Character Development Questions: Hard Mode - Lucas

This is for a story I've had kicking around in my head for a while. I'm trying to flesh out the two (out of three) main characters I feel I don't know as well. In an attempt to push the project forward. So, I introduce to you Lucas, at the beginning of my as yet untitled story.


1. Does your character have siblings or family members in their age group? which one are they closest with?

Lucas has four younger siblings, as two sisters younger than him by two (Maria) and four (Julia) years, than a younger brother (six years younger, Martín), and finally another sister (eight years younger, Ema). He’s was close with Maria until they hit seven and five, when Maria started getting closer to Julia. Now, in the family, Lucas is closest with his eldest cousin, Alonso, but it’s not very close.

2. What is/was your character’s relationship with their mother like?

A bit distant. Lucas feels ignored by her and actively discouraged from having a good relationship with her by his father.

3. What is/was your character’s relationship with their father like?

Resentful. Lucas isn’t entirely aware of his resentment yet, but he’s been passively resisting his father for years. As much as he feels he can without making his or his siblings’ life awful. 

4. Has your character ever witnessed something that fundamentally changed them? If so, does anyone else know?

Yes, his full initiation into his fraternity beginning of sophomore year. It’s... not a good memory. His frat brothers, obviously, knew and now Eric and Pria know something happened, even if he hasn’t shared the details.

5. On an average day, what can be found in your character’s pockets?

His pockets have his cellphone, wallet, his student id (usually floating loose from the wallet), a couple coins, and a pencil nub. His backpack is more interesting: laptop, notepad, notebook, pens, pencils, highlighters, crumpled flashcards, a couple crumbled bills (anywhere from 1$ to 10$ bills), wall plugs and charging cables for his phone, an external battery, rolled ace bandage, jock strap, and an ankle splint.

6. Does your character have recurring themes in their dreams?

Not particularly. The closest would be once or twice a month dreaming about running of some variety. Sometimes on two legs, sometimes as a wolf on four.

7. Does your character have recurring themes in their nightmares?

Yes. The smell and taste of blood. Running.

8. Has your character ever fired a gun? If so, what was their first target?

No.

9. Is your character’s current socioeconomic status different than it was when they were growing up?

No, Lucas grew up lower-middle to middle-middle class and he’s at college as a semi-broke student. This isn’t all that different on a day-to-day basis than high school.

10. Does your character feel more comfortable with more clothing, or with less clothing?

More clothing. Not layers and layers, but fully dressed.

11. In what situation was your character the most afraid they’ve ever been?

Two instances: 1) his full initiation to his fraternity and 2) last night when Eric came by the frat house.

12. In what situation was your character the most calm they’ve ever been?

Arriving at college. Once everything was unloaded into his dorm room and his Papa said goodbye, Lucas just went... peaceful for a few minutes. And then he went to dinner with his new roommate and tried to make friends.

13. Is your character bothered by the sight of blood? If so, in what way?

Yes. It’s an unpleasant reminder of... last night.

14. Does your character remember names or faces easier?

Both/neither? Lucas has a good memory for faces but he always has a name associated with the face.

15. Is your character preoccupied with money or material possession? Why or why not?

No, because he hasn’t had to worry about it much. Also, being preoccupied with money or material possessions is closely connected with being preoccupied with status (to him), and Lucas is avoiding being like his Papa that way (not a conscious choice. yet.) If you asked him, he’d say he wants to maintain the same lifestyle he grew up with, but he doesn’t have a concrete career or goal in mind to do that.

16. Which does your character idealize most: happiness or success?

Happiness.

17. What was your character’s favorite toy as a child?

His stuffed octopus. Until Papa substituted in a football. He didn’t really have a favorite after that. 

18. Is your character more likely to admire wisdom, or ambition in others?

Wisdom. He feels he’s lacking that.

19. What is your character’s biggest relationship flaw? Has this flaw destroyed relationships for them before?

Lucas is insecure. He’s grown up with a particular image of how he’s supposed to be around girls / women (macho) and that doesn’t come naturally to him. So, when he tries to fake it, he worries everyone can tell he’s faking. When he doesn’t fake it, he worries that people think he’s not a man. He thinks he’s supposed to want to get with every woman and perform with single one of them who’s willing. 

It’s sabotaged things from ever getting started for him.

20. In what ways does your character compare themselves to others? Do they do this for the sake of self-validation, or self-criticism?

Lucas compares himself to how other guys (particularly guys in his frat) act around women and it’s totally for self-criticism. He’s half disgusted (okay, mostly disgusted), half ‘damn it, how do I act that confident / macho.’

21. If something tragic or negative happens to your character, do they believe they may have caused or deserved it, or are they quick to blame others?

Oh, definitely with the self-blame and thinking he deserved it.

22. What does your character like in other people?

Confidence. Being kind. Reaching out and helping others. The ability to have deep discussions on various topics and the ability to sit back and listen.

23. What does your character dislike in other people?

Arrogance. Anger. Being a bully. Trying to win every conversation.

24. How quick is your character to trust someone else?

Slow. He’s not sure he’s every trusted someone completely, and now he has more to loose.

25. How quick is your character to suspect someone else? Does this change if they are close with that person?

Also slow. But it doesn’t really change if he’s close with that person. Actually, it might be faster — since he’s close, he has more opportunities to see behaviors that would make him suspicious.

26. How does your character behave around children?

Responsible. Where’s their parent(s) and do I need to watch out for this child until they get here. Keep in mind, Lucas is only 19ish, so ‘children’ is pretty much anyone younger than seven.

27. How does your character normally deal with confrontation?

Avoidance. Go quiet, withdraw, say what you need to or nod to get the other person to drop it.

28. How quick or slow is your character to resort to physical violence in a confrontation?

Very slow. He avoids, avoids, avoids, until physical violence is already on the table / happening. In which case he’ll try to back-up the person he thinks is in the right and run away if the violence is only directed at him.

29. What did your character dream of being or doing as a child? Did that dream come true?

Lucas isn’t sure anymore what he wanted to do/be as a child. Papa has had him working towards college and a financial Wall Street job since he started school.

30. What does your character find repulsive or disgusting?

The smell of rotting flowers. Dead fish.

31. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most comfortable.

Snuggling with Pria or Eric on the couch, watching a movie, when they’re the only one’s in the house.

32. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most uncomfortable.

Scenario 1: Verbal fights or confrontations. 
Scenario 2: Being naked and about to start having sex. He’d like to get over that.

33. In the face of criticism, is your character defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?

Well, criticism feels like a confrontation, so Lucas is avoidant and self-deprecating in order to placate the person giving the criticism.

34. Is your character more likely to keep trying a solution/method that didn’t work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution/method?

Depends on the problem to be solved, but if he’s the one to notice it didn’t work and if it is possible, he’d like to immediately try the solution/method a second time to understand what he did wrong.

35. How does your character behave around people they like?

Relaxed and a bit tactile. He’d like to have some part of body in contact with someone, not necessarily skin-to-skin, although if he’s really comfortable skin-to-skin is really nice. Otherwise, he’d like the pressure to reassure his hindbrain they’re there. He’s not consciously aware of any of this. And is a bit touch starved.

36. How does your character behave around people they dislike?

Withdrawn. If at all possible, he’d like to leave or ignore them.

37. Is your character more concerned with defending their honor, or protecting their status?

Honor, if you define honor as integrity and acting ethically.

38. Is your character more likely to remove a problem/threat, or remove themselves from a problem/threat?

Remove himself.

39. Has your character ever been bitten by an animal? How were they affected (or unaffected)?

Not something he’s experienced.

40. How does your character treat people in service jobs?

As kind and briskly as possible. They don’t get paid enough to deal with what they deal with (he knows, he’s worked service jobs in high school) and if he can get the heck out of their way, their day with not suck just a little bit more.

41. Does your character feel that they deserve to have what they want, whether it be material or abstract, or do they feel they must earn it first?

That would involve knowing what he wants. But if you ask him about it abstractly, he’d tell you he has to earn it.

42. Has your character ever had a parental figure who was not related to them?

God no, Papa would have put up with that.

43. Has your character ever had a dependent figure who was not related to them?

No, not yet.

44. How easy or difficult is it for your character to say “I love you?” Can they say it without meaning it?

Difficult. He hasn’t been in a situation where he’s really needed to say it without — he’s not entirely comfortable saying it to his parents, but they’re not the demonstrative kind. He’s comfortable saying it to his siblings. And he hasn’t been in a relationship long enough that it’s come up.

45. What does your character believe will happen to them after they die? Does this belief scare them?

Lucas is culturally Catholic and is now pretty sure he’s going to Hell when he dies. And yes, this scares the crap out of him, but he’s really not sure what else would have been the right thing to do.

Gaming and Failed Character Arcs

We recently wrapped up our Monsters and Other Childish Things campaign over on Technical Difficulties, and I've been ruminating on my character(s) from the campaign. 

I like the initial concept I started with — a girl and her blink puppy — but that's about where the character stayed over 15 game sessions, at an initial concept. I am a reactive player. I typically have a sense of where my character is and who they are at start of play, then further define them and how they change in reaction to what's happening in game. Instead of having an idea of what they want and proactively making it happen in game. I can, and have, had interesting, fun characters with well-developed story arcs with this method. But I don't consider it a great way to go about these things — more of a bad habit I have yet to learn to recognize the early signs of and break out of.

For me in the Monsters and Other Childish Things campaign, my problem was that it became mostly combat focused. 

In a separate (currently on going) campaign, in the Better Angels system, this is really biting me in the butt character-wise. Character progression in this system happens through 'sin' and I'm not naturally choosing sin as a reactive move. Honestly this is helping  me a lot — since it's built into the system so deeply I've noticed the problem earlier and have a reward mechanism already in place for trying to break out of this habit.

I honestly think the solution is all on me. I need to do some planning before game night. I need to sit down and think through what my character wants and their plan to get it. Or what I as a player want to see happen and come up with ideas on how to make it happen. I need to preplan some ideas for scenes.

I suppose I could do this right after sessions while the story/plot/events are all still fresh in my mind, but I'm usually emotionally wiped at the end of a gaming session. A good one anyway. 

Into the Black — Character creation

Partner is going to be running an Eclipse Phase campaign... sometime. I don't think anyone is entirely sure when we're going to get anything on the schedule. But anyways, the campaign is titled Into the Black and I know it's going to start on Extropia. 

Fucking Extropia. I have a fairly visceral reaction to the libertarian paradise of the EP universe. 

Maybe it's the microtorts — nuisance law suits (essentially) for anti-social behavior (like... jaywalking or jostling someone in the market place) put into the system by individuals. Essentially Extropia's method of social shaming/enforcement of baseline societal norms in a society that worships the individual and the only recognized tie between people are contracts. Fucking microtorts.

Maybe it's the "Slavery is legal, as long as they signed the contract." 1) Slavery. 2) I see nothing in the description of Extropia to balance the accumulation of power business will yield, so I don't see how a contract between people in Extropia is between equals. If you don't have the skills to work through the legal precedent of Extropian contract law yourself OR money to hire someone to do it for you, you are going to be screwed over. Extropia, to me, reads as an entire legal and social system that explicitly denies any help for the least among us. And that is what I judge a society on, how it aspires to and how it actually does treat the most vulnerable members of its society. Extropia, is not the habitat for me.

I should probably play an Extropian character one day. It'd be a good exercise in stretching my role-playing abilities.

But this campaign is not that day. I'm going to be playing an Argonaut data analyst — area of specialty to be decided as I build my character over the course of this blog post. I am using the Singularity character generator put out by Post Human Studios for the point build method. Because that's the default and I'm a masochist apparently. 

I always start out with Aptitudes (or the local rpg system equivalent). Laying in the baseline fundamentals of strengths and weaknesses is just how my brain works. In this case, I want to build a character who lives a life of the mind. To that end, I know I want high COG (cognition: problem solving, logical analysis, understanding, memory, and recall) and WIL (will-power: self-control, your ability to command your own destiny). I also want good INT (intuition: skill at following your gut instincts and evaluating on the fly, including physical awareness, cleverness, and cunning) as well as SAV (savy: mental adaptability, social intuition, and proficiency for interacting with others, including social awareness and manipulation). That's going to leave the physical aptitudes (coordination, reflexes, and somatics) hurting, but that's the choice I've already made by choosing a life of the mind.

COG: 25
COO: 10
INT: 15
REF: 15
SAV: 15
SOM: 10
WIL: 20

Then traits, because I like those, they're my thing in RPG systems. Ego traits (things that will follow my character from body to body): Fast Learner, Hyper Linguist, Information Control, Math Whiz. Essentially a nerd who does complex math in her head fast, who learns quickly, and picks up languages rapidly. A nerd who moves through life leaving a light touch on the information networks on purpose. This time I didn't feel like taking any negative Ego traits, partially because at this point I still had what felt like a surfeit of points to spend. 

Add in a couple traits dependent on my morph: Mild allergy (pollen) and Innocuous (looks a lot like everyone else). So unless I'm sneezing walking through a hydroponic garden, you're probably going to loose me in a crowd.

Next, I'm thinking about who she's connected to (and yes, this character defaulted to female):

@-rep (anarachists, Barsoomians, Extropians, scum, Titantians, etc.): 40
c-rep (hypercorps, Jovian Republic, Lunar-Lagrange Alliance, etc.): 20
i-rep (Firewall): 40
r-rep (Research Network Alliance [scientists]): 50

I threw in the c-rep because I figured that while she doesn't like the hypercorps of the old economy, they do have money to throw at basic research, so she's done some work for them. Have to slip into enemy territory to acquire knowledge sometimes.

The skill list is long, so I'm only going to touch on some highlights. Like Partner wincing at my low (30%) skill with kinetic weapons. The highest rated skill I took is in a Profession, namely data analysis, which makes sense since that's how I've been describing her, as a data analyst. After that are a bunch of Academic skills, a few points tossed into an Art: Code skill, and lots of points into Infosec (hacking), Interface (using computers), Research, and Investigation. 

I know things. And if I don't know it, I know how to find it. If I can't find it, I know who to ask.

And I've got the tools to back me up on that.

Dirty World Characters

So I've got a plot which gives me a list of NPCs and locations to build, along with figuring out which clues show up where. But honestly I rather work on characters first.

I've already got the basic idea for everyone: cops in the burglary unit of the Baltimore PD plus someone on ride along, if I need a third character. Just have to decide if that third character is a journalist (in which case I get diversity of job descriptions/skill sets AND the added complication of them having no actual arresting powers plus the ability to screw up the evidence chain) OR an investigator from the Department of Justice (similar skill set as my cops, different resources, completely different aims, intra-party tension of 'this guy's out to get us,' less likelihood of them accessing up evidence).

Either way on the third character, I think I've got everybody's secrets. Which has really been the starting point for everyone coming alive for me. I suppose I could have started with professions, but that seemed like a fairly mechanical approach to coming up with them, and just not how it worked for me this time.

So, secrets. They come in three levels in A Dirty World: Minor, Serious, and Horrendous. Minor's are the default and embarrassing if they get out; no additional points to build your character. Serious gets you one more point and would "really changes your life if it's widely known, and not in a good way." Horrendous secrets wreck your life if they get out — disgraced and ostracized is the good outcome for a horrendous secret, jailed or dead seems more likely. Which is why you get 3 more points for a horrendous secret. So, let's look at what I've come up with. 

Secret the First
'You're a coward. Oh, not of the physical stuff. You did your year in Vietnam and came home more or less whole. There's been enough rough stuff on the streets since then that you're sure you can face any sort of physical threat.  No, it's the emotional and social stuff that you're a coward about. God you wish you had a quarter of the courage these kids on the force show these days, never apologizing for their personal lives, never hiding who they are.  Maybe if you did you'd have had the courage to divorce your wife back when the two of you started to go bad. Maybe if you did you'd have been able to stand up to her for your daughter, who's a hell of a lot happier now than she ever was as your son.'

This seems like a minor secret to me. We've got what, shame over not living up to his self-conception of who he should be, unhappiness in a marriage, possible bi- or homosexuality, and a trans kid. And most of the focus in the writing here is the shame and self-flagellation over not living up to his ideal. Heck, I think I've left it open to player interpretation whether or not this guy's open about his kid being trans. Looks to me like he's got the pronouns down. If the secret was he was trans, I'd say yeah, it'd qualify as a Serious secret, due to the risk of violence trans folks face. But not as the parent of a trans kid.

Secret the Second
'You're a rat. A snitch. A traitor. At least that's what everyone you work with on a day-to-day basis would say if they knew you're Internal Affairs. You're a long-term embed in the burglary department, in here long enough that the head of the unit has been replaced and the new guy was never informed about your undercover role. You've never had to turn in or turn a blind eye to your partner, thank God. But several dirty cops, both inside the department and in other units, have been brought down by your patient insider knowledge. You just don't think the civvies should have to fear their protectors. Or good cops should be tainted by association. Too bad even the good ones would see your career as a betrayal.'

This one is a Serious secret I think. Word gets out, this cop faces ostracism, violence from angry co-workers, and a major turn in their career (no more undercover work inside the police department). The examples of a Horrendous secret consist of "cannibalism, murder, or betraying your country during wartime." This just doesn't rise to that level to me. So, Serious it is. 

'Dad always did say you were blessed with too much imagination. You're a coward. The idea of a fight scares the heck out of you. Just thinking about the possible consequences makes you sick to your stomach and your skin prickle. That's why you made sure your career has stayed as far from the rough stuff as possible. You want to protect and serve as much as the guys walking the beat, you just know you've got to work with YOUR strengths: people and paperwork.'

This last one would require some rewording if I go with the journalist. Also, I'm not too happy with it in general. On the one hand, it works as a nice parallel to the first secret. On the other, it feels like all these secrets are of one particular type: hiding how you don't fit the face you present to the world.

um. That's kind of the definition of a secret, isn't it? Gah. Let me try again. They're all about, in one way or another, hiding how you are, not something you've done

Either way, this one would also qualify as a Minor secret, keeping in parallel with the first one I wrote up.

So, that's the secrets. For professions, I'll make the cop a Defender (let's him slide abilities between Courage and Endurance), the IA cop a Detective (Selfishness and Observation), and the journalist/DOJ investigator (I really need to pick one.... DOJ it is) an Academic, so they'll be able to slide abilities between Generosity and Demonstration. And, in order, let's name them Michael, Kendra, and James.

NPCs, locations, and clues write up next week. Meanwhile, if anyone's got a better idea for DOJ James's secret, please, lay it on me. That third one is the weakest of the lot and I'd love to give a player more to work with for that character.

Dani & Jak-Jak : the second draft

Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. That booger-faced doodie-head boy from three rows back had thrown a blob of gum at her again. It was still stuck, tangled up tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and Liz was two whole years younger. Sighing, started pulling it out, trying to leave as much of her hair in the ponytail as she could. She was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. Got the gum out through.

Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, off the side with the empty planter that Mom kept promising to fill ‘next weekend.’ Then, Dani fished her key out of her backpack, scooped up the box, unlocked the door, and headed inside.

Looked like Aunt Fran (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. If so, it was a week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January.

Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Daddy weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, that she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway. It was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, it'd be lima beans. Maybe it was how Mom made them, but that dry, gritty texture was just gross. Daddy never made limas beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Daddy came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't even noticed yet. Stupid growth spurt.

Dani pulled the step-stool out of the broom closet, dragged it in front of the fridge, climbed up, and grabbed the squishy white bread from the bakery of breads on top the fridge. Nobody in the house particularly liked the squishy white bread, Daddy just kept it in the house for emergencies since it never seemed to go bad. So, nobody besides Dani was going to notice when she finished the loaf. Probably by the end of the week at this rate; Dani pulled a couple slices out of the bag and put the bag back in the basket.

Dani eyed the box where she'd put it on the counter as she dropped the bread in the toaster (set for just starting to brown — that'd take less time than how brown she really liked it. She was hungry.) Dani really wanted to know what was in that box. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Grabbing the slices out of the toaster and starting to nibble, Dani walked over to the counter and stared at the brown box again.

Aunt Fran had gone practical this time. Or maybe lazy. The Christmas boxes had drawings and Aunt Fran’s fancy writing all over them. This one was very plain. Huh. Dani counted at least three layers of tape on this thing. There was the Amazon branded tape, a layer of clear stuff half of some letters were trapped under, AND another layer on top of that. Aunt Fran had written in Mom & Daddy’s names and the address in black sharpie.

If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up, good as new.

Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Daddy let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good…

Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of Daddy’s messy craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Aunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the wall bench seat.That wasn’t as far up anymore. Soon it wasn’t going to be a climb at all... Dani shoved the overly puffy pillows Mom and Liz liked out of the way and sat down. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.

Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin. Dani had never wanted anything so much in her life.

Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Daddy wouldn't let her get one. And now Aunt Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.

Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Daddy’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything always felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.

Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Daddy’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place.

Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Daddy and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.

Dani stopped just inside her doorway. She stared, a little panicy. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed where she'd left him. And he hadn’t fallen onto the floor. Where could he have gone? Dani felt tears coming back into her eyes.

A deep, reverberating, oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her.

Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in-front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full grown mastiff. But still puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!

Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been.  This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into a bouncy puppy bow.

“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.


286 words added to the second draft: feels like a reasonable addition of description. I could (probably should) add even more, but it's time to let this one sit. Both to clear my mind for an honest assessment the next time I look at it and to maybe pop it up on Scribophile for more feedback.

I am proud though of putting in a little bit of more characterization by having Dani consistently use a more informal term for her father and a more formal term for her mother. It's the little things that make me pleased, when I remember to write them in.

Dani & Jak-Jak : Critique

One of the goals I had for writing the Dani & Jak-Jak vignette (or at least a goal I set once I started writing) was to keep the language to a 5th grader's voice. I tend to write like I speak, which means a 30-something reader's vocabulary and sentence structure. So long, clause heavy sentences broken up by the occasional sentence fragment and frequent subject elisions. Also, lots of interesting spelling — thank goodness for spell checker and internet dictionaries. They're not all the best writing habits, but I'm at least aware of my habits. 

So, an eleven year old. Every time I reached for an adjective, I tried to find a shorter, boarder version of the same concept. I decided to try for shorter, more declarative sentences. That... worked better the longer I wrote. That it happens with first drafts for me, I get further into (or plain-old find) the actual voice for the piece as I go. Second drafts are for making the voice consistent through out.

And then, after I finished the first draft, I asked Partner to read through it for spelling bloopers and whatnot. I'd already decided to do this post walking through the first draft and mentioned that. So... I got a critique from him instead. 


Commentary

(1)Long sentence and I'm having trouble picturing this. Laura here in red - I agree with this and need to break it up. Although I am totally keeping the 11 year old insults.
(2)Wants more transition. Yes
(3)Sentence fragment. I think that's a style thing and partially about how I hear Dani speaking, but I need to think about it more
(4)Was the house locked? How did she get in? What color is the porch? What does Dani think about it? Does Daddy keep it in good repair? Does Mommy care about the bushes? Yup, need to add more description here
(5)Fragment see (3)
(6)Why is this negative? How does Dani feel about lima beans?see (4)
(7)Evocative fragment. :D :D
(8)Go through the process of an 11 year old making toast. Where is the bread? Does she use a toaster or a toaster oven? Does she like butter or jam or both or neither? What color is the toast? What color is the butter? How does it taste?
(9)Describe the box. How does it loom in Dani's mind? Was it plain before? Does Aunt Fran use decorations? Or is she very practical? What does Dani remember about the Christmas presents you mentioned earlier? I should also contrast the box with the bag/present inside, especially if the box is very plain and the bag very decorated.
(10)Maybe - walk through Dani planning her naughty deed more. Where does Daddy keep the supplies?
(11)DESCRIBE MORE
(12)Is the bench high for her to climb up on? Does she remember it being difficult to climb into her spot? Is it a hard bench? How does she feel about sitting at this spot and doing her homework? Is the bench hard or padded?for 8-12: yeah, I definitely need to describe more
(13)Don't forget - BIG emotions.
(14)Great-aunt Fran's appelation has changed a few times. Was that on purpose? Does Dani keep forgetting the right thing to call her? Does she actually know her very well? Who's aunt is she? Mom's father's sister or Dad's mother's sister? Does Dani know or does she have trouble remembering?Yeah, I need to figure that out and make it much more consistant... Aunt Fran it is, with one digression to indicate that Aunt Fran is a great-aunt.
(15)Describe Liz, Tigger, and or the last time she stole the plushie from Dani's room. Yup, I need to do this.


(I think by this point poor Partner has given up on noting all the places I NEED MORE DESCRIPTION...)























Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors and pulled away from the curb. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack to settle again and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. (1)Halfway to the end of the block, the blob of gum that booger-faced doodie-head boy from three rows back had thrown at her finally pulled some of her hair out of her ponytail enough that she could start trying to pull the gum out. It was stuck, tangled up pretty tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and Liz she was two whole years (2)younger. Dani was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. (3)Got it out through.

(4)Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, then scooped up the box and headed inside. Looked like Aunt Francesca (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. (5)A week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January.

Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Dad weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, that she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway. Besides, it was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, (6)it'd be lima beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Dad came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't even noticed yet. (7)Stupid growth spurt.

(8)Dani eyed the box where she'd dropped it on the counter and nibbled on her toast. She really wanted to know what was in there. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Gulping down the last bite, Dani walked over to the counter and staredlooked over the (9)box again. Huh.

Huh.(10)If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up. The addresses wouldn't be damaged. And Aunt Fran had clearly taped it up other times before.

Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Dad let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good…

Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of (11)Dad’s craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Liz's presentAunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the (12)wall bench seat. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.

Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin. (13)Dani had never wanted anything so much in her life.

Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't even like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Dad wouldn't let her get one. And now (14)Aunty Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.

Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Dad’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything alwayswas felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… (15)Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.

Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Dad’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place.

Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Dad and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.

Dani stopped just inside her doorway,. She startedshocked and maybe a little panic-y. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed wherewhat she'd left him. And he hadn'thasn't fallen ontointo the floor. Where could he have gone? Dani felt tears coming back into her eyes.

A deep, reverberating, yet oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her.

Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in-front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full grown mastiff. But still obviously puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!

Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been. This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into a bouncy the universal puppy bow.

“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.


First, a big thank you to Partner — I love having someone who will critique my short-stories in house. Our conversations at every stage of writing so far have helped me improve my writing. Second, man, converting insertions and commentary from Google Docs to display on here is time-consuming. Writers: Google Docs work well for critiques and revisions (although only one at a time). The tool you want is to share a document and then your critiquer alters their editing mode (upper right corner of the tool bar) to 'Suggesting'. Or in the menu go to View -> Mode and select 'Suggesting'. So useful.

Third, yes, I still need to add all the description to my work. So that's something to keep working on. Or to retreat back to noir for a piece, let my ear drums heal from the cries of 'MORE DESCRIPTION!' You know, six of one, half dozen of the other. ;)

Dani & Jak-Jak

For anyone who's wondered what I sound like, Ross of Role Playing Public Radio has posted a panel I was on with him and Caleb back in August at Gen Con:

Red Markets is a game of economic horror that wrapped up on Kickstarter in June. Come listen to the creator answer questions about the book’s progress & tell us how your beta tests are going. Caleb and Ross recorded this panel at Gen Con 2016.

http://slangdesign.com/rppr/2016/09/panel-discussion/playing-red-markets-at-gen-con-2016/


Turns out creating characters for role-playing games are my writing prompts. So, first draft of a vignette, which if I've done this right, it doesn't matter which gaming system it's set in. So I'll hold off on saying which one until afterwards.

 

Danielle waved to the bus driver as he closed the school bus doors and pulled away from the curb. Squaring her shoulders, Dani shifted her backpack to settle again and started trudging down the sidewalk towards home. Halfway to the end of the block, the blob of gum that booger-faced doodie head from three rows back had thrown at her finally pulled some of her hair out of her ponytail enough that she could start trying to pull the gum out. It was stuck, tangled up pretty tight in her wavy red hair. It wasn't fair. Nobody bothered her on the bus when Liz was there too, and she was two whole years younger. Dani was focusing so much on the gum she almost tripped over the box on her front porch. Got it out through.  

Dani flicked the gum off into the bushes by the porch, then scooped up the box and headed inside. Looked like Aunt Francesca (well, great-aunt really) had reused an Amazon box again. It was probably Liz’s ninth birthday present. A week early this year. Last year, the Christmas presents hadn’t shown up until January. 

Dani locked the front door behind her, ditched her shoes and backpack by the door, and headed into the kitchen. Mom and Dad weren't home yet to tell her not to eat any toast, she'd wreck her appetite for dinner. Toast was better than dinner anyway, it was Mom’s night to cook — rubbery chicken and mushy veggies. If she was real unlucky, it'd be lima beans. Besides, Dani was really hungry. She'd been grabbing a snack after school, when Dad came home, AND eating all of dinner all week. Mom hadn't noticed yet. Stupid growth spurt.

Dani eyed the box where she'd dropped it on the counter and nibbled on her toast. She really wanted to know what was in there. Aunt Fran sent neat stuff. But she should really be a good girl. This was Liz’s present. Gulping down the last bite, Dani walked over to the counter and looked over the box again. Huh. 

If she got some packing tape, she could tape it back up. The addresses wouldn't be damaged. And Aunt Fran had clearly taped it up other times before.

Dani bit her lip. She should really be a good girl. Mom and Dad let her stay home instead of going to those stupid after-school activities. She really should be good… 

Dani grabbed the tape and a pair of scissors out of Dad’s craft table and ran back to the kitchen. Grabbing Aunt Fran's box, she moved everything to the kitchen table and climbed into her usual spot on the wall bench seat. Carefully slicing open the box tape revealed a blue gift bag, with black tissue paper peeking out of the top, laid on its side. Ignoring the card attached to the bag, Dani stood it up, looked inside, and felt her heart melt.

Aunt Fran had gotten Liz a stuffed puppy. It was purple and soft and had floppy ears long enough to trip over. Its paws were the size of Dani’s fists and the stuffed tail was curled around and under its butt as it sat. The collar was fuzzy and black and had a circle hanging off the front that said ‘Jak-Jak.’ His muzzle was shaped like a mastiff's and he had a dopey, goofy, happy grin. 

Dani wanted to cry. It wasn't fair. Liz didn't like dogs, she liked Disney. Dani loved dogs and Mom and Dad wouldn't let her get one. And now Aunty Fran had given Liz a stuffed puppy, not her.  

Grabbing the scissors and Jak-Jak, Dani dashed off, first back to Dad’s crafting bench to return the scissors, then to her room. Depositing Jak-Jak on her bed, Dani scrubbed at the tears in her eyes with the heel of her palm. She hated being this moody. Everything was felt too big, and she ached, and her feet wouldn’t go where she put them; it was embarrassing. Stupid growth spurt. Dani scooped up her Tigger plushie and tried to brush off … well, everything. Turning him over in her hands, Dani bit her lip again. It was a fair trade… Liz loved Tigger, she was always stealing him from Dani’s room.

Dani dashed back to the kitchen and tried to gently stuff Tigger in the gift bag. Once he was more or less hidden in the bag, Dani laid the bag back in the box and taped it back up. Sloppily like Aunt Fran always did. Then off to hide the box in Mom and Dad’s closet with the rest of the gifts for Liz’s party next week. In the same place they’d hidden Dani’s gifts two months ago. And the Christmas presents before that. They really needed to find a better hiding place. 

Dani walked back to her room. She had maybe another half hour to play with Jak-Jak before Dad and Liz would be home. She'd have to hide him in her backpack. Or Liz would definitely find him next time she snuck into Dani's room. The little sneak was thorough.  

Dani stopped just inside her doorway, shocked and maybe a little panic-y. Jak-Jak wasn't on the bed what she'd left him. And he hasn't fallen into the floor.

A deep, reverberating, yet oddly high-pitched yip came from Dani’s left, from behind the open door. Right before a large something crashed into Dani and she hit the floor, with whatever it was on top of her. 

Dani looked up at very large, purple-furred muzzle a couple inches in front of her nose. The rest of the doggy head it was attached to was huge, bigger than Dani, bigger than her bed! As she started to get real scared though, all of the doggy started shrinking down. The huge feet, the enormous floppy ears, the barrel chest wider than Daddy, everything shrunk until the doggy was the size of a full-grown mastiff. But still obviously puppy shaped. Dani erupted in giggles as its floppy, slobbery tongue gave her puppy kisses and its tail wagged furiously. Ticklish!

Dani reached up and vigorously scratched behind the ears, before rolling the puppy over to wrestle. There wasn’t a collar or tag anymore, but the fur was exactly the same color as the stuffed puppy had been.  This one was much more muscular than a stuffed animal could look, but the feet were the same shape, the ears the same floppy length, and the expression was just as goofily happy. The puppy rolled over from where he and Dani were wrestle-petting and dropped its head and front paws dropped into the universal puppy bow.

“Play?!” yipped Jak-Jak.

 

That is set in the Monsters and Other Childish Things setting, as background for my character Dani for the Road Trip Remix campaign I'm playing in with Technical Difficulties. Hopefully it works as a stand-alone story — tell me in the comments where I'm assuming background info and am wrong about that?

Comments/critique from my partner, my responses, and a second draft to come on Monday.

Monsters and Other Childish Things, Road Trip!

The Technical Difficulties crew is going to start a campaign in Monsters and Other Childish Things soon, playing a remix of Ross Payton's campaign Road Trip, so I thought I'd share my character.

This concept originally started as 'a girl and her beholder' with the idea that she'd be the Dungeon Master for the kids' Dungeon and Dragons game and her monster would hide as her copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide. But then I started reading through the Baby Bestiary and got to the Blink Puppy. It very quickly became 'a girl and her dog, who happens to be a teleporting horror from beyond time and space. Who just wants to play fetch.'

Not having to ask the rest of the gaming group to incorporate my driving idea into their characters was also a nice bonus. Because there's cool ideas, and then there's cool ideas that the group should agree on as the motivating idea behind the game when you start, not in the middle of stuff kicking around in your brain.

I'll be honest, I wasn't getting real excited about this character; I'd put too much of what I remember myself as like at age 11 into Danielle, so it didn't feel like a character you know? It was going to be fine, I'd have a good time that would get better as the campaign progressed because I was confident I'd give her room to turn into her own character. But then our GM (hi Greg!) asked us for 'the bad thing we've done', and I came up with one that made me very happy. I'm just going to quote the email I sent Greg:

Stole Jak-Jak.

The plushie that Jak-Jak hides as was supposed to be a birthday present for her younger sister Liz, but Danielle substituted one of her newer stuffed animals that Liz liked into the box her parents were going to use for Liz’s birthday present and then wrapped it up herself. She hides Jak-Jak’s plushie in her backpack at all times.

Gift to the GM that is :D

If I was rewriting that idea now, I'd make the gift giver be distant relatives who sent the stuffed animal in one of those open bags you shove tissue paper in and Danielle saw it in the mail and made the substitution before her parents ever saw it. Just for logistical reasons because right now I have to wonder what they were thinking when Liz opened her present and it wasn't the toy they'd bought. But other than that, I'm pleased by Danielle being sneaky but also making sure she gave her sister a toy Liz actually liked (in my mind it's the stuffed tiger Liz was always "borrowing" from Danielle's room).

Really looking forward to getting this campaign going.