Hot Black Tea: Ideas Are Free

Hot Black Tea: Ideas Are Free
Photo by Per Lööv / Unsplash

The last time I poured you a cup of this newsletter, I was having feelings about creative blockage--trying to find the ways to reduce actually making the thing into its smallest manageable parts so the making could become simpler.

In a lot of ways, I've been slowly pulling that off. I've also been realising that perhaps some undiagnosed neurodivergence is the real issue I'm struggling with, but it's one of those need-money-to-spend-money-to-make-money kinds of problems I can't very well restore with force of will. You know, because I may perhaps chemically lack force of will?

But I have been not only making lots of progress getting back into craft, but having a lot of fun doing so.

And part of how I've been doing so is Dramatica.

I like collecting new tools, new processes for storycrafting. Like many other people like me, I cannot yet discern whether that is a useful expansion of my toolbox that gets me crafting new and better stories, or an extended process of procrastinating from the actual writing, but I love me some frameworks. The more complex and granular, the better--I love it when a framework gives me ways to imagine the most miniscule parts of my idea, such that the briefest leitmotif, the smallest thematic callback, that my conscious brain would have forgotten to put in the story when I first imagined it is now part of the act of even describing the story to myself.

I... don't recommend Dramatica for everyone, I think. Even if you like outlining, Dramatica can be intense. It is almost designed to compel you to constantly refer to its materials in order to write; I have to flip through the .pdf of its main text constantly just to reacquaint myself with a part of its language, and its major Table of Story Elements has an order of operations so precise that trying to do it without a copy on hand is probably like trying to do chemistry by first needing to memorise the atomic weight of every element.

But that kind of intense can be good for me. It's like the table is a buzzsaw, cutting this big idea into the pieces it needs to be so it can fit together, but also part of the joy is hearing it drone, being consumed in the whir of its massiveness.

While rediscovering my internal process for making Dramatica more manageable, I found myself revisiting a story idea that I have been holding on for nearly six years or more now (or rather, a version of a story idea I had been clinging to for much longer, that you can even find bleeding through some of my lagahoo poems). Getting into outlining and even being excited to draft one of its initial scenes has been a source of great joy and stimulation during a very trying couple of weeks, and while it is different in tone to the other stuff I should be working on, it's been feeling really good especially to have fun writing a thing that isn't trying to take itself too seriously.

And then that fact--that I have been sitting on this story for ages--kinda hit me suddenly today.

We love to point out that ideas are free. Like, dime-a-dozen. But that fact is sometimes worthy of deeper introspection. Ideas are not nickels-on-the-side-of-the-road free. They're small-shells-on-the-beach free--each of them is unique and novel and pretty and darling, but they are worth very little in the sand.

I knew most of the guts of this story ages ago, and while Dramatica helped me make sure they come back toward each other shaped like narrative themes, it wasn't like the process taught me anything about the story I didn't already know. I had been telling myself it for years--this version of the story has an ending I have seen in my head several times almost fully formed, only waiting for the text to finally shoot it.

So why didn't I have anything to show for this earlier? (Other than, you know, the aforementioned other stories I should be working on, or the aforementioned brain-weasels?)

Reader, it's because... I thought it should be a TV show.

Now, to be sure, I still think it should be a TV show. But because of my attachment to the notion that this idea only had one valid form, I never explored it enough to even start working on that form, let alone any other that would be just as worthwhile.

I know this is a problem for me, but I wonder if it is for other people: sometimes I get so beholden to an idea, to the assumption of what an idea would be if it were perfect, that I never actually explore all the possibilities of what it may be if it didn't have to be perfect. And I guess that's part of why these blocks exist for writers in ways they would never exist for carpenters, or masons: because it would be the equivalent of not trying at all to put up a wall because you found a single nice-feeling brick too precious to waste.

So that is another thing I need to be more thoughtful about: when the thing stopping me from making is a sentimentality over the idea, as if it weren't just sand for the glass, a brick for the wall--and something I can get back if the wall isn't good enough anyway.

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Today's Tunes

Three, very quickly:

  1. The only reason I ever actually watch Apple Event livestreams is because whoever is in the music procurement department for their promos deserves a raise. The 2023 Wonderlust event was no exception.

Tkay Maidza's 'High Beams' was the insert song for the reveal of the iPhone 15, and the fact that I was looking at a phone that costs more than the glasses I need to see do was somewhat balmed by the fact that this track is a banger. So here. Enjoy.

2. Flyana Boss. I would say "'nuff said" here, but there's more to be said.

The duo has been rising rapidly on account of their viral TikTok trend getting the same caliber of boring losers very mad online, only to recently get the cosign from the magnanimous Missy Elliott on Twitter back in early July. So there's nothing sweeter than learning there's a remix to their hit 'You Wish'--and that Miss Supa Dupa Fly herself is on the track. It definitely doesn't hurt that Folayan's verse takes a solid shot at the same boring losers previously mentioned.

3. New Skindred? Yes, please.

Skindred's flavour of what they refer to as 'ragga-metal' is obviously up my alley at top speed, ever since I first heard 'Ninja' ages ago. Each new album from them has given me a new favourite tune with a kind of rebellious energy that pairs the sharp, stirring sounds of good metal with the heart of good reggae and punk. 'Set Fazers' is the example of such on their latest album Smile--harsh and insistent but also just an energetic bop besides. It immediately earned a place on, like, three of my writing playlists. We haffi bun dem, indeed.

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The Dregs

Reminder that I'm gonna be at Big Bad Con in late September! Among other wonderful things, I'll be running the first public playtest of both the Grayshade RPG based on Gregory A. Wilson's Gray Assassin Trilogy, and my Kamen Rider-inspired semi-Forged in the Dark game Hero Revolution! That Grayshade game still has room at its table, by the way, so if you're gonna be at Big Bad and you're into fantasy political intrigue, definitely consider signing up to play!

After that, you're in for a treat: the first episode of Leverage: Port of Spain should be live in early October! Our wonderful cast of con artists can't wait to take you for a trip through the shiny, dirty streets of Trinidad's port city, and I have a lot of juicy jobs in store for them! Join us over at Open Circuit Studios on October 4th for the action!

Also remember that you can help keep this newsletter and the rest of my work afloat by supporting me on Patreon, buying me a coffee on Ko-fi or sending a donation via PayPal, or by buying one of my small game projects over on Itch! Especially as I'm trying to cover some home costs and have cash on hand for food and cab fare while at Big Bad, your support would be greatly appreciated!

Until next time!