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Creatively Being Creative

Recording my newest album hit an unexpected snag. All of the songs were written. All of the instruments were recorded, and then, boom. Upper respiratory infection. Vocals were not happening. Like, for awhile. I’ve been shut down for a month and a half. ūüė¶

The good news? I’m getting better. I’m probably going to restart tracking vocals this week. But, what do you do when you can’t be musically creative?

You be creative any way you can.

In the downtime, I’ve started a novel, worked on producing a board game, and started playing with my church’s praise and worship band. These things have helped me to not lose my mind while I have been unable to work on¬†The Lesson of I.

Be creative any way you can.

The Novel

The concept is golden. I can’t divulge much, because you will gradually uncover these things as the book progresses – and I don’t want to ruin that! (Should you actually ever read it, that is.) I have never actually completed a novel, so I am hesitant to promise its release. But, so far, so good. I’ve had a lot of help.

The story of every story

This tutorial from Dan Harmon was incredibly eye opening on how the magic of storytelling is accomplished. Some PG-13 language warning, by the way. I mean, I knew some simple concepts, like all story is conflict. Otherwise, it’s “happily ever after.” But Harmon takes this all a step or two farther. This chart above, he claims, isn’t just how to write a good story. It is the very definition of a story. In other words, without it, it is almost impossible to even recognize something as a story. Fascinating.

All story is conflict, otherwise it’s “happily ever after.”

I’ve also been aided tremendously from the Better Novel Project¬†and YouTube channels, like this one. If writing a novel is an unfulfilled dream of yours, I encourage you to go for it. There has never been more resources readily available to assist you.

The Board Game

Around the year 2000, I designed a medieval era warfare board game named Castle Valley. I repurposed some old Stratego game pieces, gathered a plethora of colored dice and sketched out a game map of a 20×20 grid onto yellow construction paper. I even laminated it! I typed up the rules in Microsoft Word and played several heated games with my wonderful wifey. I know everyone believes their ideas and creations are great, but I truly think this game is amazing and deserves a wider audience. That being said, I put the project on the back burner back then and promised myself eventually I’d seek out a way to publish the game. That hadn’t happened until recently.

Around a month ago, my son Logan discovered the bag of repurposed Stratego pieces and asked me about them. This has evolved into a lengthy father/son odyssey determined to bring Castle Valley back to life. We have: designed 3D pieces for computer games and printing, tweaked gameplay, rewrote the rule book. Logan has even sourced out the materials we need to produce all of the components needed at home.

I’ve never successfully produced a board game, either. But, I am confident this project possesses every possibility for success. As a bonus, it has been a wonderful shared experience with my son. Look for additional news in the future on this, as well!

The Praise and Worship Band

It had been a few years since being on stage in any capacity. It is easy to forget the thrill of interacting with fellow musicians. I had missed it all. The camaraderie and hanging out backstage, the fun of learning new songs, the “live” experience of being “in the arena.” It’s good times.

I had been assisting in the sound booth, where my experience was most needed. However, a sudden lack of church guitarists necessitated at least a temporary change of responsibility.

This is a cropped screengrab from one of the live broadcasts. I am usually much better-looking. ūüėČ

Our church does the Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation stuff – as well as some originals. It’s simplistic, but also a great open canvas you can paint upon. I’ve enjoyed it, for sure!

Don’t Stop Being Creative!

When you hit a stop sign, ignore it.

Whoops.

When you hit a stop sign, ignore it. If you can’t break through, detour into something else! Don’t stop learning and improving yourself. Whether or not you reach your “goal,” or destination, you’re going to have more fun on the journey than the people who opted out!

Happy creating!


I’ve recently hit over 1,200 paid streams on Pandora. Listen to the hottest single right here!

 

Some Scenes From the First Six Videos

I thought you might like to get an early look at some stills from the upcoming video series detailing the making of The Lesson of I.

As I previously mentioned, this 12-part weekly series will culminate in the release of the new album. As of right now, that is still looking like late summer – which means the video series should begin early summer. In other words, REALLY SOON!

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I feel like I get a lot better at these things after the first video or so, so hang in there with me once we get rolling. It is, as my wife and kids put it, weirdly hypnotically interesting. Aww yiss, I will draw you in…

Weirdly hypnotically interesting – Important people

I also have some cool stuff cooking for the next 6 videos to really kick it up a notch or two. I’m excited about that, as well. Oh yeah, and did I mention I am somehow actually recording an album in the middle of all of this?

Good times. It feels like you are all there with me this go around, even if you aren’t quite aware of it yet. Your presence has added an excitement to the process which has been new and inspiring¬†for¬†me. I believe that shared synergy will be more than evident in the final recordings.

So, thank you in advance. I don’t want to do this without you – so, don’t miss it!

You Are Not Forgotten – My family’s non-profit organization

A congratulations is in order for my wife, Lora Bratton, who has successfully navigated the legal hurdles standing in the way of forming her non-profit organization.

lora_greg_football_jerseys
She’s a Packer fan. I’m not as much. ūüėČ

She¬†lives out Galations 6:9, the scripture where it says, “be not weary in well doing.” As long as I have known her, she has always had her hand toward making the world better for someone less fortunate. Now, she has her own organization to grow and lead for that purpose.

Our children and I are happy to have the opportunity to serve alongside Lora as we fulfill the mission to bring resources, empowerment, and purpose to the neglected by demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ through hope, education, and the arts.

yanf_ill_8in_render_trans
youarenotforgotten.life

I hope you find a moment to visit the website, take a look at what we are doing, and consider partnering with us as we minister to some of the communities and neighborhoods that need it the most!

A Sneak Peek at Project #4, “The Lesson of I”

My previous feeble efforts at album releases have been to:

  1. Put in a tremendous amount of focus and energy into making a great album
  2. Once complete, blindly brainstorm poor ways to draw attention to said album

The field is incredibly crowded. Even children with no musical training can produce a professional-sounding track with a laptop and not much else. Furthermore, the pool of people who can actually discern and prefer the organic, human touch of mature musicianship dwindles each day.

Promotion and production needed equal roles.

With that fact in mind, I decided I was thinking of advertising all wrong. It could no longer be an afterthought. The promotion of my project needed to be just as important as the production of my project.

So, in response, I’ve decided to invite you in to watch the sausage be made.

I am very excited to announce I am producing a 12-part weekly series chronicling the making of The Lesson of I.

Each segment will be around 8-minutes long and focus on a different stage of production. Every topic will be discussed: songwriting, getting good tones, DAW processing, arranging, mixing, etc. The series will culminate in Part 12 – The Worldwide Release.

I have a permit for that selfie stick. It’s called the 2nd Amendment.

It’s been a little weird getting used to baring your soul to the camera, especially when talking about something as personal as your art. But, I feel I start to get a little more comfortable as the series progresses, so I hope you’ll bear with me through the beginning while¬†I get my selfie sea legs.

I am not really¬†creating this to be a “how-to” for music production, although I do believe there will be a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned. I think of it more as like a “Misfit Music Producer¬†Bob Ross.” Even if you have no intention of ever painting, it’s still chill to just watch the guy ‘do what he do.’

Landscape G.O.A.T. Bob Ross

Also adding intrigue to this project is the fact it is unlike anything I have attempted before. The cameras will be rolling through the triumphs and the setbacks. I will be feeling my way through on faith and intuition. That could be fun to watch! I mean, I’m not exactly Nik Wallenda out here without a safety net, but things could go horribly wrong! I could get to the end and realize it is all garbage. Similar things have happened before…

Nik taking steps of FAITH!

When might we start seeing this project?

Even before I conceived of the video production component of the project, I felt as if I scheduled an ambitious completion date for this summer.

Recently, I’ve tried to tie album release dates with easily-remembered dates.¬†Just What the World Is Looking For was released on the numerically-friendly¬†11/12/13.¬†Almost Alive was released New Year’s Day 2017.

My dream-come-true goal would be to release¬†The Lesson of I¬†on August 21, 2017, the date of the total eclipse across the United States. That date has been on my radar for over 4 years. I made my family promise years ago they would drop everything to see it¬†when the day arrived. ūüôā

August 21, 2017 – Make plans now!

Weather and circumstances permitting, I plan on loading the family up in a vehicle and spending the day in South Carolina with friends and strangers celebrating this rare celestial event Рand hopefully a hugely-successful simultaneous album release!


In the meantime, add me to your Pandora station!

Dissecting a “Choose Your Own Adventure” Book

I think the very best times of elementary school were the days when the Scholastic Books orders came in. Ah, nothing like that wood pulp smell. I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it. ūüėČ

The Order Sheet
The Order Sheet

I was blessed enough to have been born to a reasonably well-off family with an appreciation for the importance of reading. I typically had carte blanche to choose as many books as I thought I could actually read.

Something like this would have worked. :D
Something like this would have worked. ūüėÄ

Rarely did I get a book I did not enjoy. They were all very, very good. But for me, the creme de la creme of the Scholastic library was the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I am not at all surprised to see they are still quite active and going strong.

Yeah, I read a few of those.
Yeah, I read a few of those.

So, just the other day I was in my attic and saw my forgotten collection of classic Choose Your Own Adventure books. I grabbed the closest one.

The Case of the Silk King, #53
The Case of the Silk King, by Shannon Gilligan

It’s a little beat up and well-loved, but more or less intact. I scanned the title page to see when it was produced.

1986.

News from the day
News from the day

My naturally curious mind demanded a little digging. I found an author named Sean Munger who wrote an incredibly in-depth review which filled in a lot of blanks concerning the real-life story the book was based upon. This was great reading, but not really where my interest was centered.

I wondered, was this something I could do?

You see, every November is national novel writing month.

http://nanowrimo.org/
http://nanowrimo.org/

I’ve attempted this in the past, but fell short of my goals. Taking on a 700 page novel proved to be too great a task for me.¬†The Case of the Silk King however, only weighed in at a slim and trim 115.

This didn’t seem so daunting. I wondered, was this something I could do with my existing time and talent stack?

THE DISSECTION

I needed to figure out what makes a¬†Choose Your Own Adventure¬†book tick. Just reading a few dozen of them isn’t the same as forensically analyzing one under a microscope. This time-tested process is a oft-overlooked key to obtaining real knowledge and understanding. So, let’s get started!

The Story

“You” are the star of the story. You are a young girl who operates a well-known detective agency. You receive a mysterious package in the mail directing you to investigate the disappearance of an American businessman in Thailand. You are immediately tasked with deciding to trust the anonymous sender and boarding an international flight, or staying home and trying to find out more about the case from there.

This drops you right into a world of mystery with two reasonable choices. A bold choice, and a cautious choice. This ‘bold or cautious’ motif occurs often throughout the book.

Little time is spent establishing extensive character backstories. This seems appropriate, sense the story is about “you.” No need to agonize over the protagonist’s motives and aspirations. “You” already know them! The author quickly gets into the action while allowing your imagination to fill in any¬†missing detail.

By the way, if you want a copy of your own, there is a modern remake of the same story available here.

The Endings

The cover boasts of “19 Possible Endings.” I decided to read and grade each one based on quality of “your” life and the fulfillment of the stated objective. My results were very interesting.

Possible Outcomes
Overachievers Need Not Apply

No ending scored an “A,” in my opinion.

The most shocking finding is that there is no “home run” ending. I suppose this keeps the fictional story in line with its real-life unsolvable counterpart, but that did not mitigate my surprise. I wondered if withholding an A+ result could keep eager readers longer engaged in the story? Perhaps they hoped you would go down each and every rabbit hole searching for a better result?

In the back of my mind, I assumed as a game maker, you were obligated to provide an opportunity to “win.” Dissecting this story turned this idea on its head. Interesting.

Also interesting from a cultural perspective was the writer’s willingness to graphically kill the main character. (You.) It even boasts on the back cover, “You might find yourself dumped into a snakepit or fed to the sharks.”¬†This seems to harken back to a less-snowflakey time. I wonder if the modern remake tempers the violent endings a bit?

But, what is the path to arrive at these endings?

The Decision Tree

Choose Wisely!
Spoilers! (sort of)

First, let me explain the chart. You start at the top on page 1. You go down the next two pages, 2 and 3, and then you leap over to page 8 where you are faced with your first decision. This comes at the 4th page you read, as indicated by the leftmost column. You must then decide to turn to page 4 or 12 to continue your story.

Now, some facts the tree illuminates:

The “Best” Endings

There is a “best” ending down each of the major trunks of the decision tree. They are¬†highlighted in green. This means you do not doom yourself with your first choice of the game.

The number of “correct” choices you must make to arrive at one of the best conclusions are 6, and 5, respectively.

Choices Made Per Game

Choices Made Per Game
Choices Made Per Game

There is one possible ending that can be reached by making only 2 choices. There are 2 endings that occur after 3 choices. The most popular choice length is 5. The range is 2-6 choices, with 4.68 being the average.

Pages Read Per Ending

Page Length Chart
Page Length Chart

There is a broad range of story lengths. You could read as few as 11 pages, or as many as 25. There is a fairly even distribution, averaging out to 18.68 written pages per adventure. But the story isn’t only told in words.

Artwork

There are 25 high quality, full-page black and white drawings by Frank Bolle sprinkled throughout the book. That means almost 22% of the book is illustrated. In addition, there are 3 pages where artwork and text coexist.

I think it would be difficult to overstate how important these drawings were in providing the immersion necessary to become emotionally invested within the story. Perhaps, if I want to pull one of these things off, I’m going to need to brush up on my drawing skillz.

Characters

I counted a little over 20 characters. Only a dozen or so are given names. Many of the characters fill obvious roles, simplifying the verbiage needed to describe their significance. For example, a Librarian, a Police Chief, etc. Remember, the author is attempting to convey a complete story within 11-25 pages. Brevity is essential! With that in mind…

Conclusion

  • Average story is 4.68 choices, 18.68 pages, and has a 61% chance of reaching a “bad” ending
  • The “best” endings require many “right” choices
  • Don’t take too long establishing the story
  • Start with the hook (mysterious envelope, immediate choice)
  • Often offer the option to be bold¬†or cautious
  • Keep characters mostly one-dimensional
  • You don’t have to offer a “100% win” conclusion
  • Good artwork is as important as a good story

I have no idea what copyright claims the¬†Choose Your Own Adventure¬†series may hold precluding any commercial use. My interest in one day formulating a story experience is not motivated by money, however. Maybe I can resurrect “Ricky Rockstar” to, I don’t know, …Rock Your Own Way On The Road

Ricky Rockstar
Ricky Rockstar

Don’t worry, I doubt I’ll attempt to make you pay to play out Ricky’s adventures. I’ll probably just add some links at the bottom to my music…umm, like I’m doing now.


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