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Kristin Livdahl
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 05:51 pm:   

It seemed like every time I met someone new this past weekend, someone else said, "She's a Ratbastard" and that took care of a lot of the introduction. It was a reputation that followed me pretty much everywhere. It was a little overwhelming. Susan commented at one point that the amount of influence we've had (as Ratbastards) is pretty out of sync with the amount of publishing we've actually done. (It definitely is with mine.) I did get the "What is a Ratbastard?" question (meaning what makes writing or a writer Ratbastardly -y?) a few times and every explanation I gave was pretty convoluted. I should have just directed everyone to the website and the other three's essays. There seemed to be a bit of stress for some people that their writing wasn't experimental or weird enough. I didn't have any quick, witty answers. Everything we write shouldn't have try to be cutting stylistic or content edge or pushing new boundaries. I think we should always be challenging ourselves but each story is going to be different and some are best served by more traditional storytelling methods. My opinion, at least.

The Interstitial group gave us a tremendous welcome and asked what we Ratbastards wanted from them. As I was laughing inside at the thought of speaking for all four of us opinionated souls, I mainly just thanked them for their kind adoption of us. They've got a lot cooked up for the future, with a new website to appear soon, and a discussion here, too.

I just wanted to socialize at the Small Press Party Michael Jasper organized but Alan had me read a column of Haddayr's "Gramercy Park" (from A Mischief of Rats) with him and Zakbar. I joined in last so I was able to enjoy listening to first Alan read and then the two of them reading at the same time. The third column was fun to read, all full of words that rolled off my tongue. The beginning sentences that matched and the staggered ending sounded great to my ears. A number of people came up to me later to tell me they'd loved it. We'll have to set up a local reading so Haddayr can have a chance to read it in the same way.
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barth
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 10:36 pm:   

that reading sounds great, kristin! damn. how i wish i could have heard that. very cool of y'all to read haddayr's fine story.

but wait. ratbastards scurrying everywhere and no dancing? [hand over heart] what could this mean??

-

"There seemed to be a bit of stress for some people that their writing wasn't experimental or weird enough."

hmm...stress? that's too bad. sometimes i wonder if the demand for weirdness is overstated on our website. "experimenting" is just one approach in many to expanding the definition of genre fiction. i tried to get that across in the conclusion of my essay but i think that message got drowned out. i know that i wrote and deleted a passage about a friend's idea of a social revolution, that there are many roles to play in such an endeavor. the work done in the burbs is just as important as what's accomplished on the urban radical fringe. each according to their means, and all that jolly rot. so with trying to find new fields to farm in spec fic.

what it might mean to be a ratbastard (i like taking wild swings at this now and then) is writing about what geeks you and writing it with a voice so you or a frame of reference so unusual that it affects the weave of the story/fiction in some palpable way. for me, that's a formula for weirdness. but for someone else, that might require telling a story with more traditional structure. either way, you get a story that reads with a sense of wonder beyond the cool idea at the plot level.
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Chris Barzak
Posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 - 10:48 pm:   

I've posted my wfc musings at my blog.

http://zakbar.blogspot.com/

I didn't run into any people who had not-weird enough anxieties, but Kristin is the one who usually deals with people in general, while I wander around in a haze of con disorientation.

Zakbar
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Alan
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 12:35 pm:   

Your hazes aren't that disorienting, Chris! I was on this weird energy sine wave throughout the con--very perky one day, a zombie the next.

Regarding "Ratbastardism", I think a lot of it, too, is about having an awareness of different storytelling modes, and not assuming that one is more normative than the other. There are definite avenues, though. I've been thinking a lot lately about what the role of writing fiction is in these discombobulated times, where there seems to be this weird malaise-esque disconnect btwn. the "reality" of our politicial leaders (feeding us myths of satiation) and real reality. It feels like a great opportunity for nonrealistic fiction to step into the fray. I don't think this is the only use of fiction, to transgress in this way, but it can certainly be a piece to the puzzle.

To use a really geeky analogy from role playing, the old paradigm of genre is like the TSR/AD&D model of rigid classes. (Race and class--huh. These kinds of social constructions in the game never struck me in quite that way before. Anyway.) Rigid archetypes bumping around a faux fantasy landscape, with well-defined roles. Easier that way, right? Obviously there's individualism possible within this class based system--but the systemic reinforcement of different "genres" of adventurers has a cumulative effect: that of sucktitude.

A different paradigm would be that of a skillz-based rpg, when a character is a conflation of different proficiencies. Globs of them. Ironically, de facto class-based templates are in place so a lot of, er, 14 year olds end up building characters strikingly similar to those in model 1. The tools are there for innovation and customized "narratives", but they are still rarely used.

What if you could blow past all of this in a (pen and paper) system, though--and reconceptualize everything? Or at least try to? The only way to do this is to understand that any form of writing is imbued (or fraught) with history, tradition, assumptions, etc. So make a game without numbers at all, or reconceptualize what it means to tell a good story, or whether a particular form is valuable for the story you would like to tell.

And making these reconstructions should be fun and not dreary, too.

I tried to warn you. I have no real idea where I'm going with this anyway. I'm a few years behind on my rpg theory, so feel free, anyone, to correct me.

Anyway, this has nothing to do with WFC per se, so I'll "make it so." It was a total blast. Everyone was very cool and I really enjoyed meeting many people I'd only heard about/talked to in cyberspace. Much good energy. I'm looking forward to furthering some of the discussions started at WFC, and hanging out, virtually or otherwise.

Alan
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 06:34 am:   

Sorry to butt in, but whenever someone starts talking about rpg theory and applying it to some other skill set, well, I feel obligated to intervene.

The problem with numberless systems is that they lack conflict. Sure, there are substitutions for conflict, bidding and resource distribution and poety contests (played a wizard once whose spells were poems that I had to make up on the spot. whatever the poem said, that's what happened. The quality of the spell was based on the complexity of verse. For a while, I was thinking in rhymning iams, perfectly scanned.) but these are just stand ins. The key isn't to try to come up with a *numberless* system, but to make a numbered system that works like grammar. With proper grammar, no one notices it. A proper number system flows like water, anyone can pick it up, it's fair and balanced and somewhat realistic, light as air and smooth as silk.

Anyway, sorry. I used to think about this a lot, back in the days I was writing for white wolf and other people. I put that stuff behind me to focus on fiction, but I can still rattle off game theory like it was my zip code.

On the other topic, the weirdness thing. I think it's very dangerous to be aware of what you're writing. That doesn't sound right. Conciously sitting down to produce something fresh and new and unique is untenable in the long term. Rather than awareness, it's sometimes better I think to forget what you know about convention, and write what you want to, what comes naturally. I spent a lot of time writing things and then trying to decide what genre it was, or trying to decide what genre I wanted to write in and then writing to form. Dangerous. It wasn't till I got out of that mode that I was able to come up with something interesting, something...well...good, I guess. Something I like. And that's really all I need to worry about.

Anyway, sorry to steal your thread. Pissed I didn't make the WFC this year, but I can only afford one big con a year, and Torcon tapped me out. Is WisCon in Madison? Cuz that's driving distance for me...that I could probably do.
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 07:40 am:   

you didn't steal it at all, tim. thanks for chiming in.

yes, wiscon is in madison on memorial day weekend. do come! it's the best con i've been to, though i've never been to readercon and i hear that's a great one.

on weirdness, i hear what you're saying about letting go of worrying about convention, but i think maintaining that awareness is really no different than writing with one eye on avoiding cliche. you don't write thinking, "sheesh, i really shouldn't write THAT." you just avoid it, in the same way that when you drive you don't think, "there's the guardrail. must. not. hit. guardrail."

and personally, i think reaching that dual awareness and creative flow is the point when your own voice and "weirdness" truly emerge.

great point, too, about conflict in relation to rpg theory and systems. my gaming group liked languishing for hours in character, usually losing themselves in bitter arguments over age-old feuds, until one of them would get so pissed, he'd yell "give me the dice!" and character gave way to plot.

personally, i think a number system is as much about relinquishing control as it is about negotiating conflict. most gamers like their imaginary fights with some randomness - the thrill of battle etc etc etc. but i always figured that if my group could reconceptualize their roles as characters, and take on a bit more of the storytelling, they could steer the adventure a whole lot better than the dice ever could.

there's something similar at work in fiction, where readers likes to relinquish control to narrative. "anything can happen," readers say of a "good" story. whereas, i think reconceptualized story telling asks the writer to take a step backward from considerations of plot and action, and invites readers to step forward to provide their own interpretations of meaning/plot/structure.
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Alan
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 07:58 am:   

Hey Tim,

I'm glad you said something about both points, which are very well taken. And I think you hit on (with the first) what I was trying to say anyway with my analogy--that the syntactical choices of a system (of whatever sort) have an effect on the "artistic" output, i.e., the gaming experience. Something like The Window where it has minimal dice used but a character creation system based on descriptors, is very appealing to me. It has a philosophical seamlessness. (I think the url is http://www.mimgames.com/window, if you haven't come across it already). Similarly, something like Risus, with its

Regarding the other topic, I agree with you that, in the actual act of creation, it's good to have an uncluttered mind and just kind of run with whatever trails your mind is throwing out there. I think we might be talking about two slightly different things.

Regarding my own stuff, I almost never worry about the genre or consciously breaking genre during the act itself. But most of my waking hours is spent in "downtime" from writing--which includes just soaking up other peoples' words, with the hopes that, in the actual moment of creation, these sublimated, half-remembered ideas will come crawling out of the woodwork and lead to something surprising. It's (to steal from Barth) my compost bed. I don't like reading much heavy handed lit crit, but I do enjoy reading essay reviews, interviews, stuff about aesthetics written by writers, a lot. YMMV, by all means.

There are times, I guess, when on a sentence by sentence basis (esp. with revision), I try to do something semi-conscious--e.g., completely changing the gender of a character or the POV. Here it gets blurry--what's the intersection between the conscious decision-making process and just writing naturally? (I don't really have any answers to this.)

Then there's the whole issue of writing exercises and literary games--which certainly generate an awareness of "what's going on" during the act of writing, but can paradoxically free a writer to muddle out the details by giving a starting point. And now we're back to games. :-)

Wiscon is great--you should swing by if you get the chance!
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Alan
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 08:00 am:   

Oops, I left my sentence about Risus unfinished. But anyway, something simple and elegant like Risus, with its use of "cliches", can paradoxically lead to very uncliched gaming (leaning towards the whimsical, but not necessarily). (Don't have the url handy, but a google of Risus should bring it up).

OK, that's it.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 08:49 am:   

Ah, two discussions at once, but really only one. Lessee...

First off, I think what we're really talking about is organic writing versus inorganic writing. To me, writing just happens. Sometimes I try to sit down and think out plotlines and map out themes and whatever, but that's always gone straight to shit. The stories of mine that actually work seem to occur organically. I get people in my head, I put them on paper to see what happens, and it kind of unravels from there. I usually have to go back and correct, or smooth out, to provide some kind of continuity to the thing.

I love the idea of the compost heap. I've always thought of it as tea, simmering in my head. A kind of pastiche that fills up in my head. Also when I write, it tends to just be scenes or images that build up over time into story. This mass of text piles up on the pages, and then it gets too big and fractures apart, useless bits falling off, calving into smaller and smaller fragments until I have something thin and sharp and dense.

Writing with an eye for cliche. The stance of no stance, I think it's called.

I left gaming behind too long ago to know those two games, sadly. I always approached gaming as a collective storytelling event. The key is to let the story being told guide the session, rather than getting tripped up in complex algorithms of stat. Lots of gamers resist this, though. I'm sort of glad for all the time I spent gaming. It gave me a real deep feeling for characterization and motive, I think. Anyway. You guys have a url for WisCon, or should I just point the holy car Madisonwise on memorial day and start driving?
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DaveHD
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 10:04 am:   

Wiscon
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Kristin Livdahl
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 10:47 am:   

Did I really start this conversation? Should have known better as the other three RBs like to go all theory and shit. I am now covering my ears, closing my eyes and saying, "La... la... la... I will write what I want to, not listen to those who say I can't do something and count on the other RBs to kick my butt when I get lazy. La... la... la..."
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Karen Meisner
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 10:55 am:   

And that's why you're the Ratbastard Queen, since as far as I can tell all the theory and shit really boils down to what you just said.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 11:07 am:   

Well, yeah. What she said. It's just more fun to use words like interstital, pastiche, organic algorithms and suchnot. But my point was, as always, don't think about it. The pink elephant, that is. hee hee!
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Alan
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 11:18 am:   

I'm just happy that my wife is using phrases like "go all theory and shit."
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rfw
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 11:34 am:   

Every family needs one of those theory shitters.

Robert
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 11:43 am:   

I'm pretty sure in my family that's the german shepherd's job.
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 12:43 pm:   

what? we can't talk about d&d anymore?

dang it.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 01:56 pm:   

so then my druid, right, he's a half-elf. Anyway, then my druid and the barbarian snuck into the castle and there were all these orcs and stuff, and they were like "Waarrggghh" and we were like "JUSTICE!" and then I turned into a dire maggot, and the barbarian was swinging a battleax in both hands, and he was like "GROK SMASH!" and I was like ssssllittthheerrr and then...

Oh. Sorry.
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 02:23 pm:   

kewl
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Strategies de jeux
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 04:55 pm:   

Very nice site. Keep up the good work.

<p>Strategies de jeux</p>

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