Written Stories Are Not RPG Stories

Image is in the public domain. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Seeing the proliferation of tabletop roleplaying games (“RPGs”) on video and podcasts had got me thinking about my own time playing them. There’s a lot of similarities between story structures in written fiction and in tabletop games. People who run games often have to create the story that the characters in the game will reveal through their actions. In fact, most of my early interest in writing fiction came from having to create stories for my gaming group.

But they’re not fully interchangeable.
I learned this the hard way. Tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons or Call of Cthulhu are meant to have players interact with an adventure many times before it’s finished. There can be interesting fights atop castles pummeled by a maelstrom, investigations into the occult hidden in rural jungles, and interactions with non-player characters that are only limited by the imagination. The best games involve choice that is meaningful and relevant to the players.

Written stories don’t have that level of interaction. This means it’s not the same animal as an RPG story. Writers get to pick everything that happens, and nobody else can change the action once it’s written down. Thus, an RPG is like an expedition into a story, while written fiction is like a guided tour.

It’s important to remember whatever the goal of your writing.
I could say this generally of most writing. Different media get written in different formats. They all have a story, but it all comes out in a different manner. Here, I’m picking on RPG stories because I’ve seen a lot of good ones fall flat on a tabletop. And sometimes, some really bad stories get traction with players despite being disappointing when first imagined.

That’s because RPG stories are more of a collaboration between audience and storyteller than in other media. Only theater can come close, but even that has a script. RPGs have no rules in that regard, so anything can happen.

Remembering these choices is critical to writing a good game for your group. Even if your players don’t fight that ruler from the first plane of Hell that you carefully hid in the king’s basement, you can still have a good time when your characters developed that odd love quadrangle because they drank the wrong love potions. Don’t be afraid to let people take the game in interesting directions.

Especially if it involves love potions.

It’s Good to be Busy

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Today’s been spent doing a lot of writing and planning for an upcoming story, about novella length, that I want to publish here on a monthly basis. While that’s been going on, I forgot that today was Wednesday. Sometimes I really do lose track of time. Fortunately I didn’t wake up in any strange places afterwards.

I digress. Of course, doing an impromptu post like this isn’t a fully comfortable experience. Ever since I wrote my first book that I never published, I’ve become more of a fan of planning the story. And by “become more of a fan,” I mean “have been tasered by necessity.” Sometimes I need a map to avoid getting lost, and unlike the real world, there’s no one to ask for directions.

So this is basically some stream of consciousness offered as an excuse for why I don’t have something else today. But I’m okay with it, because it means I’ve been busy writing. It’s a good problem to have, and I hope other people I know here will get the chance to experience it too.

Flash Fiction: The Love Grinch

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Author’s Note: Here’s a little something I whipped up for Valentine’s Day. Since love is in the air, some of it landed in this story – in the most backhanded of ways. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Jim didn’t believe in love. It didn’t exist, couldn’t be measured, and certainly wasn’t quantifiable. He couldn’t eat it, spend it, or do anything with it. Worse, it made people stupid, the kind of dumb that causes social decay and general unrest. If he was tyrant for a day, he’d make it illegal.

He didn’t even believe in love in the most general terms. People would say they love candy, but really they just want to have something sweet. Everyone kept misusing the word for all kinds of silly reasons. Might as well just get rid of the English language while they’re at it, he’d complain to anyone who’d listen.

But if Jim wasn’t supportive of love as an idea or as a vocabulary word, he positively loathed February 14th. Out of 365 days in the year, the middle of February was his least favorite. Everyone around him would get into a mass hysteria, wear red, and go on tour with grotesque displays of public affection. Couples holding hands in public were bad enough; Valentine’s Day made them unbearable.

On the walk home from work that day, Jim counted no fewer than forty separate couples strolling happily hand-in-hand, hugging, or whispering sweet nothings to each other. All the stores in the local shops had their windows plastered with hearts and roses and chocolates. One shopkeeper smiled and offered him a free sample, but Jim’s look of contempt made her recoil in mild terror. Sugar could not soothe Jim’s savage ire. He stomped up to his apartment building, alone, and let himself in.

He checked the mail first. Opening the small box, he reached in and grabbed a handful of bills and junk mail, the latter getting tossed into the nearby garbage can. Something fell to the ground, landing just under his shoe. Jim bent over, picked it up, and frowned. It was a red envelope, his name hand-printed in gold ink on the front. “This has to be a sick joke,” he muttered, and looked around to see if anyone was hiding or watching him. Satisfied he was alone, he jabbed a thumb in the crease and pulled the envelope open.

Inside was a simple card, black ink on white paper. It read:

“Dearest Jim,

For years, I’ve watched you come in alone to our building. I’ve seen your disapproving looks of other people as they pass you by. At first I thought you just preferred to be alone, but I think you positively despise couples who are happy.

Frankly, I’m disgusted by them too. Today, I’ve seen too many people stroll by with stupid looks on their faces. These are the same people who, as recently as yesterday, couldn’t stand each other. It makes no sense.

Not only that, but I keep getting harassed by my family and friends to get into a relationship. They don’t understand that these things require careful consideration of mutual interests, spending habits, and personal temperament. Instead, they just badger me constantly that love is enough, as if that ever did anything for anyone.

Last year at this time, I noticed you too had a brush with a friend who wanted you to get into a relationship. Your exchange with him could be heard halfway up the building. Although you seemed quite reasonable, your friend was not capable of seeing things from your enlightened perspective. As a happy accident, I realized that if you feel as I do on the subject, nothing should be more revolting than a pointless relationship. Also, I realized that this puts us both in a unique situation.

Since we both do not care for the insanity of love or making poor decisions with our lives, I propose that we enter into an agreement where we both claim each other as a romantic partner. Neither party is bound to do all the stupid things we witness other people doing. Gifts and exchanges shall be made on a quid quo pro basis. To make this official, I cordially invite you to dinner this evening at my place in apartment 7D. As per the agreement, this means dessert will be at your apartment afterwards. Should you find these terms acceptable, you may dress for formal dinner and arrive at my place sharply at 7 pm.

Sincerely,

-C”

Jim closed the letter, and tapped it against the envelope. His face felt warm, and he had a faint smile. All these years of living in this apartment, and he had no idea someone else felt exactly like he did about love. The prospect of having an arrangement where he could get all of his associates to leave him alone about getting a romantic partner made his heart skip a beat. He’d even get dinner, and his smile broadened when he remembered he actually had a fresh cherry pie he could throw in the oven.

Practically floating to the elevator, Jim’s head filled with what he should wear to dinner. He imagined the conversation regarding mutual interests and biographical history. Someone else got onto the elevator with him, and gave him a strange look when he giggled absently to himself. Jim didn’t care; he was thinking about how he’d spend the evening talking about all the stupid people going to restaurants this evening.

Dinner wouldn’t be out of the question, Jim decided. The elevator stopped at his floor, and he got out with a spring in his step. Tonight would be the first Valentine’s night that he’d spend pleasantly, and he had a secret admirer to thank for it.

Vote For Linda

Click this link to go vote for Linda G. Hill’s awesome book, The Magician’s Curse. She’s in the running to receive a Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewer’s Choice Award! Linda has also included links to purchase her book if you haven’t read it yet and want to do so before voting.

Or, you know, if you like reading good fiction.

True story.

Worldbuilding 101

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Worldbuilding is the process of developing a fictional setting for a story or other creation. Creating them can be fun, probably because it involves making an entire universe in a chosen image. Reality for the ensuing characters is whatever an artist wants it to be. That kind of power rarely gets exercised in real life.

As a writer and fiction enthusiast, I’ve talked with a bunch of different people about the worlds they’ve built. Some of the sales pitches were interesting, and some needed a bit of polish. I decided to put down three of the more common themes I’ve ranted/discussed over the years into one place in the hopes that it might help people building their own masterpieces.

1. Your world needs to conform to the story you’re telling.
Different stories need different worlds or parts of worlds. The important thing is that the story itself determines what the world is like, and not the other way around. Worlds are just one part of the story getting created, along with characters, plot, conflict, and resolution. If the setting doesn’t have anything to do with the other elements, the story will suffer.

2. Don’t get too sidetracked with minor details.
Too many worlds don’t actually promote the story they tell. Sometimes this is because you get lost creating the hand-crafted cuckoo clock in the protagonist’s cousin’s brother’s niece’s roommate’s micro-brewery. Those details might add depth and realism to the setting, but it does nothing to further the plot. Unless the antagonist steals it as part of her overarching plan to conquer the world/system/galaxy/universe, you can get away with not having it there.

3. Don’t build a world if you don’t have to.
Okay, this seems a bit counter-intuitive, but I think it needs to be said. Too often I’ve heard an idea that fits quite well in some historical setting or in a small variation on reality. There’s no need to create a whole ecosystem of continents, cultures, and cities if your story just needs a fictional town in a real country. It doesn’t matter that Otisburg, California doesn’t really exist (unless you’re a fictional warlord in Calsahara). It only matters that your characters believe it exists.

That’s it for now. Worldbuilding is a fun thing to do, but ultimately it’s just the creation of a setting. Let it work for you, and everyone else will get the chance to enjoy your creation!