Tag Archives: creative play

Panopeia Begins

I’m pretty excited about the latest developments at my collaborative writing site Pan Historia.  Traditionally Pan has always maintained a high level of privacy for its membership – it’s a place to feel safe in the maelstrom of the internet where you don’t know who is reading, who is watching, and who might make off with your most prized piece of prose.  It’s also allowed people to feel free to experiment with personas and characters that they might not otherwise feel if using their own names on a site freely available to be viewed by all. While this has always fostered a deeper sense of community with our writers and role players, as well as safety and trust, it has made it a lot harder for people new to the site to see what we’re doing and to feel like they’re welcome joining in.

A few weeks ago we decided it was simply time to open up our community daily postings to the general public (i.e. it is not necessary to be logged in or registered to the site to read these posts) to better give possible newcomers a chance to savor the flavor of the site.  Of course this led to our wonderful volunteer administrators to discuss the best ways to increase the activity on the dailies and how to make them more representative of the site as a whole.  This led to the creation of Panopeia, a new collaborative story play that happens outside the context of the rest of Pan’s novels (collaborative story lines that can include anything from two to a hundred writers working together on one theme/story), that allows people to use their creativity and their current characters.  It’s also totally open to newcomers to the site.  Of course it’s possible to read without joining Pan, but if you want to write you will have to register.

Some of our admin, staff as we call them at Pan, are portraying characters that are holding the keys to the mystery of Panopeia, which is currently taking place in an strange and supernatural hotel, in order to help guide the story, and keep all the elements straight, but otherwise the possibilities are pretty wide open.  This is a great way to get an introduction to what we do at Pan, and from there I am genuinely hopeful that people will find their way deeper into the site to enjoy all our other features and stories.  One of the greatest pleasures I have at Pan, as I stretch my writing muscles over dozens of stories, is finding new writers to interact with.  Instead of writing being a solitary lonely business at Pan it is a social one, where new lifelong friends have been made (and a few marriages too!).

As Panopeia grows and develops I’ll report more on this social experiment in writing and its impact on Pan.

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Writing Need Not Be a Lonely Business

Good fellowshipOne of the sweet deals I have noticed in working collaboratively with another writer (or even two or three in the case of Pan Historia, my writing and role play community where I have honed my skills over the years) is that I need never really suffer from writer’s block.  If you’re stuck you can get together with your fellow writer and start serving a few idea balls back and forth until you get a good volley going.  Some ideas won’t work, but usually, and pretty quickly when you have two creative minds at work, you’re going to get something good going.

Even if you’re not planning on writing a collaborative novel talking to a trusted friend could still help you.  Present them with the situation, ask them what they might do under those circumstances.  Perhaps something they suggest will surprise you.  Chances are coming at something from an entirely different point of view might spark off something in your brain.  Interestingly I have played this game with author friends of mine, people who write brilliant stories, and while I seldom end up using their ideas, just the fact that we batted it around gives me inspiration for something uniquely me, and that works with my characters, my plot.

In other words even disagreeing with suggestions can be fertile ground to break through a virtual barrier that is hold you back from writing.  I don’t belong to any writing groups but I imagine this is why many writers join them: to get ideas going, and to have trusted sounding boards.  Ultimately you make the final decisions, or if it is collaborative, the two of you will have to agree, but the process can be full of help and support, much like the Hero’s Journey.  Writing need not be a lonely business.


Christmas Present, Christmas Past, Christmas Virtual

Do I scream or do I cry? It’s that time of year again. I love the holidays and I hate the holidays. Remember being a child? It was all so uncomplicated then. Santa came in the middle of the night, ate up all the cookies you left him and sucked down on the cream sherry (yes, we were that kind of household), and then left a humungous plethora of joy wrapped in silver, red, and gold paper.

Year after year it grew more complicated. The first Christmas away from home, spent in another family’s home as an outside was like a dash of cold water that sent my youthful emotions spinning into darkness. Later on changing family dynamics changed the holidays from my uncomplicated joy to harrowing nightmares that might involve drunken binges (not mine). Expanding connections and networks produced an overload of spending, responsibility, anxiety, and stress as big business pushed ever harder for us all to succumb to an orgy of consumerism at the holidays. As a single parent there were those mornings when I knew I had failed my offspring because I couldn’t afford those excessive gifts that were commonplace, it appeared, in every household but my own on Christmas morning.

Now I have a family that demands to be together, and yet collectively sighs and moans at the difficulties inherent at fulfilling the expectations of the season. I’ll be doing a little of the same, but in the middle of all the chaos and tears, there will also be hugs, and moments of genuine gladness in each other.

Now if only the holidays could be like they are at Pan Historia: full of fun and games, where gift giving may be real or virtual, but it hardly counts which because everyone is just happy to be involved. No one worries about the stresses of real life too much because it is where they come to escape such concerns. The tree is big and gaudy with plenty of love decorating it, but no needles to sweep up at the end. The food is fun, but will not make you fat or give you indigestion. And it really doesn’t matter what the holidays mean to you. We have something for everyone.

Oh, and I love our red cardinal and snow theme this year, simple and elegant.


Let’s Get Playful

I started this blog post earlier today. If I had finished it would have read very differently. I would have talked about being ‘present in the moment’ and my observations of human behavior and how we have all, mostly, lost touch with the present in our fast-paced, constantly evolving, sound-byte, multi-tasking world where everyone is rushing to ‘get ahead’: literally and figuratively. It was a dry post, and I didn’t get far with it; a couple of paragraphs and then I started boring even myself. This is never a good sign. If you can’t get your own interest as the writer of the piece than what are you readers going to do? Stop reading that’s what.

End of sentence. Full stop.

So I came to the end of a sentence and I took off for greener pastures, which in my case, today, was writing some fiction at www.panhistoria.com. I really love to write collaborative fiction. Lately it’s been incredibly hard to find the time to do it. In fact my whole movement towards going slow and being present in the moment has really just revolved around one thing: I don’t find the time to be playful and write like I used to. Problem is that I didn’t realize this until about thirty minutes ago.

My community site, Pan Historia, is all about being playful. Collaborative fiction has few lofty ideals. It’s not striving for acclaim and publication beyond the publication of being online where people can share and read, or the acclaim of your friends and co-writers. It’s the writers version of reentering childhood where make believe is the order of the day, and playing dress up is all you have to think about.

For me, of course, as site owner and developer, Pan has developed into a much more serious business – in fact – a business. I have been letting that get in my way. My life is just more busy than it was a few years ago. That’s a fact that won’t go away. I have a relationship to maintain (an enjoyable distraction!), I have a full time job because during these tough economic times I can’t get away with less, and I live in beautiful part of the world that demands I enjoy time outdoors. These are not bad things, and yet I have been letting them freak me out because it has become harder and harder to juggle the different areas of my life and make them all work together.

It’s time to stop battling it. It’s time to take my own advice: go slow, breathe, cook my own food, write for pleasure, and be present in the moment. I don’t have to spend every moment doing something productive. I don’t have to be a marketing DIY pundit. I don’t even have to write in this blog if I don’t want to. I have many blessings in my life, but I need to pay attention to them, remember the job, and be playful. I’ll simply get more done that way – without even trying. Because I’m not working: I’m playing.


The Bones of a Leaf

The human mind is an amazing instrument capable of processing data from multiple inputs at speeds that make the fastest microprocessor look like a slow moving cement mixer. Not only that but many of the functions it performs are sorted and prioritized without the owner even seeing or sensing the processes involved. One of the astonishing abilities of the mind is the interpretation and creation of symbols: one thing standing for another thing. Letters form words that the brain then interprets. A picture of shape that is roundish, red, and has a sticklike appendage near the top becomes an apple. I catch sight of a piece of leaf with just the stem and a small part of the base and I see a tadpole swimming on my carpet.

Art, whether written, pictorial, or musical, is the mind’s conscious manipulation of symbols to create images, emotion, and meaning in the mind of the observer/listener. I take something that is not there, create symbols (words or images), and deliver it to you so that you have an experience. Creating words from letters, then forming sentences, all of which describe the world, exterior and interior, is really an astounding activity and yet so many of us, from children to the most humble, can do it. Of course a lot of people tend to stick to the literal, the true, the tangible. It takes another flight of fancy to make stuff up – to make beautiful meaningful lies.

But even the entirely made up should be full of truths eternal. They may be very small, but I believe that even in the most lighthearted or humorous or fanciful piece of fiction writing there should be yet another layer of meaning underneath the obvious. I should be able to paint a picture for you of another reality and underlying my fictional reality is yet another substrate of meaning, of symbol. A really satisfying work of art lingers with you a long time after experiencing it. It’s the movie that makes you keep thinking days later, or the novel that resonates years in the future so that you have to pick it up again, and lo and behold there is even more there than the first time around. It’s the painting that haunts, or the musical refrain that moves you to tears and you don’t know exactly why.

If I can ever write just one novel that has the ability to resonant in the reader’s mind long after they put it down I’ll have succeeded as an artist. If someone reads my words like I can read the remains of a leaf as a tadpole on my carpet then I have done my job.


Retrieving the Wonder of Childlike Eyes

Old advertising posterI recently watched a couple of young boys, probably around seven or eight, explore an area of a garden center unsupervised, and I suspect they also thought themselves alone. I was amused to observe them get excited over some plant specimens (succulents of course, weird and wonderful) as well as become totally distracted and unhinged at the sight of some bug. I smiled to myself as I remembered my same joy of discovery at the amazing world around me, and the same lack of discrimination as to what was worthy of notice and what wasn’t. It was not an unusual thought that came to my mind: how sad is the loss of the wonder of youth. My next thought was a congratulatory one: I’m so glad I haven’t lost my wonder. Only a few minutes later I was proving this point by collecting up some unusual pine cones that looked like old-fashioned cabbage roses and some spiky and strange seed pods, all the while wondering how I could use them in some creative way. I often stop to watch the humming bird feed, or to touch an interesting plant with an unusual texture or scent. While dead heading the cyclamen the other day I snipped a seed pod in half to see what it looked like inside, curious because I had never observed their fruit before.

Of course my musings on the wonder of youth led me to reflect that creative people always seem to retain some of that childlike amazement and curiosity at the world around us. I started to pat myself on the back, but then I had another thought: perhaps it’s not some innate specialness that allows us to retain our senses when others become smoothed to the world around them, like over-used sandpaper. Observe adults with children and you’ll see the smoothing away process in action often. For every parent that is encouraging their offspring in their explorations there are at least two others teaching their children fear and/or indifference. To be honest most parents belong in both categories. We tell our children what is important to pay attention to all the time with every little caution and gesture.

“Dad, what is this pretty flower?”

“I don’t know, it’s just a flower, now do up your shoelaces.”

“Mom, I like this squishy slug.”

“Ugh! Put that down, it’s dirty.”

Or better yet – just ignoring all the observations, questions, and wonder – or even better yet – criticizing, mocking, or laughing at the child for their pleasure at life’s wonders.

One of my personal favorites is misinformation. The largest dissemination of crap information is from parents to their children. It can be minor as in identifying an ape as a monkey, or it can be major as in stating that all people of a certain colored skin or sexual preference are inferior.

Of course I once failed to correct a couple of little boys as they made some wild assumptions: they were identifying some marks on the side of a ship docked in a harbor as being the result of ‘shark bites’. I loved that. That was not misinformation but a sign of the wonderful imagination that all human beings are born with. Seeing some places where the paint was missing from the hull down at the water line their young minds, still not trained to ignore or classify as uninteresting or useless, imagined huge Great Whites with gaping jaws full of sharp and horrifying teeth as the fish leapt up out of the water in a feeding frenzy.

Perhaps if you have found yourself rubbed too smooth to wonder at life any longer, too harried to pass on your own wonder to your kids? I present no answers here, but I hope to have fueled some thought that might lead you down a path of rediscovery, and maybe what you find there, on that yellow brick road, might rub off on your little ones.


Multidimensional Writing Experience

There is a lovely multidimensionality in starting up a new character for a collaborative writing/role play project at Pan Historia that feeds all my creative urges at once, nearly. There are two main roads into a new character: getting an idea for a character and then finding a place for them to dwell; or finding a story you really like and then finding a character to fit in. Creating a new character from scratch is the most creatively demanding because of the added dimensions of home page design. I love kitting out a new page for a new character from finding the right graphics, or creating them from scratch if one has a bit of tech savvy with a graphics program, and then designing a fun informative home page from all the different components.

Home pages are useful. I think of them as character biographies where you can get your decorating urges taken care of and impart something useful about your character in turn. My Wyatt Earp home is both western in theme and includes useful historical quotes about Wyatt from people that actually knew him. My Gabriel Oak home is less about the personality of the character but is very informative about some of my inspiration for the character. Gabriel is an interesting character inspired both from literature and from the movies. Those familiar with Thomas Hardy will recognize the source of the character’s name, and of course the face I use is from the movie version of the novel “Far From the Maddening Crowd”. I’m not a fanboy however and Gabe is his own character. In one earlier incarnation he was an artist with a supernatural angelic side living inside him. When he moved on to a different story he became a drunk, the human mask, of the Archangel Gabriel.

Of course some characters live in many different role play and collaborative stories and one home page can hardly do justice to all their diverse lives. That’s why the profile pages were originally added as a ‘room’ off the main home page. These pages include sections for each novel that a character appears in so that the owner can give a little biographical detail. The beauty of a site like Pan, though, is that with so many interactive features the creativity of the individual takes over and tools are always adapted to the needs of their owners. I don’t try and force people to use Pan the way I anticipated. Instead I’m often adapting Pan to fit in with the needs of the users.

A lot of people reserve their character biographies for the forums of the novels themselves and use the home pages as a place to show off all their awards, prizes, badges, and the little graphical gifts that people make for one another. This is probably a similar approach that many users of MySpace employ, but it’s fun nonetheless. Of course it doesn’t really help me, as a writer, when I click on their home to see more about their character, but usually I can at least some kind of sense from the avatar they have chosen to represent their character. Other people actually write out character sheets. I have never employed one of those. I like to get a general impression, and then let inspiration take its course when I’m writing. If I get too locked down on who I think a character is I find that the work become stifled and creativity shuts down.

I guess I can sum up what I’m trying to say is that using the internet and a web site like Pan Historia allows me and my fellow writers to add layers and dimensions to our writing experience, like creating images and home pages to enhance the experience. The way that any particular writer or role player chooses to implement these tools is often going to be as unique and different as the perspectives we bring to our writing and characters.