The Sims, Romance Writing, and Stream of Consciousness

Very quick stream of consciousness post today, since I am most assuredly in the zone for working on Queen of Hearts today. If all goes right, I can have a rough version of the next scene for my weekly conference with Melva. We agreed that this book is going to go a lot quicker than Drama King did, and I want to make sure it does.

Fourth of July was pretty quiet around here. As in I did a lot of napping, and I regret nothing. We cannot see the fireworks from this apartment, but we certainly heard them. This year, hearing them was enough, as I had my eyeballs pinned to my current Sims 4 save. I’m giving the Legacy Challenge a shot. Not doing any scoring whatsoever, as I am not in this for the math, but the basic idea is to start with a single Sim, on a big, empty lot, with very little money, and then use them to build a dynasty that lasts ten generations. I am on the fourth generation now, and having a lot of fun with it.

Fiona and Osvaldo, generation four

There are lots of variations on this legacy. I decided from the start that I wanted this to be a matriarchy, as in everything goes through the maternal line, aka firstborn girl inherits. If there are no girls in a generation, then the firstborn male may hold the spot for his firstborn daughter. Pictured above are my current generation, the lovely Fiona and her (townie) husband, Osvaldo. They currently have one daughter, Alexa who is child age, and fingers crossed she makes it through, because Osvaldo has the “hates children” trait, but he was frequently the one to autonomsously tend Alexa when she was a baby, so maybe he’s a masochist? Anyway, Fiona is going to university for her art degree, so Osvaldo can stay home to tend Alexa and their vast garden.

What does all of this have to do with writing? On the surface, not much. A little deeper, quite a bit. Generational sagas have always been my favorite sort of linked stories/series, especially in historical romance, where we can see the legacy of love build from the first two progenitors, and see how the family progresses thrugh years, decades, even centuries. Follow one family from medieval times to the turn of the 20th century? Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. With a gauranteed happily ever after for each individual couple in every story, the sort of HEA that only gets HEA-ier as the young lovers become parents, then in-laws, then grandparents.

This does bring in the issue of character death, since our medieval progenitors are not going to be alive in the Belle Epoque. I’m actually okay with that, as my taste in historical romance hews more to the dramatic than rom-com. In a more lighthearted series, death of a main character (after many years) would seem out of place to a lot of readers, and many lighthearted series tend to focus on one generation at a time, so maybe it doesn’t come up all that much? I have seen the demise of older heroes and heroines done well, and done poorly, but it’s part of life, and those generationgs outside of the current characters’ living memory can take on a legendary tone, so that is actually a plus in my book.

Ah. Aha. Wait. I found a connection. Heather, the heroine of Queen of Hearts, lives in the shadow of her mother’s reputation. Jessica Stewart was a legendary author of epic historical romance, and Heather now has the responsibility of running the publishing house her mother started. Heather is not a writer, but she’s passionate about the historical romance genre, its books, its writers, its readers, its, well, history. She’s trying to figure out where she fits into all of that, while raising a precocious six-year-old on her own, and very gingerly sticking her toe in the dating waters after a painful divorce. For those who love a genuinely good hero, have no fear, her best friend, Rob very much fits the bill. He’s very different from Dominic from Chasing Prince Charming, or Jack from Drama King, which is exactly how I want it to be. The historical heroes, as well, are a whole other story, pun intended.

Okay back to writing I go. Cover me, I’m going in.

Better Writing Through Computer Games?

Wednesday’s post is here on Thursday this week, because A) I came down with a rotten winter bug, last week’s “cold” actually the first stage of ick, and B ) Real Life Romance Hero’s laptop, less than a year old, abruptly stopped working, so we have had to share the single desktop. Not a lot of writing done this week, which is understandable because all power to shield, and better living through pharmaceuticals. One of the first things I want to do when I am climbing out of this stuff, is play Sims. Right now, that means Sims 4, and by playing, I mean largely refining my custom content to a fare-thee-well.

How does that relate to writing? Glad you asked (because somebody is probably asking. If not, you get my input anyway.) There’s no “right” way to play a life simulation game, and the methods of playing such are infinite, the same as telling a story, which is basically what I like to do with my games. It’s all storytelling. There are times when I blithely ignore what the game wants, er, suggests I do, and wander off the path to do my own thing, focusing on the aesthetics and letting my story brain take the wheel.

Everybody starts with the same basic stuff: the base game. It looks like this:

Now here’s one of my recent screenshots:

what I’m doing now

What’s the difference? Well, a boatload of custom content, for one. I think the only things in this picture that aren’t custom are the archway, the window, and the washing machine that’s almost in frame. Jacqueline, a Sim I have made in Sims 2, 3, and 4 versions, (yes, she is kind of probably going to show up as a heroine in a future novel, but she will have a different name, and will likely be historical) has custom skin, eyes, hair, makeup, eyebrows, and I spent longer than I would care to admit tweaking her facial features with not only the in-game options but custom presets. This picture is her taking a selfie, which she can do with her smartphone, a game feature, further tweaked by an in-game filter option, and ReShade, which adds post-processing to create some serious mood. Or vintage mood, or bright, cartoony mood, or, or, or, or…yeah.

Right now, my current neighborhood is all British New Build houses made by other players, which I download and decorate down to the tiniest bits of clutter, to best reflect the residents. It’s all character and worldbuilding, and I love it. Next float in this parade is to take one of my screenshots and edit it further in a photo editing program, maybe add some design elements and/or text. Now that I have a ne printer, this might turn into stickers that I can put into my planners and notebooks, etc. There aren’t a lot of words involved in creating Sims and their environments, but here’s one thing that does happen when I spend a good chunk of time playing around with this: I want to write more fiction.

I didn’t expect it to be like that, but maybe it’s not such a surprising thing. As above, it’s character building and worldbuilding. Sims have their own wants, which I can fulfill or not, and deal with the consequences. I can override all of that and make whatever I want happen, within reason. Sometimes without it; Sims actually have things called “whims” that affect their moods, which affects how likely they are to do what the player wants them to do. This isn’t entirely unlike how it goes with writing. There’s also the times when things will just…stop, due to a glitch. Possibly a bad piece of custom content that doesn’t belong in this version of the game, or got shafted due to incompatibility with a patch, or I forgot to tdownload a mesh, or any one of a few dozen things. Maybe my aesthetic has changed, and so the custom content or even dfaults that I ha been playing with for years aren’t going to work anymore.

That means diving deep into my files and ripping out what doesn’t fit with my current methods/desires and replacing it with stuff that does. Trying new things, rising perhaps to a few challenges, or knocking it down and starting from scratch, though I am setting myself the goal of sticking with a single save for a certain number of generations, which is not unlike oh, say, finishing a book.

Right now, Melva and I are focusing on finishing Drama King, and I am loving that. Still, I have my notebook for Her Last First Kiss set up and that’s probably going to be next, because I miss historical romance like I would miss my own right arm. The only way to stop missing that is to get back to it, and, like searching for Sims content, this is going to mean reading a lot and poking around and seeing what I love, love, love, now, and if that means changing a few things that I have already done, so that I absolutely cannot wait to get to that keyboard and get to Bern and Ruby’s HEA, breathless, worn out, but still with enough energy to pump my fist in the air because we did it, fates be danged.

Not at all a bad way to wind up one year and start another, the way I see it.

Raiding The Lost Archives

Low key Monday, my background sounds a crackling hearth ambient sound thingamaboodle, tea in my favorite mug at hand, and a loose list of things to get done in the first half of the week at the ready. So far, so good.

I can’t believe it’s already going to be December tomorrow. We are, as a family, in a much better place, both mentally and physically, than we were last year, and it’s still in the getting used to it phase. The longer away, the farther the road back, some may say. In a lot of ways, that’s true. There are also times when it’s an instant transition like a Star Trek transporter. That happens, without warning, when one makes frequent trips to the storage units when settling into new digs after a long time away.

My keeper historical romance novels are still in the unit somewhere, but we will be retrieving them hopefully soon, as A) I want to read them, and B ) I have some plans for both Buried Under Romance and my return to vlogging, and I am pretty excited about both A and B. Pens and paper and various stationery items are steadily coming home to roost, and falling organically (I love when that happens) into their own patterns and methods of use. When asked if I am a pantser or a plotter, my answer is “puzzler,” which has elements of both. To put in Dr. Who terms, it’s a wibbly wobbly time wimey flying into the mist, picking up breadcrumbs as I go sort of thing. That means frequent ambushes of hibernating ideas, ninja memories, not only launch surprise attacks when I think I am doing things as mundane as unpacking dishes, but they gang with things I didn’t think I had any interest in before, but when they are hanging out with Thing I Already Like or Thing I Forgot I Like (or both) well, that’s a different story.

Playing (highly customized) Sims 4, listening to commentary on The Last of Us
(adult content warning for scary things)

Story, of course, being the key word. There’s the feeling of a glimmer of…something when one least expects it, a “hmm, that’s interesting,” and then, before one knows it, one is cannonballing into a rabbit hole, five tabs open at once, listening to commentary on video games one has never played on in the background, looking for custom content in a game one does play, to capture the same mood and/or aesthetic, but make it romance, and…yeah. A writer’s mind is a messy but beautiful place, and in this season of gratitude, I am very thankful I have one.

It happens in a moment, listening to ambient sounds, playing a game with the sound off because the other sounds are better, and one looks away from a moment, and one’s instinctive “noooooo!” turns to “hm, what if…?” I like those moments. They move quite naturally, when all aligns, from screen to pen and paper, to keyboard and back to screen. To readers, one day. Getting to that place, it would seem is not such a long road back at all.

Typing With Wet Paws: Summer’s On Edition

Tails up, Storm Troopers! I’m Storm, you’re awesome, and this is Typing With Wet Paws. Even though the calendar says summer does not officially start until later in the month (I am only two, so I don’t know a lot about calendars) for Aunt Anna and the other humans in my family, this counts as summer. It is Aunt Anna’s least favorite season, but our basecamp, as Aunt Anna calls it, has air conditioning, so the summer really doesn’t bother her or Uncle Rheuben at all. They have also found that they share a desk really, really well. If I am feeling especially sproingy, we can all three share the same workspace. That’s what I call efficient use of space.

Even though summer is usually Aunt Anna’s worst time when it comes to productivity, she had a super good writing day yesterday. It all started with hauling herself over to the computer with the promise that if she could write some notes on the stinkybad movie in Drama King, and then send it to Aunt Melva, then she could play Sims. Aunt Anna is super easy to bribe with Sims, especially since she had to reinstall stuff when the latest patch broke pretty much everything (whoops) and she had to start fresh. Surprisingly, she did not mind that at all.

Aunt Anna says making this stuff helps her think

Starting from scratch was actually kind of fun, and she got to use one of the premade families to test out some new gameplay features, fiddle with custom content, and maybe a mod or two. If you think that sounds kind of like writing fan fiction, you are not wrong. Aunt Anna sees that, too. As a matter of fact, Aunt Anna had Sims stuff open in the background while she read a lot of Wikipedia articles about movies (stinkybad or otherwise) to know what kind of information goes into such a thing, laughed a lot while using name generators to get over herself already, slap down a placeholder and move forward, and refresh herself on the recipe for a romantic comedy movie, plus all the ways one could go wrong.

In the middle of doing all that, she also had Scapple open. It is kind of like a whiteboard on the computer. If you don’t know what Scapple is, click here to read about it on Ginny Frost‘s Apps For Writers blog. (Miss Ginny also writes contemporary romance for The Wild Rose Press, so check out her books while you’re over there.) While Aunt Anna had the seeds of a scene on her mind, she might as well get a few things down where she would be able to easily access them.

That’s when something clicked open, and a whole bunch of stuff came out of her head and onto the screen. It’s kind of messy, mixing tenses and Aunt Melva (who has a PhD in English) may have a headache from switching from script form (many of Aunt Anna’s first-first drafts of dialogue are in script form when they fall out of her head) to dialogue and narration but then again she knows how Aunt Anna works and still wants to write books with her anyway, so there’s that.

That stuff is now in Aunt Melva’s hands, so Aunt Anna is now turning her hand to writing a faux Wikipedia article for a different fictional movie, and getting ready to do the same thing with Her Last First Kiss, but there won’t be any movie stuff in there, because there were no movies in 1784. Probably no YouTube mouse videos, either. It was the dark ages.

Speaking of mice, Aunt Anna and Aunt Linda got me some! Uncle Rheuben stayed behind to give me pets while the other humans went for groceries, and they found themselves in the cat toy section. Ever since my red dot died, I have taken to going to the corner near the door and giving big kitty eyes, to indicate that I really need a new red dot. Well, the store didn’t have any (the nerve!) but they did have a package of three catnip mice. Aunt Anna figured they’d see how I liked them, so she threw me one as soon as she got back, and I LOVE IT. I call them all “Prey.” When I bring Prey to a human, the human is to throw Prey, which I will then chase and CATCH, and then I have no idea what comes next, but a nap comes after that, and the whole thing starts over again.

Before I fur-get (hah, see what I did there?) Aunt Anna was at Buried Under Romance this past Saturday, with a topic that comes to a lot of readers’ minds this time of year (or so I have heard. Again, I’m two.) and that’s weddings. Are they really needed in cotemporary romance? If that is a topic that interests you, read about it here, and pull up a chair in the comments to chime in with your opinion. Aunt Anna already talks to herself enough. Trust me on this one. Part two will be about historical romance, and probably will go up Saturday but might be Sunday because she just got done being sick and is running a little behind.

Okay, I think that’s it for now. No Goodreads update, because mostly Aunt Anna read a little bit of stuff and fell asleep and then her loans expired, so she is starting new books now. Maybe I will start telling you when she starts reading a book and then what happened to it. First, though, this Prey isn’t going to chase itself.


Meat Loaf, Muscle Memory, and Writing Romance (Also Sims)

Most importantly, the Meat Loaf of which I speak is the singer, not the food. I did get to meet Meat for about five seconds, at an autograph signing. I blurted out that he broke my creative block. He immediately lit up like a Golden Retriever at hearing “who’s a good boy?” and asked which song, and how, and what genre did I write, which was when his handler gently apologized to both of us and said he had to move the line along. That stuck with me, though, and cemented my love of the Loaf. Which brings me to last night.

I was not listening to Meat Loaf last night. I was listening to a Sims 4 Let’s Play video, which is probably my current favorite viewing material. Even so, I had no intention of writing-writing (cue amused chuckles) as I listened, and managed custom content, and fiddled with my Sims journal, shown here in the charge of my co-worker:

That thing is packed full of altered index cards, because a) they are sturdier, and b) with my vision, dot grid only works if it’s about an inch from my face, and crooked writing is a big no. Every card is a Sim, their aspirations, goals, traits, spouses, children, and ultimately, when they move to the “graveyard” section, causes of death. No overthinking on this stuff, because it’s a game. So, there I am, thinking that I’m going to have to cut down and punch more cards, because we’re moving into the next generation, and then I’m grabbing one of those discarded dot grid pages, to make notes for the cards I’m going to want to make for the Sims 2 and 5 versions of what I’m doing.

Still no Meat Loaf. There was, though, at some point, a frantic pat through the dark (ah, the joys of motel writing when Real Life Romance Hero is asleep) for my writing-writing notebook. After that, a lot of ink came out of the pen in my hand, as notes on a long-overdue scene from Drama King filled the formerly empty pages. Pages. Plural. When I am done with this post, I will transcribe and send the scene off to my long-suffering contemporary writing partner, Melva.

Still not listening to Meat Loaf while I wrote that, but as soon as I set down notebook and pen to try and get some sleep (my brain throws slumberless parties on a regular basis) the first notes of this song trickled into my subconscious:

this song is relevant to my interstes

One thing that has stuck with me was a tidbit from an interview, where Meat talked about his songwriter, Jim Steinman. He said that what audiences need to remember is that everything Jim writes is part of a universe in his head, that is basically an epic vampire opera. I believe some of it was produced as an opera, in Germany. Possibly in German, which does not sound out of the realm of possibility.

What does this all have to do with muscle memory or romance writing? Actually, a lot. In the midst of custom content and screenshots and Let’s Plays and other things that are still creative but not focused on producing pages, my brain gets to free-float and do its story stuff wihout me getting in its way. Ad the facilitator of a long-ago writer’s group often said, once we put pen or pencil to paper, we were not allowed to stop it moving. The process would beget the product.

With things like this, my brain goes “storystorystorystorystory” and “atttttmosssspheeeeeeereeeee” until I am darned near besotted with it. When that happens, oh look, how did all that writing get on the page? I better get more paper. Not just for one book, because while I was furiously scratching out dialogue for Drama King, Bern and Ruby, from Her Last First Kiss were at the edge of my vision, tapping their feet, and next to them, Cornelis and Lydia from Plunder. All of them with lists grievances….uh, adjustments I need to make so that they look the say they do on the page as they do in my head. Not only physically, but you get the drift.

One of my Sims notes is to set aside time (after writing) to learn Reshade (lighting editor…ish?) and fine tuning presets I didn’t even know could be fine-tuned but make all the difference from bright and cartoony (which is fun, too, when I have the taste for it) to…my people. It is like that with reading and writing, too, as recent conversations with bookish friends have confirmed. Keep at it, when it’s possible. Put the pen on the paper. Keep it there. Sooner or later the muscle memory will kick in, and therein likes the tale. Literally.