Two Years of Posts

Deal 732, will mark the first deal of the third year of this project.

Since Deal 1 on August 19, 2014, we’ve accumulated two full years of daily deals and related stories, or 731 deals. (There’s an extra deal in there because 2016 happens to be a leap year.)

In that time, we went from a single handmade deck, to a small number of commercially printed decks. The deck design was refined. And I’ve learned a lot about how not to write a story.

One of my favorite Haiku I’ve ever written came early on, at deal 3:

Raven the trickster
Crows with raucous abandon
Murder arises

And one of the absolutely creepiest things I’ve written was also an early piece at Deal 6. It was intended to be a presentation framework for a bit of bizarre magic known as an Okito Doll. It is one of a fair number of pieces that were intended to become presentations for various magic effects. The Creativity Oracle cards were originally invented to help magicians create new magic presentations, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve occasionally drawn from that well over the course of this project.

Along the way, I’ve tackled a number of deals with sonnets, many of which were also acrostics. The most recent sonnet is not an acrostic, but it is a decent example of what happens when I let the muse of iambic pentameter loose. Aside from the extremely minimalist haiku, I’ve tackled a number of other short poetic forms, including the nonnet which has become my new favorite short poem form.

Many of the early deals were done completely by hand, using the first deck of cards. When I realized how much work it would be to photograph each spread, I started modifying the software that drew the card deck originally, and extended it to draw spreads of cards in a PNG file ready for upload to WordPress. When I designed and printed the second decks, I switched the software to use the new deck artwork, and to support flipping the cards either end up to force use of the second set of words. Daily deals starting with day 257 come from the second deck.

Today’s version of the software deals the cards, draws the image, and writes the entire preview post and a template for the finished story post. Actually writing the stories, poems, music, art, dance, magic, or whatever is still left to the human, though.

Each block of thirty two tales shares one common trait: the spread of the cards. That has proved to be long enough to really get a feel for how each spread works, without feeling too long stuck on a treadmill of one single style. The earliest spreads were deceptively simple, but as the game has continued on, complexity has crept in. The smallest spreads were just two cards, and the largest so far were rings of 11 to 13 cards, each used over several days. The chaos spread requiring the entire deck tossed in the air was suggested in jest, and has never been tried, but recently the SUM Odd Cards borrowed the idea, but constrained to a virtual table top and no more than a dozen cards.

The card spreads so far have been inspired by the cartomancy traditions, especially the Tarot, as well as by ideas drawn from the Hero’s Journey. In fact, the Creativity Oracle deck itself was partly inspired by the Tarot, with a strong design goal of not carrying in the occult baggage that the Tarot does in the minds of many who encounter it.

What do I expect in year 3?

More deals, more stories, and more poems.

When will it end?

I have no idea.

500th Story Milestone

Five hundred days.

Five hundred deals.

Five hundred stories.

Two thirds done with the sixteenth spread.

When I started this project, my goal was fairly simple: demonstrate that the cards work as a writing prompt by writing things. To be sure, I could have used far fewer deal per spread, stopped after a few of the obvious spreads, and called the project a success.

But somewhere along the way, it became more than just about the demonstration. I have found that the daily writing exercise has been valuable to me personally. I know it has made me a better writer, even though the majority of what I write is technical proposals and reference material.

Go draw some cards and write something!

Would you believe a whole year of this?

Yesterday saw deal 365.

That is a full year of dealing some cards and writing something every day, without fail.

At 32 deals per spread, we have exhausted 11 spreads entirely, and are about 40% done with a 12th. We started with the original draft deck design, and eventually refined and published a dozen copies in a new design. Now, after a year of experience with these decks, we are very close to launching a way to buy your own deck. (More about that soon!)

It is tempting to try stopping cold turkey at a year, but I don’t think that is the right answer. At the very least, I should complete the current tale, and even the full 12th spread. Which will end on the 2nd segment of the last 3-day tale, since 32 is not divisible by 3, which I probably should have noticed when I started the current spread. We will just have to wait and see how that gets resolved. More about that soon too.

So, in the mean time, just let me take this moment to thank all of you for following along.

Link

Rhyming resource

Sometimes you just have to have a rhyme for something. Occasionally, that something is “orange” and you get stumped. Even for words that have perfect rhymes and decent slant rhymes, it can still be handy to have a reference.

Sure, there are rhyming dictionaries. But those are largely constructed by hand, have oversights and errors, and are somewhat cumbersome to use.

Then there is this site, RhymBrain.com which uses a combination of machine learning techniques and pronunciation dictionaries to construct lists of perfect, slant, and near rhymes on the fly. It can often even handle words not in its primary dictionary by making guesses at their pronunciation.

There are also some hidden features to be found. (Hint, click the “Settings” link on the home page.)

Link

Example of world building

When planning a more speculative project, sometimes you need to create an environment in which to tell your story that has specific qualities. While this is particularly a hallmark of science fiction, every writer must play with these skills if only to create a version of the real world in which their characters exist. When departing from our base reality, however, occasionally questions arise about how some particular quality might behave, what it might imply, or what else must be true for consistency. When you need a place to ask questions about this, then one of the younger members of the Stack Exchange family, World Building is the place to go.

Browsing there the other day, I came across a pair of related questions that were not only interesting, but were also great examples of using a character and setting sketch in a short scene to establish the context in which the questions arise. The first question concerns how much magic is too much before people start to notice, and received a number of thoughtful answers. The second question concerns the price one pays and its consequences.

When writing, Personally, I feel that it is important to have a strong sense of the place the story occupies, and the rules under which it functions. The WB stack exchange is a great site at which to explore those ideas.

Aside

It will soon be possible to have a Creativity Oracle Deck of your own!

A commercially printed test batch of the next version of the deck looks really nice.

The new version of the deck introduces a few new features to make the faces more interesting to look at. The total number of cards has been reduced, but each card now holds two words so the total number of words offered as prompts has increased. The art also includes a splash of color in a geometric shape.

A few decks from the test batch will be available for sale. I expect that a larger print run will follow, possibly after a kickstarter campaign.

Watch this space for more details!

A deck of your own

Link

Inspiration

A photographer who’s work I greatly admire works on the small scale. And with models who are more than just a little plastic, they are Lego.

Here’s a piece he wrote for a Lego oriented blog about his sources of inspiration. While it is obviously focused on both Lego and photography, the advice to bring focus through a narrow scope is applicable to nearly any creative process.

From Brainpickings: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

I came across this post the other day, and thought it was interesting. Advice from one of the most creative people to work in the English language. Seen at Brainpickings: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block.

“When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

Sometimes you simply need a break to give your mind a chance to catch up. Go for a walk. Do the dishes that have been calling your name for the last couple of days. Take a nap, or if the time is right, go to bed and face it in the morning. What ever you do, coming back to the problem with fresher eyes will often make a difference.

“Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered.”

While most applicable to studying, and then to studying a deeply logical subject such as math, there is still a truth here. In many areas of study, knowledge is built in layers. In math and the hard sciences especially, we “stand on the shoulders of giants”1, and that is only a stable platform if we understand the principles upon which we are standing.

But even in the arts, it makes sense to make sure you know what your goals are, and if you are depending on assumptions, that you recognize that fact.

When designing magic, I find that I have to have both an image and method in mind when I start. By the time I’m done, both image and method might have been changed substantially. But to start with only a method becomes an exercise in concealed juggling, and starting with only an image quickly becomes little more than storytelling without at least places in mind for the magic to hang. Working together on both imagery and method allows the necessary work to be blended with the story and produces a more finely integrated whole than working on either alone.

When thinking about world-building for a story, the bits that the plot will depend on must be understood well enough that they are used consistently throughout. Otherwise, you end up with a kind of rule-free malleable world where Ensign Crusher can just invent a new particle to magic the Enterprise out of this week’s dilemma, while simultaneously forgetting all the weird tricks invented in all the past weeks episodes. Each episode might be entertaining on its own, but taken together the viewer is left without as much respect for the writers.

“My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest…”

Again, Carroll is specifically speaking about math. But the principle remains valid for anything where keeping track of the structure is important. A mystery writer must be careful to seed clues throughout, but not to reveal too much too soon. The judgement of the pace of revelation requires keeping the whole picture in mind. In magic, confusion of design leads to a confused audience.

All in all, there is a lot worthy of study in the letters of Lewis Carroll. Fortunately, many of them have been preserved and are available to the interested student both on line and as the subject of books.


  1. Isaac Newton wrote in a letter in 1676: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He was not the first to use the metaphor, but is probably the best known

Hero’s Journey in Interpretive Dance

I was joking the other day that there might even be an interpretive dance take on the Hero’s Journey. Apparently it wasn’t a joke, exactly. Both of these links are to student efforts. Both are successful to limited degrees. Unfortunately, the more successful one is also cut short of the whole journey.

That said, here are two independent dance takes on interpreting the Hero’s Journey:

Another more formal treatment of the journey aimed at video game design is this one in two parts from Extra Credits. They dissect a specific recent video game and demonstrate how it not only follows the structure set out by Campbell, but it also makes the player experience the journey first-hand. There may be very few other artistic media where it is possible to engage the audience in the process of character development that deeply.

Link

Improving and Inventing Plausible Worlds

Some forms of writing, notably science fiction and fantasy, require that before you can write your story you have to first build the world that the story is set in. Sometimes a story and characters are strong enough to carry the weight without a lot of elaborate background detail, but for most of us that is not the case.

In “normal” fiction genres, the mystery writer is probably most aware of world-building issues since they must provide a puzzle that holds the reader’s interest until the moment they are prepared to reveal the answer, and they must have an answer that both fits within reality as the readers understand it, and within the confines of the evidence presented in the course of the tale.

When the inevitable questions arise about how to plausibly arrange your story’s world so that the plot works and readers aren’t mystified by rules that change arbitrarily, wander over to the World Building Stack Exchange and see what they can do to help.

This would appear to be a useful resource for more than just writers. Anyone with a work of art set in a larger context could potentially benefit. The obvious applications are in game design, but I’m sure that other arts have moments where a friendly ear would help.