Monday, September 20, 2010


Well, now that school is back in, maybe I should pull my posts back a bit. I'd love to hear my readers' thoughts on that. Supposedly, there are recommendations out there that say that to have a successful blog, you need to post 3-4 times a day! I don't have the time to read that many posts a day on a single blog, nevermind writing them! I am, however, open to your thoughts on this.

As I mentioned, school is back in. I am lucky enough this year to be teaching a handful of Creative Writing courses. Sadly, not all of the unlucky children who were stuck with my class actually wanted it. Many of my students are interested in writing, or at least entertained enough by my antics that they don't mind. Several others are merely biding their time, hoping to be rescued. With that in mind, and characterization on my lesson plans, I developed a "polyhedral character generator." Wow, doesn't that sound nice and science-fictiony? The average 13 year old should be able to take over a planet with one of my "polyhedral character generators." Fortunately, they can't take over a planet, they can only create people.

Borrowing polyhedral dice from the math department, I sketched out a set of charts that would allow the students to roll character traits. Polyhedral dice are dice with more or less than 6 sides.
From Adventures in Elvenfire
Technically, six-sided dice are also polyhedral, but the rest of them are more interesting! Once the kids rolled out about 20 traits (I didn't make them roll every chart.), they had to flip their paper over and flesh out their character, making all those random facts make sense.

No surprise, the kids loved it. Every one of them. They rolled traits the entire period and begged to do it again. My fast-rollers asked if they could make a second character that same day, if they had the time. In short, it was a success. Much of the fun was in the odd combinations that developed. One student ended up with a werewolf who had been bitten by a vampire (that would explain why he was scared of the dark). To make things even more interesting, this same werewolf's favorite food was roast chicken, and he was a vegetarian! Quite the story behind that one. Another students rolled a character who was claustrophobic and afraid of open spaces. With a little more luck, he could have been afraid of milk and we'd have an award winning detective show on our hands!

It was loads of fun and I decided to share it with all of you, in case you too, want a vegetarian werewolf, or a man that's afraid of both large and small spaces. Currently, it's hosted here in Google Docs.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Special Thanks to H. G. Wells

This weekend I finished reading The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Loved it. Great story. Well told. I don't want to spoil the ending for any who haven't read it, but it ends with a bit of a question, though I think Wells left it clear enough for an observant reader to figure out the general idea.

As I closed the cover, the idea struck me to write a sequel. The narrator of the story dated it three years after the close of the action. I could quite reasonably open a new story, from the same narrator's perspective, five or ten years after the close of the initial action. It is, after all, about a time machine.

While the idea appeals to me, I currently have far too many open projects to try to pick up such a challenge. I say a challenge, because I would not want to write a sequel if I could not write it the way that Wells did. When a writer tries to write a continuation of another writer's work, and completely fails to copy the style of writing, or the mode of speech, or the format of the entries, or other such subtleties, then they fail at writing the sequel, and instead, partly ruin the world the writer has so carefully crafted.

This happened with one of my own favorite series, Phule's Company by Robert Asprin. Asprin, sadly, passed away not long ago, and in his last years, he had begun sharing his writings with other authors. Eventually, the other authors took over. Some, like Jody Lyn Nye who took over the excellent Myth series, have done a wonderful job. Unfortunately, the Phule series did not meet as sweet a fate. The author who took the series has not kept Asprin's voice, nor even, apparently, read the previous novels! If he did, he did not pay much attention to the characterizations or even the format the books were written in. He has trashed all of it, warped the characters, and ruined the series (for me).

If I choose to write a sequel to the classic story by H.G. Wells, I would make every possible effort not to make that mistake. Like the friend of the time traveler, you'll just have to wait to see if I succeed.