Virtual reality writing could be very different

This is a video of me trying Google Cardboard for the first time. I look kind of goofy, huh? :)

Last week, I visited the New York office of the education company I work for and got the chance to try one of these things on. If you’re not up on your virtual reality these days, Google Cardboard is a simplistic virtual reality viewer that uses your smartphone to run VR apps. You can get one for as little as $15.

Trying Google Cardboard, it occurred to me that writing for virtual reality could be very different than, well, writing for anything else.

We write for television. For movies. For games. For all sorts of platforms and experiences. And what each of those mediums require from writers is very unique. Even writing a short story is different from writing a novel, so writing for virtual reality would have to be different too, right?

The only people who are truly going to know what it’s like to write for virtual reality are, obviously, the people who are going to do it. But I can speculate about a few things:

  • Virtual reality could require a lot of “you” statements. The player is literally a part of the game, so VR requires a more intimate approach. Writing second-person well (beyond the level of a “choose-your-own-adventure” story) is a challenge.
  • More “show” than “tell.” With virtual reality, you have the opportunity to make every part of your storytelling immersive. The easiest way to do that is to load up on the show.
  • Description is less important. Again, this goes back to showing. When the player can see everything for themselves, they don’t need everything to be explained for them — they can explore the world firsthand.
  • Choice will matter more. When the player feels like they’re personally the ones making a decision, their choices will automatically have more weight. Or at least they should.
  • Dialogue could involve voice recognition, which would be … bonkers awesome. I can wish, can’t I?

Can you think of any other ways writing for virtual reality would be different than what we’re used to? Let me know in the comments!

 

The benefits of creating a chapter outline for your novel

chapter spreadsheet template

Making a chapter outline is one of the best things I’ve done for my work in progress (WIP).

I’m in my second draft now, so this chapter outline (pictured above) is different than the one I made for my first draft. It’s a lot more focused on what I wrote, not what I planned to write, and it helps me to spot the strengths and weaknesses in my story.

To make the outline, I used Google Spreadsheets. First, I “froze” Column A and Row 1 (click “View” –> “Freeze”), which locks them in place. I set columns for chapters, color-coded by point-of-view (my WIP features multiple character perspectives). Then I created rows for all the major aspects of storytelling that I wanted to keep track of — plot summary, conflict (external, internal, and escalation), the quality and content of the writing (dialogue, body language or action beats, description or sense of place/setting, verb strength), worldbuilding, and character relationships and subplots.

Here’s how I color-coded the rows:

Plot = bright yellow
Conflict = bright green
Writing = medium blue
Worldbuilding = bright blue
Character relationships, arcs, and subplots = medium purple

I made a lot of different purple rows — for a character’s relationship to another character, a character’s interactions with and feelings about the world, and any side issues that I wanted to explore. Basically, these rows let me track a character’s arc, relations, and development, as well as any subplots.

I always colored in the cells for plot, conflict, writing, and worldbuilding and added notes — but I only colored the purple cells when something in the chapter contributed to those elements. For example, if Character 1 and Character 2’s relationship changed, I colored that cell and wrote how.

If one of the purple cells should have been colored in, or one of the main cells (plot, conflict, writing, and worldbuilding) weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be, I colored the cells orange and wrote notes on why they were lacking and ideas for how to address the problem. These orange cells are basically a “red” flag to tell me that I need to work on a certain aspect of the chapter — I just used orange because it’s a less stressful color than red. :)

This chapter outline has been crucial for getting me to analyze and reflect on how each chapter is contributing to the novel overall. Each chapter should pull its weight and be invaluable to the story. It should deepen character development and relationships, reveal a new aspect to the world, intensify or add conflict (or sometimes resolve it), and occasionally introduce or develop subplots. The writing itself should also be the best it can be. Filling out the outline for each chapter gives me a better sense of where the gaps are, which helps me determine where I should focus my self-edits and revision.

I made a separate spreadsheet for assessing each character’s relationship to another, which gives more “life” to characters other than the protagonist, but maybe I’ll cover that in another post. :)

Tip: This is just my personal strategy. Your spreadsheet (if you want to use one) can look however you want. In fact, I’d love to hear what you’ve done with yours!

But remember, anything you can do to help yourself revise smarter is important — because revision will make your novel awesome:

novel tv in your head

Do you make any spreadsheets to help you with writing/revising your WIPs? Let me know what approach you take in the comments!

When you feel discouraged about your writing

writing hard

Last week, I was feeling overwhelmed by the writing process. Finishing a book takes a long time. First, you have to write it and take a pass at editing. Then you have to enlist critique partners to point out the problems you can’t spot yourself, which also requires that you devote time to their manuscripts. Then, before you begin the querying process, which can take months, you should probably show your novel to some beta readers to gauge how regular readers (not writers) would react to your book if they picked it up in a bookstore.

It’s easy to feel like all of this is too much of an investment. If you might have to write three, five, ten manuscripts before you get published, then why waste so much energy on a single book?

You can get caught up in thinking it’s going to take forever before you get good enough to publish, and then what if you never do?

Here’s the thing. Writing isn’t about getting published. It’s not even about talent. It’s about hard work and persistence. You should write because you love to write, because you don’t ever want to stop, not because you care about whether a group of people believe your work is “marketable” or whether it’s the next New York Times bestseller.

I know that’s a hard thing to hear because, holy shit, does writing take a lot out of you. I’ve been working on my current WIP for over a year. For a lot of that time, I didn’t necessarily keep to a strict writing or revising schedule — although I’m doing a lot better than I did with my first completed novel, which took me over three years to revise and even longer to realize that I was procrastinating because I didn’t feel passionate about it (a good sign that it sucked and I needed to move on to a new project).

Now I’m setting my writing/revising schedule at the beginning of the week using Any.do and planning out my goals per quarter. Because I want to finish this thing, no matter how long it takes. Even if it doesn’t end up being my debut and attracting an agent and publisher, that’s okay. Because just going from my last manuscript to this one, I can see how much my skills have grown. And I know that I’m going to get even better — so it won’t be quite so much work the next time around. Hopefully, my next story will be even more enjoyable to read, too, because I’ll have gotten better at all the things I’ve been struggling with.

So if you’re feeling down about your writing, tell yourself to shut up. Then pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to some chocolate or beer or whatever makes you happy. Because even if you can’t believe it right now, one day you’re going to get there — to that wonderful moment of seeing your book on somebody’s shelf. You just have to stick with it.

believe in magic

Life stuff continued (great news!)

pikachu

Today I want to share some exciting news and then fire off some quickie book reviews. Here we go.

I’m now working full-time as a community and social media manager for Classcraft, a really cool browser-based role-playing game that teachers and students play together. It’s not game-based learning (eg., Minecraft) but rather gamification, which is when you take game mechanics and principles and apply them to non-game settings (in this case, middle and high school). Students choose whether they want to be a mage, warrior, or healer, and teachers reward them for positive behavior and punish them for negative behavior. Kids also learn fun powers that help them work together as a team to win. So anything that’s happening in the game is corresponding directly with their performance and grades in class.

This all happened super fast. The team’s founder, Shawn Young, encouraged me to apply for the position after I interviewed him for an article (here’s the piece on Fast Co). I still work from home, make my own hours, and get all the other perks of being a freelancer, but it’s full-time and pays well enough that I was able to drop a lot of gigs. I’m still keeping some because I love writing about video games, but this is a nice change of pace for me, and I’m excited to see how it goes.

What do you think? If you have any tips for me or want to ask me questions about Classcraft — anything at all (maybe you know some teachers who might be interested?) — go right ahead. :)

And in other good news, I don’t have to relocate to Philadelphia as previously thought, so my boyfriend and our cats and I are pretty happy about that.

On to the book reviews! GO, GO, GO!

The Girl Who Would Be King by Kelly Thompson – Probably one of the better superhero novelizations (are there a lot of those?). Original property, so it’s not based on anything. It tells the origins of a superhero and a super villain who are connected through their mothers and a long line of superpowered women. It’s good, but a little cliche/predictable at times, so I wasn’t huge on this. Awesome ending, though.

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver – These are all life stories about ordinary people. Great but depressing? That’s Carver. Perfect if you don’t feel like getting invested in any one story more than 15 pages long.

I RETURN — WHOOSH!

I’m still alive! No need to panic!

I realize I haven’t posted in, like, two months, and that’s pretty sucky of me. To be honest, I haven’t been in the biggest mood to blog, and I don’t think I need to be preachy about it. We all get tired of blogging sometimes, and I’ve been productive in other ways.

BUT I STILL LOVE YOU ALL. (To prove it, cute cat pics ahead!)

As you probably know, I’m a writer by day, so I work on lots of articles (both online and print — exciting!) all the time. You can always check up on the things I’m churning out here. And for fear of spoiling my progress with this, I’ve actually been chipping away at the old novel, which feels … so old by now.

Not surprisingly, in my absence I’ve gotten behind on book reviews. By now, it’s so late that I’ve probably forgotten everything I wanted to say about them, so I may or may not do reviews. But the books I’ve read include two Raymond Carver short story collections and The Girl Who Would Be King. Maybe I’ll do a roundup or something. Would that be cool?

I’ve also been playing (and dammit, COMPLETING) lots of video games in my spare time, which is kind of my job, but I don’t always get to do it without writing involved. Things are going super well right now. Some good prospects are lining up. And I’m doing something really, really fun and secret (for now) with three other girls, and I CAN’T WAIT to see it published.

Life news: I may be moving to Philadelphia, which is kind of no fun. My boyfriend and I don’t want to leave Pittsburgh, but, alas — school stuff. I can go anywhere with my work, but we have two cats now* and everybody we know is here, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can stay put.

Sammy and Merlin 1
This actually was a thing that happened.

Other than that, I finished Breaking Bad, which makes me incredibly sad only because it’s the Best Show Ever Made, and Nothing Will Ever Be As Good Again (sighs).

I’m still on my quest to become the Ultimate Cooking Master, which this winter has involved making the hell out of some awesome chilis and soups and using my crock pot more and trying not to make everything with chicken, because god I eat a lot of chicken, and I should probably diversify.

I am stupidly busy this month, and that’s always my fault (more assignments = more money, yay!), but I will share a couple cool links:

There’s a new app that will let you read novels in under 90 minutes thanks to wearable technology. THE FUTURE IS NOW.

Don’t panic: You can play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s 30 years old and new again. GO!

So, what’s going on in the book/writing world that I should know about? What adventures have you gotten into? Deets, please!

Sammy and Merlin 2
Sammy (left) and Merlin (right).

*Our newest kitty, Sammy, only has three feet. He was born that way, ALL RIGHT?!