Hello everyone. It is time for our December ask me anything where you can submit questions to us and we will answer them. And last month we actually held a poll on who we should speak with for this month and the winners of that poll was the narrative team. So joining us today is Eleanore and Jody, Jody being the lead of narrative, and they are here to answer all of your questions about Verses lore and writing and being a part of the narrative team and creating the Verses story that we all love. Hi Jody and Elenore.
Thanks for hosting, and doing the work of making this happen. Yeah,
We ran into some Twitter issues. So we're doing it in discord.
<div id="1" class="anchor">Go ahead and say your names and introduce yourselves.</div>
Well, my name is Jody Dunville, or Jody Dee as most people call me. I am a longtime friend of two of the founders of MIDI hands, Dan Burdick and Dan Clegg, and it's through my friendship with them through the magic of gathering community over the years that I got involved with this project. I was sort of the first I guess, of, you know, a wave of hires of the second wave, you know, folks like Jed and Brittany have been around a little longer than me but I, you know, kind of was brought on to do this narrative work as well as some, you know, technical writing work. And here we are, you know, it's, it's been over a year now. And yeah, I you know, I went to the University of Houston and then went to the University of Tennessee to get my graduate degree. I studied the English and Spanish language. And spent time as an educator, also spent time behind the bar so I can make you a good old fashioned.
Nice. How about you Elle?
My name is Eleanore Drummond, and I'm a longtime friend of Alex, but I was brought in along with my partner, Michael. Like right at the end of last year to participate in the writing. And it was kind of as a test, you know, I think we weren't sure we would. We would love the work and he wasn't sure we would. I mean, he thought we would, we would do well, but it's there. It's my first professional writing job.
My background is all over the map. I'm an artist, but I'm also having a job adjacent academic background, where I'm a historical costumer, and I've done a lot of deep research into historical clothing, both cultural context and making of and designing and wearing and I've written about it and talked about it, and in in hobby groups, and so on, and won awards within that group. And so I've led creative projects to create grand garments with lots of labor, and diverse techniques and so on. So I both love fiber art and I love research, technical research, technical research, academic research and writing and teaching.
And I've done creative writing in my life too. But I think, you know, because I'm an avid gamer, lifelong roleplay gamer, board gamer, puzzle or card games, any game, any game you want to throw at me. I'm always looking for a game and so I think that that combined background was enough to let Alex give me a try. And I fell in love with the work and and I love my team and yeah, it's a fun project to be a part of.
Yeah, I definitely agree. I kind of have a similar you know, on ramp onto the company where I knew Alex and then they needed some some work done. So I just kind of started and then that just led to me kind of getting integrated into the whole project and then just realizing whoa, this project is awesome. These people are great, you know.
So let's go ahead and jump into some of the questions here. And we'll start with the first one, which is
<a href = "#2"How did you come up with the Verses setting?</a>
Yeah, I was gonna say I think this is a big question. And it's very, you know, kind of a long story, but suffice it to say that the state of the project currently is quite different than it was when I started August of last year.
And at that time, what we had basically as resources was a bunch of art. And we have released this artwork already in the sort of alpha launch in the form of NFTs, and it's a huge repository like 500 pieces or so. From people who are renowned creators in the gaming sci fi fantasy, genre fiction space, many of whom are our Magic the Gathering artists, some of whom you know and cinematics. Jeff Laubenstein you know, people who like participating in making cards for alpha, like literally the first edition of Magic The Gathering.
And so I was presented with what really amounts to, you know, a very impressive but sort of extraordinarily diverse collection of visual art. And, you know, in the first days, it was all just like in a Google spreadsheet and kind of like, you know, drag the pieces around and try and make groups or make sense and go like, how are we going to break this up? What kind of world comes from, you know, this like, its repository of wildly different stuff. You know, some of it is figurative, some of it is landscapes or science fiction and horror and fantasy, and everything in between. And so I guess the first question was to think about the scope, right, and to come to terms with, like, how broad the franchise needs to be. Fortunately, Alex and Dan Burdick are big dreamers. And so, you know, I don't think that they thought that something that could include all of this different stuff was impossible.
You know, when you're doing a project, that sort of the first thing is like, you know, you gotta put the stakes down before you can put the tent poles up. And so you have to kind of define the space that you're planning to operate in. You know, but in this case, like as it turns out, you know, Verses the vision for it is to be a franchise, you know, something that is huge, and it has many releases as we continue down this path of creating narrative games and artwork for people to enjoy. You know, we're like, we're not putting a tent up. You know, that's one thing, we're like building a whole carnival basically. And so, that was really the first thing to wrap your head around and go like, okay, how can I consider the size of the universe like, and it's challenging in this case.
Like I said, if you were making, you know, it's big and we wanted to be able to fit everything. But you also want to have particular umbrellas and start to break things down discreetly. And so Alex and I spent a lot of time talking about what kind of subdivisions, buckets, umbrellas, whatever you want to call it was gonna like let us have something that made sense. And within that, you know, thinking about like, a structure that makes sense, or that is logical inside of, you know, this thing that you've created, because I think in general, people have like, very good BS detectors. And so you don't want to offend the audience by presenting them with something that doesn't make sense from top to bottom.
And in that way, like after considering all the possible genres that we could, we said, okay, like, here's the number of buckets that various things can fit into, that have their own unique identities.
Like there's science fiction, which is pretty clearly delineated, but a number of other things fit into syntax as well. Steampunk, blacksmithing you know, there are a number of things that are part of that world that fit into this notion of technology shaping reality. That aren't necessarily what you would consider, you know, hard science fiction or futuristic Sci-Fi or whatever. And so, we pretty much like, also knew that we needed a number that was going to work with a game. And six, we like you know, luckily stumbled upon, you know, six things that we felt like, okay, we can't really think of a kind of story that doesn't at least kind of fit into one of these buckets.
And six is a workable number for game design and, and I think we were pretty happy with that. The last thing that is important, you know, in terms of coming up with the setting, for me, is about representation, and that not only means like committing as the company does as a social purpose company, to like a contemporary, you know, modern level of inclusive representation of different kinds of people different kinds of experiences. Different kinds of identities, cultures, but also a diverse range and style of art. And also potentially fiction that like different forms, and different kinds of things all sort of fit inside of what we're trying to do.
So I don't know if I really just described narrowing it down at all. But that's, yeah, really what it was is we said we want to take a huge chunk and be able to do all kinds of things that give people all kinds of people, a lot of space to play, and a lot of space to be creative in.
And that's true structure to be able to be creative, like it's this balance between open thinking open ended and broadly but also creating structure that in the form of these buckets and in the form of setting design so that it gives us something to guide the work.
Exactly. Right. That's exactly right. You know, you want the space to be big enough for everybody to be able to play how they want it, but also to have some kind of cohesive, unifying narrative that we all agree on. And that is consensual and that we all participate and play in Verses by playing by the rules of Verses. Right.
So, you mentioned that you realize pretty quickly that Synthex needed to to be like a sci fi space.
<a href = "#3">How did you come up with needing six different universes for these different genres?</a>
Well, you know, interestingly, they're the people over at GURPS you know, which is this tabletop roleplaying system that's been in existence for I don't know if it's before I probably ever played a tabletop RPG. So 30 years GURPS have kind of done a similar thing, where they have a bunch of different source books. You can travel to all these different kinds of worlds. And, you know, one of them maybe has dinosaurs, and the other one has super science fiction tech, and one is World War Two. All of these different superheroes, you know, all kinds of different genres and so that the list of GURPS sourcebooks which is huge, it's like 100 of them probably.
Alex and I sat down with that as a tool and we're like, okay, we kind of tentatively have these buckets. Can we successfully put each GURPS source books into one of our buckets and have it make sense, and we were actually able to do that. And so we felt like, you know, checking ourselves against this comprehensive catalog was confirmation, you know, that like these subdivisions that we kind of come up with were a success, at least in our opinion.
So let’s jump to the next question.
<a href= "#4">In the beginning we had all the NFT art. And so you would basically have a piece of art in the form of an NFT. Then you had to ask yourself, how do I make a story out of this? What was that process like?</a>
I love this process.
I think this is a question that Elle is well suited to answer. It's one of her favorite parts of this. So please be my guest to talk about it.
Yeah, luckily, when I came on, the first batch to be released had been decided. And so that was really nice. Like that whole process had already been done. But as a team, what we do is we review the art and look and really look at the art. Because of my background as an artist, my mom is an art teacher. She teaches art history and she teaches how to tap into your inner artist and develop that skill at a collegiate level and and so I've been like, I can go to museums and just hang up museums all day long. I could out museum of everybody I know so far.
And so for me the process of looking at art for the visual story, like I really feel like visual art. It can be purely emotional, but it can also be a narrative experience that there are we are taking those visual cues and we're interpreting them into a story in our own head and one of the wonderful things about visual art is how every person might look at it and see the same details but come up with a different kind of internal dialogue of what that story is.
And we really mine that art for every detail that we can find. I mean, I think that there are oftentimes details that are maybe you know, either throw away details or just details that are interesting for the visual artists who's creating them, but they may not expect them to be that significant to somebody who's viewing it.
And for us, sometimes those little tiny details are super important. In for the art that became tethered to prophecy. One of the details that I found so fascinating in the work of the art was the lines that were all throughout the art like crack a layer or crack one crack, I'm mixing it up with baking terms that you know, it's this term for when paintings age and crack. And it had been given that look and I was like, Oh, that's so good. And it really informed the community like the flavor of the community that I created in that story. And so I feel like there's this really deep collaboration between the visual artist and us as narrative writers where we're utilizing what they've provided and then and then running with that and building on that. And they'd become the ingredients that we weave together for a story.
We also have to assign a Verse like we go through before we even actually kind of jumped ahead but before we actually like write a story from art, we assign a Verses to the art we look at the art, we talk about it, we're like, Well, what Verse do we think this, what Verses could it belong in, you know, visually. And, and then, you know, we just we look, we talk about it as a team and figure out who's inspired by which pieces. Which pieces are we finding particularly challenging? You know, who wants to take on a piece that maybe nobody's looking at it and having a gut reaction, but it does, it's not a bad piece at all. It's just that it's maybe going to be a little bit more complicated to figure out like, what's a Verses’ story that I can you know, wade into that those are my favorite pieces, by the way. The ones were initially like looking at it going,
“I don't know what I'm going to do with that.” And then I study the art and come up, and then the inspiration hits and it's like, this becomes my favorite piece like two of my favorite stories that I've written are from pieces of art that I looked at and went I don't know what the heck I'm going to do with
that. Yeah, I think tethered to prophecy, if I recall correctly, was one of those ones that was like, maybe this is going to be a little tough to figure out but obviously yeah, handled it extraordinarily.
Well, thank you. I feel like all of us have stories like that, where we're like, ah, you know, I don't know exactly what I'm gonna do with this art. And then like, you just sit with it and, you know, let it let it seep in and let the creativity work and then it's like bang. And I think the other thing that I just love about it is that I really feel like some people might see this as a restrictive process.
“Oh, I have to work with these components that are put in front of me that I didn't come up with.” And I find it to be exactly the opposite. It's an expanding process for creativity because it's things that somebody else has come up with that I probably wouldn't have.
And so if it doesn't lessen the amount of my own imagination that gets to be applied to the story or the situation it increases what I have available to utilize in that creative creative process. So I absolutely love it.
And the setting is important because we have six different verses and the settings are themselves a character. So we need to, you know, understand both what we want to tell about like any of the characters in the story, but also what we want to reveal about the setting that can help people feel like oh, that I understand what Commedia is. I understand what you know Fantasia is and so on.
<a href= "#5">Do you think it'll ever happen the other way around where instead of having a piece of art, that you create a story from that you create a story and then art is made out of it?</a>
I mean, I hope so. Sort of the operative plan, you know,
there's definitely the original goal right to kind of expand the artists that we have contributing.
Yeah. Addressing the need for art as you know, the narrative continues to provide what it was providing in terms of, you know, stuff that allows for top down game design things that we release for the fans to enjoy as pieces of lore.
That's not to say like, every tiny thing is gonna like have a piece of art condition for it, but you, you know, hope that some of the major characters you know, for example, I have La-Shushu, who won the election in BlueMoat, who you know, is presumably a major player inside the Al-Suya story.
And I would love to have a piece of art that went with her and I know Elle has a couple of characters as well that she's even gone to that have appeared even in a number of her stories that have multiple appearances are still waiting for a visual artist to create a representation of that.
I think part of that too, is that because our goal is modern, a modern representation, you know, the we're going we're absolutely going to have to and I think this is a good thing. I don't mean to think of this as a burden. I mean, like yay we get to, I think getting new, not just working with, you know, art that's already been done or established, but like art that matches the vision that we have for the diverse representation within our stories within our characters that they.
It should be expected that as we're writing with that in mind that we're going to sometimes just come up with characters that there isn't already good art like an art piece that fits and we have to make it
I never really thought about that in the sense of well as you create stories, you create character more characters within those stories in you know, you would hope that these new characters would have pieces of art of their own eventually, especially if they show up in the game, which I think it's likely that many of these characters will, right. So I kind of want to switch gears here a little bit and ask…
<a href= "#6">What is the actual writing process like, are you writing as a group? Or are you writing individually, how does it go?</a>
Well, Elle mentioned the first. The first thing is that we get a batch of art and review it. And that happens as a team. Right and so you know, for the first set of NFT releases are 42 pieces, and we like divvy those up.
And, you know, that process is is sometimes where you end up by identifying like those pieces that that are maybe a little tougher, you know, there's like what's leftover at the end, sometimes one that you know, more than one person feels pretty strongly about, but, you know, we're all good friends, and that's been a blessing.
Part of working with the team is that everybody is so willing to work. collaboratively and friendly and nice. Like we all genuinely like each other. We were colleagues first and became friends. But now I think we're all quite close and we'll be lifelong friends with one another.
So, you know, that's the first thing is that like the work gets reviewed, we talk about what Verses we think they should go into, and then the pieces get divvied up amongst the authors.
And then we bounce some ideas around, you know, there's some times where, you know, even if it ends up being a piece that I'm writing for, Elle might say “You know, what would be really cool, you know…” Going with the flow of maybe the idea that I have for it she goes “Oh, this would be a cool twist.” And I go, you know, that's great. I'm gonna roll with that, like, so. There's some input on the front end. But the writing is like, yeah, like, like any kind of writing is essentially you and the keyboard, you know?
Yeah, there's been a couple where we've collaborated where either two people have written a story together, like, Danica HalfLife, where, you know, we're an entirely remote company, but because my partner and I are both writing and we're in the same house, we occasionally can co author where we can just, he's on his computer in his room and I'm at my computer in my room and I can we were both like, Okay, you're gonna read this section of the store and I'm gonna write this section and then we're going to trade and, you know, read over it. And make editing suggestions, which is awesome. And so we just markup each other's work a lot and just pass it back and forth.
Jody and I have written together to where this has happened in many stories actually where one person has written the first part of the story that becomes the ends and the choices for the CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) format, and then somebody else comes in and finishes it, you know, and writes the resolution of the story. So that's a lot of fun to have. These two different writers, but like, you know, we try to write in one another's voice or, you know, give me a really good feel, make it feel genuine and not like, Wait a minute. So hopefully the reader doesn't realize that the author is that that a new author has picked up the, you know, picked up the thread.
Yeah, I had to do that a few times. I think. Hopefully, it's, you know, hopefully they've been successful. I won't mention which ones.
you were masterful in the mechanic story mechanic. I looked at that one. Alex was like, Do you think you could write the epilogue for that? And I was like, no.
I mean, I've pretty much felt the same way. But, you know, somebody's gotta do it. It was, you know, out of the park. I was lucky enough to be somewhere, you know, one of the benefits of remote work. I was lucky enough to be somewhere where it was very quiet. And I had like, the whole house for myself and very serene, near the water. You know, fortunately, I feel like you know, the setting when that task fell in my lap, ended up letting me have enough quiet time and space to think about it.
We also all edit each other's work. So you know, that, that I think is I don't know how I assume that. This is my first professional job in a game company like this. So I don't know if this is common practice. But, you know, I feel like I can't even imagine working as a writer without the sense of camaraderie and trust that we have as a team because you know, it can be pretty vulnerable to have your work edited. And every one of us is a great editor. Alex is a great editor when he has time he participates as an editor. And so when we finish a story, we share it around for comments within the team. And I love it. I love it.
Yeah, it's fun. And I think I've noticed that as time has moved forward, though, there's less and less that has to happen each time you know, as we have sort of found the voice of Verses and gotten to know our characters a little bit better.
Because you know, at the end of the day, what we're writing is quite short, flash fiction even. So sometimes it takes a couple of installments for you to really get to know your characters. But I think that particularly in the ones where it's migrating about Hunter he writing about MacAdam Cross or Willow, you writing about the big wet those those things are just natural now and so there's almost the the amount of editing that has to happen for that stuff compared to what it looked like when we were just starting is is much lower, the burden is a lot easier time I just most of the time I'm just enjoying reading your newest story.
So you mentioned El writing stories for the big way and then meanwhile you know, which happens in Fantasia while you're also writing for Mac Adam cross which is in Gloom and so there's kind of all of these different stories and all of the different verses.
<a href= "#7">What's your favorite thing about creating stories that are so wide ranging but also at the same time interconnected?</a>
Man, it's, it's so cool to really kind of have perspective on it, right? Because I participate with narrative as a consumer a lot. I mean, I have my whole life, you know, from reading and I mean, you know, I pursued higher education in the study of literature. And I'm an avid gamer. And so it's very interesting to be on the supply side of that.
For example, Destiny, you know, which I guess I'll talk a little bit more about. I know we have another question about games that we love and I could, I could do a whole hour on Destiny.
I interact with that story. But when I interact with that story, it's just me, right? Like I'm the consumer and I'm interacting with this giant, you know, Library of things that has been created. And because my perspective on Destiny is me participating in it. It seems monolithic, whereas, like, what's really happening at Bungie is there's like 20 people that are all responsible for different pieces of the narrative. And some of them are writing, you know, snippets of lore, some of them are writing dialogue for the cutscenes. Some of them are coming up with a broader sort of vision level. You know, what's our next season, the overarching plot gonna be about it. Those discrete details get woven into this thing that is, you know, monolithic, it has its own identity.
It is destiny, right and participating on it from the team site is so cool because I have this idea for what Verses is. It kind of wrote a little, you know, cosmology or whatever. And having a team that I trust and that does such incredible work has led to things happening, you know, in my little my little patch of my little patch of, of land that these guys have tilted, fertilized and made beautiful gardens that like would never have even crossed my mind that you know, I am wholly incapable of even having imagined and so that's the that's so great to me, to like, have friends. And, you know, colleagues who are friends, play in the sandbox with me, so it's so gratifying. To just see stuff happening inside of this little world of ours. I would say mine, but it's ours.
Absolutely, yeah. It strikes me as I was listening to you talk. I wonder, this desire for connection because we're social beings as humans, you know, not all the same level of social but social connection and feeling connected to community is important to us as humans as a general rule. And I really wonder if that desire to break out of a solo narrative experience is a part of what spawns fan fiction, you know, and that desire to to contribute and participate in it.
And I hope one day we see that I hope we see other people get to pick up a Verse and you know, and tie their thread in with ours. But this has been by far the best team experience that I've ever had. I've always gravitated towards group work. But this has been just incredible. And , this is like tabletop role playing, times a lot and it’s really fun.
In the first batch of art, we just treated each one as kind of its own standalone piece. For the most part. Jody and Michael both were already thinking about like, oh, I can connect this art with this art, this art and tell a longer story thread. But I was like, I'm going to look at each piece of art and I'm just going to make a story and that's going to be its own thread. And so by the end of that first batch I had like you know, twice or more as many story threads dangling as as the other two did, because you can create in this space so easily.
It was the POV stories where I'm starting to connect the threads and and you know, tie things tie things in make longer running, installments of some of the same character or setting stories, but yeah, it's just it's exactly what God said this collaboration, but the working with other people and having the expansion of imagination that comes from not just being in your own head but getting all of these contributions together is by far my favorite.
So you kind of mentioned that you want other people to kind of weave in their threads. And the next question is…
<a href= "#8">Someone said that they would love to contribute to the story and they're wondering if we are considering maybe something like a writing contest?</a>
Not until this moment, but I love the idea.
Yeah, sure. I mean, anything that eases the burden, right? I have a particularly sticky piece of artwork, with Einstein sitting by a fire. If you'd like to write a story about that, please. I've been dreading it for six months. But I mean, I think that's a great idea.
I can't really speak to the game and what the shipped product is gonna look like or whatever, but I know for sure. We do. We do work closely with game design, but obviously I'm not. I'm not a leader there like I show up. Make some contributions. Ask them what they need from us. But that's definitely on their mind, too, that there's going to be some portion of this game that allows users to create stuff.
Kind of like how Magic the Gathering players made the Commander format, which is I guess, EDH originally or whatever. But, you know, now it's commander and it's wildly popular.
And so, you know, I think that from the get go, that's been a thing that we wanted to do is include the community in creating with us, whether that looks like you know, if you look at Dota2, you look at Valve they have community created skins, you know, those things like go into the shop, you know, in the in the Valve Store.
You know, like I said, Magic the Gathering because all of these sort of community created formats that aren't the official ones, whatever people just, we want to' celebrate that, people having fun with what we've made in whatever way is most fun for them.
And so if you'd like to write a Verses story and submit it. Sure. I mean, not like my friend Sherry Rene Thomas who works with cci-fi and fantasy magazines who's you know, reading 300 submissions a month or whatever, but I mean, no, definitely. I think that definitely stuff like that goes along with that attitude. And Verses in general, would be very fun.
I agree. I know we in the past have internally talked about art submissions, but we never really got to writing, having writing submissions, but I think it's a great idea.
I don't know exactly how game design would incorporate it. But I know that user generated content is something that Dan really, really, cares a lot about. And so I would expect some way for users to be able to inject their own content into the story and have it matter in the game.
I can see us doing some polls like you know which set would what Verse would you like to write in you know, maybe have it themed in some fashion. But I also just think if you have a really cool, if you think you have a really cool story idea, or if you'd like to see part of a certain setting. I'd like to add like, can we see some you know, art for the Assembly on The Big Wet I’d love that. We want that kind of feedback.
Because we're pretty flexible about you know, especially right now. While we're writing point of view stories. They're not tied to a specific art, which is trying to build up, you know, build on what we've already done in terms of, we created a lot of little threads and now we're expanding them, lengthening them, tying them together in interesting ways. And, and so there's a lot of, there's a lot of flexibility in what we're doing.
So I kind of want to zoom out a little bit for the next question which is…
<a href= "#9"> What have you learned from this experience as a writer?</a>
It’s easier to keep in practice, every professional writer. I've been to workshops at conventions and every professional writer says if you want to write, write, you have to do it, you have to do it.
And some people write every day. And I think that is one of the things that held me back for a long time because I am a bit neurodiverse so anything that's a regimented schedule just doesn't work for me.
If my vision for success is, I do this every day. I will fail or so. I think, but, but doing it regularly like writing every week, some writing every week, you know, write 1000 words a week or whatever, you know, some number that fits within your bar, and that the rate of skill acquisition when you're doing it every day, is real and wonderful.
So I think that's a big one for me, because I'm doing this for a job, like I have to. I had to write all the time. Not every single day, but almost every single day, especially when we were in the push for the first 42 art pieces where we were publishing every single day.
Even if my story wasn't wasn't on the docket I probably had a story on the docket like two weeks or two days down the line and so I was writing. But being under the gun for that was tough. Coming out of it on the other end while like it does when you do it on the regular, it just gets easier. It just does. So yeah, that was a huge one.
Sure. I definitely agree. Definitely convenient practice makes it easier to accomplish. I think my big takeaway is that, like creative writing is, it is not as easy as you probably think. Right?
Like, again I'm guilty of being a consumer. I am wholeheartedly a consumer of narrative.
I have been my entire life. Until, you know, publishing 42 stories in 42 days was on my docket.
I think I took for granted what the process actually entails. And, you know, you can do all kinds of things like you do in academia, you're studying literature, which is great things to do, deconstruction or find historical evidence to contextualize the texts that you're working with, and put a lot of effort into trying to understand what it is that you're reading.
But like until you're doing the creative process. I don't think that the scope of how difficult it actually is, is really understandable. You know, it has reframed my relationship with literature and even stuff that you often hear “Like, oh, genre fiction versus literary fiction or whatever.” But genre fiction is also not easy. Like it's not, quote unquote, high art or whatever. I think you know, those attitudes are changing more and more in the 21st century, but even stuff that is, you know, considered whatever, super easy, it's not easy. It's fun. It's gratifying to do it. But it is a challenge. Every time I sit down to make something I can be proud of, and I hope that I think my team is going to like that, I think that the fans are going to like, it's a challenge.
And then on top of that, like the process of being edited, is just always worthwhile.
And I think that's, like, one of the things that used to hold me up is “Oh, I have to get it right.”
Like sitting at, like, you can get blank page syndrome where you're sitting there going, I have to start this but it has to be right first time, I have to get it right.”
I have to get the starting scene of how I am going to open this story. What am I going to do with it? It has to be just right but it doesn’t. Because you're going to review it and you're going to edit it and it's totally not the same as, you know, completing a piece of homework.
If you can just free yourself from this idea that what you write down the first time has to be perfect for publishing and, and be like, I just have to, I can start wherever I want in this scene, even if it's like the scene before and just start writing it. And in the process of editing it is amazing. You know, I self edit, I'll review and and after I do my rough draft I'll go through and I cut more than I some people write sparsely and expand out I write big cut down. But however you do it, they're going to have a rough draft and then you're going to go through again and it and you're going to get like all these light bulbs going off of “Oh, I can make this better I can do this a little differently.”
My work is always better for having an editor. Always. Like I look over it five times and think I've nailed it. And I'll give it to somebody to edit it. And they'll say “I think I think this right here I would tweak this, or I would change this, or this language here or, you know, this isn't clear.”
I'm like, “Oh my God, you're right. I didn't see that at all.” So having somebody else, another set of eyes other than your own, is so valuable. It can take the stress off if it's people that you trust. And you're like I just need to get something down here because even if I don't even if I feel like it's lagging, I'm gonna give it to my editor and they're gonna have ideas. And we'll and we'll get there. You know, it's iterative.
So, I kind of want to throw an answer in here, just because I also do a lot of writing. I don't do any narrative writing. But I do a lot of the everything else writing.
Yeah, and one thing that I've definitely learned from this experience is my emoji game has gone through the roof since starting here. Like beforehand, I never really considered what type of emoji do I want to use? Because in copywriting, writing bullets is a really important skill. And it's something that everyone has to cultivate. But, you know, when you're reading books that were written in the 1920s, or you know, the 80s they never, they never even talk about, well, what type of emoji do you want to be the bullet to be next to? So the next question is pretty straightforward.
<a href= "#10"> Do you have a favorite author?</a>
It's a hard question, right? Because, you know, the impulse is to say, you can't answer that question, but I think I can answer that question. And the answer is, Jorge Luis Borges who is an Argentine author that was writing, like, from the 30s until, like the 80s, I guess, known for essays, poetry, and most of all short form fiction.
And I just think that it's sort of the first example that you see in the era of, you know, whatever high art writing that is, like, really cross cross genre. He's creating literary fiction, but it dabbles in things like science fiction, dabbles in things like magical realism, it dabbles in things like pure fantasy even some things that like would probably fit into our kaleidoscope first that are these sort of abstract, it's surreal kind of elements. And so I love that. That cross genre thing and he also writes about writing, which I think is super cool, like self referential texts.
The question that like surround what the medium is capable of and what it's not capable of, you know, the commiseration of word and image all of these very interesting sort of conceptual things, but they're presented in stories that have pacing and tension and a sense of of urgency or a sense of you know, melancholy, or whatever it is. And so, yeah, just my favorite.
I think there's also a chance that, like being able to approach Jorge’s Spanish and English next to one another, He was responsible for doing a lot of his translation. So that sticking point of like “Is the English translation faithful to the original or whatever.” In the case of his work, you can count on it being faithful because he also participated in the translation of his own work. And so looking at a Spanish copy in English copy side by side is very fun. And at the end of the day, like it's just extremely elegant. Beautiful word choice, incredible subject matter and execution. So many things that check every box and you know, if I get mentioned in the same breath, ever, like what a compliment. Yeah, he's my favorite.
um, you know, it's funny like I listen to Jody, I'm like, God, you have this like hero. You know, this writing hero. Who can you talk about, but I'm like, I want to read his stuff. And for me, books have been my lifeline. genre fiction was my lifeline through a lot of trauma, a lot of childhood challenges and teenage angst and just hardship and so like, I always have my nose in a book. And for me, the author, every author I've been reading in that moment has, you know, has been a favorite author. And it's just changed over you know, over time for who I'm reading. So I tend to just be absolutely in love with whatever story is giving me what I need in the current moment.
And then as I've gotten older, I've been able to appreciate not just for what, you know, for what I'm getting out of this immersive, wonderful escape experience, but also for just the authors themselves. And so there are I have a few that I feel like I would call out, but I don't have any particular hero because genre fiction as an art form is my hero like it is the the love of my life, the escape that the protector the healer.
Certain authors have done some work that I particularly admire, like Lois McMaster Bujold, especially with her Miles Vorkosigan series, but really everything I've ever read from her. The way she handles dialogue. The pacing and the tempo are so good, so good, just like you pick it up and I just don't want to put it down until I'm done.
As a young author, I believe a Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor who did the Binti series kind of was I think her opening out into the genre fiction scene and it's fantastic. Like her use of language where she's not over describing but she does have enough details that I feel like her work inspires a visual in my head that makes me feel like I am reading the story and playing a movie in my head at the same time. I mean, everything about it is just slightly over the top. Science is almost magical. And it's just , like, just gorgeous.
And I love the whole Expanse series I've watched. I've not just watched the whole series of course but I've read all the books, all the novellas. What I love about it is the depth of relationships, that instead of tropes, like oh, somebody has to for this hero to be a hero, you know his lover has to die, or you know any of that kind of crap. It's healthy. There's a lot of really healthy wonderful, you know, believable real world feeling relationships, as well as great science fiction and great action and great suspense and mystery. That will unfold. So brilliant, brilliant work.
And then the last one that I'll mention is Ben Aaronovitch which are all different genres. By the way, I read Lois McMaster Bujold, both for her sci-fi and her fantasy. When I read more of her fantasy than their sci-fi. Nnedi Okorafor was sci-fi. But on that magical spectrum of sci-fi, where it's like so far future it's almost magical. And Ben Aaronovite With the rivers of London series is magic in a modern world. So it has like fairies and things like that in the modern time. And it's, it's brilliant. The main character just has a really interesting backstory and is a cultural blending of African background and English background for a version of the English, you know, experience that is beautiful and wonderful. And they're fast and fun and, and I just, if I could ever write dialogue the way any of these people do where you're in it and it feels real and flows naturally, I will have arrived.
I'm also going to answer this question. I'm gonna go with Eugene Schwartz, who is an extremely talented copywriter. All of my authors and all of my writing inspirations, they're all like, old school ad guys. There’s no literature involved at all. I'll never be like, look at just dialogue or look at, you know, look at this poem and this prose. I'm just like, look at this ad.
Go read Eugene's ad, titled, Why don't television owners know these facts and then read hid and then also read his, his like, psychological breakdown of why he wrote everything he did. Like you know, the ad itself is like a full page in a newspaper. So it's like a lot of text. And then you have like, six pages of psychological breakdown. It's all in his book. Breakthrough advertising, and it's just like, it's one of the best books I've read. It's definitely the best book on advertising I've read. And it's just, it's just so interesting. And so brilliant to see him talk like breakdown, like, why he would say something in an ad Verses Verses like, why he would choose these words instead of those words. And like, it's just, it's so brilliant.
I think it's very interesting that the way in which particularly like, in marketing, or copywriting, that part the culture of learning to do it and in performing it is very much sort of resembles a traditional trade skill where it's like, once you get good at it, sharing your knowledge about the process itself is the next project right?
Like it's kind of like becoming a black belt in martial arts, right? You can go so far, but then to be a black belt and advance once you're a black belt, you have to teach other people, right? Literary fiction doesn't work like that, like authors are very protective of their secrets and their techniques. You know, and there's always this question of, of influence, the anxiety of influence. I think it's what Harold Bloom and famed literary critic calls it, you know, and that's sometimes you know, literary authors are intentionally making departures so that they don't get compared to their inspirations, you know, so that they can carve out their own identity and you know, this whole individualism or whatever, it's just very interesting. You know, there are academic texts you know, that can teach you about, you know, how to write you know, how to write horror about horror is a great text, you know, for that genre. And a number of things, but like, it just seems to be par for the course and copywriting, right, you learn to do it and then you write a book about how you how to do it. Well. It's
I just have to gush about it a little bit more, because I just, I love it so much. Which is this this ad and the headline is, why don't television owners know these facts. And the whole thing is basically to sell a TV repair guide, because like back in the 60s, you know, they had these giant TVs that would often like the picture to go fuzzy, and it would just constantly kind of break down or not work the way it should. And like most of the time, it would be a really easy repair, right? The equivalent of like blowing into the video game cartridge, right?
Or you just need to go in and like, you know, oh, there's like dust in the socket. So you just need to remove the dust or you just need to tighten this bolt or maybe replace this bolt like one thing, right? And it's, most of it is actually pretty simple. But what you'd have to do is you wouldn't know any of that and you'd call a TV repairman. And that would be expensive, and they would come out and they'd twist the knob and they'd fix it and you'd pay a lot of money to him, but you didn't know any better. Right? And so really, it was like theirs. It was basically just selling this guidebook of all of the very simple ways to fix the most common issues with your television.
But you can't say that, you can't start with “Hey, did you know you can fix your TV with these simple things?” Because the average person would be so intimidated mentally by the idea of repairing their television, and that would clash with their own internal identity of what they know about themselves and what they believe about themselves. So you can't say you can't make them imagine themselves being a repairman because then it'll clash and they'll drop the ad. So you have to start with why don't television owners know these facts because someone who's a television owner could engage with that and then there's like five paragraphs of just like, slow, subtle psychological preparation to help understand that they actually can twist the bulb. And there's all of these ways to kind of like click psychologically that they can do all of these repairs. That you have to like, you know, get the gear right into place, before you mentioned anything about them repairing the TV, but then once you have all those gears in and then you can then, you know, you can kind of flip the switch and then they can then they're receptive, and they go oh, it's just just I just have to twist the knob. Oh, it's stupid that I'm repairing that other guy to twist the knob I can do that. Like, oh, I should buy this guidebook. And it was like just this famously successful ad, which is another difference between copywriting and most other genres of writing? Is copywriting is extremely competitive. If you take like two novels, like if you just take like Catch 22 and then like Frankenstein, and you just like, say which one wins? Right like it, doesn't it? Doesn't work. It just doesn't compute.
But like, it's Frankenstein.
You know, but in and in advertising and copywriting, there's always a winner. And that's how it's, you know, it's always, like, you write an ad, someone else writes an ad, which one sells more, who wins? And that is just an entirely different writing context than what most writers kind of have to deal with.
Oh, yeah. It's in the pacing. You're talking about it's really as you're talking I'm like yeah, that's that's a type of pacing. It's just psychological pacing. It's like you have to know you’re pacing and the rate at which you're sharing information and also how you are crafting the delivery of that information and the presentation of that information to achieve a result.
In a long form, you know, creative writing, you’re pacing the story as well in terms of what information I have to give the reader enough information to feel they understand what's going on, but not so much information that is predictable, and they think that they're bored because they know how it's going to end. You know, and it's it's it's all about, you know, how are you engaging with people, and you're just with the copywriting and the ad copy. It's like, fast paced, but you can't. Oh, you don't want to overwhelm and it's I mean, it's tricky. There's a lot of skill involved.
No doubt. Before we get to the final question, I kind of want to bring up a different topic, which is something that me and El have talked about privately, which is just this idea of being a writer.
And this idea that people have, like usually have a mental image of what being a writer is and this idea of a writer as an identity, versus just something that is an activity that you do.
And I know a lot of people kind of have a mental roadblock between them in writing because they have an idea of what a writer is in their head, and then they feel like they don't match that idea, when really being a writer is just doing the activity of writing. And so I know me and El have talked about how to kind of overcome that roadblock of, of thinking you're not a writer, when really anyone can be a writer if you just write and so I kind of just wanted to open up a space to maybe for you guys to talk about that a little bit as if someone wants to get into writing or maybe they don't know how or there's some sort of mental block between them and the page.
I think this is something we've probably all dealt with in our own way. And I just think this, this is the only chance or really get to talk about it. So I think I think we should
It’s really hard balancing impostor syndrome and humility, and anything you want to do that is a creative endeavor. And maybe other things too, but because creativity has been my driving force and writing is a creative effort. Even if it's technical writing, there's still a creative component in that you are creating a structure and figuring out how to put the information together and best display it and disseminate it for consumption.
I feel like we're always balancing the scales between “I am an imposter. I'm not really good enough at this thing, but I also want to maintain my humility and not be an arrogant jerk.”
What's between those? And how do you walk that path? How do you stay in that space where you’ve got balance and you're not undervaluing yourself by telling yourself that you're an impostor or, or overvaluing yourself by, you know, being too arrogant. And I think like, we're all pretty sensitive to that. And I'm not going to pretend that I can’t be arrogant, I can.
I also can be absolutely terrified. And suffer from imposter syndrome.
There’s this really common geek culture thing. Whereas our culture has developed from a lot of us being marginalized and demeaned.
Then when we feel confident we can sometimes very easily, you know, kind of slush, right over into being arrogant about it. Like I have some frickin confidence and now I'm going to tell you all about it and get a little little too forceful. And so I feel like a lot of it is for me, it's, if you're doing if you're doing the thing, you're doing the thing. If I'm sewing and I am learning and growing that skill, I am a seamstress. I am continuing to level up. I'm continuing to practice.
I think that anybody who truly masters a craft or an art, they get there, even when they're there. They're not like I'm done. I have nothing left to learn. Because you learn by sharing you learn by teaching you learn by seeing what people who are coming up after you or are bringing to the experience that you didn't have available to you or that you didn't think of. So I think taking on the attitude of a lifelong learner. You're you're you're always if you're if you're doing the thing, if you are doing if you are an X crafter or whatever that path happens to be, it's that you're practicing it and you are learning it simultaneously. As you go and that process is an ongoing process.
Yeah, I mean, I couldn't agree more. You know, even you could say like, the same is true in things that are not creative endeavors per se, right like you say “Okay, well, Steph Curry is like coming up on you know, or has surpassed Ray Allen maybe I think in my most lifetime, three pointers made.” You know, he's like the number one guy. Steph Curry also is like the number one guy in the number of times that a human being has attempted to make a three point basket in their entire life. Like from when he was three years old, trying to shoot the ball for the first time through eight years old through high school college.
Now, you know, and he's in the gym every day and whatever. Like that's how you get good is by doing it. I don't I don't want to sound like that. The dark toxic Dark Souls community on Reddit, like get good noob or whatever, but like really it's the only entry you know you can't swim unless you get your feet wet. Right, like, and so, you know, just encourage people to read and consume media, because there are people out there making stuff and as I said before, I think people have great detectors of BS and good, you know, tasting and are able to determine what is high quality and what is not. Read and write. It's the only way to do it. There's there's just nothing else if you want to get good at shooting baskets. Then you go to the gym and shoot baskets. It's that simple.
Yeah, and I think for anyone who is thinking about wanting to write but maybe they don't know exactly where to start, I would say just every morning or whenever you have the time, you can carve away 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes and just find a page and just just spew on it. It doesn't matter if it's good. Doesn't even matter if it's comprehensible, but just get in the habit of going to a page and spewing and what you'll find is that a lot of times you'll start to spew and you know, the first part of your spewing will be total nonsense. But you needed to get that out of your head and onto the page before you could find the good stuff that you actually wanted to write.
That's right. You're talking about actionable things for people who want to get into it. And that's good. I think that my answer was probably pretty philosophical. But some other tools that are similar to what you're talking about is a dream journal, many famous authors keep dream journals. Our subconscious comes up with these stories while we're sleeping or whatever. And so if you make that a habit of like rollover, and jot down, you know what you were dreaming about or whatever, you don't lose those cool stories that your subconscious comes up with, right.
And secondly, it's just doing the work of like, getting you in the gym and getting you writing, you know, getting you shooting baskets, so to speak, to continue with my metaphor to other places that I think are well it's really one place, but it's two events is NaPoWriMo and NaNoWriMo, which is National Poetry Writing Month and National Novel Writing Month, and they're sponsored by a nonprofit org and anybody can participate and you just like it's pretty much like Inktober if you guys have heard of that, or No Shave November or whatever, but it's a month where you commit and the website like is a hub for people who are participating in this to interact with one another and share and provide feedback on each other's work.
And they provide prompts for Poetry Month. So it's like, you know, 30 prompts for you to like, write a poem about, one a day and the Novel Writing Month is, like, you know, I commit to having x 1000 words you know, of a novel by the end of the month, or whatever, and they have different exercises that help and stuff so that those are very cool.
And places where you'll find, you know, I’ll mention geek culture can be a little off footing or a little you know, there's like some gatekeeping that can happen or arrogance or, or whatever. But I think if you identify as a creative and are in a space with other people who also like, are intentionally identifying as creatives, you're gonna find people who are helpful, you know, those are the sections of the internet that are like, not as ugly as, well you know.
you know, a lot of geeks love to share love to share I mean, you know, so oversharing is a common thing in our culture. Guilty
So let's cap this off with the final question.
<a href= "#11"> What are some games you've played that have inspiring narratives?</a>
I mentioned Destiny. What a masterpiece, man. Like I'm telling you, those guys are the best in the business. Everything, you know, there's this wide overarching story that has taken place over a number of years, you know, that I participate in and then they have like discrete chunks that are these seasons, that are thematic. And very rich characters. A Universe In Peril, you know. And also, the super fine grain, like minutiae of detail where like, you know, there's something like probably 1000 different pieces of armor and like 1000 different guns, and every one of them has a lore entry. And then there's like other stuff that is like these hidden collectibles that you can go find at various places throughout the game or sometimes they're unlocked by completing achievements or whatever. That are other pieces of lore, and they have, you know, sometimes it's found documents, sometimes it's poetry or songs, sometimes it's stories, there's jokes, there's so many genres, and so it has everything from this super epic, like, you know, Game of Thrones style stakes and and sweeping grandeur, all the way down to the very granular and very personal. And I just, yeah, I think that it's incredible.
Like what an amazing property, in my opinion, in terms of thinking about Verses in thinking about franchising and what it means to be a universe where a lot of people play because like Destiny is the Destiny experience. And it's sort of carefully curated by Bungie. And it's for-hire writers, right? Not freelancers, or outsiders who are creating this. All like in-house in-studio stuff.
But like Warhammer 40k or well, just Games Workshop in general, they have fantasy and 40k among other things, right. But 40k in particular, what they've done with like the Black Library, you know, hundreds of books, and they're written by these many different authors, there's all these different factions in this galaxy spanning thing. You know, happens to be like grimdark; has, you know, the violence is turned up to 11. Right, which doesn't really mesh with what we're doing here.
But in terms of how rich and how deep and how much they have going on. I think that universe is is so incredible, and if we could, you know, pick somebody in terms of a model for like how to, how to execute, like, I would say that I think I put that at the top of my list, you know, 40k Warhammer in space, there's 30k and 40k and whatever, but like the science fiction, Emperor of mankind, you know, alien threats and stuff or whatever. Space Marines, right? That section of the Games Workshop, IP. Incredible. Yeah, I could. I could talk about that for a whole hour or two for sure.
How about you El?
Oh, man. I love a good RPG, tabletop or video game. Jade Empire is old enough now that probably there's a lot of people that haven't even heard of it. But oh my god, it's so good and so worth playing. And the narrative is fantastic. It's a fun world. It's a fun story.
I love Dragon Age, all of them. I have replayed Dragon Age many times. You know from a video game perspective. Not all RPGs are awesome. But that style is something that I love. And I think those two in particular did a great job with the narrative.
From a role playing game perspective. Earthdawn, Shadowrun, 1879, everything FASA touches. I love it so much. I mean, the narrative is rich and deep and there's so many different kinds of characters and inspiring paths whether you want fantasy or sci fi or steampunk. It's just great.
Because I'm a board game player too. I'm going to mention that I love the narrative for Spirit Island. I mean not only is it a cooperative game, but it's and it's complex, and I like really complex strategy games. But the narrative of it is so much fun and really, you know, woven throughout the experience of play.
There's a fellow in the game design industry who I really admire, Alexis Kennedy who did all the Fallen London stuff and, and also Cultist Simulator. I've played Fallen London. I haven't played Cultist Simulator yet, but it's on my list and a good friend of mine who also loves rich narrative games told me that he thought it was the best narrative he's ever experienced in a video game, so I'm gonna give that a try.
I can vouch for Cultist Simulator, by the way, I might say it's the best novel I’ve played, or like the best game I ever read or something. I mean, it's not a not your traditional video game experience. But like, yeah, incredible 10 out of 10
and there's a little indie game. Oh, man, I'm not going to remember the name of it. Wildwood or Wilder Wood. The narrative is so much fun. It's so good. And then it's like three people who did it and one of them is the narrative person and they are really simple but good and fun. And, but it's an adventure story. You know, you're just forming a little team of adventurers who go through their whole lifecycle. It's brilliantly done. Really, really worth it if you like narrative games. Super, super easy to learn, fun and fast to play.
I gotta say Magic The Gathering. Only because it's really inspiring in the sense of how they were able to weave a narrative into the cards.
At some at some point they realized that they needed to make a card for example, you know, not called something like fire blast, but said needs to be called Chandra’s Ignition. How they took Planeswalkers and made them central characters in the story and then weaved those stories in the card and also just made cards weave with, you know, the different Planeswalkers that they were making and you know, you can see it in the art. You can see it in the card name. You can see it in the flavor text. Even if you've never cast a Chandra Planeswalker or read a story that Chandra is in. You can get a sense of what Chandra is about and who she is as a character just by the fact that she shows up in the cards in the gameplay and the names and the flavor text in the art. They made the shift to really make Planeswalkers show up in the game more. And I just think they did such a brilliant job of that. And I think we just have to shout them out.
Magic, of course, is an absolute juggernaut, man. I mean, I think, you know, there's definitely nobody that works at Many Hands that has never played a game. Like no question.
And so you know, for me, like I love the card naming. It's so great, like, the creative names that they come up with for the cards genuinely describe the actions that the cards perform in a game.
And that seems like maybe that's easy to do. But when you have like 10,000 cards and all of them hit the mark. That's a lot of freaking albums in a row where you don't skip any of the songs, and they just continually do it so well. I don't know who is responsible for that. But man, massive props for making the cards have cool names that say what they say. I love it.
Yeah, to be both narratively inspiring and informative and mechanically informative. Is it at the same time with the same language is pretty impressive. No doubt. Wilder myth is the name of the indie game I was trying to work alright,
so I think it's time to kind of close this thing out. I want to thank anyone and everyone who is listening. It was really great to have a narrative here. I really enjoyed talking with you two.
Yeah, it's very fun.
For our next AMA. It will be… let me check the date. Yeah, it will be January 5, and we will have Alex West talking. And the theme will be “Reflections.”
So we'll be talking, I mean we had a huge year. We hit a lot of milestones this last year and the next year is looking just as exciting. So we're gonna take some time to kind of reflect on how far we've come, and also talk about what we hope to achieve in this next year.
Thanks, everyone, for listening, and see you next time.