Category Archives: Theory and Technique

16.31: First Page Fundamentals—MOBY DICK

Your Hosts: Dongwon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we explore the first page of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: here is the 1st paragraph of Moby Dick, for reference.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time tozz get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

 

 

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Homework: Write an introduction that is purely internal to the character’s mental state.

16.30: First Page Fundamentals—THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

Your Hosts: Dongwon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we explore the first page of The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: here is the 1st paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House, for reference.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

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Write an introduction to your book that is purely description. No action. No dialogue.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

16.29: Building Trust

Your Hosts: Dongwon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

How do we build trust with our readers? What does that even mean? In this episode we discuss ways in which we let our readers know what they can expect from the book they’re holding, and how we set about getting the to trust us do deliver on those expectations.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Write down every character in your first chapter on an index card. Write each character’s wants and needs? Ask yourself what stakes can be put on screen now.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
NOTE: We’ll be talking about the first page of this book next week, so you may want to add at least page one of this book to your homework.

16.28: Common First-Page Mistakes

Your Hosts: Dongwon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Let’s have a frank, and possibly painful discussion about the ways in which the first page can go wrong. It may seem like hackneyed writing advice, but rules like “don’t start with the main character waking up” are rules for a reason.  In this episode we’ll talk about those reasons, and why it’s so unlikely for books which break them to succeed with readers.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Have a look at the first page of your work-in-progress, and look for clichéd mistakes.

The First Line (literary magazine)

16.27: Nobody Wants to Read a Book

Your Hosts: Dongwon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Our controversial episode title comes to us via John Schwarzwelder, and it points up nicely the importance of today’s topic, which is first lines, first pages, and how we set about convincing people (who may or may not want to read a book) to read OUR book.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Homework: read the first pages of the last three books you read. Take notes on what you find exciting about them. What kept you reading? What would make you pause?

The Last Watch, by J.S. Dewes

16.26: Working With Teams

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler

Our series of game writing episodes draws to a close with a discussion about working with teams. This last skill set, these ways in which you learn to excel at collaborative projects, is often far more important than any of your other skills.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Spend some time brainstorming a game idea with a friend. Try to draw out and explore their best ideas, and encourage them to suggest changes to your own, to make sure you’re both contributing equally.

Heart: The City Beneath RPG, by Grant Howitt & Christopher Taylor

16.24: Worldbuilding for Games

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler

Worldbuilding is one of our favorite topics, and it’s a domain in which game design and novel writing share a lot of territory. In this episode we talk about how much we love it, and how much we enjoy letting other people love it enough to do the heavy lifting for us.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Take a story or game that you’ve written and drop in a few casual allusions to names you’ve just made up—places, people, objects. Don’t try to figure out what they are, just make the names as cool-sounding as you can—soultrees, the Babbling Throne, Kobishar the Unmoored. Then come back a week later and write a page of background on each of them.

The Dune RPG, from Modipheus Games

16.23: Rules and Mechanics

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler

Let’s talk about how players interact with the mechanics of the game, and what kinds of requirements those might put on the writers.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Pick a game you’re familiar with and design three new rules elements for it. These could be new cards for Magic, new feats or character abilities for a TTRPG, new power-ups for Super Mario, etc.
Try to think through all the ways these could be fun, and then try to find ways a player could use them to totally break a story.

Disco Elysium