Saturday, August 10, 2013

Space City Con - Jim Butcher's Writing Class

Jim Butcher is probably best known for his long-running series The Dresden Files, which has been adapted into both a TV series and a RPG. He's an author that has a story similar to my own except for the part where he found a Big Boy Publisher to buy his books. His About Page at is well worth the read as his is live journal page where he dispenses writing advice.

At Space City Con, Jim was kind enough to give two separate two-hour classes for aspiring authors and fans. In the first class, titled "Blowing Things Up...", Jim described how to create a scene. The second class, "...And Making People Care About It," discuss sequels.

I do a thorough writeup on the sessions over on my writing blog, Hard Lessons. Here I'll hit the highlights. Note that the instructions here also pertain to gaming, particularly scene construction.


Storytelling is the act of manipulating people's emotions. The deeper the emotion, the more powerful the story. If you disagree, think of the movies you've enjoyed or the books you've loved. If you're honest, you'll realize the stories that affected you most were the ones you enjoyed the most.

Your characters, or players in the case of gaming, exist to be abused and denied until the climax of the story. Do not go easy on them. Their conflict is what drives the story forward. 

Language is the plumbing used to to get your reader or player from one conflict to the next. Use it well and the words will disappear as the reader or player will enter the story. Use it poorly and it becomes a stumbling block. Short words and clipped dialog work best.


Scenes are about conflict. They work on stimulus-response. Don't get these out of order. 

There are four outcomes to scenes and it is the answer to the character's goal.
  1. Yes - the character gets what they want. BORING
  2. Yes but - the character gets what they want but there are consequences.
  3. No - the character is denied and must set a new goal
  4. No and Furthermore - not only is the character denied but more misery is piled on.


A good villain thinks they are the hero. Darth Vader believed he was bringing order to the Galaxy. They get more Yeses out of scenes until the climax. A good writer or GM tortures the villains as much as the hero. 

Where to Start

Start the story or the game where the first meaningful action occurs that starts the story. As an example, the first Dresden Files book starts with Harry getting a call from Murphy and deciding to take the case. Adventures work much the same way. Start the adventures where the status quo is upset and the characters decided/need to do something. 

More Reading

The second class dealt with Sequels, the part of your story that follows a Scene. In gaming, the Sequel is up to your gamers. In a story, you get to sort it all out. You can find a more detailed version of this post as well as my notes from the second class over on Hard Lessons - The Writing Blog of R K Athey.

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