Playing Dungeons & Dragons With A Four Year-Old Is The Best Possible Use Of An Afternoon

I was going to wait. I mean four year olds are pretty good, they can do a lot of stuff, but actual roleplaying? With choices and consequences and the terrifying tension of the Vital Dice Roll? We had a go at Lego Heroica for a while, but the standard rules are so basic and dull and dry that you basically have to lay an entire new RPG system on top to get any fun out of it, and besides which it’s far too combat-focused. I wanted more than that. I wanted to show my daughters the fun and the rush of a proper RPG, of making a story together, of having things spin out of control due to a single wayward toss of the dice. So this afternoon, when Miya came to me with her usual blunt “Now what?” I thought, well, why not? She loves stories, loves games, loves rolling dice, so I suggested we try a new ‘story game’.

She was tidying up the kitchen table before I’d even gotten my dice out.

O! The nostalgia!

O! The nostalgia!

I’d been thinking about this a bit recently, mostly in terms of mechanics, and I felt that simplicity would be best: just one die, with skill rolls to see if actions succeed or fail. Easy actions have low target numbers, harder actions have high target numbers. I let Miya choose what dice she wanted to use, and she went for the twenty-sided. I nodded in approval. (This d20, incidentally, was my very first, from the red Mentzer set of D&D Basic.) I gave her a very brief description of the game—that we were going to make a story together, and that she was going to be the main character in the story. I would tell her what was happening, and she had to tell me what she wanted to do.

Dad: …now the dice is for when what you want to do is a bit tricky. Like if you want to jump across a wide gap, you have to roll the dice to see if you make it.

Miya: *nods seriously because she is an attentive and earnest sort of girl*

Dad: Okay! So the first thing we have to do is make you a character. Maybe it’s good to start with a name—

Miya: Holly.

Dad: Okay, Holly. I’ll write it down here so we don’t forget. Name – Holly. And what kind of character do you want her to be?

Miya: She’s a princess. Princess Holly.

Dad: Okay, but what kind of princess? There are lots of different—

Miya: Gem Princess.

Dad: Wow. So she’s got some kind of—

Miya: Princess Wand.

Dad: With different gems in it? And the gems have different powers?

Miya: *nods*

Dad: So what gems and powers does she have? Maybe she could start with three.

Miya: Ruby, crystal … um …

Dad: Pearl, emerald, opal, topaz, quartz, diamond … do any of those sound good?

Miya: Maybe emerald?

Dad: Okay, ruby, crystal and emerald. What powers should they have? Ruby is red, firey—

Miya: Hmm … sharp roses.

Dad: Ruby sharp roses, okay. I guess that’s a combat ability?

Princess Holly

Miya: Mm-hm. Maybe you can slice with that. Slice, slice.

Dad: Next is crystal, hmm … crystal light?

Miya: *nods*

Dad: And emerald. Green, maybe growing things or natural things—

Miya: Maybe talking to leaves and grass?

Dad: And trees—tree-talk?

Miya: Yes!

Dad: Okay, emerald tree-talk. You’ll get more abilities later but those are good to begin with—

Miya: And Princess Holly has a unicorn. As a pet. Her pet unicorn Gracie.

Dad: Gracie the unicorn. Okay, I’ll put that under ‘stuff’.

[Suddenly a wild LITTLE SISTER appears!]

Little Sister Luna: And don’t forget her princess bag!

Dad: Okay, a princess bag filled with princess things.

Miya: Like lipstick and—

Dad: Well we don’t have to list them all right now. Just if she needs a princess thing she can get it from her bag, and if she finds anything else she can keep it safely in there too. It’s a magic bag so you don’t have to worry about space. It’s got lots.

Miya: Okay.

Dad: Okay, so, you’re a princess—

Miya: Princess Holly.

Dad: —but you’ve been spirited away from your kingdom. You were walking in the woods near your castle one day and found a mysterious portal, glowing with magic energy. Before you knew what was happening the portal sucked you and your pet unicorn Gracie in, and the next thing you knew you were in a strange forest that you didn’t recognise. It’s nearly night time and it’s getting dark, so you better hurry to find a safe place. Looking around you can see three paths. One is wide but there are thick cobwebs everywhere. One is narrow and crowded with trees. And one is very rocky and rough. What do you do?

Miya: I want to climb a tree. Using tree-talk to make it bend down.

Dad: To get a better look at what’s around? Okay, you’re wearing a princess dress which isn’t very practical for climbing, but the tree is helping you which is useful. So you have to roll … six or better.

Miya: *rolls* … eleven!

Dad: The tree lowers its branches for you and helps you climb to the very top. There’s thick forest all around, as far as you can see, but you notice a mysterious glow coming from a nearby stone tower. Maybe that would be a good place to head for.

Miya: Hm. Maybe.

Dad: You can see that the rocky path will lead you to the tower. Do you want to take that one?

Miya: Yes yes.

Dad: It’s getting darker as you walk—

Sudden Little Sister Luna: MAYBE she could use that useful light spell.

Miya: Oh yes my crystal light. Can I use that one?

Dad: Of course! You hold your princess wand up and call out—


Dad: The path is bathed in a warm glow. Everything looks much cheerier now, and you’re much less likely to trip over. You’re also more likely to spot things that are hiding—and speaking of that, as you walk along you feel like something is watching you. Gracie is nervous, tossing her head and whinnying. Just then, something jumps at you from a tree! Roll the dice!

Miya: Why why! What’s happening!

Dad: Something is jumping at you, so you have to see if it gets the drop on you. If you get an eleven or more, it doesn’t surprise you.

Miya: *rolls* … oh no seven!

Dad: Something big and heavy and hairy hits against your back and you fall off Gracie. It’s a giant spider!

Miya: Oh no!

Dad: It leaps at you *rolls* but misses, thudding against a tree. What do you do?

Miya: I don’t know!

Dad: Maybe use one of your abilities?

Miya: But what are they? Oh! Tree-talk!

Dad: You could use that one, maybe ask the trees to grab the spider?

Miya: Yes something like that!

Dad: The trees are happy to help you, these spiders have been invading the forest and putting their sticky webs everywhere. If you roll a six or higher the trees are successful in grabbing the spider.

Miya: *rolls* … seven oh phew!

Dad: The trees’ long branches whip and grab at the spider, stopping it from attacking you—but not forever. It struggles and tries to get free. Just then, Gracie attacks! She lowers her head and charges straight at the spider *roll* oh, natural twenty!

Miya: What’s that?

Dad: Twenty is the highest you can roll on a twenty-sided dice, so it means you’re super-successful at whatever you were trying to do. In this case, Gracie spikes the spider straight in the abdomen with her unicorn horn. There’s a flash of dark energy and the spider vanishes—it seems that it was some kind of shadow-creature!

Miya: *gasp*

Dad: In any case the path is clear and neither you nor Gracie are hurt. Thank goodness.

Miya: Thank goodness.

Dad: You continue on towards the tower, which turns out to be quite strange. There’s no door that you can see, and the only windows are high above. Shining out from them is the mysterious glow you saw earlier.

Miya: Then how can I get in if there’s no door?

Dad: Well, that’s the problem. What do you think?

Miya: Maybe I have to use one of my spells. Hmm. Ruby sharp roses?

Dad: You want to attack the tower?

Miya: Yes!

Dad: Okay, why not. Maybe a fourteen or more, since the tower is pretty solid.

Miya: *rolls* It looks high!

Dad: Seventeen, that is high! Well done!

Miya: Yay!

Dad: Your ruby sharp roses slice the tower’s stone to pieces, revealing a large wooden door—large enough for both you and Gracie to go inside, if you want to. But first, from all your experiences you gained a level! Now you’re a level two gem princess. That means you get another ability. Let’s see, you can get something red and firey from your ruby, something useful from your crystal, maybe an ‘unlocking’ spell, or something greeny from your emerald. Maybe a climbing spell, ‘sticky fingers’. Which one do you want?

*much hemming and hawing here, sticky fingers initially attractive but ultimately discarded in favour of a fire spell*

Miya: Maybe fire … flower?

Dad: Fire flower, good. You can now create a fire flower that you can hold in your hand, or throw like a fireball at enemies.

Miya: *satisfied nod*

Dad: Okay, do you want to go inside now?

Miya: *nodnodnod*

Dad: Inside it’s very dark—


Dad: —until you use your crystal light ability. The tower is a mossy, damp sort of place, all made of stone, with big stone stairs leading up. From above you can hear a loud, snotty snoring.

Miya: *wide eyes*

Dad: What do you want to do?

Miya: I don’t want to go up those stairs!

Dad: That’s where the glow is coming from, though. It might be treasure!

Miya: But what’s that big thing that’s snoring?

Dad: You can’t see it from down here. You’ll have to sneak up if you want a look.

Miya: But it might get me!

Dad: That’s true, but there’s no reward without risk.

Miya: *wide eyes*

Dad: Suddenly, you hear a tiny voice. It says, “Princess Holly! Princess Holly!” It’s not coming from Gracie—she’s a very beautiful and loyal unicorn, but she can’t talk. No, it’s coming from your princess wand!

Miya: Oh! It can talk!

Dad: Your wand says, “Princess Miya, I can—”

Miya: Princess Holly.

Dad: Oh yes. Sorry. “Princess Holly, I can feel a princess gem somewhere close! Maybe at the top of this tower!”

Miya: But there’s something up there!

Dad: “Maybe you could try to sneak past.” Do you want to try?

Miya: …okay. I’ll try.

Dad: It sounds like it’s in a pretty deep sleep, whatever it is. You just have to roll a six or higher to sneak up. Oh, and Gracie has to stay behind because she’s too big to get up the stairs. She’ll just wait for you outside.

Miya: …twelve! Okay!

Dad: You sneeeeak up the stairs and peeeak into the room above. It’s full of broken furniture and rubbish, but mostly it’s filled with an enormous, smelly, sleeping troll, a huge club lying beside him.

Miya: Oh no!

Dad: On the other side of the room, past the troll, you can see a ladder leading up, and there’s a glow coming from the room above. That must be where the princess gem is!

Miya: But how can I get past the troll? Can I do more sneaking?

Dad: You can try, but you’re much closer to the troll now. You’ll need an eleven or higher to succeed.

Miya: Um … maybe some ability then? Maybe … tree-talk?

Dad: There’s not much plants around here, just some moss growing around the place. In fact the troll is using it as a bed. Do you want to talk to it?

Miya: …what’s moss?

Dad: Spongey green stuff growing on the stone. It’s soft and springy.

Miya: Well I’ll talk to it anyway.

Dad: “Hello! We’re some moss! Who are you?”

Miya: I’m Princess Holly.

Dad: “A princess! How exciting! Did you know there’s a princess gem in this tower? The troll stole it and keeps it here. We don’t like the troll much, because he sleeps on us all the time and he’s heavy and sweaty and smelly!”

Miya: Can you help me?

Dad: “We can’t do much because we’re only moss.”

Miya: Maaaaybe you can get the gem for me?

Dad: “But we can’t move! I think the only thing we can do to help you is to try to grab the troll’s feet if he comes after you.”

Miya: Okay! Please do that!

Dad: Well, you’ve got the help of the moss. Do you want to try to sneak now?

Miya: I guess so…

Dad: Roll the dice then. You need eleven or higher.

Miya: …oh no!

Dad: Seven! As you’re sneaking across the room you trip over an empty bottle! It spins across the floor and smashes against a wall, waking the troll!

Miya: Oh no what now!


Miya: AHHHH!

Dad: “Princess Holly, we’ll grab the troll’s feet!” The moss is grabbing on to the troll for you. “ARGH! What’s this moss doing! Let go!” The troll grabs his big club and starts smashing around with it, shaking the whole tower!

Miya: *frozen in shock*

Dad: What will you do?


Dad: Tree-talk? Again? There’s just the moss, though—

Miya: I want it to grow bigger and GRAB the troll’s legs!

Dad: …okay, fair enough. Maybe a twelve or higher, since it’s already trying so hard.

Miya: *rolls* … something high!

Dad: Fourteen, that’s good enough! You use your emerald gem to give power to the moss and it grows bigger and bigger, engulfing the troll’s legs. “LET GO OF ME!” it roars, slamming its club down again and again. The moss has a good hold on it, but the troll is very big and strong, it’ll be able to get free soon!

Miya: I have to hurry! Where’s the gem!

Dad: Up the ladder!

Miya: Up the ladder!

Dad: You climb up as quickly as you can, finding yourself in a small room at the very top of the tower. There are windows all around, and in the middle of the room is a big glowing treasure chest!

Miya: With the gem! I get it!

Dad: You try to open the chest but discover that it’s locked! The troll must have the key!

Miya: *gasp*

Dad: You can hear it downstairs, shouting and smashing with its club. What do you do?

Miya: Maybe the moss can help! It can get the key! Then give it to me!

Dad: … you mean you want to ask the moss to take the key from the troll, then try to throw it up to you?

Miya: *nodnodnod*

Dad: … well, maybe … that’s kind of a big ask, for moss. But it’s worth a try! Since this will be very difficult, you’ll need a sixteen or more to succeed.

Miya: *rolls* … yes! Yes?

Dad: Yes!

Miya: Yes!

Dad: Nineteen is a solid success! Against all expectations the moss manages to grab the key from the troll’s belt, then throw it up through the little hole in the roof. It lands by your feet!

Miya: I can open the chest!

Dad: And inside is a tiny but beautiful pink heartstone gem.

Miya: I can put it in my wand!

Dad: It fits into one of the empty slots on your wand perfectly. You feel a warm, friendly energy from it. Now you can choose an ability! Something friendly, warm, maybe healing or—

Miya: Friends!

Dad: Like a spell to make things be friends?

Miya: *nodnod*

Dad: Okay, called … heartstone friendship?

Miya: Yes, heartstone friendship.

Dad: Okay. You now have a friendship spell. But! That might not be much help to you, trapped in a tower with a rampaging troll in the room below!

Miya: Maybe I have to jump down!

Dad: Maybe! But what are you going to jump down to?

Miya: Well. Actually. I left a cushion down there.

Dad: Did you? You didn’t tell me about that. So I don’t think there’s a cushion at the bottom of the tower. There is, however, your faithful unicorn.

Miya: Gracie!

Dad: It’s quite a long way down, so you’ll need a fourteen or more to land safely.

Miya: *rolls* … oh, one!

Dad: Uh-oh! One! That’s a critical failure!


Dad: It means you fail really badly! You miss Gracie and fall right on your bottom. Ouch, it really really hurts! It hurts so much that the troll is able to get downstairs and smash through the door before you can get up again! “THERE YOU ARE YOU LITTLE THIEF!”


Dad: What will you do?


Dad: There ARE a lot of trees nearby, you want to get them to grab the troll while you and Gracie run for it?


Dad: Ten or more to—


Dad: The trees grab at the troll as you jump on Gracie and ride her down the path, but they only slow him down. You got some distance on him, but he can run fast and he’s still going to catch you. What do you do?

Miya: Um um tree-talk again?

Dad: Okay, one more time—

Miya: Twelve!

Dad: The trees grab at the troll, once more slowing him down. But! Even though you and Gracie got more distance, the troll is still catching up! On top of that the path is very rocky here, one might even call it treacherous! *rolls* So treacherous that Gracie’s hoof catches on a rocky bit of the path, and she trips!

Miya: Oh no!

Dad: Roll ten or more to recover—

Miya: Seven oh no!

Dad: You go flying off Gracie and land ahead of her. The troll’s heavy footsteps come nearer and you hear him roaring at you! He’s getting closer!


Dad: She’s not hurt, but what are you going to do?


Dad: Once more—


Dad: The trees grab at the troll but it’s too angry and big for them to stop! It raises its club then brings it crashing down. *rolls* Uh oh!


Dad: The troll’s huge club is coming straight at you!


Dad: But! Your brave and loyal unicorn jumps in front of you! Gracie blocks the troll’s attack with her body!


Dad: She whinnies and falls, hurt badly by the attack. She can’t help you now, it’s all up to you. WHAT DO YOU DO?

Miya: Something!

Dad: Do you run?

Miya: I have to help Gracie though! I have to use a spell! OH! FIRE FLOWER!

Dad: A beautiful firey flower bursts into life in your hand. “ARGH WHAT’S THAT I HATE FIRE!” the troll roars, stepping away. What luck! Trolls hate fire! What do you do now?

Miya: I have to go forward to get the troll away from Gracie!

Dad: You walk forward, holding the fire flower up. “GET AWAY FROM MY FRIEND!” you cry, as the troll steps back.

Miya: Now tree-talk!

Dad: Maybe to build a wall between you and the troll—

Miya: OH YES

Dad: That’ll be a bit more tricky—


Dad: It IS enough! The trees work together to block the path, making a thick tough wall that even the troll can’t get past. You did it! You rescued Gracie and got away from the troll! For all that effort you deserve to go up another level, now you’re a level three gem princess!

Miya: What’s my new ability!

Dad: Your princess wand talks to you: “Princess Miya—”

Miya: HOLLY.

Dad: “Princess Holly, the heartstone you found has healing magic! You could learn a healing spell from it!”


Dad: “Since your unicorn friend is hurt—”


Dad: Your new magic surrounds Gracie with a soft healing glow. In seconds she’s feeling fine again, and together you ride off away from the troll.

Miya: Phew.

Dad: But! Even though you’ve found one princess gem and defeated a troll, you’re still far from home in an unknown place. Your wand talks to you as you ride along: “Princess Mi—Holly, I’m only half a princess wand. I need eight princess gems to unlock my full potential. If you can find four more gems, maybe I’ll have the power to send you home!” It sounds like you’re going to have to search for more gems in order to return to your kingdom. Do you think you can rise to the challenge?

Miya: *explodes from excited delight*

Dad: This is probably a good place to stop for today. Was that fun?

Miya: Maybe we can do more sometime! Maybe tomorrow?

Since then Miya has talked her little sister into joining in too, as Princess Holly’s little sister Princess Daisy, who will be a ‘Colour Princess’ (AKA Art Princess, Brush Princess, Paint Princess) with a magic brush that she can use to paint things that become real, and also to change things into different colours. I swear those two should be working on a cartoon or something. In any case we had a lot of fun and I felt like the basic rules we used worked well, not too intrusive but adding that essential element of tension and randomness. Level progression felt about right too, one new ability in the middle of the session, one near the end after the big ‘climax’. I’ll have to make sure Princess Holly doesn’t get too many different abilities as that could get too unwieldy and confusing … although on the other hand Miya can recite the transformation sequences of like a dozen different PreCure by heart so maybe that’s not such an issue after all. Kids have actual memories that work, at least for this kind of fun thing. I might also put some restrictions on ability use, maybe a ‘cooldown’, so she can’t just keep using the same thing over and over.

For our next session I might plan things out a bit more, this one was entirely winged. I’ll try to include more non-fighty elements, like helping out people with problems rather than just dealing with nasty monsters. I really like Miya’s inventiveness with her abilities, and how ‘fighting’ isn’t her first response to problems, even hostile ones. It’ll be interesting to see how she and her sister do, playing together and working together. I have a feeling that Luna might get bored quickly, so I’ll try to include things to appeal to her, and problems that only her magic brush can solve.

All in all a successful session, and hopefully the first of many. Huzzah!


NAME: Princess Holly
CLASS: Gem Princess

Ruby: Sharp Roses – Fire Flower
Crystal: Light
Emerald: Tree-Talk
Heartstone: Friendship – Heal

Pet unicorn (Gracie)
Princess bag (filled with princess things)
Princess dress (pink)

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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Daughters RPG


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My Decade Of NaNoWriMo: ReDux!

Last year I wrote a big long thing about my NaNo experiences, and as it was rather well received I thought I’d bring it out, hose it down, biff a hat on it and do a lazy lazy repost.

So then! November. NaNovember. Did I ever tell you about the time I was the first person in the southern hemisphere to finish NaNoWriMo? Ah, those were the days. The scent of lemon, the halcyon days of spring, something to do with birds quite possibly, and of course I was very, very drunk. If you’re thinking about ‘doing’ NaNo I really recommend it, it’s a great chance to just get some words out without worrying about anything except your wordcount. Some people say this is a rubbish way to write, that you should be focusing on quality, to those niminy-piminy naysayers I say away! Away with your negative applesauce, go spread your brand of gloomsome folderol elsewhere!

But anyway, here be the goods:

2001: I’m twenty years old (or similar) and everyone is too polite to tell me I’m rubbish at writing. I stumble upon NaNoWriMo, lo! What’s this? Fifty thousand words in a month, are they mad? With youthful arrogance and untoward bravado I sign up anyway. November 1st arrives sooner than I had expected, and I’m struck senseless with a lack of inspiration—what to do? I have no story! Aha, but I do have a project, a silly wannabe-Pratchett thing that could use some words. I’ll just write that! Days pass. My word count hovers at two or three hundred. What to do? Just keep writing, harder and longer than I’ve ever written before! More days pass. My daily word count is now in the dozens. No motivation, no plan, no outline, I don’t know where this story is going, I’m just making this up as I go along, I don’t know what to do!

November 30th rolls around.

I barely dare look at my word count.

But I must.

Shock. Disbelief. Somehow I’ve written fifty thousand and sixty-seven words in November. Fifty thousand and eleven of them are unreadable rubbish, but this doesn’t matter. I have joined the elite circle of NaNoWriMo winners. Fifty thousand words in a month; to this day I have no idea how I managed it.

2002: I am a year older; I am a year wiser (theoretically). This time I have a plan—vague, ill-conceived, barely workable, but a plan nonetheless. I will structure my novel into vaguely-linked segments, and each segment will be about anything I want, in whatever tense I want, in whatever style I want. Fantasy, comedy, slapstick, high adventure, Lovecraftian horror, all of these would have a place in my grand second NaNovel. My plan has a secondary component; daily word count goals. This worked better than I expected, and was something I kept as part of my NaNoWriMo armoury.

November 1st: I start writing.

November 4th: This is easy. This is fun. I’m getting some great words out and meeting my daily goals without hassle, who needs an outline, who needs a plot, I’m sure things will tie themselves neatly together once I get near to the end.

November 12th: Over halfway there! Yes, I’ve resorted to retelling my favourite myths and legends as stories-within-stories, no, the plot doesn’t seem to be anywhere near any kind of resolution, yes, I’ve lost track of at least two characters, but I’m sure it’ll work out in the end.

November 17th: WHAT AM I DOING.

November 20th: HELP.

November 22nd: I have met every one of my daily word count goals, but I am not proud of the things I did to achieve this. The story has figuratively exploded, a giant in-universe retcon in a desperate attempt to gain structure and purpose. On the positive side of things I only have twenty thousand words to go.


November 25th: Screw it, I’m giving up.

November 25th 1/2: Oh all right then fine I’m not giving up, I never give up, let’s just write anything and see what happens.

November 26th: Uneventful.

November 27th: In a classic fit of anticlimatic activity, somehow I edge over fifty thousand words. The completed manuscript is unsalvageable, but once again, somehow, I have won. I suspect the daily word count goal may have been a contributing factor. Unexpectedly, I’m looking forward to next year’s NaNo. Yes, next year, I’ll have a PROPER plan then!

2003: I actually DO have a proper plan this time. I know you were expecting some kind of deflation joke but this isn’t a book, this is my LIFE. I write notes, I cobble together a basic eight-page outline, I make my daily word count goal chart, I start writing.

Eight days later, I have fifty thousand words and a completed story.

I feel fantastic.

This was the year in which I was the first person in the southern hemisphere to win. The book I wrote is … not terrible. Not entirely. The story of a girl who lets her imagination get the better of her, who is stalked by her fridge, who is visited in her dreams by a man she’s known since she was a little girl, strange and lonely. No, not entirely terrible. With work it could be publishable, but blech, work. On to the next; 2004 will be even better!

2004: This year is not even better. I come into NaNovember without an idea; blind, I start writing anyway. The first two attempts are dismal failures, I get five thousand words into the first before giving up, over ten thousand into the second before abandoning ship.

The third idea holds promise; a fantasy story with intrigue and machinations and spycraft and I didn’t outline it at all so everything fell to pieces after twenty thousand words. Nevertheless I struggle on, write some decent scenes and some cute dialogue and then realise that the story is never going to come anywhere NEAR completion in fifty thousand words. I snip it off with an utterly unsatisfying cop-out ending and call it a learning experience. Still, I wrote fifty thousand words in a month so that’s a technical win.

2005: Hectic. My November was spent in Japan, I think I arrived on October 30th or something ridiculous like that. Fortunately this was the dawn of the era of flash drives, so I wrote the whole thing on a one gig USB stick and borrowed computers. This was the year I came the closest to losing, I submitted my finished manuscript six hours before the deadline. Not a bad little story, actually, but it needed more than fifty thousand words to tell it—another cop-out ending, less unsatisfying than 2004’s, but nowhere near a publishable story.

At this point I am beginning to suspect that outlining may be a good idea.

2006: Despite my suspicion about outlining, I don’t outline this year. Instead I write Fairytale X/Once Upon A, Like, Time, which is a collection of fairytales retold by a semi-clueless teenager trying to understand just what the heck they were going on about, with a lot of MST3K-style snarking. Kind of fun, kind of quirky, kind of shallow. An easy fifty thousand words, but at what cost? I feel like I wasted this year. 2007 will be different.

2007: I don’t really remember what I was doing around this time, but 2007 saw the creation of brother-sister pair Apples and Oranges. They live in a world not unlike our own, except just a teensy bit more awesome. Kind of a fun book, but structurally rubbish. (Still not outlining at this point, and it really, really shows.)

2008: Last year’s book was pretty fun, I should write a sequel to it! That’s a grand idea! Except I was never clear on the story I was telling so the book kind of just fizzled out. Fifty thousand words of pointless (though kind of fun) fluff. On to the next.

2009: I’m starting to take writing more seriously. I’m also starting to appreciate the value of outlining; of having a plan before I begin. I have a lot of ideas for Apples and Oranges, so I outline and then write the third in their series, a quirky little thing about the creation of a Pokemon-like game by the Free Art Academy Apples attends. It’s fun but terribly, terribly self-indulgent, although the climax, wherein Apples and OJ use their spirit guides, David Bowie and Michael Caine, in a Pokemon-style battle, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever written. (To me, I mean, not to anyone else. Anyone else would read it and just think, “This author is mad, and not in a good way”.)

2010: I’m starting down the road to indie authordom. E-publishing has not come up on my radar yet, but I’ve put a few books out in print (to be universally ignored). At this point I had written Miya Black I through IV, was struggling with V, and had also written Birds Of Passage and The Boy & Little Witch. My intention had been to write the fourth book in the Apples and Oranges series, about the adventures of OJ’s band, and I had some great ideas for it … but in the last week of October an idea came out of nowhere and wouldn’t leave me alone, a superhero story, a diary thing—I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Come November 1st I wrote notes like a maniac, hammered out a pretty detailed outline, and by the end of the day I had eleven thousand words written. Day two, another nine thousand. On day three I got serious, put my head down, and got up to 41,000—and ran into a problem. The story was finished! There wasn’t anything more to tell! But I worked on it that night, I read through and thought about things I could include or expand on, and eventually I realised that there was something significant I could add to it and that took me over fifty thousand words. Phew. So last year I finished NaNoWriMo in four days, and came out of it with Charlotte Powers: Power Down. You’d think it’d be an unbelievably rough first draft, but in fact it turned out to be one of the cleanest I’ve ever produced. I took a couple of weeks to edit and proof and eventually I published it.

2011: The book I wrote in four days is by far my best-selling title; I’ve sold twice as many copies of Power Down as I have of all my other books combined. Yep, life is funny sometimes. This year I ran into an odd kind of problem, similar to the previous year: at around day six I ran out of story. I did all I could to try to add to the book, to wring out a few more words, but there was just nothing I could do. The story began where it began and ended where it ended and everything in between was doing what it should be doing, and adding more to that would be pointless—nay, wrong. I put that book aside and had a good sort of a think about things, and the next day I reset my official NaNo word count to zero and started in on a new book. Outlined it, wrote it, and got fifty thousand words by the 30th—which didn’t actually finish the story, but still, that’s a technical win.

2012: This year, I push myself. I want to get back that old feeling of panicked terror and crushing pressure. Fifty thousand words in a month is easy, if you’ve done it ten times before. Even a hundred thousand isn’t so much of a stretch. That’s why this year I’ve decided to write one hundred and fifty thousand words in November. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but that’s part of the fun. Most likely I’ll write a literary wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey thing first, then probably Charlotte Powers #5, then Tactics Heart until I drop.

I’m really looking forward to it.

In any case that’s my decade (and a bit) of NaNoWriMo. I’ve had some laughs and learned a lot, especially the importance of planning and outlining. Doing NaNoWriMo has also helped with my focus and discipline, has greatly increased my writing endurance, and has left me with about half a million words of unpublishable rubbish (but it’s good to get words out, no matter how rubbish they are). All in all, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now without NaNo. If you’re interested, do it.

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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Of Writing


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Jolly Motivation: Week Three and a bit

Goodness gracious where does the time go. My goodness. Saturday already! Nearly Sunday of all days. This past week-and-a-bit has been pretty good for getting allegedly important real life things done but absolute poo as far as writing is concerned. In any case my intended goals were:

* Charlotte Powers #5 outlined.
* Charlotte Powers #4 sorted out in terms of continuity and such.
* Tactics Heart Episode 10 written.
* Tactics Heart Episode 11 outlined.

* Tactics Heart Episode 11 written.
* Charlotte Powers #4 edited.

… and actually I did manage to write episodes ten and eleven of TH, so … well, I guess I did pretty well there. Some small progress was made with Charlotte Powers, too. Plus I got distracted in the middle and sorted through a whole bunch of stuff in early prep for NaNovember, so … well, I suppose I got more done than I thought. Even so, Will Try Harder.

Also, right now I really really want to just start putting Tactics Heart out there. It’s huge, it’s a massive thing, far bigger than I expected it to be—it is simply astounding how a straightforward two page episode outline can turn into 12k+ of actual words. I’m not even halfway through with Episode 11 and the silly thing’s already over 100k. Could even top 300k by the end, I’m still not sure how I’m going to e-book it—unfortunately there’s no real halfway point where I could neatly cut the series in two, I’d feel like I was just ripping people off if I did that, so … I don’t know, something to dwell on later. I keep thinking it should probably be a webcomic or something instead of a book, however episodic, but if it was a webcomic it’d take probably a decade to tell the story—pure text has its weaknesses, but as a storytelling medium it can be pleasantly efficient. Still, it’d be nice to have some illusts and so on for this, kind of a light novel vibe. I might start scouting DevArt for sickeningly talented artists.

Anyway, I probably shouldn’t start releasing it now. That would, perhaps, be a better thing to do for the new year. Fresh start, fresh serial, an episode a week for half a year. Which reminds me, I wanted to talk about NaNo.

Hello! Here I am talking about NaNo. This year I’m going to be a little bit ambitious. Fifty thousand words in a month isn’t exactly a stretch. So how about doubling it? 100k in a month? But even that feels a little on the manageable side. I want to push myself, so my goal for November of this year will be ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND WORDS.

That’s around five thousand a day, which is about my average when I’m in first draft mode. But consistently? Every day? For a whole month? Now that’s an actual challenge. Not all of these words will be on the same project, but I will proceed in a linear fashion—currently, my plan is to finally write that literary wibbly wobbly timey-wimey thing that’s been bouncing around in my head since before last year’s NaNo, then perhaps move on to Charlotte Powers 5 for tradition’s sake, then just pour everything left into Tactics Heart. Going into December I hope to have a whole bunch of rough as guts first draft words to polish up, as well as at least twenty episodes of Tactics Heart.

So, in order to do this I’m going to have to clear my slate. That means Charlotte Powers 4 has to be done, because it’s been hanging around too long already. I want to go into November fresh and clean, and so my goal for this month is:

* Sort Charlotte Powers #4 right out. Like published levels of sorted.

That means I’ve got three weeks to sort out the tangles, incorporate all the foreshadowing, and edit the living daylights out of the thing. To that end, here are my goals for this week:

* Get Charlotte Powers #5 outlined.
* Sort out anything that needs sorting out re: #4/#5 connections.
* Get cracking on an edit of #4.

Everything else can just get pushed aside. This is what I need to be working on, and these are the goals I will have accomplished by next week.

So, with that said, see you then!

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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Of Writing


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Jolly Motivation: Week Two

Lost track of the days and a little late, but hello! Goodness goodness doesn’t time fly. Getting straight to it, my goals for this week were:

* Charlotte Powers #5 outlined.
* Charlotte Powers #4 sorted out in terms of continuity and such.
* Tactics Heart Episode 10 written.
* Tactics Heart Episode 11 outlined.

* Tactics Heart Episode 11 written.
* Charlotte Powers #4 edited.

Of those goals, I actually did pretty well. Charlotte Powers #5 is proving to be a buggering buggery bugger, but I’m crawling my way through a rough preliminary outline scene by scene and starting to make some headway—it’s one where for almost every decision I make I have to stop and check things and think and make notes and those notes lead to more notes and oh and ah and blah blah blah. It’s a slog, is what I’m saying, but I am getting there. In any case I can confidently state that I am in a much better place with it now than I was a week ago, and that’s kind of the whole point of this. I also started making necessary changes to #4, just a few small things, but significant.

As for Tactics Heart, episode ten is finally done. Phew. Episode eleven is coming along nicely too—outlined and halfway written. It’s funny how the addition of a single brief scene can change everything. I also did some work on the overall structure and arcs and so forth, a bit tedious and time-consuming but necessary.

So, for the coming week:

* Charlotte Powers #5 outlined at least up to the first big moment.
* Tactics Heart Episode 11 written.

* Tactics Heart Episode 12 outlined/written.

Onwards onwards!


Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Of Writing


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Jolly Motivation: Week One

Jolly Motivation: Week One

Well, here we are already! Week one of my ‘come on old chap buck up and fly right’ self-motivation schedule has come and gone, so how’d I do? Well, not terribly, but not terrifically either. I have yet to achieve either of my goals, but I wrote quite a bit and sorted out a couple of tricky things that had been hanging over my head. The arrival of hideously addictive space roguelike-like FTL slowed productivity quite a bit, especially after I got it into my head to take notes during a session and it turned into something I just had to write (Crew Of The Osprey: A Recollection). That wasn’t such a disciplined thing to do, although I had a lot of fun and it’s been a while since I got into that kind of writing space, where everything was clear and all I needed was time to hammer out the words—it feels like everything I’m working on right now is fiddly and intricate, with a lot of things to balance and think about and consider, and just splurting out ten thousand words of straightforward space adventure was a nice break from all that. All in all I can’t say I regret it, but in terms of focus I feel that I need to improve.

Taking down the rebel flagship with fire bombs is an accomplishment, but is it productive? (Spoiler: No.)

So! My stated goals for the week were:

1) Charlotte Powers #5 outlined to a basic degree; connection with #4 firmly dealt with.
2) Episode 10 of Tactics Heart outlined and written.

And on both counts I have failed. CP#5 still isn’t outlined and the connection to #4 needs further expansion. Tactics Heart 10 IS outlined, but only around three-quarters written. So, in terms of actual new words over the past week (not counting the FTL thing), I got around ten thousand out. Which isn’t bad, but still, Could Do Better. With that in mind:

* Charlotte Powers #5 outlined SERIOUSLY.
* Charlotte Powers #4 sorted out in terms of continuity and such.
* Tactics Heart Episode 10 very definitely written.
* Tactics Heart Episode 11 outlined.

* Tactics Heart Episode 11 written.
* Charlotte Powers #4 edited.
* Stop playing FTL so much gosh.

See you next week!

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Of Writing


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Jolly Motivation: Goals, Dang It

Jolly Motivation: Goals, Dang It

Lately I’ve been lazy; so very lazy. (“Lazy” in this case meaning “Still working like an electric beaver, except on ‘easy’ things like proofing and making notes and research and such; not actually producing anything new and that’s what needs to happen”.) I’m out of the habit of writing and into the habit of all of the other activities that surround writing, and that’s not such a good place to stay for extended periods. I have all these projects and so many notes but very few actual written words—I mean, I do feel that when I actually do write those words that they’ll be very splendid words indeed because of all this groundwork I’ve done, but I also feel that until you’ve actually produced those phantom words that nothing’s worth much of anything. First drafts are the only currency of worth, everything else is just … everything else.

Because posts are more interesting with pictures, here’s a picture of the gaang as fruit.

With all of that out of the way, I think what I should do—and what I will do—what I will attempt to do—is begin using this bjournal as more of an update on where I am and what I’m doing. I’ll set goals and then chastise myself for failing to complete them, or else congratulate myself on a job jolly well done. And so:

I just released Miya Black V: Every Glorious Tomorrow, which was good. I sat on that one for probably too long. In any case it completes the first ‘arc’ of the Miya Black story (two more to go, phew), and is perhaps a good place to rest the series for a little while. Not that I don’t love Miya and want to continue her story, but I think at this point what I need to do is spread out a little more, try new things, and see if I can’t connect with readers with fresh projects.

With that said my priority right now is Charlotte Powers. #4 and #5, to be specific. The thing with those two books is that they’re pretty closely linked, and although #4 could be considered ‘done’ I just really feel that I need to get #5 into at least an advanced outline state before releasing #4. So, that’s what I’m mostly doing at the moment, working on #5 and figuring out a bunch of really quite astonishingly fiddly things. It’s not so much that I wrote myself into a corner, more that I made quite a few promises with books 1 – 4 and #5 is where I have to deliver on those promises in the most satisfying way possible. It’s a book that I just really, really want to get absolutely right. So, the bad news for Charlotte Powers fans is that #4 isn’t going to be out for a month or two, but the good news is that #5 will follow relatively closely, maybe even before the end of the year if things go that way. It’d be nice to have a completed series out, although (typically) I’ve already started sketching a follow-up series that could be pretty exciting. More on that after #5 is released.

Bright Battle Story: Tactics Heart is another focus right now. Serialised story, free to read, with an ebook to be released once it’s done. I know most serials are a ‘write/release as you go’ kind of thing, and I was originally going to do it that way, but with this one … I just kind of want to get more of it written before I start releasing. Just in case I need to add foreshadowing or something, you know I love sneaking a tiny detail in at the start that becomes vitally important near the end. Anyway, I really really love this story and these characters (all seven hundred of them) (just kidding) (kind of) and really just want to get it out there, but I have to go with my heart on this; needs more time, needs more effort. I’ve already got the first nine episodes written, and it looks like there’ll be twenty-five in the series … I mean, I could start releasing now … and I kind of want to … actually, that might be a good ‘goal’, get Tactics Heart sorted out.

Other projects are other projects. I pick away at them now and then but it’s probably best to keep them in the background for now. So then!


1) Charlotte Powers #5 outlined to a basic degree; connection with #4 firmly dealt with.
2) Episode 10 of Tactics Heart outlined and written.

Everything else can be worked on or not worked on as it happens; these two things are what I will have accomplished by next Tuesday. See you then!

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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Of Writing


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Creation of a Cover

I love mucking around in Photoshop. It’s so relaxing and fun, not like that troublesome ol’ writing lark.

Troublesome Writing Lark

why did I make this

Sometimes this mucking around leads to a cover, sometimes for a book I haven’t even written yet. I often find it to be a good sort of semi-distraction, something to focus on while my subconscious figures out little things and tries to find the shape of the story. Recently I’ve even been sketching out rough ideas before doing any actual fiddling. With the most recent story to occupy my head space, Blood Sisters, I had this grand idea for a dramatically epic cover featuring the protagonist standing over her wounded sister, facing down dozens of murderous bandits in a night forest lit by torches. I even sketched out a rough outline before remembering that I can’t draw. I’ll save you from having to see the offending sketch; instead here’s a portrait of James Townsend (Esquire), Lord Mayor of Olde London Towne:

James Townsend, Mayor of London and Gentlemanly Poisoner


So then, given that my grand, overly-ambitious ideas for a cover were nothing more than idle dreams, I went the other way; simplicity! Striking central image! Colours! Bright colours! Red is a bright colour! Aren’t there some red flowers? I could make it a BLOOD flower!

Blood Sisters Cover 1

Unt I did

Pretty decent first draft cover for a thriller, I feel. Except this book’s a fantasy story. Ho-hum. Still, I really liked the central image and the basic thing of the thing, so once more I fiddled and I faddled and I mucked and I … micked, eventually deciding that a more comic booky style might be more ‘fantasy’.

Blood Sisters Cover 2

Or should I say, Doctor VON Scott?

Here I felt that I was on the right track, but that font … that FONT. (Trajan, incidentally, a good go-to font for mucking around with.) I decided that the best way to say ‘fantasy’ was to make a fantasy-ish logo-title-thing. Looking a bit like a comic book would not, I felt, be a bad thing. And so:

Blood Sisters Preview 3

Just what exactly are you implying?

Now it was starting to feel more like a book I wanted to write. Still, it needed something else, it needed something more, it needed … fiddly bits.

BS Cover 4

So fiddly

At this point I started playing around with different ‘moods’ for the cover:

BS Cover 5

Literally hours of fun

Then I got distracted making a ‘series logo’, as this book would (eventually) (possibly) (hopefully) (if all goes as planned) be part of a larger collection of vaguely related but ultimately stand-alone stories united under the title of “The Song That Ends The World”. So, I made this:

Song That Ends

Bang, zoom! Straight … to the moon

Which, to be perfectly honest, still needs a lot of fiddling to get right and I might change the font and blah blah blibbity blah-blah-blah. It’d do as a placeholder for now in any case, and so:

BS 7


Still a lot of mucking around to do and who knows, I might abandon the whole concept or even go with a completely different title, but that’s the story of this first draft of the cover for Blood Sisters, possibly the first book in the Song That Ends The World series. (Potentially.)

In other writing-related news, since I’m here, Charlotte Powers 4: Rising Power is nearing first draft completion. Miya Black V is also in a state of near-readiness; just a couple of proofs before it’s ready for release. I’d say Rising Power is on track for a late-August release, while Miya Black V could be out before the end of this month, depending on how things go.

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Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Of Writing


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