Do you wonder if your characters feel real enough?

The manuscript I’m currently working on requires strong character. It’s a fantasy thriller with lots of action, or will have lots of action. My biggest fear right now as I continue with the first draft is that my main character isn’t interesting enough, dynamic or three dimensional. So I have to keep checking in with my characters’ story health. Here’s some things I’ve been studying and gleaning along the way concerning Character.

At the crux of a story is Character. Character is perhaps the most important part of a story, in my opinion. Sure you can have setting and plot, but you need a character to be able to play within a setting and be acted upon by the plot.

Character is defined as any person, animal or figure represented in a literary work. There are many types of characters in stories which are based on purpose and function.

To make your character’s purpose and function appear rich and interesting, they must go through thoughtful Character Development. This refers to how complex a character is in a story. If you can make your characters as complex as possible without being a distraction to the overall story, then they will appear more real and interesting. If we learn how a character thinks, moves, talks, who their associations are and what secrets they keep, then they can be considered well developed. Some characters are complex from the beginning, while others become more complex as the story unfolds, with the plot causing a change within them. Meanwhile other characters show only one side of themselves for a certain amount time throughout a book, then eventually revealing another side to themselves by book’s end. Try to mix an match these types of character developing techniques in one story to give it more impact.

The purpose of character is to extend the plot. Every story must have main characters. These are the characters that have the most effect on a story’s plot or they are the ones most affected by the plot. Examples of main characters are protagonist and antagonist, static or dynamic character, or round or flat characters. A character can fit into more than one of the aforementioned categories or move through the categories as the plot progresses.

Every story has got to have a protagonist aka “the hero/heroine”. Their purpose is to generate the main action of the story and engage the reader’s interest and empathy.

Most stories have an antagonist aka “the villain.” A misnomer about antagonists is that they need to be evil. That’s simply not the case. This character, or group of characters, causes the conflict for the protagonist. Being good or evil is of no consequence. The antagonist could even be the protagonist, who is torn by some inner turmoil. An antagonist doesn’t have to be a single person. They can be society at large, an animal, an object, or nature. If the conflict comes from something or somewhere out of the character’s control, the antagonist is fate or God.

Next comes minor characters. They’re not as important as the major characters, but still play a large part in the story. Their actions help drive the story forward. They may impact the decisions the protagonist or antagonist make, either helping or interfering with the conflict. Major characters will usually be more dynamic, changing and growing through the story while minor characters may be more static.

Here’s some examples of character traits that I found from

  • Foil – A foil is a character that has opposite character traits from another, meant to help highlight or bring out another’s positive or negative side.  Oftentimes, the antagonist is the foil for the protagonist.
  • Static – Characters who are static do not change throughout the story. Their use may simply be to create or relieve tension, or they were not meant to change. A major character can remain static through the whole story.
  • Dynamic – Dynamic characters change throughout the story. They may learn a lesson, become bad, or change in complex ways.
  • Flat – A flat character has one or two main traits, usually only all positive or negative. They are the opposite of a round character. Their flaw or strength has its use in the story.
  • Round – These are the opposite of the flat character. These characters have many different traits, good and bad, making them more interesting.
  • Stock – These are the stereotypical characters, such as the boy genius, ambitious career person, faithful sidekick, mad scientist, etc.

The minor characters are impacted by the decisions the major characters make, giving depth to the story line.

Stephen King says in his seminal book about writing, On Writing, that characters are central to a good story. I would agree. King believes that as long as you have a great character, someone who is fully realized, you can throw them into any scenario or plot and you will have a decent story. Fully developed characters, who react realistically, will add gravitas to any plot.

Does my main character feel real? Is he reacting truthfully to the plot in the way I have established him? Is she changing? Will she change by the end? These are all questions I must ask myself. It is a checklist that I need to keep referring back to. At this juncture, I need to take a day and sit back with my main character and double-check if he is hitting his marks.



Milestone Planning


It has been a long time since my last blog post. But I’m back and hopefully on a more consistent basis.

This January, my manuscript reached 40,000 words. A fine achievement in which I proudly pat myself on the back. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, everyday now is the farthest I’ve ever gone. This is a good sign that shows that I can go for the long haul. I can do this writing thing kinda daily. And if I truly do this daily, I can be published. My writing habit is becoming a writer’s life. Now it is all about nailing down how to keep things organized. Since I’m a combo pantser and outliner, I tested out an outline method that helps me in both modes.

With the final word count of my epic Afro-fantasy story promised to be around 90,000 words, I have completed a third of it. I find that eye-opening. Since my story follows the three act structure, it’s amazing that at around the 30,000 work mark I came to the end of Act One. My word count lines up pretty nicely. This gives me the confidence to believe that I’m on track to reach my structure goals. My manuscript has become a big octopus with tentacles everywhere. I need an outlining system that keeps me both organized and on track.

I’ve chosen a particular three act outlining structure that works well for me. It’s called the 27 Chapter Outline. Here’s how it works:

In Scrivener, I created three folders, one for each act. Act One is Setup. Act Two is Conflict. Act Three is Resolution. Now within each act, I created three more folders, calling them Blocks 1-3. Once again, within each Block, I make three more folders. It is in these folders that I get into the nitty gritty of the outline breakdown.

In Block 1, I name the three folders: Introduction, Inciting Incident, and Immediate Reaction. The Introduction folder is for the start of my story. I use this section to introduce the characters and show the ordinary world of my characters. The Inciting Incident is pretty self-explanatory. This section is the start of the story’s plot; the event that sets everything off. The Immediate Reaction folder holds the part of the story in which the characters immediately react to the Inciting Incident.

In Block 2, the three folders are named Reaction, Action, and Consequence. Block 3 has folders named Pressure, Pinch, and Push

Act 2 is called the Conflict. The blocks continue with Block 4, which contains sections called New World, Fun & Games, and Old Contrast. Block 5’s sections are named Build Up, Midpoint, and Reversal. Block 6’s sections are Reaction 2, Action 2, and Dedication.

Act 3 is the Resolution. Block 7 is called Trials, Push 2, and Darkest Moment. Block 8 contains Power Within, Action 3, and Convergence. And last but certainly not least is Block 9. In here you’ll find Battle, Climax, and Resolution.

If you’ve studies the Hero’s Journey, you may recognize similar sections like Darkest Moment and Hero’s Dark Night of the Soul or Inciting Incident being equal to Call to Adventure.

Here is a link to a great video by writer and vlogger Katytastic, who created this method, that goes more in depth about each block and the folder ideas within them.

There are many outlining techniques, this one seems to be working for me currently. It keeps me focused and mindful on the story elements I need to get across depending on the stage of story development I’m in. If this method stops working for me I just might switch to another technique in the future, who knows.

I’ve been watching a ton of Youtube videos on outlining recently. The reason for this is because I’ve been writing this manuscript as both a pantser and an outliner. This has created some organizational problems for me and I’m just watching how other writer’s keep things in order.




After my 50th birthday celebration and awaiting the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday, it’s been hard to write. Excuses, excuses; don’t I know it. As you, my constant reader, have followed me on my writing journey, you’ve witnessed how I’ve struggled to maintain a writing habit. For the most part, I have been successful. Although I don’t write every day, I do at least something like characterizing, outlining, revision, etc., for my writing at 5 days out of 7 a week, sometimes more. Based on where I started, this is a huge turnaround for me.

But as positive as that is, the process is slow going. As of this posting, I am 25,000 words into my 90,000 word manuscript. Each day I add to it is the furthest that I have ever gone on a single project. This is great and I’m proud of myself, but I’m moving too slow I think. There are days I can binge write and churn out 1000 words. Some days, though, I log only 100-200 words. Other days I’m just under 500. While others I can’t write at all. Time has come for me to turbocharge my writing habit! In order to do that, I must give myself a deadline.

Most people hate deadlines. They have a tendency to put undo pressure on people, causing them to rush the quality of a project. Some people feel anxiety when faced with a deadline. Deadlines can be too rigid which prevents working minds from being open to surprises. But some folks thrive with deadlines. They can help tackle procrastination, force you to set and focus on goals, or strengthen your resolve with future projects when you’ve stuck to a deadline.

This is why I have decided to give myself a deadline. As you may remember from past posts, how I pitched three literary agents who want to read my manuscript. The literary industry usually will not provide deadlines because one: agents read so many manuscripts and don’t have the time to jump right to yours, and two: agents want to give a writer all the time in the world to submit a well-polished manuscript. But you don’t want to take forever to submit a manuscript. You want that manuscript in their hands in a timely fashion even thought there is no timeline, which there generally isn’t. I want to build up my speed so I can get manuscripts into the hands of agents in a timely fashion on a regular basis.

Now what kind of deadline have I given myself? Let’s take a look at the numbers. I have 65,000 words left in my manuscript. In keeping with my 500 words a day, this should take 130 days to complete a first draft. 130 days shakes out to about 4.5 months. Since I’m feeling really generous, lets call it 5 months. From the time of this posting, that brings us to April as the month I will try to finish the first draft of my Afro-fantasy manuscript. It’s a tall order, but I will try my damnedest to accomplish it.

Words have power. My declaration has been put into words and sent out into the universe. The dream has been given life. It is now a real concrete goal. Doing this is an act of courage for me. Hopefully, I’m able to rise to this challenge.

What if I don’t complete the manuscript in 5 months? Then I will pick myself up, dust myself off and set a new deadline. What I won’t do is beat myself up for not reaching this goal. That serves nothing but to set me back and break me down mentally. I don’t need that headache. This is a learning experience that I hope will build up my writing muscles, preparing me for the next project and the one after that and the one after that.



On this writer’s journey of mine, I have set many goals for myself. One was to write for 21 days in a row in order to make that happen. Another was to finish a piece of prose that was longer than 15 pages long. I had never written prose that was over 15 pages (typed, double spaced). Years ago, I wrote a 30 page sci-fi action screenplay. That was the longest thing I’d ever written, but as far as prose went, I’d never come close to that. But now I have exceeded that in spades.

Back in January, you loyal readers may remember, I completed the first draft of a sci-fi action novella that is now in revision. I say ‘completed’ because I’d never gotten past the first draft phase before for something so long. Currently, the story tops out at 21,517 words. That comes out to about 71 pages! It was the most I’ve ever written. I started it in August of 2016 while staying at an ashram in upstate New York. I’m quite proud of not just what I wrote but reaching the milestone of finishing a first draft of a longer form piece.

Now we come to today. As some of you may already know, I am in the process of writing a 90,000 word Afro-Fantasy novel. Three potential agents were promised 90,000 words and that’s what I’m going to give them. With the full intention of keeping this promise, I can only hope that they find the vast majority of those 90,000 words of great quality. One great thing about undertaking the task, is that I have reached a milestone by breaking the 22,000 word mark. This is truly a momentous occasion that fills me with a small measure of pride. But I must remember that this is just one step in my Writer’s Life. For one, are they quality 22,000 words? That remains to be seen. And second, I still have 68,000 words to go! Can’t forget that little tidbit, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

I considered doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I needed to start this Sword and Soul novel back in late June for pitching purposes. Also, I know it’s probably and excuse, but I just didn’t have the time to dedicate to NaNoWriMo. Hopefully, I will next year. No promises on that yet. Let’s see if I can now make it to 50,000 words, the minimum for NaNoWriMo, to determine if I have what it takes to do it next year.

In the meantime, I will briefly celebrate my 22,000 word achievement by outlining some more and try to write 500 words today. Remember, when it comes to writing, Work is its own reward.

Safe Spaces: Part Deux


I’ve been trying to write in the local public libraries around my job because they stay open late, but the public-ness of the library has been causing problems for me as of late. Please do not misconstrue this post. It may come off as humorous or mean-spirited. That is not my intention. What is intended me giving voice to my frustrations about the homeless situation in NYC getting worse and the problem spilling over into the NY Public Library system. It’s reached insanity levels.

The Mid-Manhattan Library was my haunt for a few years now. I love nothing better than to sit down, plug in and write away the hours. There was enough space between me and the homeless that I could sit down wind and tolerate their presence. While I typed, the random homeless person would sit quietly reading a book or magazine that interested them or maybe slept quietly. But as time went on, I noticed a disturbing trend. More and more homeless had cellphones and the library became the place for them to come and recharge, taking up prime outlet access for a patron’s laptop. Now I understand that when you are homeless the cellphone is a literal lifeline to the family members you still connect with and to necessary social services and possible job or home opportunities. I get it! But all too often, the homeless person would just be on their watching their favorite tv show or movie (sometimes without headphones!) and reacting loudly to it, disturbing those around them. With the return of Gulf War vets, I have seen a rise in more angrier, self-talking homeless who are too far gone to abide by the rule of not talking loud in the library. And because of their menacing demeanor, have come to monopolize whole sections of a library.

The Mid-Manhattan branch was very old. It’s rickety elevator leaks oil. It did not have enough outlets to accommodate today ubiquitous laptop use. This branch is now closed for renovations that will take at least two years. So I had to find another library branch.

Enter the Grand Central Branch. It’s a bit more modern, but much smaller than the Mid-Manhattan. I like the cozy atmosphere. But just as I made the switch to the Grand Central Branch, so too did the homeless. Now we are all in a much smaller space, so the negative issues have been magnified tenfold.

Hogging up deskspace with torn bags stuffed with newspapers. Occupying chairs with dirty luggage filled with the totality of worldly possessions. The stench of unwashed bodies on all sides. The putrid smell of bare athlete’s foot. It all became so frustrating that I was overwhelmed to the point that I couldn’t concentrate to write.

As I stated in a previous post, I can’t seem to write at home. I can’t seem to shut out the distractions and I get too comfortable there.

But what could I do? I couldn’t go to a Starbuck’s because of limited outlets and limited table space. Going to Panera, was more of the same, but compounded by workers harassing you for your seat once you finished eating. I have no problem paying for food or coffee to stay in these establishments, it’s an effective way to keep the homeless away. But I want to save my cash.

So these days, I have resorted to writing in a small, but cozy out of the way meeting room at my job. It has a good size round table for three chairs, with AC outlets, and sound proofing. So far no one has said I can’t be there. A new refuge is born!

In the meanwhile, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means against the homeless or their right to spend time at the public library, but there comes a tipping point.

I believe there should be low income housing to house the homeless. Housing prices in big cities has gotten ridiculous while the rich continue to price everyone out. There should be safe shelters for the homeless to spend their nights. Along with adequate security, the homeless person should be determined not to be a violent menace. The shelter, where my wife and I have volunteered in the past, vets the homeless men and women before they are allowed to sleep there. There also needs to be a mental health component in helping the homeless, because so many of them suffer from mental health issues that range from PTSD, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Schizophrenia. Unfortunately, our American society deals with mental health by stigmatizing it and ignoring those afflicted. Don’t forget that many homeless people also suffer from addiction. So in dealing with homelessness there needs to be a substance recovery component as well.

Today, libraries have become the daytime sanctuary for the homeless, so much to the point that the library going experience has become quite negative, and that’s truly unfortunate. But while we try to better our society to alleviate homelessness, the homeless need to understand that the public library shouldn’t be treated as their daytime daycare center. We all need to share public spaces and respect each other.

Pitching at Conferences



I’m back boys and girls, ladies and gents! What kept me away? Well, it was a bit of good news. I have three literary agents interested in my work. Cool beans! I’m so excited. That’s what’s been eating up my time, preventing me from posting. But I promise to make this blog a weekly event. There is so much to share.

How did I get these agents interested? I attended a writers conference is how. Agents, editors and publishers frequent writers conferences all over the country in search of that fresh new voice. Believe it when I tell you that they are actually desperate. Sure we’re getting rejected constantly by them, but that hasn’t curbed their enthusiasm for more new writers. And we must meet this demand by going to writers conferences and pitching to them.

From August 17-20th, I attended the 2017 Writer’s Digest Writers Conference, with one of my Climbing Ivies of Blackrock partners, Justine. This was the second year in a row that I attended. I’ll write about some of the workshops at this conference in a future post. But what’s so special about this conference is that it has a Pitch Slam where aspiring writers can pitch their book ideas to a plethora of literary agents in speed dating style fashion. Last year, when I attended this conference, I did not participate in the Pitch Slam. With no manuscript to pitch, I was too scared to create one to pitch. But this year, though I was still scared, I had a story idea I felt worthy of pitching to the agents in attendance and decided to suck it up.

How did I prepare? I studied and crammed like I was back in school preparing for a test. That’s what part of your pitch is you know — a test to see how much you are familiar with your own story. The more you know your story inside and out, the more you are able to break it down to its component parts, the better you will be able to relate that story to agents and make them feel engaged in your subject matter.

For two weeks, I distilled my story down to two paragraphs. When starting a novel, you should have a one or two paragraph synopsis that you know well enough. You should also have a two sentence log line that you should be able to rattle off with ease. From these two concepts you chisel out your pitch.

One of the rules of the Pitch Slam was that each writer was given three minutes per agent. We were given an hour to try and meet as many agents as possible. I was able to see only three agents because most agents didn’t pay attention to the three minute limit if they were positively engaged with a writer. While waiting for one particular agent I was burned by this. On the flip side, I was aided twice by being able to spend well over three minutes with two different agents.

Knowing I had in theory only three minutes to spend with an agent, I managed to get my pitch down to 40 seconds allowing more that enough time for the agent to ask me questions. For a week and a half, I practiced that pitch over and over. I enlisted my wife to randomly ask for my pitch at odd hours and in odd places. One time she asked me right before I went to bed. Another time she asked me from the shower. My co-workers also took part in listening and indiscriminately requesting my pitch. It was most helpful and I greatly appreciated their support.

The day had finally come. The Pitch Slam was on Day 3, which was a Saturday. I scheduled my pitch session for 2pm-3pm. This was the session that took place after lunch. I chose this hour because of something I heard on a podcast once (I think it was Freakanomics Radio or Radiolab, I can’t remember). The gist of it was that the best time to get paroled if your a convict was after lunch. The reason being is that the parole board has had their lunch by 2pm and are well fed and satisfied. You don’t want to be paroled just before lunch because the parole board might be hungry and antsy and take it out on the poor convict who just wants to be released from prison. During my pitch session, the agents looked well fed and not hangry. My critique partner, Justine, had the session before lunch, but she suffered no adverse reactions from the agents; successfully scoring callbacks from 4 out of 5 of them.

What was great for me was that I was able to pick Justine’s brains on what to expect from the Pitch Slam before I went in. Thankfully, she warned me about one agent who was stone-faced throughout the entire process. It just so happened that agent was my number one get!

Now if you’re going to attend one of these pitch slams, you must obtain the list of agents who will be attending beforehand. Study that list. Find out what type of work they are looking for and compile a list of agents who are appropriate for your genre. Then take that list and pick a top three. Go to those agents first. You don’t have time to mess around. I debated if I should’ve gone to a random agent in order to get rid of my nerves, which were off the charts. I couldn’t stop sweating. But I saw the amount of writers in attendance inside that massive meeting room and knew I didn’t have time to waste.

With your featured agents at the top of the list, go to your top agent first. I did this because I needed to rip the bandage off and get it over with. If I failed, I failed. At least I would know where I stood. Justine was right. This agent, who I’ll call Q, was ridiculously stone-faced. Q was not playing around. Q refused to have any sort of expression. I’m sure Q’s heard it all before and was probably a little jaded, so Q didn’t want to give writers any wrong messages or high hopes. Q heard my pitch and true enough I couldn’t read Q’s reaction. Q requested I go into more detail about the amount of magic that was in my story. This almost threw me because I just assumed that if I say my story is a ‘fantasy’ the magic was simply inferred. No. I needed to be clear. That’s on me. And you should be ready to clarify anything and everything in your pitch at a moments notice.

Then Q asked for comps or comparables or comparison titles. Comps are stories  or titles that are similar to your story. You know, the old “it’s Harry Potter meets Dirty Harry” or “Julia Child meets Rain Man” or “Lord of the Rings meets Pacific Rim”. That’s what comps are. Now I know that you hate the idea of your story being compared to anything else. Your story is a unique little flower. Trust me, I get it. But the deal is this, agents want to sell your story to a publisher and to do that the publisher and agent need to know what the market is for your story. The easiest way to do that is to understand what your story is like in relation to what has successfully sold before. The night before the Pitch Slam, I crammed online looking for writers and stories that were similar to my afro-fantasy novel. I found Charles R. Saunders, who is the father of Sword and Soul, an ethnic version of Sword and Sorcery or Sword and Sandal. My story is more medieval though, with Saunders’ work being more tribal and Hyborian Age-like. So I found that 2015 Man Booker Prize Winner, Marlon James, was coming out with a black medieval fantasy trilogy in 2018 called the Dark Star Trilogy. I used them as examples. But Q asked what writer who was currently out now did my story compare to. Luckily, I name checked Nnendi Okorafor for her mystical fantasy style. Q seemed to like that.

Satisfied with these answers Q started to slide their business card across the table to me as Q asked if I had a full manuscript. I told Q I did. It’s nowhere near ready in reality. I told Q it was in revision. But terrified that Q would pull the business card back, I blurted out that the first two chapters were ready to go. Q continued to push the card forward and said to make contact when the full manuscript was ready for me to send.

Taking Q’s card, I was still raw nerves. I managed to thank Q but forgot to shake Q’s hand. We were done with 30 seconds to spare. Success! And on my first try!

Here is something else you need to understand when pitching an agent. Always remember, you don’t want to give the agent any of your work at that moment. They don’t want to carry around your work at that moment either. You don’t give them anything except your pitch. What you do want is to get the agent to give you their information/business card. That’s how it’s done. That’s how you know your pitch was successful.

The other two agents were much smoother sailing going forward. There was P, my other big get, who immediately introduced themselves to me. We even bonded over what borough we had in common. P’s demeanor was very disarming, which helped me calm down big time. P was glad to hear that my work had a protagonist of color in a world of color. P was also very enthusiastic and said, “Your story idea is great, now I need to see that in the writing.” P didn’t want the full manuscript. P only wanted the first 50 pages. He said that he would be able to see if I had “it” or not in those first 50 pages.

Finally there was C. C was icing on the cake because Justine suggested I go to her if I had time. I did have more time so I went. Good thing I did. C was very attentive, supportive and friendly. C liked what I had to say and asked really good questions about my world-building and how ethnicity played into it. She too was glad to see a world of POC. Like Q, C wanted full manuscript though.

I tried to get a fourth agent but ran out of time. Justine and I were so happy that we called the conference a success and didn’t attend any other workshops after that. We achieved what we came to do.

Now in the aftermath of the Pitch Slam, I have once again re-dedicated myself to writing and completing this novel. Everyday after work, I have spent at least two hours at the library to work on my story. Lately, I’ve faced resistance when I try to write at home, because there I get lazy after eating dinner and try to catch up on peak television. So by working at the library, I delay my gratification by putting my time. It would be awesome if I could log 1000 words a day, but that hasn’t happened yet; the most so far has been 800 words. But I am satisfied if I can write 500 words a session. For a novice like me, that is a good pace. I now use a calendar to log in my daily word count. I’ve been averaging between 350-600 words a session. The key, as I have stated in earlier posts, is putting my butt in the seat for an extended period of time. One writer called it TIC or Tush In Chair. If you dedicate yourself to doing that, instead of waiting around for inspiration, the words will come.


Where do you get your inspiration to write stories? You can find inspiration everywhere and in everything. Often, I get inspiration from quotes by either real or fictional people. The news gives me tons of inspiration. Movies and books also provide me a plethora of new story ideas. No, I’m not ripping them off with fanfic! It’s more like “how could I’ve made that better”. Or “that side character was interesting, how can I expand on her?”

But what if you’re stuck? What if you are mired in soul-crushing writer’s block? Perish the thought! I read a great article on called 5 Gaming Tools to Help Your WritingThe author of the article, Michael F. Haspil, gives insight into how some tabletop games can help you when your stuck. I took his advice and purchased 4 of the 5 games on the list, not because I’m getting blocked that much, but because I found these games and tools to be really fun and cool.


DIXIT from Asmodee:  This storytelling card game has 3-6 players drawing cards that have abstract art on each one. In the game, players take turns each round being the Storyteller. Their job is to draw a card and verbally somehow describe the image on the card. The pictures on the cards are difficult to define thematically and that’s the point! You say what you think you see; sort of a well-crafted Rorschach inkblot test. There are no wrong descriptions by the Storyteller. The card is then mixed up with cards pulled by the other players, then they are placed on the board. The other players try to guess which card the Storyteller described. Points to the Storyteller and the players with the correct guesses. This is how the game is played. But how does this game help with writing through block?

Following the story prompting purposes, suggested by Haspil, I took seven of the beautifully illustrated cards and laid them out to see what story they might tell.  Later, for a quick hit, I took just one card and tried to ascertain a theme from the singular image. From there I came up with a writing prompt and a log line. Maybe one day I’ll write the entire story.

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Rory’s Story Cubes from Gamewright: This isn’t a game. Story Cubes are nine dice with images on each side. You can roll one die or up to all nine dice, then line them up and check out the images to see what story they tell. Quite similar to Dixit.

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StoryForge by B.J. West: Also not a game. It’s a deck of cards created by West, a writer, filmmaker and graphic artist, for the sole purpose of generating story ideas and busting through writer’s block. Each card has a concept or theme on the top of it and if you flip the card upside down there is the opposite concept. Deal the card out in particular “spreads”, ala tarot cards, in order to create characters, plots, or story direction.

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FATE DiceThis is a set of 12 dice that are used with the Fate role-playing system. These are typical six-sided dice, but instead of pips they have ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ signs on them. Two sides have nothing at all. In the game, Fate, skills and attributes are assigned a number. When attempting to use a skill or attribute the player must roll four of the Fate dice. The pluses and minuses are tallied determining your score. Positive numbers mean success while negative numbers mean failure. Great for freeform RPGs.

When using the Fate dice as a writer, there’s no need to assign outcomes a number. Just roll the four dice. The more pluses in a roll mean success, more minuses mean failure. Roll them when you don’t know how your character should react to a plot point or to mix things up when your plot is moving too much in a stereotypical direction. This’ll make things interesting. Haspil calls these moments, Gary Stu, moments. The products the article suggests get the thumbs-up from me. Below are products that I already have that aid me with inspiration.

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Funny thing is I’ve been using role-playing games to help in my creativity for years going back to the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons & Dragons. I used to make up silly little stories based on characters I’d randomly generated from the rulebooks. The Player’s Handbook is perfect for this. Even today, I scour the handbook for spells and skills, picking one or two from the list that stand out to me or I’ll take a 20-sided (die) and generate at random.

Two other RPGs I like to use, are The Doctor Who Role-playing Game (both Cubicle Seven and Fasa editions. Fasa edition shown) and DC Heroes Role Playing Game. The Doctor Who RPG is great for creating planets and aliens. I recently used the alien creation chart to randomly create some strange lifeforms for the novella I’m currently revising. The randomness I generated was so crazy and weird that I had to tweak the creatures into a real-world animal variant, which made them quite intriguing. Meanwhile, the planet generator was used to create the planet which my novella is set. There’s also a Time Travel sourcebook that is indispensable when writing that wacky time travel story you’ve been holding out on. This guide gives you some points to ponder so your time travel set up doesn’t come off as ridiculous or write yourself into a paradox.

DC Heroes, my other RPG resource, is great for creating superheroes or heroic-like characters based on your favorite DC Comics characters. It’s also helpful in choosing a kick-ass superpower or an awesome skill for your story’s protagonist and understanding how these would work in your tale. Writers can just roll a die, pick a power and give it to your main character. Better yet give it to your villain!

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One final product I have is not a game. Not so much a card system, like the previous products I mentioned, but it’s more like a writer’s resource tool kit as the box proclaims. It’s called The Observation Deck. What’s so cool about it is that it not only inspires you with ingenious ideas on each card intended to jostle your brain and get you thinking differently, but it also comes with a book that works in conjunction with each card, offering practical advice and strategies designed to help you break through writer’s block. One card I pulled recently said “Listen”. What did it mean by that? The strategy book’s take on the card was to stop what I was doing, close my eyes, and just sit and listen for ten minutes. We are surrounded by sounds, so just take them in. Identify these sounds. You should become relaxed and focused. And then just write what you are experiencing. I did this at the library in which I experienced silence (Duh!), the clacking of keyboards, and the rumbling of my hungry stomach. For the story I’m outlining, I thought about having a scene where my protagonist experiences hunger.

At some point in time we will all experience writer’s block in one form or another. Everyone has their own ways to tackle this troublesome foe. You may not need or feel comfortable using games and cards to get you through. That’s okay. Do what works for you. The above products are just a few fun ways to break out of block and possibly achieve our writing goals.