Love Letter

 

Dear Writers —

… especially writers whose medium is fiction: genre, literary, role-playing games, plays, movies, etc.

What we do is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Novelists especially. 80,000-120,000 words to sustain a transformation, to imbue a world, to make characters–even walk-ons–live, breathe and sometimes die between the ink and the page in a cohesive, meaningful, never-boring heartfelt way. All the while knowing that what you see and feel and strain to put down is never ever what the reader will get out of it.

That’s the blessing and the curse of the written word, or the game scenario. Because the reader isn’t us, they can never experience the story the way we do. But we also can’t experience it the way they do. And sometimes readers and players are amazingly generous with their buy-in. Fandoms are proof of that.

All creators live with constant doubt and frustration and time constraints and the intervenings of real life. It’s hard to chew through it, swallow, and continue on to The End. Overwhelmingly difficult sometimes.

So, thanks. Thank you to all the writers of my favorite stories, poems, movies and games. Thanks for slogging on through the long process of getting your work published, or out to your gaming groups. My brain and spirit love to roll around in what you create.

You’ve made my world better. You inspire me to be a better writer, and a better human.

All the love,
Kath

 

Retrospective 2016

[This post was deleted by a hacker.  Looking to restore it. — KN]

It’s Personal

 

personalize-it-main

 

Twice a year, like clockwork, I ponder the correlations between writing fiction and running role-playing games.  The first is in the spring when I start thinking about what games I want to bring to AmberCon Northwest (an excellent roleplaying convention in Portland that centers around the Amber Diceless RP Game).  The second time is in November immediately after the con wraps and I have to decide whether my games were a success.

Some writers I know gaming and writing are two very different things.  I beg to disagree.  On the gamemaster side of things, you’re creating plot, history, world-building, secondary characters, and conflict.  The only thing that is different is that the main characters are out of your control … though a good GM will find ways of giving player characters growth through an emotional arc–exactly what a good writer will give their own main characters.

My metrics for gauging success of both novel-style fiction and gaming are the same: Did you enjoy it?  Were you engaged?  Or, better yet, did you have a stake in how it turned out?  Did the ending satisfy?  Do you want more?

The mechanics for building a satisfying story differ for each form–or at least I find them to differ substantially in most respects.  The thing I have been coming back to though, the similarity between them, is finding ways to make the plot personal to the main characters, whether they’re yours or a player’s in your game.

Okay, I say that like I know what I’m talking about, but this is all a work in progress–a hypothesis undergoing rigorous testing.

By “make it personal” I don’t mean that the player characters are the center of the plot–though if it’s a small enough group and they’re tied together in some way, maybe they are!–but that the choices they make can change the outcome or move the plot forward in significant ways.  Their choices have consequences, for good or ill.  The plot moves forward because the PCs made choices.  Even choosing not to choose is something which should bring consequences.

And that’s not any different from making the plot of a written story tie intimately to the main character, even when the events propelling the MC into the plot didn’t have anything to do with them previously.  With written fiction, we have the luxury of knowing our character’s backgrounds, and knowing which part of their history is driving them with each scene.  With gaming, not so much, even if your players send you a ten page history to work with.  The best–if not only–thing we can do to make a plot personal to them, is give them the chance to make decisions which matter.  Each time they move on a decision, there’s buy-in.  Once there’s buy-in, stakes can be raised.  Once stakes are raised, consequences become greater and rewards that much sweeter.

So that’s my goal for my upcoming games (and the story Simone and I are in the middle of) … to make it personal.  I’m sure I’ll let you know how successful I am come mid-November.

How do you make your RP scenarios and/or stories personal to the main characters, assuming the plot isn’t all about them?  This inquiring mind wants to know.

 

Writers’ Fuel

 

 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a wordsmith writing a story is in want of some coffee.”

 

I’m pretty sure that’s what Jane Austen said.  Followed by, “Gimme some java.”

I write, sure.  I plot and plan.  I noodle with friends.  And yes, I’m invariably in want of some coffee.  But more, I want a lovely, quiet, clean place where I can sip and type, or lounge and talk in peace for a few hours.

Shout out to STORYVILLE COFFEE!!

If you’re in the Seattle metro area, give Storyville a try.  Four locations.  Two types of extremely freshly roasted coffee: Prologue for the full caff, and Epilogue for the decaf.  Breakfast bits.  Luncheon stuff.  Beautiful ambiance.  Comfortable seating.  Uber kind people behind the bar.

Also?  Hand-crafted espresso.  This means they don’t push a button and let the machine do all the work.  They actually know how to pull espresso.  It’s a disappearing art here in Seattle, lemme tell ya.

What’s more, they have a wonderful objective:

“… STORYVILLE is a FOR GIVING company, created for giving. At STORYVILLE, our desire is to support the fight against human trafficking worldwide until no child, woman, or man is trapped in slavery.”

This is a coffee company I can get behind.

If they were also open until 9pm, it would be a match made in heaven.  However, they are open 7a-6p M-Th, and 7:59a-6p weekends. [edit: summer hours begin THIS weekend, so they’ll be open at 6:59a Saturday and Sunday.  Wheee!]

Pssst … you don’t have to be a writer to enjoy Storyville Coffee.  All that is required is a desire for a bit of something lovely in your day.

Give them a try.

PS:  They did not pay me for this endorsement.  I just loved them.

 

Have you been to Storyville?  What did you think?  What is your favorite place to write, muse, converse, chill?

A New Hope

 

No, not that one, not Star Wars Ep. IV, though it qualifies.

I’m talking about the feeling that comes from experiencing a story with a Happy Ending™.   Not even a Happily Ever After™ ending, but simply the heroine-prevails-in-her-quest ending, whatever that quest may be.  It brings satisfaction that wrongs have been righted, justice prevails, and the worthy find love.  In other stories, something intrinsic to the human condition endures, and we, or those important to us, will be able to partake of it.

I remember how terrible the last half of 2001 was.   The US was attacked on September 11th, and then we took war to the Middle East.  So much pain and national anxiety.  At the end of the year, for the holidays, Warner Bros. released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It was a fun movie, I’ll grant you, full of good performances by actors I enjoyed.  But what hit me like a blow was how much hope it instilled in me at the end.  I wept as the credits rolled.  It was all out of proportion to the movie itself, but I felt that if Potter could overcome his trials and tribulations, then we, as adults and as a country, could surely emerge from the pain and hatred and fear we were snarled in.  I felt hope again for our world.

That’s some good, heart-tugging storytelling.

Maybe at that time, I just needed to believe in the possibility of happy endings, and that–like young Skywalker, and the hope he embodied–the sunset would be followed by a new, better day.

 

Epic yearning!

Epic yearning!

Happy Endings aren’t an American invention, but we do tend to eat them up.  I sort of blame Disney–or maybe Frank Capra–and I’m sort of not kidding.  They’re hard to get away from, and I sometimes wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by not embracing more ambiguity as the curtains fall.  Ambiguity makes us dig for the hope we want, makes us examine possibilities.  Ending with uncertainty is less like hot chocolate and Milano cookies on a cold winter’s night, and more like a meaty borscht–complex and nourishing, but we have to work to get it in the bowl, and we often are unsure of the ingredients.  Ambiguity makes us wonder what’s next?  Happy Endings rarely do.

All this is to say that I wonder about the stories we, as a people, tell.  I wonder in our communal psyche demands the reassurance and certainty of a Happy Ending, even when we know they’re rarely “real”.  I wonder which stories give us the tool to find our way through this crazy world, and if it’s simply a matter of having our Milano cookies along side our borscht.

What kind of endings do you crave?  Which ones satisfy you?  What do you want from your stories?  Inquiring minds wanna know.

 

"Delicious ambiguity." -- Gilda Radner

“Delicious ambiguity.” — Gilda Radner

 

The Worst We Can Do

I don’t know why it took me so long, but I’ve discovered a kind of dark storytelling magic that occurs in conflict.  Bad things happening to (sometimes) good people?  Yeah, that’s where the juiciness of story is created.  That’s where character arcs are born and raised.  That’s where it all happens.

Nestled into the folds, pinned to its edges, layered three strata deep, conflict is the story.  It’s what pushes everything along. It’s the underpinning of fictional universes.  Internal conflict, external conflict, both/and.  My favorite recipe is a lot of both, with nicely complimenting flavors and a side of success.

The trick is to make it matter, to make it relevant.  I find this is harder to do in game plotting than it is in novel plotting, because players are an unruly lot.  It took me far longer than it should have to figure out that if my players/readers don’t have buy-in to the stakes, my intricate plot won’t matter.  And if the individual characters don’t have buy-in, the players/readers won’t have buy-in.  The central conflict has to be relevant for each and every person participating.  Reader or gamer, it’s exactly the same.  They have to care.

And yet we want our characters, players, and readers to be happy, and most people aren’t happy when faced with opposition.  So we don’t go there.  As writers/plotters/schemers we soft pedal, we make nice, we let our characters be comfortable, we don’t kick up the sandbox … and it ends up being boring.  There are no stakes in “nice” except the one of losing what you have, of messing up the status quo.

That’s our job as storytellers though, to embrace the Destroyer archetype, and make the situations dire, to give them everything and to take it away, and to let them reach for something new in turn.  It’s our job to push characters beyond their skills, beyond their means, beyond their comfort zones, and to not be afraid if they hate us.

Because when they succeed–in small ways in the middle or hugely at the end–that’s the payoff.  That’s where the accomplishment comes in.  That’s where character and player and reader say, “I made it, and I’ve grown, I built something new, and this really mattered.”  That’s where the satisfying richness is born.  And they can’t get there without having first been to hell-and-gone.

I was thinking of my very first “favorite” book, Jane Eyre.  From the outset, Bronte placed Jane in a situation where she had nothing going for her but her indomitable spirit, and her truth to herself.  She’s given friendship and support, education, true love (now I think it’s high-handed manipulation, but that’s a whole different issue), stability, money and passion.  Time after time, it’s all ripped away.  In the end, she’s given everything she originally thought she wanted … and has to make a choice between it (the social status quo), or who she is and what makes her happy.

It’s her struggle to get to that point which is the story.  If she had everything she wanted to begin with, she’d have stayed with Mrs. Reed, John, Eliza and Georgiana.  No story there!

What is it your characters have that you can take away?  What makes them struggle?  What makes them unhappy?  What pushes them past the edge of who they think they are?  And the important flip side … where can they succeed?

Do it!  What’s the worst you can do?  What holds you back from creating deep and meaningful conflict?  I’d love to know.