My Writing Process: I’m not crazy, I’m a writer (reprise)

Crazy WriterOkay, so someone finally commented a post in such a way that I can respond to it effectively. Good. Thank you. I like questions, they feed ideas for posts. And that person was… Jay Paulin. Of course it was, why wouldn’t it be? -Sigh-

Let’s get this over with.

In my last Virtual Writing Seminar I said that “I’ll never believe that you can get that kind of divine spark from role playing games.” I’ve gone on rants about gaming and gamers with regard to writing before, and I guess Mr. Paulin finally had enough.

He asks: I’m curious why you would discount the notion that a person could never find inspiration playing a game — one that involves imagination and story-spinning — and then admit mirror-gazing works for you.

The answer is that I find the sort of story-spinning involved in role playing games to just be working the wrong storytelling muscle. These games are fun, but the storytelling in them… see, I don’t want to say it’s bad because then I’ll have a million people freaking out at me. It’s not bad. How do I put this? Let’s put it this way: the type of stories I’d like to read, even fantasy and sci-fi ones, can’t be generated from a game. So much of great literature exists in the quiet, reflective moments that don’t come from games. Also, there’s a tendency in games to try and make your character as powerful as you can. Which makes sense, you’re bringing him into battle. But making-ultra unbeatable and infallible characters makes for boring literature. It’s the Superman problem.

Beyond those reasons, there’s the big one: I’ve seen it not work. This is the biggest one. It’s not that I have a bias against games. It’s that i have a bias against gamers who write, especially ones that write in the same genre that their RPG gameworld exists in. This is a bias formed from many, many tiresome experiences. Games have a different narrative than movies, and the gap is even greater with novels. Ever see a movie in recent years where it seems like the characters just advance from room to room killing bad guys? People comment that these movies “feel like watching a video game,” negatively. The TMNT CGI movie had that complaint a lot. And I can see it. Now, imagine that without even the benefit of visuals… it gets tiresome.

Another issues is that “The Gamer” already has a support structure. They have 5-10 people they play with that all agree that the writer’s story is awesome, either because they have similar interests or because their characters are also featured. Or they’re just Yes-Men, that’s always an option too. Because they have these people telling them it’s awesome, they have no room in their minds for even the slightest criticism.

So, that’s my issue in a nutshell.

Then Jay writes:

My comment may come across as critical but I am legitimately curious. I believe inspiration can come from anywhere so what makes one avenue impossible and another acceptable?
Could you go into a bit more detail in your methods? Do you act scenes out in the mirror, using physical motions and/or facial expressions as starting points for emotion? What negative experiences do you have (first-hand or otherwise) regarding role-playing on a table compared to the success you’ve had role-playing in your mind?
This could lead to an interesting discussion! Hopefully other writers post their opinions on this matter as well.

I absolutely act out scenes in front of the mirror, usually when I’m alone in the house. Typically it’ll be a tense verbal discussion / debate among several characters. It lets me hear what they’re saying out loud so that I can make sure to give each of them different voices and make sure the dialog sounds legitimate. Doesn’t matter that they’re talking about an evil organization bent of the genetic overthrow of the human race, as long as the dialog sounds genuine.

But you’re right, inspiration can come from anywhere. My problem is when people stay too close to the “source material.” It’s like the Watchmen movie. That’s what happens when you stay too close to the source and don’t remember that movies are different from comics. Hear that, gamers? i bet your game is awesome (but stop asking me to play), but a novel is different from a game. You need to realize that before putting pen to page.

Satisfied? (He’s never satisfied).

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

(PS: Does Jay have the writing chops? Judge for yourself this April, when his story Gristle While you Work is released in the Engen anthology Light|Dark.)

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2 thoughts on “My Writing Process: I’m not crazy, I’m a writer (reprise)”

  1. Thanks for addressing these points, Matthew. I agree with you most of the way, but differ on a few issues. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

    In terms of a mindless warrior bashing enemies in one area to the next, I can see the drawbacks there but the narrative there is just a support structure for the game. To spin things differently, there is a noir game I play where there is almost no action aside from a few fist fights and some gunplay. We have to solve mysteries, crimes, etc. and really need think. After all, trying to ‘munchkin’ our way through a difficult situation will result in a quick death and the end of the game!

    Sticking too close to the source material, even in the example above, would be a bad decision for many reasons not going into here. The point remains that a story element or two from your game could easily be fleshed out and used in my, yours, or someone else’s story and work very well. That is the responsibility of the creator: To identify what is usable and what isn’t, then adapt it for the story we wish to tell.

    As for our social circles potentially being a Positive Pete or Patty, that can happen with anything. A writer, artist, sculptor, etc. could just as easily have people supporting them without dispensing constructive criticism. Your argument here isn’t restricted solely to games (or another medium).

    Ah, gotcha. What you do in front of the mirror, I act out/recite as I go about my day. I think a lot of writers do that: I know one who does that on their morning drive, much as singers practice their craft. Any steps we can take to ensure dialogue is natural and fits the character is worthwhile, even if it makes us look like we’ve lost our mind! When I have my near-final and final drafts, I get friends and family to act out the story before I move to the lettering stage. Whatever works, right?

    That’s why I think inspiration can come from anywhere. It’s the execution that I feel trips people up, not the conception. We may have to agree to disagree, until Sci-Fi on the Rock. There, we can settle things once and for all with a duel at high noon.

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  2. See I have to disagree with you here. Many people and authors say that a good story, be it book or movie, is driven by the characters so much so that authors tend to ‘loose control’ of them. This is essentially the same thing that happens in an RP. A DM writes a story and then modifies on the go as the characters progress.

    In a good roleplaying game (and for this I am talking pen/paper/dice not the video game variety) you have character interaction, some people do it as first person, others as third (I’ve even seen a 2 and 1/2 perspective lol) and you have introspective, Many player will dictate out-loud what their character is thinking or even debate their decisions out loud.

    The gap in storytelling between novel and game isn’t as large as you would think. RP game-story reminds me of TV story telling but I’ve always thought of it like unrestricted story telling. Novels are bound by page limits, it the nature of the beast, A game could tell the same story as an epic fantasy novel but you’re going to get more details and material…and I’m talking George RR Martin more.

    As for the ‘strongest possible’ that comes with the type of game you play. DND is often split into two type of games. The first is a Dungeon Crawl or a hack/slash in which people just want to fight and kill but if you get into an RP game you find things for more interesting. You get growth, character progression and story telling.

    I’m sorry if you know all this by your post it seems like you have DND before.

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