Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stories within a Story

When meeting for a D&D game session, I often try to let the players lead the story. In some groups, where players are content playing cardboard heroes with stereotypical stories behind them, letting the players drive the story means repeating some worn out fantasy story arc. Kill the Dragon, Save the Princess, etc.

These kind of games are easiest to run. These kind of players are easiest to satisfy.

But most of the gaming groups are composed of players with different tastes, different likes and dislikes. We, as Game Masters, need to constantly shift our attention, making sure everybody gets a moment to shine. In a group were one player likes "classic fantasy" and another loves "dark fantasy", after the dragon is killed, they'd better find out that the dragon used vile magic to switch bodies with the princess before the heroes arrived...Yes they killed the dragon (hence the "classic fantasy" guy is happy), but something was not at it seemed (thus making the "dark fantasy" dude involved).

When writing my novel, I sometimes stop and wonder if I should use the same attitude as in my campaign plot writing. Should I try to involve more that the typical reader? Is there such a thing as a typical reader? Or should I write solely for the sake of writing, and not let other considerations pollute my story?

As a Game Master, I try to make everybody happy by asking the players directly: what do you like? what would you like to see in the campaign? what "turns you on"? You would be surprised by the answers the players give you (if they give - but that's another issue).

The process of incorporating the likes and dislikes of all the players into a single, manageable story line is the thing that excites me the most when starting a new campaign. It's a challenge, and one that I really enjoy. There is nothing like the looks on a player's face once he realizes that a plot twist relates directly to his backstory, and nothing is more rewarding than seeing that player grabbing the reins and leading the group after something he himself injected into the story (by telling me what he wants from the game).

Unfortunately, writing a novel is not running a D&D campaign. During a session, you (as the Game Master) react to the whims of the players around the table. If they take the reins to some uncharted location in your campaign notebook, you activate those improvisation muscles and run with it. Sometimes you even ride on those chaotic waves to produce something wonderful. Novel writing is different. No one even sees your work until there's a big chuck of it written, and then it may be too late.

Problem is - I don't get paid for my writing, so I don't have the privilege of an editor looking at my drafts and helping me improve them. With players around the table, you know when you've made a mistake on the spot. With nothing but the laptop screen in front of you, the job gets a lot tougher...

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