Exercise: What’s in your protag’s pockets

The things in my main characters pockets are: a wallet with a California ID and folded money, a key ring, playing cards, candle stubs, pocket knife, lighter and business cards
What’s in Thomas’ pockets? A wallet with California ID, cash, key ring, playing cards, candle stubs, pocket knife, lighter, business cards.

After a brief separation from my WIP, The Tower Project, I recently re-committed myself to finishing this draft. As I do, I’m collecting inspiration and actively plotting draft two. One of the things that’s helping me get ready for this next phase in the writing process is … Pinterest boards. Specifically character aesthetics/moodboards.

Pinterest can be a powerful tool for writers, from collecting character inspiration through portrait photography, to world building and writing craft tips. I’ve started to deepen my understanding of my characters through collecting images that remind me of them and thus, the challenge: What’s in your Characters Pockets? was born.

Above: the things that I have said, over the last 50,000 words, Thomas Tower is carrying in his pockets. I may have even gone so far as photoshopping a fake ID and custom business cards. The depths of my procrastination truly knows no bounds.

Here’s the list:

  • A wallet with a California ID and paper money, folded for ease of identification
  • A ring of keys
  • Several stubs of candle
  • A stainless steel lighter
  • A pocket knife
  • A deck of playing cards (with raised braille)
  • Business cards

Your turn, it’s time to turn out your protag’s pockets. Tell me what they’re carrying in the comments!

gif of people emptying a tremendous amount of things out of their pockets

How a global pandemic helped me create a writing practice

For as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve been hearing about the importance of having ‘a writing practice’. What the heck does that mean? In short, creating a set of habits that help you put pen to page.

A writing practice usually consists of: a time, a place, and a ritual. An example would be: first thing in the morning, at your writing desk, with a special playlist blaring in the background.

Stock Photo: Open laptop with notebook and pen
Startup Stock Photos: open laptop with notebook and pen

Sounds easy right?

When it comes to forming habits, it’s not as easy as it sounds! Staying motivated requires determination and support!

Despite previous attempts, it’s taken a global pandemic to finally create a writing practice that works for me. You see, a funny thing happened when the province began to lock down in March due to COVID-19. We began to search out ways to connect in digital spaces. As seemingly insurmountable barriers arose in some instances, some were lowered.

Here’s what changed for me:

  • My writing critique group moved online. We still host a monthly meeting (now via Zoom) in which we critique each others work. We also set up a Discord server and began meeting on Wednesdays for writing sprints. Concurrently, I joined the YEGWrites Discord server (hit me up for an invite or check it out on the WGA website), where we sprint on Monday nights. The result is that I’m sitting down twice a week at the same time for several hours of writing. This simple change, from writing with my whims to writing at a set time, has had a major impact on my productivity. I’m also hearing from other members of my writing group how much it’s impacted their word counts.
  • I started working from home. My entire office has been working remotely for the last few months. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to do this, even though it does present its own challenges. I spend the entire day working at my desk, writing. Often, in the evenings I simply return to my dining room office and continue to write! Because my brain now accepts this space as a writing place where things get *done* I feel more productive and less prone to distraction.
  • I added structure to my writing sessions. I mentioned before that I’m participating in writing sprints twice a week. Sprinting consists of a timed round of writing, nose to the grindstone, don’t look up and don’t get distracted, followed by a timed break chatting with other sprinters. Rinse and repeat. It’s a great tool I’ll talk about at length in another post, suffice to say, it provides structure, support and gamification to my writing sessions. Secondarily to sprints, I’ve been making a concerted effort to at least write 200 words a day. Even that little effort makes a huge difference when I do sit down to write with a higher target in mind.

And there you have it. Add a generous helping of tea and the very encouraging words of my sprinting pals and you’ve got a writing practice that has doubled my monthly word count.

A time: Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30-9:30

A place: Dining room table

A ritual: tea, window, sprint, encouragement, music (check out the Spotify playlist I listen to while writing The Tower Project)

Bonus round: Events moved online. Both the WGA (Writers Guild of Alberta) and EPL (Edmonton Public Library) host regular writing events. Since self-isolation began, many have moved to digital spaces. Fun fact about me, I don’t drive AND I have a baby! Before my daughter was born, distance was a small barrier that I would begrudgingly Uber across, now I have a nightly date with a 15-month-old I just can’t skip out on. The result is that I haven’t been able to attend an event in more than a year. Hosting workshops digitally has removed a lot of accessibility barriers. Since March, I’ve attended five workshops and am registered for another this weekend. Workshops always get me fired up, fueling my creativity and increasing my productivity.

In short, isolation has been tough. I’m sure you’re feeling it too. As an immunocompromised person, I’ve been more cautious than most around our province’s reopening. During this time, establishing a writing practice has helped me stay connected to my passion — and my joy. There’s really no feeling in the world like seeing that word count go up.

My Writing Notebook

Exciting news to share: in March I started working on a new writing project!

Inspired by the writing roadmap lined out by The Novel Factory, I began the process of writing a novel in one year. The flexibility of the timeline mixed with carefully plotted deadlines really appealed to me.

I also attended a panel by Lady Geeks Unite around the same time. The panelists — ladies in tech and gaming including some from from Beamdog, Canada Learning Code, & BioWare — had lots of wisdom to share. One of the quotes that stood out to me was from developer Kris Schoneberg who credited “increasing the visibility of my accountability” with helping her reach personal and career milestones.

To that end, I started to share process on my instagram, @kjewellwrites, with the tag #amwriting and I created a code name for my WIP so I can share more about it! More on that later, right now I want to tell you about the third thing I’m doing to keep up my productivity and inspiration!

I set up a writing notebook.

MyWritingNotebook-3

Borrowing from the bullet journal system, the first part of my three section notebook is devoted to general writing inspiration. I started with an index and took category inspiration from this blog post by Shelby of The Writing Pal. I have a major issue with titling books so it’s been super helpful to have a place to scribble down title inspo!

My categories are: To be read, names, good words, plot ideas, 1st sentences, novel titles, metaphors, setting snippets, description, overheard conversation snippets, character development notes, not cliché (an exercise where you write down a cliché and try to re-write it), and lastly, my novel in a year timeline.

MyWritingNotebook-4

And here it is, my timeline! You can see I’ve been a little wishy-washy in the progress bar on the right. I tend to get distracted with details and end up jumping ahead of myself. I’m itching to start putting words on paper, but I’m also hoping that putting in the work outlining and developing my world and characters will help the writing process go more smoothly!

As mentioned, the timeline is from The Novel Factory’s ‘Novel in a Year Roadmap’ — here’s a great infographic showing the timeline breakdown.

MyWritingNotebook-5

The second section in the notebook is dedicated to my writing project! More info to come about this later, but here’s a sneak peek of what I’ve been up to.

I printed off a little character moodboard and taped it to one of the dividers for inspo. Something about the whole thing made me feel like a teenager again, collaging the cover of my school agenda.

I created another index for this section and started copying the phases of the novel roadmap into the book. I have multiple versions now of my premise and story skeleton, but writing it out on paper helps me work through the finicky bits and force myself to be concise.

The third section of my notebook will be reserved for actual writing! Sometimes it’s nice to work on paper. When I was younger I used to fill up notebooks with stories. My good friend, and an amazing self-published author, Amy and I used to pass a notebook back and forth to write a novel. She would pick it up whenever I got stuck and vise versa. Sometimes, you need paper and pen to get your brain going!

Stay tuned for more deets on this project, and let me know what other categories you would add to your own writing notebook in the comments!

Listening – Watching – Reading – Playing

ListeningMy playlists are currently all peppered with Birdtalker, a Nashville band formed in 2012 by husband and wife team Zack and Dani Green. Over time they added friends and acquaintances until resembling the five-piece band that recorded the single “Heavy” in 2016. I’ve always loved Heavy, it’s a happy sounding and feeling song but it’s got hella emotional layers — my kinda jam. I only recently listened to the full six-song EP that includes such new favs as “Graveclothes” and “Blue Healer”. Seriously, I never get tired of them.

WatchingI’m actually watching so many things right now but my main binge of the last few months has been re-watching all of the Marvel Netflix shows. It started with Daredevil and quickly spiraled into an obsession that led me down a crazy comic reading binge. Now I’m re-watching Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage and basically chastising Claire Temple at every available moment for not calling Matt. Claire, call Matt!

I also recently watched “The Shape of Water”, a fabulous film that took me right back to the first time I saw Pans Labarynth. It’s dark, original, it’s got oodles of heart and ample character. Just like what you expect from a good Guillermo Del Toro film. Plus it’s stunning, did I mention it’s stunning?

Reading 1I’ve recently joined an informal book club and although we’ve yet to meet up, we’re all busy reading The Power by Naomi Alderman. It’s considered a science fiction book, although nothing like the sci-fi I usually read (which tends towards space opera and hard sci-fi). It’s about women developing a previously defunct power that allows them to wield electricity, leading to them becoming the dominant gender. The book has a really odd structure to it, it’s framed as a fictional retelling of history in a world in which women have always been the dominant gender, and the author is speculating on what would have happened if men had been the dominant gender first, and women had to overtake them with this power. Honestly, the framing is a little confusing at this point (I’m about a third of the way through) and I’m really interested to see how that narrative device impacts the overall story. It reminds me just a little of the framing in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. If you’ve seen the film you remember the grandfather is reading the book to his grandson, in the book version it’s a historical novel so the grandson — William Goldman — believes the content of the book is entirely true. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but it completely changed how I read the story as a kid.

playingI’m actually on a bit of a break from video gaming. The last game I played was Dragon Age Origins, one I have actually never completed. I did get further than ever before this time, but then Daredevil happened and I got woefully distracted. I’ve finally created a warden that I really like though, so I know I need to go back and finish her playthrough!

What are you listening to, reading, watching and playing this year? Let me know what’s good in the comments!

Tell women they’re beautiful.

Hi all, this past week we celebrated International Women’s day and I had a blast.

On this most auspicious of days, I like to take time to celebrate the women in my life who have supported and lifted me up in my own times of struggle. It’s funny, this marks the first year that I’ve gotten in on the festivities — I mean really gotten in on them — and I chalk that up to a powerful year of pouring into women around me and having them pour into me. I have truly seen the difference one person can make on a life this year, how encouragement and support can help us face life’s challenges with vigour.

One of the things I hear and see most often on a day like IWD is how we need to build up the women in our lives by shifting the focus from appearances. It’s hard, ladies are conditioned their whole lives to compare themselves to others physically and to be their hardest critics when they look in the mirror — I absolutely agree that we need to be reminded just how intelligent, wise, empathetic, strong, capable, tenacious, and brave we are. Especially especially young women. This is my own corner of that soapbox. When girls are small I think they need these messages tenfold. Tell those little girls they are capable and brave, stop the cycle of self-comparison and beauty standards when they are small — that is how you make the most impact on societal norms.

That said, once we’re already adults — it’s kinda too late. At this point, do not forget to remind your friends that they are also the most stunningly beautiful people you have ever encountered. And this is no lie, no hyperbole.

Have you ever looked at someone you’re kinda in love with (platonic or otherwise) and wondered at how the sunshine warms their face and cups the curve of their cheek and sparkles in their eye, dancing in their hair like a halo of fire? How sweet and special every freckle, each dimple? How magnificent their natural smile, how good it makes you feel when they laugh?

We don’t see ourselves that way.

Other-worldly love selves kjewellwrites

When we look in the mirror it often isn’t when a ray of golden sun is alighting just so, it’s under the freaky fluorescent bulbs of the changing rooms or in the dimly lit basement bathroom. We don’t see our otherworldly love-selves.

 

So yes, tell the women in your life about all of their amazing qualities. Don’t leave anything out. Tell them how inspired you are by their bravery in the face of challenges. Tell them how you’ve seen them struggle — even fall — and get back up again, and how courageous they were to do it. Remind them that they are kind and compassionate. Remind them of all those less traditionally feminine traits too, the ones you love — like being defiant in the face of authority, being willing to stand up for others, being passionate about weird things like rocks and video games. How their passion makes them cooler than cool.

But also give them a glimpse, if you can, into how you see them. Give them a glimpse through the love goggles, because you see your mother and your grandmother and your sister and your best friend (and your wife and your girlfriend and your aunt… ) differently than anyone else.

You see what truly makes them beautiful, and they sometimes can’t.

 

Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn, released February 28 by developer Guerrilla Games (of Killzone fame, a series of first-person shooters), is an unspeakably beautiful and staggeringly epic third-person action RPG.

I’ve had the pleasure of being able to play Horizon extensively this past weekend and I have enjoyed it immensely. If you are simply wondering if this game is worth the money, check it out friend. You won’t be disappointed. Some further considerations below.

Continue reading “Review: Horizon Zero Dawn”

Take the Pledge: To Do No Harm

In 2011 I graduated school and stepped off into the real world to become “a communications professional”. More than someone with a basic understanding of spelling and grammar, it’s a discipline that spans the breadth of society. We’re everywhere, writing both the copy on the cereal boxes and the words that scroll up in front of newscasters and television personalities.
I’ve often espoused the importance of diverse and inclusive writing in popular media, something I consider to be an ethical responsibility. I have seen, without a doubt, the enormous impact of well-written, diverse stories. When someone who has been marginalized by society sees themselves represented in popular culture it can be a life-altering experience.
It's validating
Elizabeth shared this thought with me in a previous interview for Why Diverse Games
Although popular culture has often been my soapbox of choice, the recent US election results have shown me that picking just one soapbox isn’t enough. I believe that through representation in film, TV, and gaming we will see a gradual change in our society — but what can we do today?
Continue reading “Take the Pledge: To Do No Harm”

KOTFE: The Battle of Odessen

So the final chapter of Knights of the Old Republic has come, and somehow, I expected it to feel a little more … final.

First, my review: I liked this chapter. Thoroughly. Unlike some of the previous chapters, some which felt like stalling and some which felt like three hours of walking in circles, and even unlike the previous chapter which had all of the action and plot moments I craved — but delivered nothing of the romance I longed for — this outing provided both the action and character development to sate me.

There were lots of character moments and moments of reflection, and the game didn’t make me grind through a million sky troopers to get to Arcann. It provided some minor bosses to slow me, but not frustrate me – and it even pulled out some new fighting mechanics to make the final showdown seem fresh.

KOTFE battle of odessen

What it did not do, however, was provide a thorough wrap up to the previous sixteen chapters. At the end of the chapter, some things have changed and there are some nice revelations, but when I zoom out I see that all of the same players are in the game and not much has changed for my character directly. I expected a little bit more of a shake up in the final chapter to help me feel like I’m progressing.
After the chapter is completed there doesn’t seem to be any new things to do around the base either, which was a bit of a let down as we wait for the new DLC.

Continue reading “KOTFE: The Battle of Odessen”

KOTFE: The Gemini Deception

Finally, a chapter worth playing.

Forgive me for forgetting — or at least ignoring– the fact that chapter 14, Mandalore’s Revenge, preceded this one. The only thing 14 gave us was this adorable creature:

Torian Cadera mandalores revenge.jpg

I admit I had no idea he was a returning character, I am even more excited to continue my new bounty hunter play through.

Ultimately, I’m more interested in skipping ahead to Chapter 15: The Gemini Deception.

Continue reading “KOTFE: The Gemini Deception”

GDX Edmonton Highlights: Narrative in Games

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Sunday at Game Discovery Exhibition Edmonton, (GDX). It was a mad crazy weekend, followed by an insane week so I’m sitting down now to write some thoughts about the conference.

The second panel I was able to attend was the Narrative in Games panel. Moderated by Matt Dykstra, the panel included Bioware lead writer Patrick Weekes and lead editor Karen Weekes, Beamdog writer Andrew Foley and Madsoft writer Corina Dransutavicius.

It’s always a pleasure to attend panels that bring writers together! I took a lot away from this one. General take away on how to break into the game writing world — go find Dave Gross, who was the pivotal connection that got Patrick and Andrew their jobs.  Actual take away, go join writers groups, stay connected with other writers.

Continue reading “GDX Edmonton Highlights: Narrative in Games”