About writing fiction and trying to sell it

My novel was published through Createspace, and I’m rather pleased with the entire process. Createspace is a related to Amazon, which means that any stories you publish through there, become available on Amazon and on Kindle. There are no costs. I didn’t pay a thing. Createspace provided me with free templates for me to paste my stories into, and with Flash wizards to create a cover and proof my book. I could have ordered a free proofread copy of my book, but since it would be printed in the US, it would have taken a long time to get here. I can monitor and edit everything that happens on my book’s amazon page, the sales, the reviews, and the description of the book.

All in all, I’m happy that I live in these modern times where publishing a book is no longer only for people with a professional agent, or for people who flawlessly and patiently jump through all the hoops that the Real Publishers prescribe before they even let their interns read the manuscript. They call it the Slushpile, and we struggling new writers should be grateful when we are elevated from it at their magnanimous whim. Publishers are a lot like music labels. I’m so glad I can just publish my own stories now.

Writers are not like Richard Castle. Most writers, even if they have published a number of relatively popular books, struggle to get by financially. Jim Hines wrote a blog about his income every year, just to give people an idea of the money a writer makes, and last year he created a survey.

My favourite writer is Lois McMaster Bujold, because of this bookIt is by far the most beautiful book I have ever read. And yes, I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss too. That’s not my point. My point is that you’ve probably never heard of my favourite book before. Writing an amazing book does not guarantee fame, nor an income. Writers are just like other artists: misunderstood and mostly broke.

I write because it is possibly the only thing I am really passionate about: writing a good story. I am lucky to have found more than one medium; I also write larp plot sometimes. I have no hope of ever being able to sustain myself financially by just writing, which makes me feel like work is a chore I have to do so I don’t have to live in poverty while I write more stories.

Poll: which of my stories should I publish next?

I have made a poll so you can let me know which of my stories you’re interested in. All questions are optional, so you can mark only the ones that strike you and then submit. All of these stories are almost ready to be shown to the public, though I am looking for proofreaders, so leave me a message if you want to proofread any of these and answer a few questions for me.

My novel is now available on Amazon!

My fantasy novel is available on Amazon and as ebook on Kindle. It’s a fantasy story about three young, powerful mages trying to understand what their purpose is in life, and an archaeologist who discovers that one of the gods is not dead, but imprisoned, and there is a conspiracy to release Him from that prison. Feel free to leave a review on amazon or on goodreads, or write something in the comments below.

Destiny is not a story written by the Gods. It is a bright light that shines from the eyes of people who will do great things, and whose names will be remembered. People like Topaz and Jareth, mages who must serve the people to ensure justice and peace. Destiny is the path that lies before them; it changes every time they make a decision, whether it be big or small. It is so complex that only the Gods can fully understand it, because each path branches out to influence others that also change every moment. Jareth’s decision to find answers will eventually lead to an archaeological dig, and to the Curse of the Gods.

Scatterbrain

I wish I could concentrate on anything for longer than half an hour, but I feel very scatterbrained lately. Starting lots of new things and then forgetting about them or losing interest only days later. I’m sure a job would give me something to focus on, something to sink my teeth into, but alas. I just feel a little useless, I guess.

Working on Irresistible

Story length so far 2814 words
What’s going on? Lena has just found out that vampires and demons exist, and somehow they die when they attack her. Her boyfriend doesn’t believe her.
What’s coming next? Lena will meet her impossible love interest: the incubus who I’ve modeled after Tom Hiddleston
State of Lena She has a smart mouth but she’s otherwise a little intimidated
Deaths? 2: vampire Fred kills a bum in the park, and then he dies when he attacks Lena
Noteworthy snippet

Nick’s room was dark except for his desk lamp and his computer screen when I entered. He sat at his desk, one hand on the mouse while the other controlled the keyboard. His hair was flattened by his big headphones, his blue eyes glued to the characters fighting on the screen. He greeted me with the absent nod I knew so well. It meant: “I’m in the middle of combat right now, I’ll put the game down as soon as possible”. I splashed some water from the sink in my face and my neck and then crawled onto the bed. After a while, Nick said to his microphone: “I’ll be AFK now, guys.”

He put down his headphones and rolled his chair over to the bed. He embraced me and I told him everything. Everything up to the part where the vampire grabbed me, and what had happened after that. I couldn’t tell him that. I felt embarrassed, I had somehow enjoyed that. The words stuck in my throat, so I huddled on the bed.

“It was like I was in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. One where Buffy is out of town.” He patted me on the leg. “California is a long way from here, no wonder she didn’t swing by.”

“I’m not joking, Nick! I saw a real vampire really kill someone! And I…” I expected my stomach to churn at the thought of the pool of blood. But my body reacted positively, I was feeling pretty good.

Nick just nodded. “What kind of powers do you suppose a vampire has?”

My mouth sagged open as I looked at him. “Powers?”

“You know, if they’re like Buffy’s vampires, we could defeat them with a pointy stick or by setting them on fire. It would be dangerous, but doable.” He leaned back in his chair as he stared at the ceiling, thinking out loud. “But if they’re like World of Darkness vampires or Anne Rice’s vampires, we don’t stand a chance.”

I gasped, not knowing what to say. He was such a nerd.

He looked at me. “What?”

“This is not out of one of your books. This really just happened!”

How Dead by Daylight motivates players to work together

dbd

First the simple ways the game motivates players to do anything: you score points. You score points when you manage to find another player, and you score altruism points when you work together, when you heal someone or when you rescue them from a hook. But that is not all.

Staying together ups your chances of survival. When the Killer finds you and you all dash away, he can only catch one of you, the others are off the hook, pun intended. Baiting and trying to confuse the Killer is an effective tactic to give your fellow players more time to get away. Putting yourself in danger for them will not only result in points scored, but will also make them feel morally obliged to come rescue them when you’re in trouble.

This game really plays with your head, the sound effects are designed to make the Survivors freak out, and the visuals are designed to draw your attention to certain parts of the game. When a Survivor is rendered helpless and dying, the game makes sure the other players can see where it is, they can clearly hear the Survivor crying in pain, screaming for help, another way the game motivates players to help each other out. Clear red and yellow lights on your screen make it almost impossible to ignore the fact that another player is in trouble.

I think this is important to note for us larp writers: when a player is in need of help from other players, all you need to do is make the other players aware of it. Make it easy for them to find the victim, draw their attention and make it hard to ignore, and soon someone will mount some kind of rescue, no matter how desperate.

The way the game motivates players to heal each other is also novel, imho. You see, a wounded Survivor whimpers. Constantly. It’s not just an annoying sound, it’s also a sound that will alert the Killer to your location. Wounded Survivors are a liability and healing them as soon as possible is in your own best interest.

And then there’s that other surefire way that other games (like for example Guildwars 2) had already discovered to get players to heal each other: everyone can do it and it only costs time. Give out points for healing others and pretty soon your players will be getting wounded just so that others can heal them and get those points. Why do we in larps often limit the power to heal people to only a few players? What could be the advantages of giving every player the ability to heal, as long as it costs time?

How else does Dead by Daylight motivate players to work together? Almost everything a Survivor can do to get out of the match alive, repair generators, heal and save other Survivors, goes faster when two players do it together, and even faster still when more players help.

Now speed is perhaps not the reward a larp should give its players, but the principle remains: when players do something, cooperation should give them an advantage over doing it alone. It doesn’t even need to be impossible to do alone, as long as the advantage of doing it together is interesting enough. Speed and silence are of the essence in Dead by Daylight, but larps probably need to invent other advantages. Make a spell more powerful when two players cast it together? Make it cost less mana? I’m sure we can think of something.

I’m looking forward to your comments.

Asymmetry and Balance in Dead by Daylight

dbd

The game is played 4 versus 1 and the first asymmetry that becomes apparent when playing this game is the different goals the players have. The Killer’s goal is to catch as many Survivors as possible and place them all on meat hooks to be sacrificed to the Entity. The Survivors however, their goal is not to defeat the killer in any way. They don’t have anything to attack the Killer with. Their powers lie in staying hidden and helping each other get away alive. Violence is not an option for them, which is one of the reasons why I want to study this game further. Because I love writing stories and larp plot where using more violence is not a good solution.

I see a lot of parallels with larp in this asymmetry; our monsters are also fewer than the players, and we want their killing powers to be scary, but we also want to make sure that if the players work together, if they play smart, they will prevail.

The Killers in this game are much like the villains I want in my larp: frightening and more powerful than the players. If they resort to an “every man for himself” mindset, the villains will pick them off one by one. And that is the thought at the heart of Dead by Daylight’s Killers: they can only focus on one Survivor at the time.

They can only hit one, and then there is a few seconds cooldown that prevents the Killer from moving or attacking again. The Killer can only carry one and they have to let the others get away. This makes ganging up on the Killer an exciting and effective tactic; a risk worth taking. And that is how you get your players to work together!

So asymmetrical goals. In larp, it may be the players’ goal to defeat the villain. We do like that in our classic fantasy larps. But it’s not our monsters’ goal to defeat the players, larp is no fun when the players are defeated. The goal of the game is to give the players a challenge they can overcome. In a way, our monsters and villains should feel happy and proud when the players find a way to defeat them and solve the challenge.

So how does Dead by Daylight make the Survivors feel like they can do something against this enemy they can’t defeat? Well, it’s not easy for the Killer to find a Survivor, for starters. This game is a beautiful rendition of Hide and Seek, with all the thrills of finding a good hiding spot and knowing that they can’t find you. And then once they’ve found you, you’re not dead yet.

Dead by Daylight doesn’t have a hitpoints system. You start out as healthy, and if the Killer manages to wound you, you will limp, bleed and whimper, making it easier for the killer to find you, but you can still do all the things you normally can, at the same speed (and at higher levels, you can get an adrenaline power, making things go faster when you’re wounded). It’s just harder to stay hidden.

The Killer has to wound you again before they can just grab you and pick you up. And once on their shoulder, you can wiggle free and limp away again, stunning the Killer to give you more time to get away. If you don’t manage to wiggle free in time, the Killer will hang you on a meat hook and then you’re still not dead. As you slowly bleed out, other players can still come rescue you. When you are freed from the Killer’s shoulder or from the hook, you are wounded, but not helpless. You can immediately try to get yourself to safety, and fellow players can heal you to make you healthy and quiet again.

So, causing a player’s death is a lengthy process comprised of different steps, and the players have a chance to free themselves or each other during each step in the process. Are you larp writers taking note? This stuff is beautiful.

And no hitpoints. The Killer doesn’t need them, he can’t be wounded, only stunned. (Note this to your monsters: being slow and getting stunned is good!) The Survivors have different states: healthy, wounded and dying. In the dying state, you are helpless, but not dead yet. You can crawl to safety, and you suddenly have the power to detect your fellow players, to see if they are coming to your rescue and to be able to crawl towards them. One healing action will revert you from dying to wounded, and then another one from wounded to healthy again.

So asymmetry in goals and asymmetry in powers. Many larps strive to give players and non-player characters the same powers, because it’s practical in remembering how all the powers work, and because that makes the game feel fair. Which is funny when you look at Dead by Daylight, because a number of players were outraged about Killers also getting the power to hide and sneak. What feels fair or unfair is not always a correct way to assess the balance in a game, it seems.

I’m still processing all this information. Soon, I will write about how this game motivates the players to work together.

Research

I have been doing research to try to better my understanding of the games we love to play. It will make me a better larp organiser if I delve into what makes games fun and challenging and what makes players cooperate when playing. For that purpose, I have been playing:

dbd

Seems like an odd choice, I know, but this game is intriguing beyond its survival horror pvp exterior. It’s a game of 4 versus 1, yet it is fairly balanced. How? I think that’s a question that can help me balance out my larps when answered. There is much to learn from the asymmetry in this game.

Furthermore, the game gives the players a very limited way of communicating with each other, yet it clearly pushes and motivates the players to work together and to take risks to help each other. How? When I understand that, I think I will have learned something valuable about how cooperation in different games works, including roleplaying games.

I’ve spent quite a few hours playing this game, but to truly understand, I think I will need to write about my observations. So I will be blogging about the various aspects of the game.

If you’re interested, you can watch me play on Twitch

Feeling good about your work is not about being rewarded, it’s about progress

I’ve been playing Dark Souls a lot these past weeks. Gotta do something when you’re jobless, right? And beside patience, this game has taught me something very valuable, something that goes beyond videogames. This extends into my working life and my social life as well.

Dark Souls is purported to be a really hard, challenging game. For example the part of the game that’s called Sen’s Fortress. Let me recount to you how my first playthrough of Sen’s Fortress went…

I walk up from the safe place over a stone bridge through the open gate into the fortress. I trip over a pressure plate and take four arrows in the face while two snakeheaded demons with scimitars storm towards me. When I barely survive that, I arrive in this room:

While I’m trying not to get horribly sliced by the swinging axes and fall into the pit where a headless undying demon will smash me to a pulp, a snakeheaded demon is shooting lighting bolts at me from a ledge and another snakehead is waiting to attack me with his scimitar halfway the bridge. When I’ve made it across two bridges like this, and I have survived another full hit in the face from an arrow trap pressure plate, I arrive on a staircase that feels wrong somehow. I turn to look what that rumbling sound is and a giant cannonball thunders towards me and rolls me out over the staircase like a hunk of dough.

I understand why some people would call this game hard, and I must admit that I was a little overwhelmed after all that. But let me recount to you how my most recent visit to Sen’s Fortress went:

As I enter the fortress, I step up into the space where I know one seprent soldier can see me while the other can not. As he dashes to wards me, I step onto the pressure plate and the four arrows in his back dispatch him. I defeat the other one with a fireball to the face. I hum a song to help me time my path over the bridge with the swinging axes, and I defeat the other serpent men with fireballs as well. I check my message that warns people for the second pressure plate and then dodge it. The arrows don’t ever go off. I time my run up the stairs carefully to avoid being hit by any cannonballs. The mimic is defeated with more fireballs before it can even try to devour me and then I take the elevator up without letting any of the spikes in the shaft hurt me and I pull the lever that makes all the cannonballs stop rolling down the stairs.

The Fortress’s traps and enemies did not become any easier. They were simply consistent. I worked to get to know the (literal and metaphorical) pitfalls and how to avoid them. The game does not need to reward me with giant letters that say YOU WIN! across the screen. The smooth progress in the game is its own reward.

Friends, colleagues and family do not need to thank me or give me gifts for my hard work, they just need to show me that what I do has an impact, that there is progress or some kind of change. Change is its own reward.

Spirituele shit

Mijn persoonlijke spirituele gevoelens en geloof zijn gestoeld op twee bekende principes. Maar misschien niet op de manier als ze meestal worden aangehaald.

Epicurus legde het duidelijk uit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil

Mijn conclusie: wat men god noemt, hetgene dat men aanbidt in verschillende geloven, is geen omnipotent goed wezen. Wat het wel is? Dat weten we niet. Nee, echt waar, ook die mensen die heel erg overtuigd zijn van hun eigen geloof, ook die weten het niet. Niemand weet het zeker. Daarom is het ook geloven.

Het probleem van proberen te verklaren hoe deze wereld werkt, legt Plato uit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

Mijn conclusie: we zijn als mensen gewoon niet goed in staat om de wereld in zijn geheel te aanschouwen. We kunnen slechts de schaduwen waarnemen en daarop baseren wat wij geloven dat de werkelijkheid is en hoe het werkt. We kunnen alleen maar vertrouwen in onze eigen waarneming van de schaduwen, meer hebben we niet.

Waarom deze filosofieles? Dit verklaart hoe ik aankijk tegen veel onbewezen en/of spirituele praktijken. Wat andere mensen voelen en geloven, moet je in hun waarde laten, net als ik in mijn waarde gelaten wil worden over wat ik geloof. Dit verklaart hoe ik op jonge leeftijd niet veel heil zag in het hervormd christelijke geloof dat mij werd geleerd op school. Geen enkele tak van het christelijk geloof stelde mij gerust dat ik een gewoon mens ben, terwijl ik mensen kan horen denken, wezens zonder lichaam kan waarnemen, en emoties en energie kan proeven.

Ik geloof niet dat een omnipotent wezen mij deze kracht heeft gegeven met een doel. Ik weet niet of er iets is wat een doel heeft in deze wereld. Hoe meer ik om me heen kijk, hoe meer ik geloof dat we hier gewoon allemaal doelloos aan het bestaan zijn. Zingeving is iets wat je zelf moet doen.

Ik geloof wel in mijn eigen waarnemingen. Ik zie wat ik zie, ik voel wat ik voel, ik kan daarin vertrouwen, en dat doe ik nu al enkele jaren. Maar wat het betekent? Dat weet ik niet. Dat weet niemand zeker.

Enkele jaren lang heb ik boeken verslonden, op zoek naar hoe de menselijke geest werkt. Wat zijn dromen? Wat zijn hallucinaties? Psychosomatica. Wat kan een mens zichzelf allemaal wijsmaken? Ik ben een scepticus en Ockham’s scheermes is handig. Als ik dingen hoor en voel die anderen niet waarnemen, ligt het misschien aan mij. Ik heb psychologische werken verslonden. Hoe werkt menselijke interactie en communicatie? Wat zijn emoties? Hoe uiten we die en hoe delen we die met elkaar?

Mijn conclusie: Ik heb veel empathie en een natuurlijke aanleg voor cold reading, ik lees mensen onbewust en gebruik deze informatie om beter met ze om te gaan.

Zijdelingse conclusie: hypnose is superinteressant.

TL;DR: hypnose is een betrouwbare manier om mensen te helpen in trance te gaan en zich dingen in te beelden en voor te stellen en daarmee dingen te laten voelen. Het is geen mystieke kracht en het is ook geen mind control. Het lange verhaal over hypnose en de menselijke geest kan ik later nog wel eens vertellen.

Ik dwaalde af in mijn onderzoek. Van trance ging ik naar meditatie, eerst een snufje mindfulness en daarna wat tantrische en taoistische achtergrond. Ik ben een vreselijke amateur in deze beide gebieden, maar ik weet nu hoe ik kan mediteren voor gemoedsrust, voor de verbetering en onderhoud van mijn lichamelijke gezondheid, en voor balans en controle over mijn eigen buien en gedrag.

Vanaf daar was het maar een kleine stap naar reiki, waarin ik ook nooit een officiele initiatie heb gehad, maar waar ik door de hulp van een goede vriend wel mee heb leren spelen. En via die vriend kwam ik weer uit bij wicca en ouderwetse hekserij, met een zijdelingse blik op Crowley’s boeken en een snufje satanistische filosofie. Het recept en de semantiek van hekserij deed me denken aan NLP en visualisatie, wat ik had bestudeerd toen ik hypnose leerde. Gek hoe het allemaal met elkaar verbonden lijkt te zijn. Of eigenlijk helemaal niet gek. Alles is verbonden.

Dat is de conclusie van mijn bij elkaar geraapte geloof, alles is verbonden. Chaos theorie en butterfly effect. Het leven heeft geen reden, geen hoger doel, maar alles wat gebeurt heeft consequenties, en door kleine duwtjes op de juiste plek, door het lezen van het patroon en jezelf aanpassen aan wat je wilt bereiken, is alles mogelijk. Mijn samenraapsel maakt dat ik me eindelijk thuisvoel in mijn eigen lichaam met mijn eigen vaardigheden.

Ik ben de beste ik die ik kan zijn. Alles is verbonden. En ik ben tevreden met mijn plekje.