on Amazon. You can click on my author's page link in the upper right of this page. But what are you going to see beyond what I've already given? Well, today I'm giving you a bit of a who's who to help you out.

The Ultimate Threat: The villain of the story is Jonathan Stormy Knight and he's on a mission to release the god, Chaos from his imprisonment. While that sounds like something that's been done, the threat is no small one. Chaos in the GZ universe is the embodiment of all technology in the universe. He appears as a colossal sized robotic entity with swirling search lights, canons and lasers. His hand alone is bigger than a four story building. His concept is an idea that, while beneficial, technology is stealing our humanity. The result is a hole in the balance of good and evil, resulting in chaos. Stormy engages in a number of bizarre plans that confuse the heroes, but everything he sets in motion damages the balance.

The Rookie Hero: Hakim is a lost college student who is given the powers of Anubis, Guardian of the Dead. Throughout the book, he discovers how to use his many abilities and learns what it is to be a hero.

The Old Veteran: Sandstorm is arguably the most powerful human being on Earth. He has the power to shape change into weather and elements in any combination as well as control those around him. This story brings him out of retirement from the CIA to join a government task force. He can feel the damage being done to the planet because of the sun being blocked out.

The Protege: Electrode, is the nuclear electric man, capable of moving at twice the speed of light. He's Sandstorm's partner and student. He'll follow Sandstorm anywhere, even the depths of space.

The Damaged One: When Larry Peter's disintegration powers manifested, they killed his parents. His powers are dangerous and sometimes out of control. As Blacktide, he tries his hand at becoming a hero, perhaps as personal redemption. He will meet someone who will become the best friend he ever had.

The Demon: Nyhtwulf comes to our world from the castle of the Four Horsemen and meets an unlikely friend. If you ever wondered if a demon could be a hero, wonder no more. Nythwulf comes to Earth with an endearing innocence of the world and delights in discovering its wonders (like cream cheese).

The Heroic Damsel: Her name is Nightfall and she can cause mental blackouts by touch. She's the one who may just teach Anubis everything he needs to know to be a hero. She may even show him he can be in love again.

If you miss out on the free giveaway (that's going on through this coming Monday, July 13th), you can still get your digital copy of this epic for 99 cents.

As always there is more to come an next I plan to have a second book of short stories put together. After that, it's Chessmen 2 (long awaited I know).

Enjoy the story, heroes and remember; never give up.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Building your workspace

For the longest time, I've been doing my typing and art in the dining room that we don't use for anything else. The office was split diagonally for my actual work space and my wife's computer. Then my wife made me an offer to go ahead and just move my artistic stuff to the dining room. I went a touch further and converted it to an official space.

I don't know about you, but when it comes to being creative it helps to surround yourself with your creations. Past that, things that inspire your imagination. Heroclix, for example, is my favorite game. I put quite a few on display as inspiration and my collection will actually be moved under the table soon. You can see the heroclix all over the two white shelf units on the right side of my work space. Those shelves also hold dictionary, thesaurus and art books. I'm not done with the organization yet, but you can see where it's headed.

On the left side you can see my geek shelf. It has all sorts of cool geekiness that has been randomly collected. Some are gifts, like the Monty Python rabbit and some are from Loot Crate. There's a giant heroclix figure because he doesn't fit anywhere else. But then we
get to the most important parts of this arrangement. That would be the creations of the Galaxy Zento universe. In the white shelves there is a copy of the role playing game. You can see the art posted all around.

Then there's the table. I built that table from a solid wood door and banquet table legs some 10 years ago. I burned a mural of my universe in the top of it. It was in the office but I had two strong guys from across the street move it for me. No way I can move it myself anymore. It's blasted heavy. A hundred pounds easy. When I work at my table, it's like being there. It's a solid piece of my creativity. It inspires.

Now on to the shadow box you see on the left wall. That's also very special to me. In it are custom heroclix figures of my characters. Yes, it's a little known dream that one fine day I can have a heroclix set of Galaxy Zento. Alas, my characters need to be a lot more popular for that to happen. Still, it was fun to make them back when I could do that sort of thing. And they are for my own enjoyment, not meant to infringe on Heroclix in anyway. The cool thing  is how tangible it makes my characters. Sadly, it's not their exact features, but pretty darn close.

It did wear me out to do all this, but it sure feels worth it. Today I'll finish sprucing it up and then I'll getting to more creative work.

(click on images for closer view)

For better views of the table go HERE.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tabletop, Wil Wheaton, and Internet Judgment

(Language warning)

Incidents with Wil Wheaton's blog last week created an uproar on the net of tidal proportions. Who doesn't know that Wil Wheaton runs the coolest game demoing show on the net? If you haven't watched Tabletop, you are missing out. Alas, his third season has had some problems that he comes out to explain in the following of his blog posts:

TABLETOP, KINGDOM BUILDER AND SCREWING UP THE RULES

CRITICAL FAILURE

Before I get too far, I'm going to quote Wil on that second blog post where he says something that hits remarkably close to home for me and my project.

Note that first sentence. It's of incredible importance. It's a solemn reminder that we are human. Something that people seem to want to cast aside when it comes to the internet. You aren't allowed to be human on the internet. The entirety of both those blog posts show that Wil is just that, human. It shows that he deals with all the same bull that someone new to the industry can deal with.

It's also an important lesson in dealing with people who aren't going to like what you do. It's a lesson I learned, but I wasn't prepared for the level of gross "shitting on" I was going to receive. It honestly took me by surprise. As Wil said in his second blog post, he may not have responded to the issues in the best way he could. Same goes for me. But there are points for everyone when the needling just hits that nerve one too many times.

You're supposed to always be positive and always wear a happy face. But that's not the human thing to do when people are taking that gratuitous dump on your work.

When my art work was attacked; hold on, let me explain that. It felt like being attacked because the feedback consisted of unhelpful negative remarks given in force of numbers. When 8-15 people line up in one comment thread to say things like:

"Your work looks like a five year old did it."
"It looks purposely bad."
"It's abysmal."
"My kid could do better on MS Paint."
"Hire someone else to do it."

It's only natural to feel  outnumbered and it shook me up. Then I had people ask me questions that they clearly didn't want the answers to. When they got the answer they said I was full of excuses. But you know what all that really means? Two things.

-I'll never impress those people with anything. No, Nothing. Accept it.
-Those are the absolute wrong people for me to show my work to.

My artwork is my achievement. Do I expect it to be the permanent face of my project. No I don't. But it's still my achievement. These people have no idea how  hard it was for me to do what I did, and frankly, they don't give two shits.

So I have to get this going in my mind. When someone lines up to shit on my work, I need to dismiss them. I have too much to do to worry about their woes. If they have a constructive idea to toss my way, I'm all cool with that. If they just don't like my games or stories. That's fine too.

But even in the practice of that, I'm human. Has being human alienated me? Probably to some degree. I feel bad about that, but I just have to dust myself off and keep working.

I think Wil Wheaton is going to bounce back from this and keep doing amazing things. I'm sure I can follow that example.

I have to stick with the facts that matter too. People who have played my game have enjoyed it. I have published two books. I have actually fully developed and designed a prototype in solid cardboard. These are my achievements. Let no amount of elitist shit ever tarnish them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

New board game prototype: It's a GO!

I just got this in the mail today. As prototypes go, it's definitely good enough for demos.

Let me say something up front for my critics and anyone else who wants to know: this is not the final look of my game. This is a prototype. Prototypes don't have to look perfect, they have to be playable. And this is.

I've gotten some great tips on rule tweaks, many of which have already been added. The cards are crisp, clear and readable. They shuffle well. It all performs like a pro made game. The Game Crafter does a pretty good job with their stuff.

The board. I am very happy with it and I must say it's exactly how I want it to represent the worlds depicted in my novel. It's a little weird with the theme of the cards, but once related to the story, I think it's forgivable. I have other boards planned for expansions that will definitely help out.

The cards, when I get them, I do have to go through and sort the cards based on what deck they are supposed to be in. Since the backs of the cards are clearly marked, this is a minor issue. I love the little ziploc baggies they send. They really help with game storage and to keep decks separate.

Everyone has really loved the little plastic meeples. There are several types to choose from, but these fit the board very well.

Artwork depicts very clearly, maybe too much so for some nuances. However, it's not a final product. One day I will have extra help (not that such isn't in consideration right now: hint hint).

This also serves as proof my game exists.

Some people out there are wondering what my future plans are for GZ. How do I intend to become a company? Well, as I've said before: everyone has to start somewhere. It's as simple as that. Right now, anyone who jumps in, needs to be aware that I'm asking them to take some risks with me. I need a graphic artist for one and likely a team of like minded people for another. But here's the thing, I'm not just going to sit here and do nothing until I find one. I'm building something here and I'm going to keep building until the day comes that I'm totally incapable of doing so. I refuse to just sit and stare at the wall just because I don't have the funds to hire someone. Great business minds have done the exact same thing and wound up with their own empires. Need and example?

The owner of Papa John's started in a broom closet at a bar. People laughed at him. They criticized him. They said a business like that isn't "worthy" because it's in  broom closet. And who's laughing or mocking now? He kept right on going and focused on those who were willing to try his pizza and look past the fact that he was operating out of broom closet. Sure, there are still people who hate his pizza today. Good thing he doesn't need them. Those who tried it, came back for more.

Those who have tried my game, have liked it. I don't expect everyone to love love love it. That's scientifically impossible. But for those who are going to tell me just can't do this, expect the brush off from now on. I'm sorry, but being told to go hire someone else isn't constructive or helpful and is already in my docket of plans. I will just no longer respond to anyone who can't do any more than bash my work, tell me I'm full of excuses, or any other negativity that I just don't need. For those who continue, I tell you what, live someone's life before you sneer at it. If you fail at this, fate may just lend a hand one day.

So, for those who are patient and willing to work with a person on a timetable, I have playtesting opportunities coming up. I have print and play available and I'm ordering one (sometimes 2) prototypes to send out to people per month. It's what I can do. If that's too much to bear, have a nice day, week, life.