Audiobooks as Editing Tools

In my effort to write more this year, I got my latest manuscript out to my beta readers a draft or two sooner than I normally would have done. We’re all busy people and I wanted to 1. Give them as much time as possible to read it and 2. Free myself up for the next project. I have a core group of people who pretty much read all of my novels but that number is steadily declining. Like I said, we’re all busy people so sometimes even though I know the mind is willing, they just don’t have the free time to actually do it. So I was a little surprised when one of my beta readers said to me “if you had this in an audio book, I could knock it out in a week!”

My first thought was of course it’s not in an audio book! It’s barely past the rough draft stage. What a ridiculous request. But the more I thought about it, the more it made a kind of sense. I mean, I listen to audio books all the time. Why wouldn’t they? And wouldn’t it be sweet if it was an audiobook? But that means more editing and polishing, thus defeating the purpose of beta readers and taking away time from other projects, so the two major reasons I was even doing this in the first place! But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if that needed to be so …

I have a Tonor TC-777 mic my wife bought a while ago to start doing podcasts with but eventually changed her mind. I kept it instead thinking that one day I too wanted to do some podcast work. I’ve always loved making things and usually wind up in a hosting position on a variety of other peoples’ projects, so I thought why not. Anyway, this was a perfect opportunity to dust the box off and give this a try.

I told my beta readers, here’s the deal. I’ll record myself reading the book but it’s going to be rough. You’re not getting a polished audio experience, but it will exist. I’ll do my best not to flub lines, you’ll probably hear my kids in the background at some point, and I may or may not did voices. Spoiler alert, I totally did voices.

So I got to work. With my manuscript pulled up on my computer, I began recording myself reading it, making each chapter its own file. It took maybe 40 minutes of frustration when I decided that the Windows Voice Recorder just wasn’t cutting it so a quick internet search later brought me to Audacity. I love Audacity! It’s super easy to use and it’s free! With a mic and an editing program, I was off to the races.

At first I was a little frustrated. I mean, here was time I wanted to devote to other projects but I was pouring more of it into the book I’d decided to take a break from. I kept telling myself it would be worth it because this way I would actually get people to engage the story. Sure, I was hoping for a reading experience, but I have another editor friend for that and these readers are very much for story content notes more than anything else. In the beginning I thought of it like a balance equation, the faster I do it, the faster I get results and the effort I’m putting in will eventually pay off. But the more I recorded, the more I started to genuinely enjoy it. Not only was it like it’s own little podcast, but there was something fun about the method itself: using the mic and working chapter by chapter to monitor progress. Oh I never messed with balance levels or diminishing background noise. Told you, it was rough. But I definitely have a newfound appreciation for audiobook narrators!

Here’s the real kicker … you know how everyone tells you to read your story aloud? Well, they’re right! After initially cutting like 15% of the story from drafts 1 to 2, I easily snipped another thousand words and tightened up a ton of phrasings, because if me, the author, who was trying to record this book was like “what the heck does that mean?!” then you know it was a clunky sentence. I stopped plenty of times to tighten things up or clean up some bad prose. Not only was I going to get their listening reactions later, but I was getting an immediate benefit for my efforts. This was not wasted time at all.

I found the whole process really interesting. If I ever do a Patreon one day, maybe I’ll post the rough files for people 🙂 It only took about a week to record so I could see including this into my regular editing process. I mean, If I’m going to read the work aloud looking for clunky phrasings, I might as well record myself in the process. And if I can throw in some character voices while I’m at it, all the better, right?

The Joys of Editing

I have a love/hate relationship with editing. I love how it makes my prose better, my stories stronger, and my characters richer. I hate … having to do it. OK, that’s not entirely true. I don’t mind a few passes in, but it’s that first pass after the rough draft that’s a real slog. I’m a quarter of the way through that very pass right now.

The other day I cleaned up an entire chapter and then realized that I think the whole thing may have to get axed altogether. I’m really trying to streamline this story down to bare bones and while I think the chapter is great character building and shows what’s at stake personally for my main two characters, it may not be fast enough. I’m on the fence. It might be a judgement call once the beta readers get their hands on it. In the meantime, I’ll probably make two versions and see if that changes how I feel.

That’s still progress of a sort, though.

Today, I’m crawling through because I’m at a scene where my main character introduces her partner to who’ll be their crew for the book. So not only am I revealing four new characters, but going through to make sure their speech patterns are distinctive is exhausting. Oh and there’s still things like basic dialogue, blocking, and exposition to do too. When I write long conversations, I tend to just write the conversation and leave most of the blocking for Future Dan. Well now I AM Future Dan and I’m a little peeved at Past Dan.

But that’s editing, right?

Back into the grind, I go!

Feel the Burn(out)

Well, it’s week two of NaNoWriMo. So far progress is going pretty well. I’m ahead of schedule and I plan on keeping it that way as the week around Thanksgiving is kind of a black hole. Historically that week alone makes or breaks my entire month of NaNoWriMo. This year, my plan is to front load my words so much that if I miss a day or two — or end up with a lighter word count — I’ll still be in the clear. What that means is right now is that I’m writing. Writing a lot. And boy are my writing muscles feeling it.

You know this segues perfectly into my real theory about working out. This applies to when you are either just starting out or you’ve taken significant time off and are getting back into your old regimen Anyway, it goes something like this …

Make it to Week Three and you’ll be fine. Week One is hard, yes, but its still new so you’re kind of energized and can keep pushing yourself. Week Two is hard. Just hard. It’s like February. You’ve come so far, but there’s still too much more to go. Your muscles are tired and you don’t have the practiced stamina to know how to live like that as your new normal. This is when people are most likely to give up. Week Three then is when the new habit becomes routine. You’re much more likely to be able to work through the bad days and the stuff that was so insurmountable only a week before doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

I think that works for writing too. Well, it probably works for any new thing actually. My usual word count is a thousand words a day. Obviously, for November, I’m increasing that number and since I’m trying to potentially finish early, I’m really putting on those weights. So, yeah, if I can just make it to Week Three I’ll be okay.

In other news, I played Mario Kart on the Switch with my five-year-olds for the first time the other day and it was so much fun. Good old Nintendo has family fun figured out, so I was able to turn on automatic racing and the inability to leave the track and basically just hand the controllers to my kids. I even turned off all computer opponents for safe measure too. Picking the character and car is like half the fun for them, but being able to race as well … they felt like they were playing video games with daddy. A good time was had by all. My son even figured out how to use his items and now asks me almost daily if we can play again. I think that’s a pretty good problem to have.

What I’ve Been Watching: Well, when there wasn’t new TV for a while, my wife and I have been rewatching How I Met Your Mother. We were big fans of the show the first time around and I think it still holds up. The first season was a little rougher than a remembered and I feel like no way would anyone get away with a Barney Stinson character in today’s climate, but he becomes so over the top, it’s like South Park or something and he’s just a parody of a parody.

What I’ve Been Reading: I tried getting into Wool by Hugh Howey and just couldn’t. I think that’s because I didn’t know the “book” is a collection of novellas. So I liked the beginning, but then when it changed novellas but didn’t restart the chapter count, I felt like it had lost all tension. Because it had. So I never ended up finishing it.

I did read Soulsmith by Will Wight and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a much tighter story this time around so it felt like I read it in no time at all.

I’m currently reading Adventurers, Assassins, and Samurai; Shoguns and Emperors by Christopher Glen about the Meiji Restoration. I get the sense that it isn’t the most academic work on the subject matter, that’s kind of why I like it. I’d been reading a very academic work and at times felt myself getting a little lost in the minutia. I think Glen does a good job of laying out the bare bones so to speak with the side effect of enhancing my knowledge of the movie The Last Samurai with what they got right and more often than not, what they didn’t.

Stoppable Force Meets (Hopefully) Moveable Object

Well I’ve written myself into a corner again. I tend to do that every now and then. This time around, my characters are sneaking into a facility to steal something. They’re posing as a repair crew. My outline says something like they “sneak in to fix the [Thing] but really, they’re going to sabotage the [Other Thing] to help with their escape”. I had no idea what either of those would be when I wrote up the outline and left that as a problem for Future Dan. Well, here I am, 50K words later. Future Dan has become Present Dan and I’m nowhere closer to solving this conundrum.

Anyone know anything about mining facilities or refineries? Asking for a friend …

But seriously, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Okay, inopportune time. We’re in the beginning of National Novel Writing Month after all and like usual, I’m using the event as an excuse to take a huge bite out of my novel like one McGruff might have taken out of crime. I never seem to time my books right … or maybe I do … so I’m never starting a project when NaNoWriMo roles around. I’m always finishing one.

Thing is, I can’t move forward until I figure this out. I want to get to the caper but aside from what they’re stealing, I don’t even know the layout of the place. Perhaps Past Dan should have figured that out too. Thanks a lot, guy!

So instead of drawing with words, I think I’m going to be drawing with like an actual pencil as I sketch a map of the place. I’m big into maps. My brother? He’ll read a book based solely on the map inside the front cover. I have a harder time conceptualizing everything and spend more time trying to make what I’m reading conform to what I saw in the picture which just takes me out of the story. I trust the writer to give me the important details instead.

While I don’t rely on maps so much in my books, I still like to draw them when it comes to environments. It helps with my blocking. I have literally once sketched out a room and everything in it just so I could use a couple of action figures to act out a fight scene.

Way I see it, my tasks are as follows:

  • Figure out what my facility actually does
  • Name the key components and what could conceivably be wrong with them (I mean it could be the spanocrank has snapped its driveshaft … it doesn’t have to be legit, just sound it)
  • Figure out:
    • A. What my repair crew is actually sabotaging
    • B. Why this would be beneficial in an escape

I think once I get all the above covered I’d be comfortable moving on. Some people might just skip the whole scene and continue to push the burden onto Future Dan, but I can’t write that way. I can jump around in an outline as I build it, but I like to write sequentially. No. This is an obstacle in my way and the only way is through, not around.

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year? If so, I’m always looking for more writing buddies. Hit me up and happy writing.

The Over Under on Overwriting

Hi all, it’s time for another infrequent blog post! I jest. I mean, well it is time, but I’m hoping that these will become less and less infrequent. After all of the topsy turviness in life, I’m finally settling into something of a routine. It’s only taken … counts on fingers … seven months? Oh, is that all?

Anyhoo, today I want to talk about underwriting versus overwriting.

I’d say that I was primarily an overwriter in the beginning as I tried to describe every little thing to help set the scene. But then I did some work, read some articles, and tried to really just put down all that was necessary. That seemed to work for a while until I read some more articles and did even more work to hone craft and that latter practice stressed the addition of concrete images and sensory details. You know, stuff to really set the scene … wait…. Isn’t that where I started?

Yes and no. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but usually, in the beginning of our writing careers we’re all overwriters. We list every little thing in the room to help with layout, we double explain just about everything, and at least I was (am), an exposition overwriter where we really want to make sure the reader gets what the character is feeling right now. All of that leads to long, drawn out paragraphs and slows down the pace.

So back to my original question, if less is more, then why are we adding more again? Well, it comes down to those concrete sensory images. We still need to hear sounds, smell smells, and see what your characters are looking at, but rather than catalog the contents like a museum, why don’t you just give me the highlights instead?

I had a book return from a publisher recently that was generally well received, but had the note that it was overwritten. I was confused at first because it had started off at 133K and I’d trimmed it to 119K before they got their hands on it. How was it still too wordy?

My usual editing process involves around a half dozen drafts that are me fiddling with this or that and all the while also chiseling away at the marble to get to the statue inside. There comes a point where I’m happy with the prose, figuring its as slim as can be, but I’m realizing now that I need to take it one step farther. Once I think it’s slimmed down, that means it needs at least one more full pass. Just because I could keep a word, a sentence, a paragraph doesn’t mean I should. I’ve started an experiment where I cut it out and tell myself I can go back and put it in again later if need be. Spoiler alert, after a few seconds of grief, I realize that eh, the scene still works just fine and there’s no need to pad it out again.

So that’s where I’ve come to in my overwriting/underwriting journey. I’m a self-acknowledged overwriter, but as long as I know that, that’s a good thing, right? To switch metaphors on you, I’ve started to treat my prose like a Jenga tower. Once it’s built, I keep removing support blocks to get it as lean as possible … this metaphor doesn’t exactly work because I’m not putting all the blocks back again but you get where I’m going with this … If the tower falls, well I’ve officially broken the story and it’s time to add to some of the support. But nine times out of ten, whatever I remove not only isn’t missed but ask me a few days later and I couldn’t even tell you what I’d cut to begin with.

Covid Catchup

So I’ve been working on a new manuscript again and boy I’ve got to tell you, it feels great! I’d been banging away at what should have been a short story, but was becoming a novella for a while but I let that project peter out. I’m not the best short story writer so I tend to work on those when the inspiration strikes. The last one I wrote I started awhile ago, got about third of the way through, put it aside for over a year, and came back and finished it. To this day, I think it’s the greatest piece of fiction I’ve ever written. Shelving a short story for a bit doesn’t bother me. Abandoning a novel? Now, that’s another story.

That’s why I tend to get tunnel vision when I start a new manuscript. I need the brainstorming, prewriting, outlining, and finally the first draft itself to all kind of fall into place. The ones I’ve struggled with the most are the projects I’ve rushed. I finished this outline a few months ago, sat on it while we moved houses, but now I’m up and running … well, writing … Three chapters in and I’m loving the work again.

When I haven’t been writing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. If I can’t practice the craft, then I at least try and keep my mind sharp. Most books were read for enjoyment, but even so, it’s hard not to analyze the style and structure. Once you’ve peered beyond the Matrix Code, I can still appreciate the lady in the red dress, but I’m also looking at the 1s and 0s.

So here’s what I’ve been reading since last post:

Unsouled – by Will Wight – I came across this book on a reddit thread and I didn’t realize how popular it was until after I’d read it. I thought the writing is pretty rough around the edges, but the story itself is awesome. Maybe it’ll get more polished in later books as Wight writes more. You know when they tell you nobody reads for plot, they read for character? That’s maybe 90% true. The character in this book is likeable enough, but man what kept me going was more of that sweet, sweet worldbuilding.

The Meiji Restoration – by W.G. Beasley – Doing some light reading for a future novel. I was looking for a good background on this period in Japan’s history and this book is apparently the best place to start. Make no mistake, it’s pretty much a text book, but it’s so detailed and covers all the major angles. Really fascinating and accessible.

The Curse of Chalion – by Lois McMaster Bujold – Another one that comes highly recommended, but I’ve got to tell you, I don’t get it. Something about the beginning grabbed me. Not like a hook, but more like a warm blanket. It lulled me into wanting to read more and I did. But then … nothing happens. For many, many pages. I guess if you’re into the day to day of fantasy court life then this could totally be your jam. For me, I had to call it quits halfway through.

Steel Crow Saga – by Paul Kreuger – Speaking of nothing happening … hoo boy! Again, strong start with some solid worldbuilding but then its just chapters and chapters of characters walking and talking. Characters who I don’t like. At all. I find their smarmy, smugness, frustration, and resentment completely uninteresting. They make sense for their backstories, but they don’t move on quick enough. I don’t need a 180, but there weren’t enough little character moments for me to see growth of any kind. This one I happily put down halfway through.

Emperor of the Eight Islands – by Lian Hearn – The funny thing about this one is that I actually had a preview copy of the first couple of chapters that I picked up ages ago at a World Fantasy Convention because I thought it looked cool. Forgot about it and never read it. Fast forward a few years later and here we are. It wasn’t bad. I liked Hearn’s Heaven’s Net is Wide and Across the Nightingale Floor enough. I’m glad the story in EotEI didn’t drag out because every character was pretty much miserable all the time and I just couldn’t handle that for a thousand pages. There were some good moments, but I’m not really in a rush to read book 2 yet. It doesn’t mean it’s off my radar, but I have a lot to read between now and then.

Shadows of Innistrad and Eldritch Moon collected stories – by miscellaneous authors – I’m a huge fan of Magic: The Gathering and those of who you know what I’m talking about, my all-time favorite plane is Innistrad. I just love it. I run a D&D game in that setting and even have the MTG artbook for the original set. The collector in me will one day collect a copy of each card from that set too. Why? Why not. Anyway, I’ve long since had a passing interest in the greater story behind MTG and discovered these collections of bundled stories that were originally released on their blog. Reading it now like two complete novellas was pretty cool. With different authors and characters, some stories were better than others. My big takeaway though? Tamiyo is awesome. And not just because I’m one of those people who have nostalgic fondness for Kamigawa.

The Black Prism – by Brent Weeks – What I’m reading now. I’m digging the short chapters that really keep the story moving. Though that beginning is a textbook example of fantasy jargon. I’m a fantasy writer and there were times I had a hard time following, but I tend to trust the author and the reading experience. I’ll sit back and let it all soak in. So far I’m enjoying it.

Still Here

It’s been a while. I’m sure you’ve noticed.

Writing from home during the pandemic has been a lot more difficult than anticipated. Read any book about writing or talk to anyone who helps train other writers and one of the rules they’ll all have is the importance of routine. Set a routine, a designated writing time, and stick to it! Well, thanks to everything going on, my writing routine has not just been interpreted, but ground to a halt.

Both my wife and I have plenty of commitments during the day demanding attention as we try and do our jobs from home. Also, three kids under five don’t exactly look after themselves either. If all of that wasn’t enough, we finally found our new house after years of searching so we ended up moving! Throw in my graduate school work and … well … to say I’ve been busy is the king of all understatements.

Just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I’ve given up, though. I’m using this time to figure out what went wrong with a lot of my older work, do a little editing, and even get about 13K words into a novella. I still have the outline ready to go for my next book, but I don’t want to start that one until I know I’m going to have at least some consistency again. Probably going to wait until August and the start of the school year.

It’s been interesting to say the least. And frustrating. I’m not one to sit still for long. More than that, as someone who’s trying to break into the professional author scene, I always feel like if I’m not producing, well then I don’t have anything worth selling. As my writing fields are growing fallow, I like to think that my creative juices are reinvigorating themselves. So we’ll see how that goes.

For now, most of the writing is going on in my head — I can’t even keep up a weekly blog — but I know it’s not going to last forever. It’s a hard thing to even complain about with people experiencing really dark and scary times out there. So I keep going and plan for the future. My day job is keeping me at home for the foreseeable future and I’ll be looking after the kids when my wife goes back to work in August. But with work comes routine and I know this crazy free for all isn’t going to last forever.

Hope everyone is happy and healthy out there!

Update From the Cave

Hey all you cool cats and kittens … yes, like the rest of the planet I finally watched Tiger King … anyway, hey, it’s a blog post!

I’m still not as productive as I’d like to be, but I did finish the outline for my new book. I’ve put a pin in cranking out the three Altered Egos and spinoff books because I’m so unhappy with the sequel. So this story is something brand new. I don’t even know what I’m calling it yet.

The outline is finished, clocking in at 20 pages – that’s a lot for some people, not nearly enough for others – but sounds about right to me. I try and break the content down around story structure points and cut it up into what I think the chapters are going to look like. I’m not always accurate. I’m also terrible at judging the finished word count. I’d love if this was tight enough to be only 80 or 90 tops. I thought Land of Sky and Blood was going to be just over 100K and it came in at 167K so what do I know …

There are still a few spots in the outline that need attention. I don’t like to leave holes if I can help it. I’ll figure out a fight sequence when I get there, but if somebody has dirt to blackmail another character, say for instance, that’s kind of something I need to know up front.

While all that was getting fleshed out, I submitted a story to the Writers of the Future contest. I won’t give the name of what I wrote in case word gets out and a judge puts two and two together – it’s supposed to be a blind submission – so I don’t accidentally disqualify myself, but I’ll let you know how the whole thing turns out.

It did stoke my fires around short stories again, so that’s something. I’m not much of a short story writer. I have the hardest time coming up with a concept small enough for a short story, but rich enough to be interesting. That said, I think I’ve got another one cooking in the old brain pan. It needs more research. Particularly, YouTube research. I’m not above reading – I mean, come on – but it’s not like I can get a book from a library these days. OK, I can get an ebook I guess, but those rarely work for me because I’d rather read on my phone than a computer screen. I’m sure there’s a way to do it, but there are already too many extra steps now that the barrier of entry is getting pretty steep. So instead, I can read blog posts and articles, but I’ve found that a couple of YouTube videos helps with the background info so I know what questions I need to be asking later. It’s not like I can get a book about what life was like in a Shinto shrine. Or can I?

Hope you’re all happy and healthy!

What I’m Watching: Aside from Tiger King, my wife and I finally started watching the second season of Netflix’s Lost and Space reboot. It’s pretty great. We liked the first season a lot. Well the first third and the last third. The middle kind of dragged because they didn’t know what to do with Parker Posey’s character. They still kind of don’t, but this season has a larger story going on that’s pretty interesting. We’re really digging it so far. Something this show does really well in both seasons is throwing environmental problems at the characters. In fact, that’s most of what the show is and the answers are rarely straightforward. They can’t really kill anyone off because it’s a family show, but it’s still tense seeing what they’re going to put this poor family through next.

What I’m Reading: I just finished the Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. I liked it a lot in the beginning. It was an intriguing concept, was kind of literary, and celebrated stories. I mean, what’s not to like? But then … well, then it kind of kept going. Not a lot really happens. January gets angry and upset and scared a lot. By the time the character growth comes, I was pretty much done with the book. My biggest complaint is that early on we’re told that the magic comes with a price. January even says as much. Except, for her it doesn’t. She seems to be the only one who gets to break all the rules and doesn’t suffer a single consequence.

I just started the Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann. I’m only in chapter 3. I mean, I’m still reading the free preview so I can’t really say much about it, but I like the premise and I think I like the characters. I’m always looking for books to fill the Shogun-sized hole in my heart so we’ll see.

Social Distancing — Not so Isolated

I’m glad that others are making the best out of a bad situation and getting a lot of writing done. Seriously, I am. I’m also super jealous. With three small kids at home, my writing has ground pretty much to a halt. As you can imagine, they don’t quite get what Daddy does on his computer. But I’m not really complaining. I’m lamenting. There’s a difference. I may not be making a lot of headway, but I’ve been spending tons of time with my family which is pretty great too 🙂

In the past, I’ve tried to publish a post every Monday — and missed more than a few deadlines — but this is going to be hit or miss for a while. In the rare moments when I DO get a chance to write … like right now … I may choose work over blogging. Sorry blog-buddies! So don’t expect any kind of consistency from me on the ole website. Hey, don’t blame me. Blame the Coronavirus.

If we’re talking actual progress then I think I figured out the problems I had with the second half of my new book. I knew what the protagonists were doing, but not how the antagonist would respond. That’s solved. I hope.Now I just need time and space to get back to the outline to plug all that in.

And I decided I’m growing a quarantine beard. Is this a thing? I haven’t shaved since work told me to stay home and I’m getting pretty bristly.

What I’m Watching: Lots and LOTS of Paw Patrol. I’m usually the one who gets up first with the kids so my wife can sleep. I need less hours than she does and can typically go more sleep-deprived days than she can before a recharge. So the task of keeping the kids alive and quiet often falls to me. We don’t usually use a lot of TV but early morning is the exception. Whenever I need them to be quiet so Mommy can keep sleeping, I just yelp for help!

What I’m Reading: I finished The Sword of Kaigen and … I have mixed feelings. I like it, I think. I like the world but the author doesn’t do much to help ground the reader in it. There’s a specific term that gets used a lot that I have a problem with because I don’t think it fits the rules the author created. I mean, this is just my outside opinion here.

That’s only the start of it. Not to give away a major spoiler, there’s a big battle halfway through the book. The entire second half is dealing with the fallout from said battle. And this is where it completely kicked me out. Again, my opinion here, but I feel like the author set up some promises and then either ignored or broke them all during that latter half. The climax of the book isn’t what the climax of the book should have been about. Or if so, then there wasn’t enough ground work to get there. Don’t give me the ole dangling threads excuse either. I love a few open ended things as much as the next person, but I’m talking central conflict points here. They don’t need to be resolved, but there should be movement. I think I see what the author was trying to do and how it made sense in their head, but it just didn’t work for me. It’s a shame too because I was all on board and then felt like I didn’t fall off, but was pushed.

I’ve also just finished Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch, the fourth Rivers of London/Peter Grant book. It was pretty much what I expected. It was the old friend, the sure thing, I needed after the previous disappointment.

Favorite Video Games of all Time

I’ve been updating my site some with more personal information. Favorite movies. Favorite books. The next, obvious list for me would be favorite video games. I mean, I’ve been playing video games since probably the second grade when I used to go over to Peter VanVarga’s house across the street and play Super Mario Bros. 3 or Battletoads. It was a fun, but it wasn’t until visiting my older cousins that video games really became a part of my life forever. They had the Super Nintendo, Mortal Kombat II and Super Mario World. My brothers and I would play over at the cousins’ house for hours. Sometimes it was NBA Jam, but usually it was MKII or Super Mario World. Favorite MK character? Sub-Zero, duh!

After how many visits, I decided that I needed a Super Nintendo of my own. I remember saving up every last dollar and cent I had. Up until that time, the most expensive thing I’d ever bought with my own money was the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. A SNES was about four times more expensive.

I rolled loose change, scrubbed my family’s brick walk, and did every kind of odd job I could think of including house sitting some cats for a family down the street. Eventually, I had enough to buy the SNES and it came with a free copy of Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. The rest, my friends is history.

That Super Nintendo lead to so many great gaming moments with my brothers. I still can’t help but think of Donkey Kong Country every time it snows. That was our snow day ritual growing up. That one system has lead to the purchase of many more and an unknown amount of games.

I’ve tried coming up with a top 5 list of favorite video games to go with the others, but I’ve had a really hard time deciding what to count. There are some that I love for nostalgia — NBA Jam, looking at you! — and others that I love for the feeling I had playing them. I remember the absolute terror of Silent Hill but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. It’s been incredibly difficult deciding what makes the cut. So instead, here’s a list of games that I love. Some new. Some old. All great!

  • Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World. Both for SNES. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent playing either game. I could probably draw the levels for you, I’ve played them so much. All time favorites.
  • Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics for PS. Probably the stories that resonated with me at influential times in my life. They showed me that video games could tell actual stories and it wasn’t just jumping on goombas or crocodiles all the time.
  • Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for N64. I mean, the game helped launch a complete mechanics revolution. How could it not be good?
  • Nioh for PS4, XBO, PC. I’m not as good as this game wants me to be, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy playing it. I love the world and the mechanics. It’s just fun to run around and fight everything. Plus, for as hard as the game can be, I really appreciate the fast load times when you die.
  • Bloodborne for PS4. It’s a modern masterpiece. It’s challenging, fun to play, but it’s the story and aesthetics that really got me. It was like someone had made a game specifically for me. I love everything about this game and it’s the only one I’ve ever bothered to platinum.

That’s about as definitive as I can make it. I mean, I still love the original Resident Evil and I’ve played enough GoldenEye to wear out a controller, but again, if we’re talking pure favorites here, it’s probably the list above. My apologies to all of the great games I’m forgetting at the moment.

For me, the real takeaway is that gaming isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. Most of the games on that list are on there because yes they’re fun to play, but they also connect with me on another level. Whether its my hobbies and interests or memories with my family, video games have been a part of my life for over twenty years and I don’t see that changing any time soon.