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RLXP – Role Playing for Life

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My husband and I like playing role playing games. 

For those not in the know, role playing games (RPGs) are storytelling games where you create a character and someone narrates an adventure. I’m sure you’ve heard of Dungeons & Dragons, it’s the most popular RPG but by no means the only one.

So Ben and I play these games together, sometimes with other people, but most often on our own and luckily for me, Ben is an amazing storyteller.

Recently, we have been playing a game inspired by the awesome book ‘All My Friends are Superheroes’ by Andrew Kaufman. In this game I am a superhero—an empath named The Empath (or Em) and I do what I love to do in real life: try to solve people’s emotional problems. Ben takes on the enormous task of playing all the other characters in the game and he does an amazing job at coming up with tricky emotional situations to inspire me and make me sweat.

The game is small and personal. Smaller and more personal than many role playing games you tend to see played. Often role playing games are massive, magical adventures in faraway lands, but our game is focussed on interpersonal relationships so there’s no demons to slay (except perhaps internal demons) or gold to be looted. And I love that about it.

I’ve played many different role playing games before and this by far is the most challenging and the best. It’s emotional, realistic (with a hint of magic), in short it’s the kind of stories I like to write and therefore it’s the kind I like to play. For the first time in a game I have to face having romantic relationships and even though it’s Ben I’m having them with, because he is playing a character I don’t know that well it feels new and awkward and hard. I have a brother in the game too, which presents me with hard familial choices (he’s on the rocks with his wife who is also my best friend) and as I play a social worker who deals with Superheroes I am constantly encountering people who need my help in a way that often feels out of my league.

I know, I know, it’s just a game. But because it is so small and personal it feels very real and because it’s just me playing the protagonist I want to do my best and help everyone in the best way I can. It’s intense.

Ben’s been running games like this since he was twelve and you can tell. He’s awesome. And because he’s so excited about the art of role playing he’s started a site called RLXP. He has this theory that you can get some real life benefits from role playing and he wants to test that out. So every week we broadcast our games and talk about the real life feelings they inspired. It’s fun and awkward and I think it’s pretty interesting too.

If you want to check out Ben in action and our games you can find all you need to watch us live stream at Ben’s website: http://rlxprpg.wordpress.com/. Also, you can follow him on Twitter @MrBadgerGM to find out when we’re online!

Stop by and check it out!

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The People’s Couch

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Ever wonder what Ben and I do when we aren’t making awesome videos or writing like mad?

We watch TV.

Obviously that’s not all we do, but we do it enough that someone decided to put us on a reality TV show for it!

If you want to take a peek into our living room while we watch TV and see what we have to say about storytelling, life, the universe and everything you can catch the premiere of ‘The People’s Couch‘ on Bravo at 8:30pm on July 13th.

Tune in while we tune in and hopefully we can make you smile, laugh or think!

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Writing & Reading Animal Cruelty

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I was at a reading for a feminist writing series a couple weeks ago where a writer was reading from her book about a female matador.  In the Q&A period that followed the writers were asked about their worst reactions to their books.  The woman who had written the matador book said an editor refused to read/work on her book because of the animal cruelty.  It was at that point that the whole room gasped in shock.  They were appalled!  They rolled their eyes!  How could that editor be so silly? was the general question that hung in the air.  It’s an editor’s job to read books, so it shouldn’t matter what’s in it…should it?

I was taken aback.  I frankly expected more from a bunch of feminists.  If feminists expect people to respect their cause and concerns, shouldn’t they respect the causes and concerns of others?

I wanted to put my hand up and say I understood the editor’s perspective and shame on them for being so rude about someone’s preferences, but I didn’t.  It’s not that I have a problem piping up, it’s just that it’s a complex topic and I didn’t want to derail the conversation and take the spotlight off the writers.  So instead of speaking up then, I’m doing it now.

I’m a vegetarian.  I was a vegetarian for about ten years before I started eating meat again around the age of twenty-five or six, now I’m happily back to my vegetarian ways.  Every time I ate meat for the six or seven years I was back at it, I felt guilty.  I really hated it because I really love (and respect) animals and because I love animals so much I tend to get easily turned off when someone is abusing them.

But in a fictional story does it really matter?  To me it does.

Once when I wanted to write a horrible character, like a really horrible character, I made her kill a dog.  When I finished writing the scene I was horrified, but to me it drove home the impact of her horribleness.  Sure the character was manipulative and a rapist and was responsible for a couple of human deaths too, but to me none of that compared to the evil that was killing an animal.  After all is said and done I still have a residual feeling of guilt for using violence against animals to enhance the negativity of a character.  Why?  Treating animals well is just something I feel strongly about, even in my fiction.  So whenever I see a character in any circumstance be mindless or cruel to animals, I automatically hate them and hold it against them…usually forever.

Overall I believe animal cruelty does have a place in fiction, but if it’s sustained and pointless I tend to shy away from it because it’s just not fun for me to read something that makes me feel horrible for whatever animal is being harmed.

I think in some cases animal cruelty can have a point though.  For example I just wrote a story about an aquarium (which I think are disgusting, cruel prisons for fish) where the main character learned to feel empathy for the fish and ultimately sad about their enslavement.  But a lot of the time I feel that animal cruelty is either used because it’s an easy emotional trigger (like the way I used it to make my character evil) or it goes unaddressed as a problem.  People eat animals all the time, so why should hurting them be a problem?

Ultimately I wouldn’t want to read a book about a matador because the violence against animals isn’t being addressed (as far as I know), it’s just a backdrop for the story of the main character and I don’t find that interesting enough to endure animals being tortured.  Clearly the editor who was being mocked at the event felt the same way as me and I’m here to say I agree with her.  I feel what she’s feeling.  Everyone has their sensitive issues, or things they don’t want to see/read because it bothers them and I don’t think anyone should be put down for that.

For me, I deal with animal cruelty in fiction very selectively and frankly I think that’s perfectly okay.

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The Booth at the End

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Ben and I watch quite a bit of TV and we struggle to find well-written shows.  Writing is so important it can really make or break a series.  As people who make videos/films ourselves, we take a particular interest in well-written TV (or in this case web TV) and there are a couple shows I love so much I think they bear mentioning here.

The Booth at the End is one of those (rare) awesome and extremely well written shows.

It is a two season (so far) web series created by Chris Kubasik (an outstanding writer who has also written other fantastic things including several RPGs – holy crap we want to play with him) and I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s one of my favourite shows of all time.  I’ve been thinking about it for awhile now and I am not sure I have seen anything better written in all my show-watching days.

The Booth at the End takes place entirely in a booth in a diner and revolves around the stories of multiple people who want things.  The premise is wonderfully simple, yet extraordinarily complex.  Because the whole show is entirely focused on conversations between ‘The Man’ (the person who essentially grants wishes to people who perform seemingly random tasks) and the people who desire things, it allows for a wonderfully intimate, psychologically intense story.

I also posit that this conversational storytelling style format allows for a fascinating psychological effect.  I recently read an article about the effects of reading fiction on the brain.  It indicates that the effect of reading stimulates the same parts of the brain that would activate as if you were doing the thing you were reading about.  For example, reading words related to smell would activate the olfactory cortex.  So essentially, if you read it, your brain thinks you’re doing it or at least responds as though you were.

So I believe there is a similar effect at play here, due to the fact that The Booth at the End is based entirely on characters telling stories.  Now I don’t have the ability to scientifically test this theory, but (if not actually activating the areas of the brain related to the stories being told) we are at the very least invited, through this format, to use our imaginations.  With this show we’re not being spoon fed images, we’re being forced to think and imagine and filter the stories through our own brains.

The Booth at the End is deeply moving, makes us question and allows us a space to think through our own choices and their consequences.  And for a web series, that’s pretty impressive.

As a writer, I have only a handful of writers I am completely impressed by and Chris Kubasik is definitely one of them.  If I can come even remotely close to the quality of writing in The Booth at the End at some point in my career, I will have created something amazing.

So here’s to you Chris.  You’ve made an outstanding piece of art and I hope you keep making it.  I’m dying to know what happens next and that’s not something I can say about very many things.

And to all of you out there who haven’t watched The Booth at the End.  Do so now.

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Kick Judgement’s Ass

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I was writing a story the other day and I just wrote.  I didn’t think about it too much, I just let my fingers move across the keyboard.  I imagined I was painting or playing a piece on the piano.  I didn’t judge what I was doing, I just did it.

I was so excited I didn’t stop until it was over and I had a bit of my soul sitting there in front of me, raw and beautiful.

The more I write the more I learn what it means to tell a story and better yet, I’m learning to kick judgement’s ass.

I want my writing to be real, I want to be unfettered and lose myself in the flow of it all.  When a good story comes to me I don’t want to shy away from it and that comes only from a complete lack of judgement about the piece.  If you sit there in worry and doubt about yourself, your abilities or your feelings, you’ll lose that vital thing which makes a story truly and authentically you.

You are not anyone else and that is an incredibly valuable thing when it comes to telling a story.  No matter what, your influence is always the thing that makes your writing unique and to deny that is to deny yourself as an artist.  So don’t judge, just let it flow.

After you write you can take a closer look, but don’t be hindered by doubts and corrections along the way.  Write until it’s finished and then go back and correct for errors, mumbles and cliché (unless of course you are striving for cliché).

Don’t judge your voice, because it’s you.  All the mistakes, all the pain and all the wonder you’ve experienced in your life is what colours your art and the sum of all those experiences expressed is the most valuable thing you have.

Tell me about your experiences with judgement, doubt and uncertainty.

Then tell me how you kicked its ass and found your voice.