Five Things Gamers Can Learn From Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an old wizard in possession of a rumour must be in want of adventurers. A lot of this applies to all of Austen’s work, if not all of Romantic Fiction (not to be confused with romance fiction, which is something else entirely). I chose Pride and Prejudice because it’s probably the most famous, although personally I prefer Sense and Sensibility and the Ang Lee film of it is amazingly well done. Trick your nerdy friends into watching Austen by running an Ang Lee marathon of Crouching Tiger, Hulk and Sense and Sensibility tonight! And then start learning that:

1. Evil is Petty

Ms Jane is an observational comic, and she observes humanity to mostly be a bunch of mindless, gaggling simpletons so coked out of their brains on banality, supposition, trivialities and misconceptions of their own importance they can barely keep themselves from exploding and Jane’s insert characters can barely keep from vomiting all over them. And everyone’s like this, because this is a Romantic novel; it’s less about who is and isn’t petty but who triumphs by rejecting it, and who is dragged down by their surrender to it. Which means her villains are some of the most recognizable in literature: they are all of humanity’s smallness writ large if you’ll pardon the expression. Which feels far more realistic than the villains in fantasy and much of genre fiction, where the villains are drawn from history and are evil because they will sweep out destruction like Genghis Khan or bring down Empires like the Goths. Austen’s villains are powerful and engaging not because they are dark gods who want to crush the whole world beneath their feet but because they are ignoble prigs who want to crush everyone they meet beneath their feet because those poisonous petty reminders of how much better they are than other, lesser, people are how their dead souls sustain themselves.

Now I know what you’re thinking: you run adventure fiction, genre fiction, not a drawing room comedy of manners; you need vast sweeping villains out to conquer the universe to drive up the stakes, you need Darth Vaders and Merciless Mings. Yes, but remember that both Ming and Vader aren’t scary because they can/do wipe out planets (Earth/Alderaan) – planets are too abstract. They’re scary because of their emotional beats where they behave like children, playing with people like toys, lashing out with murderous force at anyone who makes them feel small. Don’t forget to do that, to make your evil petty as hell. To have them lash out like whiny babies, to demean and undercut their allies and staff, to put their own petty vendettas above the needs of the many or the plan. Not only does this help us hate and pity the bad guy, it helps plots because it gives the bad guys Issues (see point 4 here).

2. Duality Rules

Romantic novels, gothic novels, romance novels, actually this runs in a lot of literature, but Romantic 19th century stuff loves this technique more than most: the way to talk about an issue or a philosophy or a concept or an aspect of human character is by presenting two sides. Jane is simple and beautiful, Lizzie is plain and complicated. Lizzie won’t marry for comfort but her friend Charlotte will. This is emblematic of the duality within characters, of course. Lizzie is prideful, and wishes at times she could be more accepting of the world as it was, like Jane or Charlotte. She hates Darcy for his prejudices but she also finds herself drawn to him because she’s equally disdainful of the world that fails to meet her standards.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: how does this apply to adventure fiction? Because good writing applies everywhere. And it also makes playing a dynamic, interesting, dramatic character easier if you set up a key character element that’s got two competing poles. Conan hates the complexities of civilisation but he is drawn to it over and over again. Batman believes in justice but has to break the law. Hamlet wants to do right but not what people tell him is right. As a player, this is a simple trick to make every character decision entertaining and easy to roleplay out. And as a player or a GM, you can build great dramatic interplay by looking at the duality in your party. Are you the law-abiding paladin? Then yes, your scene arguing with the thief can be boring as hell if it happens in the tavern but if you make it happen in the final approach about what laws to break as they bring down the evil cleric running the town…now you’ve got a game. Back in the tavern, your paladin who loves wine should set up duality by drinking with the straight-edge elf who needs no human stupefactions.

3. Have a Ball

The essential difference between abstract/pure combat games, and games with story is that story involves interacting with the world of the game and the people in it, and the only way to interact with those things is with culture and society. Since Austen is always about culture and society, her big moments tend to be based around big societal and cultural events events: weddings, parties, anything. Those are the times and places where the game of culture raises the stakes and society plays for blood. And it’s not just the big events (culturally or narratively): tilt points are picnics and pony rides, conflict happens when you visit for tea and love blooms when you stay for dinner, and you always, always end with a wedding – or weddings, if possible.

Again, how does this fit in with RPGs, where adventures almost always focus on characters at the edge of society, who leave it behind to go to dark places where the only culture is the stuff you smash to get the gems or how you tell which ork is the mage. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but even in that model you start in a tavern and end around a campfire, and that’s society. And there’s great flavour to be had in the gem-holders and the ork costumes. Don’t skimp on either of these. If you have a tavern take the time to figure out the details of that social ritual, and why it matters and who has status and who doesn’t. Working out what your paladin drinks and the elf doesn’t and bickering about it will make those moments when you save each others lives outside of society matter more, and show the duality of your lives – society where drinking matters and adventure where you’ve got each others backs. At the campfire, think about not just who keeps watch but how beds are prepared and who cooks dinner. That way, again, when you do throw them into a fancy ball or bring emotional plots crashing up into a wedding, you’ve laid the ground work. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either – a campfire with just your crew can build to a sleep out with the hundred miners you just rescued or the elves you are visiting…which ends up being a dance party or a troll wedding.

4. Not All Evil Can Be Killed

Once you have society and culture you have rules. Rules that keep the people in power where they are and stop anyone else from doing much about it. Austen likes to run her withering gaze over these rules and their external manifestations in parallel with her examination of how those rules run internally in her characters. And these kind of codes, internal and external, are just as much a part of adventure fiction as well – a lot of them have the simple Batman formula of something that desperately needs killing and a reason it can’t be killed. The difference in adventure and escapist fiction, though, is usually this has a solution, where the (typically male) hero transcends either the problem or the morality to stand triumphant. Jane’s world is one where this doesn’t often happen and sometimes can’t happen. It’s a feminine reflection on endurance and toleration in a world that keeps your hands tied. But again, our genre fiction doesn’t have to skimp on this lack of resolution. Batman’s constantly finding himself stuck with the rules that bind him; crippled by his devotion to life, wondering each day how can he go on trapped between two worlds, a crime-breaker hunting criminals like a woman against marriage in a world that demands she marry.

Players are even more menschian than genre heroes, because this is a game, it is participatory and we like to win. So if something gets in our way or makes us feel bad or does us wrong or wants to blow up the universe, we get mad then we roll initiative, and by the end of it, the bad guy is dead. If he gets away we call the GM a cheat, punking us when we totally made that roll to kill him as he rode away. Players: don’t do that. You’ll get your chance, promise. But stories are more interesting when this doesn’t always happen, because you get stuck in those Batman/Lizzie Bennett dilemmas. GMs, your job is to make things which are evil which can’t be killed, and that’s why the society and culture matters, because those things keep those people around. Worse, they make you have to associate with them and suck up to them. Drink at a tavern to find jobs? Maybe the bartender is a racist against elves. Maybe the wizard who gives quests forces you to call him His Eldrtich Majesty. Maybe Cyber-doug in the corner keeps broadcasting porn into your cyberdeck but isn’t worth killing because he’s not “part of the adventure” (or you’ll get jumped by the watch and outlaws don’t get jobs). Until that one time you find out the bartender has a half-elf daughter, the wizard flunked out of the academy and that Cyber-doug works for your Big Bad. Nothing annoys like the mosquito, the background buzzing that you cannot stop. And this builds into a larger issue which is…

5. Impotence and Ignorance Are Fire and Oxygen

A great deal of Romantic fiction – and its modern descendant, the soap opera – depends on these twin dramatic pillars: the sense that something horrible has happened or will happen or might be happening now, but no way to find out if it has and no way to do anything about it. When Mr Bingley goes to London, Jane has no word from him and has to wander around trying to find him. When Whickham runs off with Lydia, they’re just gone. They’re out there somewhere, being married, and nobody knows anything or can find them. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor aches inside for news of Mr Ferrars, and finds he is betrothed to a woman she swore to support, and she can’t even tell anyone or do anything. Like all writing tricks it’s a cheap trick but it works. We ache to know, as audience, which connects us intimately to the characters who ache.

Players HATE this. If there’s something they don’t know, they want to find out. If there’s something working against them, they want to destroy it now, and if there’s something preventing them from doing that, they’ll knock it out straight away. As such, a great deal of roleplaying narrative is just running the group in circles “investigating” until they can find the straight line to the XP pinata/Big Bad. The solution is for players and GMs alike to look for what they call Superman solutions. Superman is so powerful a hero that a lot of the plots he’s in can be finished in seconds if he wasn’t suddenly depowered, constrained or occupied elsewhere or far away (or confused, the “investigation” angle we use too often). You’ll see this in Matrix: Reloaded, too – Neo is very far away and trying to do two things at once, to stop him going all Superman. This is a concept I call “narrative distance”, and if you do it well it doesn’t appear forced, and it gets what you need: ignorance and impotence.

And the fact is that most fantasy worlds (and post-apocalyptic ones and far-flung space ones) have communication systems that are in far more disarray than the postal services of the 19th century. If PCs leave town for any reason they should have no idea what’s going on, which allows for fait accomplis to be presented when they return. Or, set up conflicts the moment before the wizard gives them the quest (which has to be done before the moon rises or whatever) so the whole time they’re trying to get the spiritstone they’re wondering if there sister is marrying Cyber-doug. That makes doing it on time far more pressing than this vague threat of the world ending, because as we pointed out in point one, we humans think small. But you can reverse it too: give them the choice: retrieve the soulstones before the Dark Lord’s agents do, or go three towns over to find out why sis is marrying Cyber-doug before the wedding. But not both.

Now sure, they may split the party. But as I talk about in point five here, that’s even better because then you move half the party off stage and what does the other half get? They get no idea of what’s going on with their friends, and no way to help. Impotence and ignorance. And the only way they’re going to see them again is they arranged to meet up at that social location or cultural event, full of people they hate. And the bad guy knows they’re stuck, and he’ll turn the knife and tell them his men are already putting bombs around the wedding altar because he’s just the kind of guy to ruin a wedding and destroy the world. Heroes will be torn in two, right down their dualities.

And all while in a dungeon fighting dragons. It can happen.

 

 

 

 

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Five Things Gamers Can Learn From the Marvel Cinematic Universe Arcs

With Civil War getting us all tingly right down to our Spiderman underoos, time to take a look at what clever little tricks went into making the series so successful as we move into the third chapter of a powerhouse franchise. Pow!

1: Have a Plan and Show Your Working

Sure, things were a little on the QT in the early days but the moment Iron Man was in the bag, we got news of the Big Picture. We got an outline of how it was going to play out – a series of stand-alone films introducing each hero, leading to an ensemble piece bringing the Avengers together. The dates were flexible but the structure and the elements were set. It was a risk that could have backfired – one flop, one contract disagreement, the slings and arrows of art and performance that no amount of lawyers, fans and money can compensate for, and Marvel would have had egg on their face. But it paid off hugely. It built in to the audience a sense of heightened expectation. They knew they were going to get more and more so each bite could be savoured as part of a banquet. That also made them more forgiving of mis-steps, more patient for developing arcs, more excited by easter eggs. They knew these things were seeds going to bear fruit, so the seeds themselves were much more exciting.

As I’ve said over and over again, metagaming is your friend. And the players can’t metagame if they don’t know the plan. Far too much is made in GMing about the importance of secrecy, of the thrill of being the audience. But one look at the MCU shows that that thrill has nothing to do with the unknown. Audiences LOVE structure. It’s why fantasy comes in trilogies so often. It makes us more likely to read. So plan your campaigns out in advance. Identify the key arcs, the season-shifts, the sweeps episodes, the cliffhanger endings. Write down who the big-bads are, the main themes and thrusts and sets. And then show your players. If they’re supposed to end up fighting dragons in series four, tell them that first up so they can write hints of that future in series one, and it will feel like awesome seeding AND also like a prologue moment (because prologues are awesome).

2: Tell Individual Stories

Patience, grasshopper, is the key. You can’t go straight from Superman to half the Justice League. It’s too much. It’s very difficult to tell a deep, engaging story with an ensemble cast who all need a backstory, a denouement and a narrative purpose. And even if you pull it off (see, say, Mystery Men), it never feels as resonant because you have so little time. Marvel was clever to make sure they did the solo films first, all free standing, so the group moments could work so much better. (Plus it helped with the structure, as mentioned.) And each individual story is really strong and vital and important; so much so that Avengers feels like a worthy sequel to at least Thor and Hulk.

RPGs are a group activity and you want to engage everyone at the table. Everyone likes to have a chance to do something each game, fight and scene. That’s why we have initiative, after all (well, one of the reasons). But you can tailor each of your sessions or scenes or stories to focus particularly around one character. I don’t mean solo-play with the GM, the others will be there as well to support the development of this story. And because you’ve told them all in advance what the plan is in step one, there are no hard feelings when one player gets the spotlight. Especially since the background players know that every tiny thing they do is laying seeds for being greatly expanded when their turn comes along. Yes, some games are better at this than others, and it may feel artificial to some keen on simulation but the truth is you’re probably doing this a lot anyway, because social adventures will naturally favour the bard and the trip to Venus is going to bring up the Venusians backstory. The vagaries of random dice rolls means you can’t always guarantee who deals the killing blows, but you can adjust for that with actual mechanics, if you want to go so far. It’s actually far more natural a story to observe and create than one trying to share everything perfectly equally down the initiative order.

3: Point Then Swivel

Since the days theatre was invented by the Ancient Greeks, there has been one big problem: big world, tiny stage. How do you fit great armies and battles and landscapes on stage? The tried and true technique of pointing off stage at something that can’t be seen. Stories that are doing seed work do this all the time. Sometimes they deliberately lay seeds that will never grow because that makes things seem ancient and mysterious, like when it was better how we never knew what the Clone Wars were. Other times they hamfistedly try to point at other things we’ve never really heard of or will hear about to show the “wider world”, like the crappy altered end to Return of the Jedi. We didn’t care about Coruscant cheering because who the hell are they?

Building a universe is a two-step process. You point, then you swivel. Point at something off stage, then in a scene/movie or two, move to that place. That one-two punch mimics the way to we discover the world in reality so it works on an instinctive level on us. It gives us the hint of the unknown and mysterious followed by the wonder of recognition and understanding. Marvel’s been really good at it, every step of the way, in big and small things. It’s weird and mysterious when Coulson brings in a guy with a bow to watch Thor’s hammer, but then at the start of the Avengers we see him in his place again and get our little nod of understanding. Full circle.

Shakespeare, by the way, is amazing at this too. He’ll have a scene where they talk about a place or a person, and then cut to that place or that person. Wind up, delivery. It’s classic technique and it works well for character as well as world building. Archer too, likes to switch on the very moment of dialogue; cutting from someone asking about Mallory to Mallory reacting as if she was there. You can snap-cut, too, but that’s hard to do on the fly. For worldbuilding, though, and narrative progress, this is your go to. Whatever small things come up in your adventure, don’t wait too long to bring them forward. As soon as possible, swivel to show them. We’re simple creatures. We like the payoff and if we wait too long we forget or get bored. Point, then swivel.

4. Teams Exist Against Outside Forces

RPGs throw four to six character together and expect us all to get to know them all at once – big mistake. The other thing they typically do wrong is expect them to glom together for no reason, or not a strong reason.

Marvel could have been lazy. It almost looked like they were going to be – that the Avengers would exist just because Stark and Cap and Thor were around and superpowered and dangerous. And having that architecture helped a lot to make the story happened. But the Avengers come together because the big bad is PC1’s brother, mind-controls PC2’s best friend and impersonates PC3’s greatest enemy (and his plan depends entirely on PC4’s energy source). And they stay together because there’s a whole goddamn scene about that which I think you remember. Fury knows in-world what Joss knows about writing: teams need a push to make them stick.

You could be lazy, but your campaign won’t be as strong if you are. Push the characters together with external enemies and hardship. Like Gaean Reach, give them a shared enemy, and make that enemy mess with them in very specific and personal ways. The enemy can even be nature, with the stranded in the wilderness trope – shared trauma is a bonding experience. Although nature can be escaped at which point bonds can fall away, which is why it’s important to choose a force that can keep being reapplied. Villains that don’t die, organizations that are like cockroaches, distant forces in play, anything that can simmer in the background so any time they start to lose their binding you can push them back together again.

Oh, and if you can’t think of something that would bind all the players together, ask them. That’s point one again. They’re there to help you. Use them.

5. Team Stories Are Interior Stories

This is such an easy mistake to make and it’s a credit to Joss’ skill that he avoided it twice. There’s a tendency among writers to use individual stories to probe into the inner mind of the character. After all, they’re centre stage so now is the time to find out what makes them tick. Then, the big ensemble pieces where you haven’t got time to probe their hearts and minds, just focus on a big complicated external problem so everyone has something to do.

It actually works much better the other way around.

Think about it. Think about say, the amazing scene in Iron Man 3 where he saves Pepper in the missile attack, and the incredible flying rescue, and the multiple unit showdown at the end – all cooler than solving the exploding city problem at the end of Age of Ultron. And where are Tony’s emotional beats? Walking through the snow was hard but it didn’t cut to his core. That moment happened in a barn with Fury in Age of Ultron. Cap met a lot of bad guys in The First Avenger, but the first person to get under his skin and show him what he really believed in and didn’t believe in was when he met Stark on the helicarrier. Thor is the exception, he had to do a lot of growing up in his debut but he left the proper yelling at his brother until Avengers.

Individual stories are best used to show what you do and how you do it, but team stories are where you poke at WHY you do it. So after laying the ground work with your one-on-ones, make sure your big team adventure is full of why moments. That may mean things get bogged down in in-player fighting which you feel is bogging down your story but that IS your story. And the plot can always wait. Remember, there’s always time to bicker.

Your players will still get to the big bad. After all, he’s put them under huge external pressure to keep them glued together, so they have to deal with him. And they’ve been aching for this through all their individual stories, all the breadcrumbs dropped through point then swivel, and since you first showed them you ten session plan with “Final Showdown” written in red under session ten. All that expectation means the plot will run itself. Better instead to focus on the character moments so the plot matters so much more. Yes you want to dazzle them with your apocalypse, but you much more want them to dazzle you with being always angry and puny god quips. They’re superheroes: their job is to entertain you.

Let them, and they will.

The Blog You Must Read Before You Die

“Let me not seem to have lived in vain” – Tycho Brahe, one of history’s greatest scientist, dying words

It’s important to know your mythology, because it reveals what cultures care about.

One of the running themes throughout the Old Testament is patience. This is because it was written for cultures feeling terribly oppressed and abandoned by their god, so their stories are about how patience pays off even when you think it can’t possibly. Samson is promised by God he will destroy his enemies as long as he keeps the faith. He disobeys, then loses his great strength, but at the last moment, has a chance to destroy his enemies. When all is lost to a conquering king that God promised to kill, Judith marries the victorious Holofernes, gets him drunk and cuts his head off. And when Abraham is promised a son, he gets older and older, and even when he and his wife are nine hundred years old, God delivers on his promises, with a son called Isaac.

Now, previously, like Samson, Abraham had disobeyed God and lost the faith, telling his wife to sleep with another man. So God is, as is often the way, wary of Abraham’s faith, so he devises one final test to check Abraham has learnt the lesson that God always fulfills his promises, and orders Abraham to kill Isaac. Spoilers: once it is clear Abraham is on board, God relents at the last second, and presumably Isaac grows up with severe trust issues.

Modern eyes find the story of Isaac difficult to deal with and it leads to discussions about the nature of trust in a deity – but those discussions tend to be grounded in the idea that what Abraham is doing is an abomination because he is killing an innocent. But that’s NOT the point of the story. The point of the story is Abraham is asked to destroy the very thing he wants most, the thing God promised him eight hundred years ago: descendants. Abraham doesn’t care about life, not his own, certainly. He lives in a culture where death is a constant and the only sense of assuredness and constancy is passing your name onto children and grandchildren.

The story of Abraham dates from somewhere between 1500 to 600 BC. Fast forward a thousand years and Jesus has a very different message in his philosophy, where he promises an individual salvation from death. Society in the Middle East is now at a point where death is no longer so certain that nobody cares about it. People want to live forever. Skip forward another 1600 years or so and it’s the 17th century. The Dark Ages are over, the 100 Years War is Over, the religious wars of Europe are ending, and the plague is now so rare its extremely localized appearance is a scary minor event, not a world-ending apocalypse. People now think they really can live forever, because they just don’t see death everywhere they go any more. In many cases this causes people to turn away from religion, meaning it has to be reformed; while others becomes straight-up humanists and atheists. Other parts of culture are horrified by this trend so they invent the memento mori: the inclusion in every work of art of a skull or another symbol of death to remind the viewer they are going to die. It’s considered very important in some cultures to include this, lest the beauty of the art without it seduce you back to thinking you’re immortal. They literally refuse to let you forget you will die, because they think that will kill you and society.

Fast forward another four hundred years to the late 20th century. Modern medicine is unbelievable. We destroy the Third Horseman by eliminating polio and expunging smallpox. Life expectancy shoots through the roof. The implementation of plastics and universal plumbing make hygiene possible at unimaginable levels a century ago. Random death is so uncommon or great fears coalesce into the one disease we seemingly can’t cure – cancer. And some of us are so sure we’ll live forever we stop vaccinating our children. We’ve lost our fear of death even on a population level – and that can be dangerous. But mostly we talk instead of poor health outcomes. For many, a life lived in pain or weakness is far more frightening than death. Euthanasia is on the table because as a culture we believe there is something worse than death: a life of suffering, or fear, or regret.

And those things are bad, but every society has its unthinkable horrors that must be warded against. Abraham feared nothing so much as being childless. 17th century folk did fear their souls going to Hell. And we fear our lives being wasted. And when we have those kind of all-encompassing existential fears, there are those who would turn them into cultural touchstones and cult-like beliefs. We have our own memento-moris of this age. We have a series of books and shows listing hundreds or thousands of things to do BEFORE YOU DIE, lest you live a life of lower value. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. Begin it now, the self-helpers demand, lest you waste a moment not beginning. Follow your dream and your bliss. Quit your job and roam the earth before you get too old. Live like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t die still wondering. Take a chance. Live life to the fullest. You should be writing.  Just do it. And have a Coke while you do.

Like most things, there’s some truth in this. It’s important not to settle for a reality filled with pain, suffering and abuse, and to seek out support and tiny ways to spiral upwards away from such things. But like most things, it’s exaggerated and expounded and shoved down our throats to a terrifying and disgusting degree. And it’s just not helpful. Not for most people.

And it’s enormously unhelpful to a large section of people. People who can’t begin it now. People who don’t have the privilege of money or health or freedom that you do. People who see suffering every second so they need no memento-mori to remind them. People who instead need memento-vivas, reminders that life is okay as it is. Pictures of puppies and kittens, for example. (Of course, advertising likes to tell you to embrace the status quo just as much as it likes to cast you as the hero of just doing it, but advertising ruins everything.)

Nothing has been more damaging to my writing career as the pressure of being told to do it and do it now. That brings it with it a terrifying sense of urgency, a sense that your ideas are a limited resource, and those ones burning and bubbling out of you every second will be lost if you don’t write them down. That your duty is to eternity and every lost moment is betraying yourself and everyone else. Make great art, ordered Neil Gaiman, but you must add Joss Whedon’s addition: don’t write a story if you don’t have a story to tell. I’ve sat at blank pages and gripped pens and screamed at my body to make the words, because everything else was the most disgusting thing, the most unbearable thing: to live a life half-lived, to not create, not use my gift.

I was born a gifted child so from the very beginning educators beat into me with emotional wounds the sense of wastage. But I have learnt, at last, through bloody battles, that nothing is wasted. Ever. And if you are going to create, you need to know that. Your ideas will seem to go nowhere. They will bubble out like steam and appear to fade into the ether. They will die on the page or never make it that far. And it will look like the garden is empty.

But life goes on and those ideas and attempts lie dormant and wait. And sometimes, they come back to life in the most amazing ways, but only when they are ready. You cannot pick the fruit before it is ripe. The Divyavadana, Buddhist scriptures written in sanskrit in the 2nd century BC provides the quote I keep beside my desk:

“What we have done will not be lost to all eternity. Everything ripens at its time and becomes fruit at its hour.”

Seven years ago I started work on a project for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a supplement for Estalia, the Spanish-equivalent of the setting. It’s finished now, an epic tome of 144 pages that took an amazing amount of work. Several times I completely abandoned it. Several times I knew it could never be done. And I needed to think that, or it could NOT have been done. I tried to give it to others so that the fans would not be denied the product they wanted, but others didn’t want it. I asked for help, and got some at some time, none at others, and then at last, the right help at the right time, when I was strong enough to use it. Because you see, they didn’t want the book, they wanted MY book.

But not even that; apart from a few posts in approval, nobody really cares. Ultimately, we don’t make art for our audience, it doesn’t make sense to do it like that. And while it’s wonderful to see that this project ripened at its time, it’s the ripening that mattered, more than the finished product. I’m proud of it, but I’m more happy with the process. I learned more from the process and I cherish the process more. Which is why it wouldn’t matter if it had died. It was only once I let go and accepted it might that I had space to heal and ripen to a point where maybe it could be done. Once I knew I could live without it, I could make it. Once I knew my life was not betrayed by stepping away from my dream, I could live authentically enough to have art within me.

Tycho Brahe was one of the greatest astronomers the world had ever known and his measurements were so precise that they weren’t bettered until the 20th century. Without his work, his colleague Johannes Kepler could never have discovered elliptical planet movement, and Newton could never have discovered gravity. But Brahe lived his entire life in fear of being forgotten, of being a nobody, and on his death bed, he prayed to God and all who would hear him that he might mean something. Kepler, himself neurotic and afraid, found understanding in his friend’s last words. And Kepler’s reflection also sits beside my desk to remind me what matters.

“The roads that lead a man to knowledge are as wondrous as that knowledge itself”

See the road, and walk it haphazardly. You can’t force it. You shouln’t be writing; you should be growing to a place where writing is natural, and safe, and joyful, and how you get there is yours to discover. Don’t let anyone tell you they know the best way for you to go – or that you need to start going now, lest you waste your precious time. You’ll go when you’re ready. You really do have time. And anything else is madness.

And I hope you enjoy Swords of the South.