The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: An Illustrated Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction
It’s got treasure hunting, monsters, strange aliens, alternative history, it’s got dashing young men, a ballsy woman with a dangerous ‘side-kick’! It’s got pictures – well, a couple.
It’s pulp fiction, penny dreadful. It’s 12 stories starring the titular Lockhart & Doppler, who travel from Lancashire to France, South America, North America, Saxe-Coburg, Italy and Somaliland!
Grab a copy now! (You could always use it to line the cat’s litter tray!)
I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. At a sound behind me I turned. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;
“An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”
“You know,” Nelson Orange said, “at first I wasn’t sure what about you drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”
Damn! I thought.
“Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”
“Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.
You all know I write stuff. ‘Course I do, I write this blog for one. Had some stuff published. Done posts for other blog sites.
So, what’s this TTRPG Writing all about Alex?
Table-top Role Playing Games. As opposed to LARP- Live Action Role Play (kind of like historical re-enactment societies, but with fantasy, and monsters, and probably more drugs!) or RPG in relation to video games (which I also spend quite a bit of time on)
It does what it says on the tin – you play it on your table, like a board-game, with dice and little pewter figures (painted or not), and maps, well some maps, sometimes.
I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for nigh on 30 years – oh, my wasted youth!
I have been DMing campaigns for about 10 of those.
What? People get paid to write gaming stuff? Thinks me. Of course I knew people wrote all the initial games books – Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Rulebook, Monster Manual, blahdy, blah blah – but get paid?
To write new ideas?
To create new monsters?
And magic items?
But how do you do it? How do you actually go about writing a game for others to play? To sell? What’s the process? How should it look or be presented?
Who does what to whom and when and how?
I haven’t a feckin’ clue!
I have been trawling the internet for three days – and it seems there is some sort of D&D gaming conspiracy going on! *Sh! Don’t talk about it otherwise more writers and creative types will muscle in on our patch.
and I thank those guys (John Bennet, Keith Ryan Kappel, and Christopher Hunt), for sharing their experiences and suggestions.
I’m going to start putting a few posts up here as I go along to share what knowledge and experience I gain on my path to becoming an #RPG writer.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey – who knows where we will end up – roll a D10 and we could run into a brick wall and fall at the first hurdle, twisting our ankle and hobbling back home shamefaced – or – we could vanquish the mummy of apprehension and discover the giant glow-worm of enlightenment!
So, the schools and colleges and universities of England have broken up for the summer holidays – no, not vacation, we don’t say vacation in England, unless you are going away from home on an actual vacation! (The English language huh?!)
You’d think I would have time to settle into a decent writing routine, wouldn’t you?
Previously I had been posting for this blog on a bi-weekly basis, then I cut down to one as, working and fiction writing demanded more time.
Upon the arrival of end of June, I was raring to go. I had plans to edit a series of stupid stories and self-publish them. I have a complete manuscript that I am ploughing through for the umpteenth time, plus the short story I am currently working on, and the handful of submissions for short story/anthology open competitions/submissions.
First week off, the phone rings – my mother is in hospital
My folks are old, like octogenarian old. My father now shuffles – literally- at a pace that boggles the mind, he’s losing his eyesight, and his hearing, his appetite, his balance. Yet he remains as obtuse, argumentative, opinionated and bloody annoying as ever!
My brother and I can’t imagine why our mother ever stayed with him.
So now, instead of spending happy hours immersed in words, I am driving two or three times a week, on a 2 hour round trip to collect my old dad, through roadworks, hold-ups, congestion, to visit my mother in hospital and take him home again.
She had a half-hip replacement, so is learning to walk again. She’s doing well, considering. I wonder she doesn’t just pretend she can’t do it so she can have a longer break from my dad!
You might wonder that I don’t go more often – but we have one car and hubby needs it to get to work. You imagine living in suburbs that the bus service would be great – it isn’t. Anywhere outside of London has appalling public transport systems.
And so I drive the car whilst my dad points out every bus that passes and tells me it’s route, and exclaims at empty buildings and tells me his ideas for, well practically everything- “These people don’t think!” he rants in his now high-pitched voice – because he knows best. And points his hand across my face as I try to peer over and navigate the road, because he wants me to look at where the British Legion used to be, or where an ex-neighbour from twenty years ago, whom I do not remember, moved to. And we get into arguments because I cannot let him get away with saying things like, “Why do you drive this way? Why don’t you go along the Northbound? You people just can’t think in a different way.” And I rise to the occasion,( I have become in his mind You People, and it irks) reminding him that he had an hour long moan when I washed his tea-pot after doing the dishes.
“Why does it matter?” I had said.
“Because that’s the way we always do it.” He said.
“But it’s all done, see? The dishes are washed and put away, I’ve done the tea-pot, and wiped up, so why does it matter what order it gets done in?”
He pointed at the counter, “There’s water there.”
I stood and faced him and made him tell me why it made a difference. He, of course had no logical answer.
And so back in the car this Friday, I couldn’t resist bringing up the tea-pot argument when he criticised my route.
“Why do you wash the tea-pot before the dishes?”
“Habit.” He said.
“Well, there you go.”
He still harrumphed, so a sent a parting shot – “Pot, kettle, black. Sound familiar dad?”
This morning,as I was reading ‘Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim‘, my husband said I should use my writing as a catharsis and write, like David Sedaris, about my family. I’m afraid I don’t have the wit of Sedaris, or the unusual and interesting family, or events to satisfy anyone, just a stubborn set of parents and brother who all seem stuck, like flies in aspic, in a 1950s England, who enjoy complaining as much as the next Brit.
Due to current ‘heat-wave’ blogger offers shortest post.
Newspapers present information and ideas about topics – and must constantly battle with each other to gain customers – headings need to be attention-grabbing.
Of course, layout, headings, subheadings and pictures play a part in this, but as writers, we could learn something from journalistic lingo.
What types of papers? (UK)
Tabloids are papers such as The Sun, The Mirror and The Express. They are smaller in size containing, usually, light-weight stories or articles written in simpler style. Often have a lot of celebrity gossip and very local articles.
Broadsheets are papers such as The Times, The Guardian and The Independent. These are the larger papers containing more serious stories in depth articles. The broadsheets will also contain news from other countries.
Short Words Headlines often use very short words to make an impact, this applies to broadsheets and tabloids alike, although the tabloids are more likely to employ eye-dialect – we’ll cover that in a mo’. The shorter headline has more impact – as does the shorter sentence in your novel/short-story writing. For example, Hitler Dead. Everyone knew who was being written about so no need for a full name. The sentence written fully could read, Adolf Hitler is Dead or German Chancellor Has Taken His Own Life, but it doesn’t have the same impact as two words.
Newspapers have the advantage (or disadvantage in some instances!) of having a photograph accompany their text. As a writer, you don’t. So to pack more punch into an action scene. You might. Just might. Want to use shorter words. And shorter sentences.
This is the use of non-standard spelling and pronunciation. What some refer to as ‘not speaking properly’. It’s not RP (Received Pronunciation). You will all be familiar with eye-dialect, and may even use it, without knowing what it is called. Innit?
(See what I did there?!) It is used to add impact to a headline, or add definition to your characters. Let’s imagine a conversation between two:
English Middle class friends –
Bill- Hello, Ben, How are you?
Ben – Hi, I’m pretty good, thanks for asking. How are things with the wife and kiddies?
Working class friends–
Bill – Y’all right mate?
Ben – Sound, how’s the missus and sprogs?
As an opening conversation, this immediately allows the reader to know something about Bill and Ben, without telling. It also adds some realism to your characters.
Examples of eye-dialect you will have seen in newspapers include – Gov’t, Grab ’em, Libs, Wot, Cor, and so on.
Word Play You find this is a big part of the language of many newspapers. Words with two different meanings in English can be used in an amusing and entertaining way. This is called a pun. The English language is littered with puns, innuendo and double entendres. TV shows and films like the Carry On series were built around this peculiarity (I’m not too sure about other countries/languages) For example, Be Leave in Britain. This headline, from The Sun, plays with the word believe. The Sun is renown for it’s patriotism; some would say nationalism, and urging it’s readers to believe in their country – however, they deliberately misspelt and divided the word (much like has happened to the UK and Europe ironically!), and now they ask their readers to believe in leaving the EU.
Poets amongst you may be more familiar with this, (though all serious writers should be too). Alliteration is mostly used for humorous effect as well as grabbing the readers attention. It’s essential for the newspapers to stand out from it’s competitors, so you will see a variety of styles depending on the paper and it’s target audience.
Alliteration is the repeated use of the same letter or sound in a series of words. Tongue-twisters are alliterative. e.g. She sells sea shells on the sea shore. The poem of Beowulf has, Hot-hearted Beowulf was bent upon battle. In the second instance, we can almost feel the breathy quality as we say hot-hearted, we pant the words as Beowulf himself might have, then the hard ‘b’s add another quality, harder, punchy.
Similarly the headlines might say – Pasties, Petrol and the Politics of Panic, or, Cannibal Cop Finds Killer’s Kit. I would say you couldn’t make this stuff up, but you can, they do!
Okay, the laptop is pretty hot now. The temperature is 26º(that’s 78.8 Fahrenheit for old people and Americans). My brain is overheating. I’m done.
If you’re a writer, whether that be fiction, non-fiction, blogging, or similar, then you probably have a ‘real’ job too. By ‘real’ job, I mean one that you do on a day to day basis (or nightly if it’s shift work), the one that pays your bills, that (just about) keeps the wolf from the door, the boring one, the one you don’t want to do but are forced to.
So how do you find time to write (other creative/art forms are available)? When you have laboured at your regular employment, you need a break, you WANT a break, you have to shift gears mentally and often emotionally before you begin to scribble.
There is really only one answer –
Edward Rickenbacker was an American Fighter Pilot in WWI. After surviving the war, he started an auto company, became involved in the aviation industry and wrote a comic strip (Ace Drummond), amongst other things. He is also known for this quote – “I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through – then follow through.”
Often, these sound-bites are nothing more than that, snippets of chat to gain attention, look at how newspapers, and blogs, title pages, it’s intentional, to draw the reader in. But Rickenbacker’s is more than that, it is practical: Think things through – then follow through.
It’s another way of saying – Get organised.
But if you’re anything like me, getting organised is harder than we all think. I understand we all have other things to do, the problem, I have found, is other people. Colleagues probably think that, like them, when the weekend comes, or when you finish work for the day, or have a day off, that it is just that – a day off. Hah! Creative types rarely, if ever, get a day off. Once the paying job ends, that’s when the real work begins for us.
So how do we get organised?
By thinking things through -then following through.
Can you see that there are only 2 slots when actual writing is being done? There is so much more that you could add to this, depending on your personal life, family size, days you work in paid job, other hobbies you try to maintain.
So when do you write? And don’t forget, writing is not just the act of setting down words – just like painting is not just the act of laying down colours. For me, a huge amount of the work is done in my head; thinking of ideas, plots, characters, events, moral issues, inventions, possibilities, to misquote Jarvis Cocker, “It may look to the untrained eye like I’m sitting on my arse all day.”
Get a piece of paper and pen – coloured pens if that’s your thang.
I recommend handwriting this for two reasons – 1.It’s easier to think without feeling rushed when you hand-write, and 2.You probably spend enough time on a computer as it is.
Sketch a table of your week; Monday to Sunday. And write in the hours you ‘go to work’ – that’s your paid work in the ‘grown-ups’ world, not your writing.
Now look for the empty spaces. You may only have Saturday and Sunday free, and even then you have to spend some of that with the kids. Into these empty spaces jot down what you want and or need to be doing in regards to your creativity.
Arrange your empty spaces so you have a balance of work and play, as much as possible given the time you have remaining. Remember, you need time to sleep and play and do nothing – unless you’re really a robot, in which case, meh.
After days/hours/minutes have been allocated as you want, break these down into smaller sections. For example, if you’re a blogger it might say, Monday 4pm to 6pm – writing/Friday 1pm to 4pm writing.
Break this down to, Monday 4pm to 6pm – research/planning/generating ideas. Friday 1pm to 4pm – write blog post.
Try it for a while and stick with it if it works, otherwise, re-jiggle your week. If you have trouble organising yourself, then don’t just read this – do it! Otherwise, you’re wasting time.
Think things through – then follow through.
Before you even do the organising activity, Think things through – do you want to carry on the way you have been? If you like your way of working, then who am I to tell you otherwise?! Are you lucky enough to be financially independent so as to not have to go to work? Or, like me, are you stuck in low-paid work with no option of advancement? Does it suit you, does it give you time to write/paint/sculpt/blog?
Then follow through – If you don’t like your working week try a change. If you hate your job, can you move, or find a different one? No-one is going to make the changes for you.
Whip it up in a couple of hours (or so some clients believe!) and hey presto, there’s a witty post. We wish. Bloggers must allocate time for generating ideas – researching – learning about new stuff (that may be technical or other) – deciding what you are going to write in advance. There is tons of advice on the internet to help Bloggers, you might want to spend a little on one of the numerous pre-made Blog Planners out there to help you get organised. Bloggers work to deadlines – whether their own or someone else’s.
Just float through life collecting ideas by some sort of osmosis which then transfers itself to the page by another kind of osmosis – Right? – Wrong! Writing the story, whether short, novella, trilogy, is the easy and fun bit. Don’t forget, you need to edit, and this can take as long as writing the bloody thing in the first place! If you are submitting work for an open competition, then you’re working to a deadline. If you’re submitting a MS to a publishing company, you’re working to their guidelines. Do read all the rules. Do make time for your Author Bio and Plot Summary.
Probably the most organised of the creative bunch. This lot typically arrive here from an academic background and so are used to working to deadlines and briefs. But if you’re a free-lancer who also hold down a day job, you will need to arrange times that suit you as well as enough time to complete the brief. A diary, actual or E will be your friend.
Think things through – then follow through.
On each of my days off, I go through a similar process.
Write a To-Do list, this will include writing, research, mail, laundry, check for potential submissions, blog, editing.
Work through this list – in any order – do laundry first as it’s like eating your greens before your meat.
Take a break in-between each activity – especially between writing and everything else: this allows my brain to shift gears into the realms of fantasy.
It looks on the To-Do list like I do the same thing over and over, but because I write, then it doesn’t feel like that at all. I write my blog, I write stories; variety of genres, and I am NEVER, ever bored.
Spring has been late in arriving this year; especially in the North of England. Although there are some things you can shove in early, like potatoes and Early Onions, the rest has been waiting for the ground to warm up.
Writing, believe it or not, can be delayed if you are subject to ‘climate’ change. I find that during the winter months, I am more inclined to write multiple short stories – much like keeping the plot (both kinds) ticking over – keeping your hand in for the coming summer months. This is not to say writing short stories is not serious writing – it is, and it’s bloody hard work, especially for those of us who are inclined towards filmic, script-like scenarios.
If you are habitually a writer of novels, this ‘slow’ period might be good for trying new styles (I’m having a go at radishes this year! And historical writing!). Looking for Short Story Competitions is a great way to keep the brain in gear; the ink flowing, so to speak.
Short story writers may want to reverse this and give novel writing a go. Expanding the length of your story pushes your creativity to new levels. Take a look at the latest thing you have written, or are writing, does it really have to be under 5,000 words? Take us on a whirlwind tour of your characters world, create side-stories and let your characters get under the skin of your readers.
You’ve sown the seeds – on the allotment and of creativity. Don’t stand back and admire the clean rows of earth and words. Wasn’t there something else you had to do? Did you leave something out? Have you proofread the whole thing? Simply put – does it work?
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about here – Editing – it’s a bitch, but it has to be done. Weed out the obvious nonsense first. Remember, prune back hard, next year it comes back stronger!
Save. Save Again. And Back It Up
Which brings me to the main point of this update.
I ran out of space on my allotment plot this year. I was offered an unused raised bed, and this morning spent 2 hours clearing it. It was hard, itchy, skin-raking work; and raining to-boot. But my spare seeds have somewhere to go now.
Remember when I told you about losing 3 years of my work? (May 18, 2018 ) I have since learnt my lesson and now have the equivalent of a spare bed on the allotment – an external hard drive!!! When writing, save your piece, next time save it with a #2 after the title and so on and so forth. You might, by the end of writing, have anything from 20 to 50 saves of the same story. Only when you are satisfied that the thing is finalised can you get rid of the earlier saves – then download it onto an external drive. These are incredibly easy to buy, put together in it’s case and use.(Amazon) If you use Windows, then it will be simple, if like me you have Linux, you may have to do a little work to get your system to allow access, but I did it, so can you.
Another way to ensure you do not lose work was recommended to me by a member of Wirral Writers; Amy’s tip is this – e-mail your stories to yourself. This means that, if you don’t use something like Google Drive, wherever you are, you will always have access to your work!
Now spades, pens at the ready – write, write, write!
Whether a real or imaginary place, a certain amount of Worldbuilding is required. For example, I recently wrote a short story set in early 17th century, there’s some stuff on the internet about the history of England at that time – however – it was set in a none-existent village, in a landscape partially based on reality, with characters from my imagination – bring on the Worldbuilding – houses, the inn, the church, beehives (skeps), brewery, orchard, river, etc. etc. I drew a map, I collected pictures; of landscapes, of replica buildings, of people, I researched dialect and place-name etymology. I created the village of Hope Ghyll.
Do You See What I See?
It’s all about getting your reader to suspend disbelief – if you go too far, i.e. no psychological realism, then you have lost them and the story is senseless. Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien created worlds with fantastical creatures; a land that is always winter, or one whose dangerous element is essentially a visible, intangible evil that can call upon the heinous and chaotic to fight on his behalf. Tolkien was especially adept at showing us his creation without actually describing an awful lot. Instead of slapping a large platter of roast orc, horse sweat and forest before us, he wafted the aroma beneath our reading noses, thus allowing us to create the vision in our own minds – and yet, when we watch the films, somehow we all ‘saw’ the same thing! Now that’s genius!
Fantasy and Sci-fi writers, I believe, have the biggest job of all – pretty much EVERYTHING has to be ‘built’.
Where does your story take place? An alternative or parallel universe? Another solar system? Are you on planet Earth even? You are free to make the landscape anything you want, and for it to be any place you want, but it must be justified within the story-line. Your geographical location affects who we are – think about the stereotypes of various nations around our world, you don’t even have to look too far – Londoners are a different beast to, say, Yorkshire folk, inhabitants of Los Angeles have a different mind-set from people living in New Hampshire. Remember that quote from Ken Russell’s Excalibur, “You and the land are one.”? Well so are your characters. Which leads us nicely to…
I love maps. I love looking at the shapes of coastlines, the quaint names of places in Britain; names are very evocative, the distances between one place and another; that in times past, people travelled on foot! I also enjoy making my own. I often create a map when I DM a game of Dungeons and Dragons, there’s something satisfying in being a world creator, the Master hand, dare I say, God. If you can’t draw, use existing places – have a look at Google Earth and take a screen-shot. Not only that, have a look at how our world used to look – the Neolithic Age might be exactly what you’re after for a fantasy ‘off-world’, https://www.eupedia.com/europe/neolithic_europe_map.shtml#early_neolithic. There are templates to be found online of existing and imaginary land masses.
Different planets have differing day lengths; this will affect the character, activities and potential festivals you have in your world. If Counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer has 24 hours to solve a crime on planet Earth, how long will he have on Saturn? Not as long, so he better get a move on!
The history of your setting will have impact on the lives of characters your reader meets. If there has been a robot uprising 50 years previously, that is going to shape the politics and lifestyles of them now. If you are setting it in a prehistoric jungle infested with lizard men, how did they develop? What will their relationship to your protagonists be?
History cannot be ignored, we don’t live in a ‘bubble of the here and now’, wherever you live in the world, think about what your daily life is like, what has affected the way your country is run? Is there a ‘ruling class’? How did they get there? What about your own family, maybe there is a story from your ancestors that you can use as a jumping off point? Your hero hasn’t sprung up fully formed – unless he/she is one of those Greek Gods that emerge from the severed head of its parent! – he/she will have a reason that they’re in the position they are, right from the beginning of your story. Know their history.
Is it a flawed system? Does public transport run late, or is everything perfectly in-tune with the surroundings? Who rules? A Royal family of dragons?! What are the politics? What sort of art/music/dance/sculpture is created there? – If there is, in fact, any creativity at all – maybe you have a warrior based society only. Looking around our own planet, we can see a huge variety of differentiation between countries – education in the Scandinavian countries, for example, is regarded as some of the best, whereas in the Wodaabe culture, because they are a nomadic peoples and the land is everything, they do not have schools or an education structure that many in a Western ‘developed’ country would recognise. What about religion? Even if you yourself do not follow a belief system, chances are your society is moulded by one. There may be laws that dictate your character’s daily life, there may be holy festivals, holidays, observances that shape the mindset of this individual. Every society has a culture – the extent of it’s intellectual achievement is up to you.
You can, of course, write anything you want in your story – it’s your story. You can make up new words for an imagined language, BUT, if you make something too complicated, your audience is going to struggle to read the actual story as they will be so busy trying to work out what the Hell you are talking about! Names; people and places, are a great way of adding texture and signalling to your reader that this is ‘another world’. Baggins, Mordor, Galadriel, Gondor – words that conjure a place and time that is not our own. Tolkien was an expert on the Old Norse language, and incorporated it into his work to give his invented world a real sense of believability.
New Crobuzon, Bonetown, Sil, Besźil – another place and time; totally different to Tolkien’s, China Miéville offers us a future; or alternative reality, that is succinctly expressed with Worldbuilding mastery. If your story takes place in the distant past, again, readers are going to struggle if you write the whole thing in Middle English (see Chaucer), so select the odd word or phrase that gives a flavour to your tale; don’t have your reader struggle over every ‘daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he’.
Let’s be honest, Worldbuilding takes time. The amount of time/research/planning you are prepared to put into it will affect your writing when you begin. You should be the expert on this world you have created. You should know EVERYTHING there is to know about it. You won’t necessarily mention all the stuff you have built into your world; like how long it takes to shear a sheep, but it will have an impact on your mind-set as you write and will therefore add some element of realism. Worldbuilding can be hard work, but if you are planning to write a series, then it will definitely be time well spent.