Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – The Odds and Ends of Worldbuilding

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

How Well Can You Play Jazz?

In the grand scheme of things, there are some elements of storytelling that make a larger impact than others. Character, point of view, scene, dialogue, these are all textual, the brass nuts and bolts your readers will engage with directly. Then there are elements of craft that are more supportive, behind-the-scenes, the framework and scaffolding that keep your story together.

Worldbuilding falls into this latter category. No matter what you do as a storyteller, regardless of genre or narrative intent, you will have to build worlds for your characters to inhabit. If you’re a genre writer (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.) odds are you’re in need of more of this scaffolding than, say, a writer of contemporary adult fiction, or really, anything set in a non-magical or non-hyper-technological world.

For instance, if I want to write a family drama set in Waco, Texas, I can most likely get away with using my imagination. A gas station in Texas is the same as a gas station here in my home state of Colorado. A bar is a bar, a home is a home, a restaurant is a restaurant. Now, if I I’m a very skilled and enterprising writer, I might actually travel out to Waco, especially if I’ve never been there before. I might walk the streets, soak in the ambience, listen to how the locals talk, how they interact with each other. Nice, right? Conversely, I could do it the lazy way and just use Google Maps. You know, worldbuilding for slugs.

Don’t worry, there’s no judgement here. I’m slug number one. Anything worth doing is worth doing the easy way, or so my habitual procrastination always tells me. Still, you may find it difficult to easily jot off scene details when your story is set on an intergalactic space station, or in a magical realm full of wizards and dragons, or perhaps in a unique and genre-bending setting heretofore unimagined by non-writing mortals. Like dragons tearing ass through awesome space stations. Bestseller material. I’m sure of it.

As with everything, novice writers tend to lean on advice found on the internet or in books on craft published thirty years ago. Take it from your local writing advice guy, there’s nothing wrong with that. We all need instructors, examples, positive influences to look up to, no matter how experienced we become. Worldbuilding advice from certain genre masters includes meticulous research, lots of thinking and planning, note-taking, mapmaking, character family lineage, alien astronomy, mythical world histories, languages built on complete working syntax and sentence structures.

And far be it for me to second-guess the masters. However, it must be noted that even they aren’t huge on taking their own advice. I once had a professor who picked the brain of Fantasy author George R.R. Martin on this very subject. When asked how it was he built such engrossing, immediately present and lush worlds, Martin didn’t rattle off dry advice like, “I draw up detailed maps,” or, “I don’t write a single word until I have the look and feel of every fork and every knife placed on each house dining hall table.”

Nope. It seems the creator of the Game of Thrones series likes to wing it. He said, simply enough, that if he wanted a character to have a fork in her hand, he’d describe it on-the-fly and then move on to the next thing. Dialogue, for instance, which can convey information about a world in subtle yet effective ways. He’d then need to describe a goblet or a roaring fireplace into which his character could spit the unwanted rind of a piece of old cheese. Was there a history behind that fireplace? Yeah, maybe. And in this way, his worlds build themselves automatically. In other words, for him the process is organic, unrehearsed, true to the spirit of conjuring stuff from fairy dust and raw intuition.

Not to suggest Martin eschews preparation in every case, because I’m sure he doesn’t. Never start a book without thinking about it at least a little. You know not to do that, right? Stephen King offers similar advice to Martin’s in his seminal autobiography/writing manual, On Writing.

“Description should begin in the writer’s imagination and finish in the reader’s.”

By which he means an economy of words and ideas is our best friend. After all, we don’t write fiction to glorify our own intellects. At least not all of us do. We write to entertain, edify, enlighten, shock, or otherwise affect our readers. Let them participate. Don’t overburden them with extraneous fluff.

Generally speaking, I don’t do much worldbuilding. Some writers come to see it as a crutch, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s a matter of comfort and personal style. There are many highly skilled authors who do take the time to establish their working narrative milieus in exacting detail before committing them to an initial draft. I can’t fault them for this. I’ll just say that for the majority of us, especially those of us who are just starting out, all that detail can become a liability. What’s to stop us from using it—all of it—to create infodumps of mythic proportions? You know what an infodump is, don’t you? It’s when a writer loses confidence and shoves a pile of overcooked world down my throat.

“Look! There’s story here! Don’t choke on my custom third-age elf lore, please. I made it just for you.”

It’s okay to play jazz a little bit, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. You never known what your narrative needs until it asks you directly. Trust me on this. Ever overprepare for a job interview? Caught off guard by unexpected questions, flustered now, rattling off hyperbole and corporate nonsense instead of real knowledge acquired through years of experience. Too much worldbuilding can become a mess precisely because we think we know what to expect yet never seem to.

Sometimes we fall into a rut and overprepare because it’s easier than the actual writing. It’s a different animal, playing with your characters in real terms. Everything you do up to that point is academic and therefor inert. Besides, improvisation as an author’s best friend. You may find over the course of your career it’s your saving grace. You’ve got instincts. I say use them. The best stories ever told have had an organic, unaffected, natural quality, don’t you find? Besides which, I like Jazz. It’s surprising, fresh, sometimes complicated, but never boring. Unless you like Country, and if that’s the case, I need you to stop reading this blog post and go develop a decent sense of music.

Joking. Only joking.

Well, that’s about it for Craft and Practice this month, folks. Drop me a line in the comments section below. Are you a meticulous worldbuilder? Do you find that a more improvisational approach is best? In November, we’ll take a look at a sister topic, character development. See you then!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Words to Live By – The Big Chill

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

The Big Chill

I’ve always tended to believe there’s a time for action and a time for inaction. For instance, as a writer, I very rarely get away with working the whole year round. I realize it’s something of a controversial position to take, but I don’t like constant effort and much prefer writing in bursts. Perhaps I’ll work on the rough draft of a new book from Christmas to Groundhog’s Day, polish it up till early summer, and if I feel like releasing it myself, do that sometime in July. That’s usually how it goes. This year is bound to be different, though.

I don’t have to tell you, but 2020’s been something of a seminal time, both famously and infamously so. Even if it weren’t for the pandemic, we as a collective have dealt with politics, racism, the inherent corruption, or if you like, the non-corruption of the system designed to protect and serve us, and it’s still only early October. But yes, on top of it all, we do have a global pandemic to worry about. As Bob Dylan once famously sang, the times, they are a’changing. And not too nicely, either.

I’m aware I should be working harder on prepping my next major writing project. I’m aiming for the stars on this one. I’ve got enough details planned out in my head I could start outlining any day. But I haven’t yet. I’m choosing not to. Why is that? Because there are times for action and inaction.

Known by another name, inaction is simply observation. I feel the need as a storyteller to be the witness for a while. We all play the witness. In fact, it could be considered one of the chief characteristics of being alive. We watch the times, the places, the faces that come circulating through our daily experiences. And when something big like 2020 comes along, we are helpless but to stop everything and pay attention.

Maybe you’ve never paid this much attention before. Maybe you’ve never had the time. I’ve got news for you, 2021 isn’t likely to go any smoother. I’d like the opportunity to soak up the lopsided feeling of this year, like a beautiful but flawed piece of Italian bread marinating in extra virgin olive oil and herbs. Sure, leave that bread in its bath too long and it’ll come out a mushy mess. But it does deserve to marinate, doesn’t it? For the sake of fine cuisine?

Okay, maybe that’s an odd image. I’m more of a cheap peperoni pizza guy, anyway. The point is, if the world is changing, I’m no doubt changing right along with it. And if I’m changing—as a person, as a creative individual, a writer, and an entrepreneur—then surely the work I’m capable of producing is changing, too. Which means I can wait to tell that next story. The Germans have a lovely little phrase, one which has always fascinated me: zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Things aren’t how they were five years ago. Heck, I’m not even sure last year was anything like 2020. And if you think for a minute you know how the world’s going to shake out from all this, I’m here to tell you you’re dead wrong. Maybe that’s why I’m choosing observation right now. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Of course, there will be some who don’t feel like anything’s changed at all. There will be others still who, in the face of great change, make the choice to dig in, refortify, and to be more or less aggressive versions of the people they’ve always been.  No yielding or bending. Go on and write your old-school hardcore science fiction the way you’ve always written it. Financially speaking, who can say what a smart approach looks like anymore? If I knew that … well, let’s just say I don’t know. Still, from a creative standpoint, I know there are some fellow authors out there who must see the clear opportunity for growth.

I’ve watched so many lives change in the last seven months. I’ve seen it all year long in my social media threads, too. This couple is breaking up after twenty years together. This son is finally moving out and this daughter is abandoning a job she never wanted in the first place. Change is all around us, and I’d wager that if you stopped for just a moment, cleared your head, quit thinking for a second or two, you’d feel profound change within yourself as well.

So here’s what I’m advocating for writers this month. Unless you’re already in the middle of a project, don’t even think about starting something new. Give it to till the end of the year, or longer if you’d like. Witness the world for a while, in whatever fashion seems best to you. Yes, you could watch global events on TV every morning. There’s certainly enough of them to go around. By the same token, you could watch ripples of water on a natural pool, the silent fall of red and golden leaves while sitting on a comfy park bench, the smile on your son’s or daughter’s face when he or she discovers just how big and perennially full of opportunity the world is.

As for me, I’ll be plotting that next big book, but only in my head, at least for the time being. It’s a personal story, no heavy-handed global events to speak of. Yet something tells me, the Jeff Bowles who’d start drafting that book in December will be a totally different guy than the Jeff Bowles who’d begin now, next week, or even next month. This is a clear opportunity to, if you don’t mind the aggressive self-talk, shut up and listen for a while, and boy oh boy, gleefully shall I do so.

Stop and smell the roses, fellow writer people. Or maybe I should say, choose to linger a while and watch the roses develop. The world isn’t all that interested in selling you flowers at the moment anyway. Gather ye petals while ye may, know what I mean? And then spend the big fat stack of them in the Spring, when the world is lush, your creative mind is firing on all cylinders, and fingers crossed and knock on wood or whatever other inert mass you’ve got lying around—there will be no such thing as elections and diseases, diseases and elections.

And if you must think about revolution, revolutionize yourself first. Everything decent will flow from there. That’s all for this month. Have a good one, everybody.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Words to Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


Butt in Chair, Write the Damn Book

Writer at Work

Some of the best advice I ever received on writing a novel length work came from one of my M.F.A. instructors, Russell Davis. He said, “Ass in chair, write the damn book”. And you know, he was right. If you don’t sit your butt in that chair and start writing every chance that you get, chances are that novel will end up unfinished, sitting on a shelf, collecting dust rather than on an Amazon bestseller list. No the only way to complete a novel is to just sit down and write.

Lately though, finding time to put my butt in the chair and keep it there has been a real challenge. All the strategies I had used successfully to create productive writing have fallen to the wayside since Covid came along and turned our worlds upside down and inside out. WtbR team member Robbie Cheadle made a good point when she said that lockdowns and quarentines have blurred the lines between work and personal lives. With many people working from home, the boundaries between work and personal time may not be as distinct as they were before. There is no commute on which to transition from work to home life, or vice versa.

That is kind of what happened with me. Although I’m back to the grind of commuting now, when I was staying at home, I threw everything I had into my writing. My personal life and relaxation were laid to the wayside. Then, when I went back to work, I was overwhelmed with work, school and all of the many projects I had started working on while at home.

Although my butt was in the chair, I found it difficult to focus on any one project and to prioritize which project I should be working on. My school work fell behind. Life circumstances changes that required more of my tijme and attention. My regularly scheduled blog posts weren’t getting written; I struggled to finish my short paranormal western story for the Spirits of the West anthology; and the book I had planned to write this year was just plain not happening. It doesn’t do a bit of good to place your butt in the chair, if all you do while there is stare at a blank screen.

So, I pulled back and prioritized all the different things that I needed to get accomplished. I regrouped, so to speak. Even though I am very close to earning a degree in marketing, I decided it would have to wait and I withdrew from my schooling. I went camping to give myself some ‘me’ time, and rediscovered the Colorado mountains that I’ve always loved, and my passion for writing, and found myself once more sitting down in front of my laptop and writing with purpose.

It was amazing, but once I started writing for the right reasons, because I wanted to write, not out of obligation, I was able to focus and the words fell onto the page. It just goes to show you that staying home and away from people doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to pump out the best writing that you ever have. Beside sitting your butt in the chair, focus is another necessary element.

Spirits of the West

In addition to getting this blog back on track, and doing a bit of restructuring on it, I finished the story for the Spirits of the West anthology, “Don’t Eat the Pickled Eggs”, and I’m currently working through the kinks in the publishing process, as well as working on my next novel length work, The Outlaw and the Rock Star. It is a time-travel western inspired by the music of The Pretty Reckless, and I have three and a half chapters so far. This is where my priorities lie and these projects are what I intend to focus on. Writing is where my heart is, and I feel like I’m back in the saddle again. Ass in chair, focus, and write the damn book.

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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – To Comma or not to Comma

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

To Comma or not to Comma

Basic rules of grammar and punctuation aside, I find that many writers, regardless of experience or education, have a hard time with commas. Oh sure, most people breeze right through them, place them wherever they figure they ought to go. It can’t be that hard. Readers know better than to pick apart our comma usage. Aside from periods, commas are the most common punctuation mark we make. If anything, semicolons are a lot scarier, right? I mean, how the heck do we even use semicolons?

Here’s how.

A semi-colon, in its most common usage, is properly deployed between two completely independent yet related clauses. Commas, on the other hand, have a wide variety of applications. Connecting ideas, creating lists, separating dialogue and dialogue tags, and let’s not forget the old Oxford comma, which confuses and infuriates people left, right, and sideways.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a boring post dedicated to the rules of the English language. The truth of the matter is that schools and writing programs all over the world place more emphasis on basic mechanics than they do on style. And why is that? Because style is more or less unteachable, and in developing our unique voices as writers, we often learn to break the rules as soon as the authorities that be teach them to us.

For instance, check out this classic line from Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

We’ve got all the makings of a terrible run-on sentence here, haven’t we? How’d he get away with it? If the grammar authorities were in charge, he wouldn’t have. Grammarly tells me it’s okay Dickens wrote his classic introduction to A Tale of Two Cities in such a manner because Dickens often used rambling language to satirize long-winded speakers of his time. I think that’s nonsense. Dickens wrote like this because it was his style. And no one was going to criticize him because he was Charles Dickens. Will anyone criticize you for similar crimes, real or imagined? Maybe it’s time to find out.

If you’re planning on being an indie writer, or if you already are one, recognize you have potentially earned yourself a bit more freedom in this playing field. You can toss out commas till the cows come home, and no one will bother you about it. Well, maybe sometimes they will. If, however, you’d like to publish via a more traditional route, get ready for some intense editing, because your comma usage doth rain like flash storms on the Serengeti.

Are you a stickler for form? Or do believe rules are meant to be broken? I have to admit, I’m kind of on the fence on this one myself. I do hate to see a misused comma, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that the written word is our ultimate tool for communication, and that for it to remain relevant in today’s fevered world, it needs to reach people on an individualized level. That means there’s room for all types of writing, all styles, as many variations as there are working writers in the world. I’m thinking more of a glorious rainbow than a unified, boring color-scape in which no piece of writing stands above another.

In a now famous interview with Oprah, author Cormac McCarthy took to task the basic institution, tradition, and prescription of punctuation.

“I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it,” McCarthy said. “I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

And how do we feel about that? Surely, our teachers and professors would’ve torn our earliest writings to shreds for ignoring quotation marks, colons, semicolons, dashes. You’re going to find a hundred articles on how to use this and not to use that. Very few so-called authorities will council you to write in a broken and unusual manner like your favorite poet does.

Regardless of where you come down, you have to admit a certain disconnect between what we teach our kids about writing and the actual job done by actual writers. Thanks to the invention of online communication, we’ve raised a generation of kids who struggle with grammar and punctuation anyway. I envision a future in which writing is a terribly fluid, wonderfully flawed thing. Is it better to know the rules before you break them? Yes, I think so. But I also believe the game should never be played exclusively by people who know the rules. That’s elitism, a facet of our creative nature that ruins more great work than it helps.

Writing in the modern world is not meant for the few. Thank God for that. Anyone with the desire now has the ability, more or less. Your voice deserves to be heard as much as mine. If I didn’t believe in that, I also wouldn’t believe in things like Democracy, term limits for our elected officials, and a world free enough it hasn’t outlawed pizza yet.

Let us pray the grammar police are never put in charge of pizza.

Keep your chin up, keep studying those rules, especially if you’re new to writing or publishing. But if you find your writing is flawed, know you’re in terrific company. How about that intro to a Tale of Two Cities, huh? Better than a warm glass of milk and a comfy blankey.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Writing for Catharsis

Craft and Practice

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

Writing for Catharsis

Writing is a hard enough gig without the existence of one persistent, unceasing fact: things change, nothing lasts, and all things pass away. You could make a decent mantra out of that, couldn’t you? I mean it’s true enough I don’t even really have to repeat it. I will though. Several times, in fact, because I’d like to impress upon you the urgency of a world in desperate need of good, personal, dare I say it, emotional storytellers.

This month’s Craft and Practice will be a little different. We’re going to talk about our feelings. Wait! Don’t click off! You can’t run from them any more than I can. Things change, nothing lasts, all things pass away. And if you and your incredible writing superpowers are needed anywhere in the world, it’s quite possible they’re needed at home most of all.

You see, people can recognize the transience of life without too much effort, but they’re either too locked into their own experiential tangents to do anything about it, or they simply keep their stories to themselves. Writers don’t have that luxury, and nor should we be afforded it. It’s our job to comment, profile, report, extol, condemn, codify, decode. If not for everyone living today and for a hundred generations beyond, then at least for ourselves, right here and now. What does this all boil down to? We can write about all the crazy stuff that happens to us and call it catharsis. Neat, huh?

I recently released a novel called Love/Madness/Demon. It deals, in part, with a psychotic episode I experienced four or five years ago. Now at that time I didn’t know or understand what was happening to me. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, I urge you seek qualified help, because once I was able to do so, once a true diagnosis came my way, things slowly began to turn around for me. But I knew as I started recovering that what I’d gone through—what I’d put my loved ones through—it constituted serious traumatic territory, and I also knew that it might make me feel better to write about it someday.

It did. That’s the long and short of it. Moreover, spending sufficient time with my story as a finished manuscript tended to help even more. I had to tread, retread, and re-retread the same ground again and again. The worst moments of the ordeal tended to lose their hold on me. Now writing as catharsis implies you’ve repressed or buried something. Some people haven’t done anything of the sort, though I’d wager that to one degree or another, the vast majority of us have. This is life, after all, the greatest bare-knuckled, knock-down cage match of them all. If you’ve taken a few lumps in recent years, you aren’t alone.

I think it’s best to approach cathartic writing from a place of complete honesty. What are you doing it for otherwise? And realistically, you’ve got endless literary modes available to you. I chose fiction because it’s what I’m most comfortable with, but maybe you prefer poetry or nonfiction.

Nonfiction may be the best way to approach the craft for the sake of healing because you can just write the truth as it seemed to you. Now, you may have to wrestle with legalities, ditto with fiction, but I tend to believe most of the advice given to writers about these things are of the overblown, cover-one’s-own-ass variety. Can you write about things that really happened to you? Of course you can. Who says you can’t? What you can’t do is drag someone’s name through the mud in the process, but I’ve got a good feeling about you. You’re not interested in hurting others with your writing. You’re a paragon of humility and moral excellence. I mean, I can just tell by looking at you. What a punim.

I hurt after my psychotic break. A lot of people around me did. Because I was delusional, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I lashed out frequently and did things it’s taken me a lot of time to try and get over.

But your experience with cathartic writing will be wholly different. I hope and pray you haven’t got any major traumas in your direct experience. But if you have, and if you’re lucky enough to have been given an aptitude for the written word, I highly suggest putting your emotional self on the line and trying to do a little self-evaluation and self-nurturing. Even if you intend on never letting another soul read it, the initial intimacy and privacy of the act are paramount. I’d never suggest a person try to write their pain away rather than seek the help of a licensed professional, but I’ve found that a good therapy program lines up very well with cathartic writing. In fact, there were times in my recovery I didn’t have the ability to engage in counseling, so the writing of Love/Madness/Demon was even more crucial to me.

I feel better now. I don’t feel perfect. In fact, I still have a lot of bad days. But it was worth it to me to at least try to alleviate some of the pressures of everything I’d gone through. Maybe you can do the same for yourself. I hope you can. Things change, nothing lasts, all things pass away. It’s sort of a very painful time for many people out there. Writing about what ails us? There are worse ways to cope.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Hot Off the Press! “Ask the Authors” is now available!

ATA Cover

It has been two years in the making, but I’m pleased to announce that the WordCrafter Q&A anthology, Ask the Authors, has finally been released. This anthology has its origins right here on Writing to be Read back in 2018, when I ran a twelve week blog series of the same name. I compiled those interviews to create a valuable author’s reference, with writing tips and advice from seventeen different authors on all areas of writing, craft and promotion.

Contributing authors on this project include Dan Alatorre, Tim Baker, Chris Barili, Amy Cecil, Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Ashley Fontainne, Janet Garber, Tom Johnson, Lilly Rayman, Carol Riggs, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Mark and Kym Todd, Cynthia Vespia, and R.A. Winter. Single and multi-genre authors combined, write fiction for both Y.A. and adult readers, in a multitude of genres: medical thriller, science fiction, commercial fiction, action/adventure, crime fiction, weird western, romance, steampunk, fantasy, paranormal fiction, murder mystery, thrillers, speculative fiction, pulp fiction, literary fiction, humor, nonfiction, dark fantasy, and western. Subject matter includes all aspects of writing from process and inspiration, to craft and practice, to publishing, to marketing and book promotions. This is one writing reference no author should be without.

Get your copy today!: https://books2read.com/u/mdzvwO


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The Essence of Writing Good Dialogue

Jeff

It’s not what you say. It’s the way you say it.

by Jeff Bowles

I love good dialogue. In fact, it may be my favorite thing about reading a book or watching a truly excellent film. Many serious writers will tell you that it’s an important tool in the author’s toolkit, but that it is by no means the most essential. I respectfully disagree. I say good dialogue can elevate your writing like nothing else. After all, it’s not what you say. It’s the way you say it.

Looking back, I realize I’ve always been polishing up my ability to generate interesting, gripping, or just plain funny dialogue. I self-studied writers and filmmakers who made it a priority in their storytelling, folks like Douglass Adams, Elmore Leonard, and Quentin Tarantino. I read a lot of Marvel and DC comic books, which as you may or may not know, are almost completely composed of dialogue. I don’t know why it mattered so much to me, but I absolutely lit up whenever characters interacted with each other in snappy and surprising ways. I still light up when I read, see, or hear the good stuff, and maybe I can’t speak for everyone on this, but when was the last time you saw a well-produced Shakespeare production and thought to yourself, Gosh, that guy just couldn’t write people to save his life?

That’s the key. People live in dialogue. Not in long winded descriptions or deep internal navel gazing. Characters come to life in their interactions with each other. You could say it’s the one thing that makes them leap off the page. It’s how people work in real life, too. Which is to say, without conversation, people tend not to work at all. Sit together with someone in an awkward silence long enough and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

awkward

When it comes to short stories and novels, good dialogue is essential. Sure, you’re a master of scene setting and description, but do all your characters seem to communicate like wooden B-movie stereotypes? Or another problem many writers have, have you noticed you’re timid on engaging your readers with dialogue, and so you tend to rely on big blocks of text to get your message across? Scene setting, subtle character development, basic point-to-point plotting, visceral sense engagement and description, and basic personal style may be the rhythm of the music we call fiction, but truly inspiring dialogue is quite essentially the melody.

If you think about it, you don’t even really know characters until they open their mouths. If you struggle with dialogue, or if you’re just looking to brush up on the basics, there are a few exercises you can employ. One, of course, is to go to a public place and listen to people converse in real time. Admittedly, not really a viable option during Coronavirus lockdown, but you can easily work this exercise from the comfort of your own home. Tune into some reality TV, or simply listen to the conversations your family have. Write down every word verbatim, if you can. You’ll notice that people tend to speak in a pretty roundabout way, with lots of umms and starts and stops thrown in the mix.

Good dialogue should contain elements of realistic conversation, but you also need to focus it like a laser beam. If you were to write a scene in which people talk like they do in real life, you’d end up with so many pauses, ellipses, and false starts it’d drive your readers nuts.

“Hi, Jim, how’d work go?”
“Oh, you know, I don’t know … the boss, he’s real … umm … I don’t know, he’s real pushy when it comes to … when it comes to, uh … oh, I don’t know”

Doesn’t really flow all that well, does it? May I present the alternative that what you’re going for with good character interactions isn’t so much realism as pointed randomness. That is to say, make an effort to produce dialogue that cracks like a whip, pops and snaps like lightning. Only make sure also that it’s random enough no one can accuse you of stiffly holding your reader’s hand.

“Hi, Jim, how’d work go?”
“Ah, you know, the boss … ever get the feeling some people’s neckties are on too tight?”
“Uh-oh. I know that tone. He got pushy again, didn’t he?”
“Pushy? I haven’t slept in weeks. Pretty sure I had a waking dream while filing a client’s paperwork today. By the way, if the office calls asking why I’ve suggested one Dana Baker should just hit the clown on the nose and fly away on his trusted dragon, I’m not in.”

Also, don’t be afraid to surprise yourself. If you’re surprised by your writing, you can guarantee your readers will be, too. Zig instead of zag when you approach character interactions. Also, try producing more dialogue on the page than you’re used to. A lot of readers just kind of sift through text blocks anyway. They consider the dialogue the real meaty parts. Sad, but I think it is true. Readers are less interested in what’s happening now than in what happens next. You can fuel that burning need to find out.

Here’s something else you may not have considered. The first true novel written in the English language was likely published sometime in the 16th century, or thereabouts. A couple centuries later in the Victorian era, the novel had exploded in popularity, and that period is still a gold mine as far as writers who produced work we’re reading to this day. In all the time since, our concept of good narrative fiction has gotten lighter, not heavier.

Have you ever been chewing your way through a Victorian novel and thought to yourself, Why’s it taking this lady so long to get out of her house? Well, it’s because back then, the form and function of the novel was to in some fashion reproduce life. Entertainment is its form and function in the year 2020, because these days authors have to compete with film, television, internet memes, video games, just about anything that’s loud, fast, and gets its point across in seconds flat.

Unfortunately, you are therefore also competing with shortened attention spans across the globe. Do yourself a favor, don’t shirk your duty to write super fun, super engaging dialogue. It can save even the dullest story. Well, maybe not the dullest. Need something more specific? Well, for one, make sure all your dialogue tags (or at least most of them) are of the simple, he said, she said variety. Very few of these said-bookisms you’ve heard so much about.

Also, try bouncing back and forth between characters like they’re playing verbal tennis. Keep each line short and snappy; play a game of hot potato. And don’t forget to edit like crazy when you’re done. If you’re not removing bulk between those quote marks, you’re doing it all wrong. Even in my short examples above, I went back in and cut the detritus. Because good dialogue should flow, not lay inert like a dead body on some old science fiction TV show.

Similarly, characters should all sound distinct from one another. Don’t give them so many affectations they no longer sound realistic, but look, not everyone talks the same, do we? We have accents and ticks and odd regional slang we depend on. Try speaking your dialogue aloud as you’re writing it. Kind of helps to clear out the mental cobwebs. If you can hear it from your own mouth, and it sounds pretty good to you, odds are it’ll work well enough on the page.

The truth is, most readers depend on good dialogue to communicate story. You can build or establish character relationships with it, key in on essential plot points, foreshadow upcoming events, or just plain have fun and make people laugh. One more time, dialogue is the melody of this music we call storytelling. So make sure yours is enjoyable to listen to. Speech, language, it’s the engine that drives everything we do. It binds us together, tears us apart, and isn’t that the essence of story?

If you’re struggling with this, the old adage, practice makes perfect, is as always the essential factor. You’ll thank me once you’ve mastered this new superpower, and your readers will thank you. Is it possible to overdo it? Certainly. But wouldn’t you rather read a beautiful mess that sounds like Mozart rather than racoons rattling around in your trash cans late at night?

Heh. That’s a funny line. Maybe I should jot it down and have one of my characters say it someday. Until next time, everybody. Wooden conversation is as wooden conversation does.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Interview with erotic romance author Jade C. Jamison

Bullet

My author guest today makes her living writing erotic romance under a pen name, and prefers to display the cover of her bestselling novel, Bullet, the first book in her Rock Star Romance series, (see my review of Bullet), rather than an author photo in order to conceal her real identity. (When you like at it that way, authors can be kind of like superheroes, taking assumed identities. You’ve gotta admit that’s pretty cool.) We may not know who she is behind the book cover, but we do know that she’s written over fifty books to date, and when perusing them, one is sure to find one that’s just the preferred temperature, because she writes in them all, from sweet romance to sizzling hot erotica. Please welcome erotic romance author Jade C. Jamison.


Kaye: Why do you write erotic contemporary romance? Would you ever consider writing any other genre? If so, which one?

Jade: It took me forever to puzzle out exactly what genre I wrote.Back in 2013, the term “erotic romance” seemed to most capture what I wrote, but the “E” word is now becoming taboo.(I’m smiling as I write this.)Nowadays, the genre is being called “steamy contemporary romance,” although that may change yet again. But, anyway, I digress. Not only would I consider writing in other genres, I have. Within romance, I’ve written everything from romantic comedy to romantic suspense. Outside romance, I’ve written horror and nonfiction, but under another name, I’ve penned mystery, news writing, instructional pieces, academic literature, and even poetry.

Kaye: Does erotic romance come naturally to you? Why does it appeal to you to write in this genre?

Jade: I don’t know that writing romance comes naturally to me. Ten-plus years ago, I found that, no matter what I wrote, some aspect of romance became part of the story. So even though I have a tale to tell and even though the relationship is the key element in the story, making sure I have all the facets that make a romance satisfying to avid readers of the genre is not always easy, and it’s definitely not organic.

Why it appeals to me?  I haven’t a clue. I’m sure a psychologist would have a heyday with me.

Kaye: What is the most difficult part of writing erotic romance for you? What part is the most fun?

Jade: Sex scenes are, by far, the hardest. They easily become the most tedious part as a reader as well. From some of my conversations with other authors, I don’t believe I’m alone. You want to keep things fresh, so to speak, and non-repetitive while at the same time you want to keep readers emotionally engaged. It’s easy to mess that up in those sorts of scenes—so I put a lot of pressure on myself to write scenes that are emotional and engaging.

The most fun part is when a character surprises me.  I think I know where the story is going and then BAM!  She does something completely unexpected, but I know it’s working and there’s no way I’ll change it.

Kaye: Which of your stories is your favorite? Why?

Jade: Sorry if you’ve heard this from me before, but asking me to choose a favorite story is like asking me to choose a favorite child.That said, I do have some stories that I don’t like as well as others, but my lips are sealed. Some of the stories I like the least are reader favorites.

Kaye: Your sex scenes range in temperature from steamy, to sizzling, to blazing hot. What determines how hot the scenes get in each story?

Jade: Part of it depends on the story itself. In my bestselling book Bullet the sex scenes got hotter as the story moved on. That was one of the ways I let the reader know the main character was maturing. It mostly depends on what I think readers will expect. Am I billing the book as super steamy (like Finger Bang), or am I emphasizing the story itself (like Savage)? But, honestly, I always thought they were all pretty close in steaminess. I guess I’m too close to the forest!

Kaye: Do you prefer to write during the day, or are your stories so hot they can only be written at night?

Jade: I actually do almost all of my writing in the early morning, from about 5:30-6:30 am. It’s the only quiet time I have and I find I’m far more creative when my brain is fresh.

Kaye: You’ve written over fifty books. What is the writing achievement are you most proud of?

Jade: I don’t know that I’ve “achieved” anything as an author, other than sharing my stories with the world.I guess, though, that I’m currently proud of my growth as an author. I’ve really taken a step back in an effort to realize that being prolific isn’t nearly as important as transporting a reader to a different world—so I’m proud of not letting my pride stop me from learning!

Kaye: What is one thing your readers would never guess about you?

Jade: I enjoy playing Pokemon Go.I used to play Pokemon games with my kids when they were little, and now they have me playing this silly game on my phone!!!

Kaye: In 2019, you released books 3 and 4 from your Matchmaker collection. They are described as Reverse Harem Romances on their covers. I can see lots of potential for steamy action there. Would you like to talk a little about this story collection?

Matchmaker series

Jade: I’d taken a couple of marketing courses the year before, compelling me to “write to market”. So, I looked through Amazon’s top 100 contemporary romance books and found that Reverse Harem Romances were dominating at the time. At first, I thought that meant a literal harem, but with a woman surrounded by men. I discovered through my research that that’s not quite what Reverse Harem is all about. I like a challenge, so I decided to go for it. One of the courses I took is by one of the bestselling indie romance authors in the history of Amazon, and she advised writing a series with cliffhanger endings at the end of each book. That was another challenge. So, that’s the nuts and bolts of the series.

The story itself is about Claire, an actress struggling to make it in Hollywood. She tries out for a reality TV show called Matchmaker, hoping that if the right people see her, they might give her a chance as an actress. If nothing else, she’s bound to meet the love of her life. Her suitors are five gorgeous men who’ve been “guaranteed” to be a perfect match, but the audience gets to determine who stays and who goes. And, yes, there’s quite a bit of steam between the covers.

Kaye: I reviewed Heat: Book 1, which was really a short prelude to a larger story that will change the way you think about getting a message forever. But there is more to the story. Would you talk about Heat: The Complete Series?

Complete Heat

Jade: Heat was another challenge I couldn’t say no to.  Several years ago, I was approached by a publishing company in Australia about republishing one of my older series, and I did that with them.  While it never neared the level of success they’d promised, a year later they approached me about something new they were doing, inspired by stories James Patterson had been writing.  The basic premise for the romance stories was that you write a short but intense “intro,” followed by three more books, all following a particular formula—but very hot with cliffhangers at the end of each short book.  I really liked the idea, so I pitched what became Heat.  Unfortunately, it didn’t perform as well as I had hoped, so I took back my rights to it after a year and republished it.  

So what you read in the free first part, Heat: Book One, is the beginnings of a steamy romance between Sergio and Rachel.  Rachel is actually a character from Finger Bang, and I’d been inspired to write a story about her for a long time.  When I was approached by this publishing company, I thought her story might be perfect for the format they’d talked about.  Because it’s shorter and steamier, there’s not as much depth to the characters, but that wasn’t the idea behind the series.  It’s meant to be intense, somewhat shocking, and super steamy.  Fun.  No ugly crying, no heart-wrenching moments.  Just pure, unadulterated fun.  What you read in Heat: Book One is a prelude to the rest of the story.  If you enjoyed the first part, you’ll love the complete story. 

Kaye: What is next for Jade C. Jamison? What can your readers look forward to?

Jade: The biggest problem for me is I have so many things I want and need to write, and so little time.  I literally have over fifty book ideas outlined, but I’m currently working on a project. It’s a series called Small Town Secrets. I’ve taken about thirteen of my books off the shelves, and I’m re-purposing them. In an effort to be an even better writer, I’m rewriting eight of those books, but they are now all interconnected in this series. My review team has read the first one (Love and Lies) and loved it. I’m hoping to release six of those books in 2020.

I also have one book left in the Nicki Sosebee series. Book 12, Wake Up, ended on a cliffhanger, and so I can’t keep my readers waiting for too long. That book is fully plotted and I promise it will be satisfying! I just need to write it. But, I also have several other series I need to finish (Feverish, Codie Snow, Tangled Web), so we’ll see what I can tackle. I would love to write a lot more this year (like I said, fifty ideas and counting!) but I have a lot on my personal plate, so it all depends on how much I can get done in the time I have. I’d cross my fingers, but I can’t type while I do that!

Kaye: (See my review of Tangled Web)


I want to thank Jade for joining me here and sharing today. It has been a real pleasure. I learned a few things about writing erotic romance and hopefully my readers did, too. This interview is the perfect way to finish up February’s erotic romance. And thank all of my readers for reading and commenting on Writing to be Read. I hope you will all saddle up and join me again next month, when we plan to wrangle up the western genre. See you here.


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Jeff’s Pep Talk: The Long-Term Effects of Rejection – No is Never the Final Answer

Jeff's Pep Talk2

The Long-Term Effects of Rejection – No is Never the Final Answer

By Jeff Bowles

Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

To begin with, this article is written with the upstart in mind. The midnight worker, the weekend toiler, the writer who’s still slaving away in obscurity, penning story after story, unpublished novel after unpublished novel, and for whom the word ‘rejection’ has become a special kind of poison.

When I seriously started writing almost fifteen years ago–and by “seriously” I mean “cared enough to finish a single story and try to publish it”–I discovered pretty quickly that receiving rejections was almost as common as losing at a rigged carnival game. I couldn’t figure out why my writing wasn’t good enough, in what areas it was deficient, and to tell you the truth, it would be several years until such things were even remotely clear to me. Regardless, the absolute worst part of it all was receiving the rejections themselves, because I’m kind of a sensitive guy, and damn, they really tended to bruise the old ego.

Writers vary pretty wildly in how we respond to rejection. Some of us never seem fazed by it. Regardless of how often, how impersonal, and how heavy a solid “no” is, these guys seem to take it all in stride. I’ve never been able to tell if the impressive shrug of their shoulders is a put-on, but I do know one thing for certain: I cannot count myself amongst them. When I got rejections, I’d mope and whine and pout for hours or even days. Just ask my wife, who was my new girlfriend at the time. I’d turn into a real bear, and it was because it hurt so much. Like I said, sensitive guy. Plus, no one could get through to me about one very crucial thing: this is the way it’s supposed to be.

If you’re like me, and you tend to take rejection hard—or even if you’re not like me, and moving on to the next story submission is the easiest thing in the world—might I recommend a little tried and true advice. Accept your rejection phase as a given, and if you can go just one more country mile with me, learn to welcome it as a friend. Your rejection phase is helping to make you the writer you’ve always wanted to be. Your rejection phase is purifying your desire to write, and in so doing, allowing you to really decide if a writing career is what you want.

Because if it is, no amount of rejection will ever dissuade you. I thought I’d quit a million times. Now I realize there is no quit. No is never the final answer. And anyone who’s been publishing work for years and years will tell you rejection doesn’t end. Sure, you’re likely to receive less and less of it as you progress, but it’s not the kind of thing that disappears entirely. I know it hurts. Trust me, I’m with you on that one. But unless you plan on going all-indie, it really is a necessary part of your growth as a writer. Kind of a raw deal, I suppose. But then again, nobody ever climbs Mount Everest because it’s easy.

Now a brief word on indie publishing. A lot of older writers—and I don’t necessarily mean older in years, but rather older in experience level or maybe in their stance on traditional publishing—tend to believe that self-publishing inherently makes for worse writers. The idea being, of course, that without the resistance provided by steady rejection, a writer can never become all he or she is meant to become. I came up this way. I’d published dozens of times before I ever self-published on Amazon. The thing is, I don’t necessarily find it to be the case.

Sure, there is a lot of disposable material indie-published on the internet. And yes, I also believe adversity makes us better. But a writer can pick up all sorts of lessons and professional techniques in all sorts of different ways. Every time an indie author publishes something online and gets a few bad reviews, it’s not entirely unlike receiving a standard form rejection. In other words, the negative reinforcement can still become a positive.

All of this might lead someone to ask, what are the long-term effects of rejection? Well, this can go one of two ways. The majority of people who try their hand at writing will never even finish a single manuscript. Statistically, that is absolutely the case. Of those who finish, few will ever submit their work for publication. Now, those who do submit their work (or as the case may be, self-publish it) are likely to meet up with a little adversity. I’d say 90% of them will cut and run as soon as rejection gets too much to bear. But that remaining 10% will soldier on, and they’ll likely receive quite a bit more rejection in the months and years ahead. Is there a long-term legacy of rejection? Yes, there is, but it’s seldom a negative one. I think you’ll find one day that you treasure all those formal beat-downs you received.

Here’s what I would say. No matter how you ply your craft, regardless of whether you choose the path of the traditional publisher or the indie upstart, continuous work, practice, blood, sweat, and tears, are the only things that will make you better. Rejection is at times the name of the game, true enough, but it never has to be the final word on anything. Right?

Right.

Until next time, everybody!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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Jeff’s Pep Talk: Roleplaying Games – Alternative Means of Expression Part III

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Roleplaying Games – Alternative Means of Expression Part III

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

Earlier this year, I wrote two articles about finding new writing inspiration in what I called alternate means of creative expression. In the first article, I talked about creating new non-writing projects to jumpstart your inspiration, and in article two, I shared the perspective that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself in the face of writing burnout is to—get this—quit for a while. If you’ve read the Pep Talk before, you know I’m a huge advocate for treating yourself well as a precursor to good creative output. I’ve seen too many very talented, very capable writers hit a wall in their work and tear themselves to pieces because they can no longer commit to a regular writing schedule. Being an author can be a pretty tough gig, and it does most people no good to pretend burnout doesn’t exist. Be kind to yourself. Recognize human creativity is not an inexhaustible resource, but rather, is more like a battery that occasionally needs a recharge.

This month I’ve got some new ideas how to go about said recharge, all centered on a little thing many adults have a hard time engaging in: play.

I like to play. In fact, you could say I’m an enthusiast. When I was a kid, sometimes the only refuge from school, bullies, and the pressures of modern family life was in fun and games. The thing about kids is nobody has told them yet it’s not okay to use their imaginations. You may not believe me on this, but a lot of people learn to ignore their creative impulses because they’re not “practical,” “serious,” or “valuable” enough for the adult world.

But you and I are storytellers, which means we know better. I say the day you stop playing is the day you lose contact with your own heart and soul. When I was getting too old for make-believe on the playground, I got into playing video games. Later, I got into playing music with my friends. In either case, I refused to sever contact with that part of myself that required the emotional release of a rollicking good time. And since we’re all storytellers here, odds are you may be a lot like me, in the sense that some part of you still feels the need to bring to life concepts, characters, and worlds that previously only existed in your head.

In my very personal experience, video games are a good way of nursing a bruised and battered creative drive, and if you’re so inclined, or if you simply haven’t played a good game in years, you might be surprised to learn modern gaming offers so much more quality and variety than players had access to in decades past. Only problem with video games is that although they’re interactive by nature, they’re often no different than watching a movie or a TV show, at least as far as these things go. In gaming, I don’t get to create the story, not really. Some other storyteller is graciously offering his or her talents, which in itself offers a fine respite, but it doesn’t always help me find my own inspiration.

So may I offer an alternative, one that might shock you in its sheer unabashed nerdiness. Back in the 1970s, people used to have to—wait for it—use their imaginations if they wanted to play. On a whim inspired by fantasy literature like The Lord of the Rings, a small group of very talented and enterprising nerds created something brand new from some very old storytelling traditions. (Nerds is not a pejorative, by the way. Not in the year 2019. These days, I’m a nerd, you’re a nerd, the old lady down the street is a nerd, and so is her pet poodle.) In 1974, a man called Gary Gygax published the very first version of Dungeons and Dragons, and the world of tabletop roleplaying was born. Now I know what you’re thinking.

“Dungeons and Dragons? Isn’t that only for people with bad acne, social issues, and a penchant for dwelling in their mothers’ basements well into their mid-40s?”

I’ll admit, the stereotypes tend to cling to D&D like a shirt of fine mithril clings to the back of a frightened halfling. But here’s the thing, tabletop roleplaying games engage an individual’s storytelling capacity in some pretty surprising and dynamic ways. For those not in the know, roleplaying games (RPGs) involve a shared storytelling experience between players and a game runner—in D&D parlance, a Dungeon Master. The game is all pretend and dice rolls, slowly and joyfully co-creating and co-experiencing an unfolding adventure completely unique to you and your group of friends. And let me tell you something else, here in 2019, there are so many variations, spin-offs, and reinventions of the basic RPG schema it’d make your head spin. There’s fantasy roleplaying, sci-fi roleplaying, horror roleplaying, romantic roleplaying, and even roleplaying based on Saturday morning cartoons. And I’ll tell you another thing, these kinds of games have experienced a huge resurgence in recent years.

I’ll make a confession at this point: my wife convinced me to write this article. I didn’t grow up playing D&D. Like many of you, when I was a kid and teenager I scoffed at it. Sure, I collected comic books, wrote speculative fiction stories, played video games, and enjoyed the heck out of entertainment properties like Star Wars and Star Trek, but for some reason, tabletop roleplaying was simply a bridge too far. My prejudices continued well into adulthood, but very recently my wonderful wife turned me on to a new way of experiencing RPGs.

Round about the time internet culture discovered people like to watch others game electronically, it also discovered the joys of watching a group of strangers play D&D. The most successful example of this is Critical Role, which you can watch on internet apps Twitch and YouTube. Critical Role is a weekly show populated by a group of eight Hollywood voice actors who just so happen to be best friends and hopelessly devoted D&D enthusiasts. These guys aren’t your prototypical basement trolls, either. They’re charming, attractive, talented, incredibly funny professionals who are as dedicated in their own ways to the craft of storytelling as you and me. They play D&D like no one else, personifying their characters with impressive skill and gusto to generate an incredibly engaging and entertaining storytelling experience that shouldn’t be tons of fun to watch but is. And they show you what’s possible when you engage your imagination in a completely improvised way.

Admit it, sometimes the act of writing is lonely. It’s just you, your word processor, and your dedication to the craft. Fun is not at all required, as much as we’d like it to be. So here’s my advice if you’re dead tired of laying down one paragraph after another, one concept after another, one character, theme, or narrative arc after another, and your mind is aching for a bit of a vacation: go out and play a little bit. Not everyone has access to a group of people who like roleplaying. This much is true. It’s also true a huge chunk of the adult population considers such things frivolous at best. But look, roleplaying can be a hell of a good time, and as modern pop psychology often reminds us, sometimes you’ve got to nurture your inner child before you can fully embrace what it means to be a grown up.

RPGs force players to think on the fly, to produce results from nothing but their own creativity and random dice throws. It’s extreme storytelling, if you think about it, and if you’ve tried everything else to combat that nasty spell of writer’s block, it may be just what the doctor ordered. There are plenty of online resources that can help you find local games in your area, but if you’re still not sure, maybe just start with a little passive viewing. Do yourself a favor and check out some internet shows like Critical Role. There are a lot of options out there. See if it doesn’t spark something within you, and if it does, maybe consider giving it a try yourself.

We live in such a take-no-prisoners world. Is it really too much to ask of yourself to slow down every once in a while and just have some good, clean, creative fun for the sake of, well, good, clean, creative fun?

Until next time, folks, keep those storytelling skills limber and toss a couple d20s. That’s roleplaying parlance, by the way. It’s your adventure. Tell it how you want it.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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