photo by kgeiger
This is the other, dark half of an article I posted earlier about the bond between creative writing and GMing. It’s partly a list of differences between GMing and creative writing and partly a list of things that will work at the table-top, but not in the manuscript (as the title suggests). So for those Master Gamers looking to delve into creative writing, or the writers seeking to delve into Game Mastering: this stout is for you.
1. Audience Patience: the difference in patience between gamers and readers are very different. You have much more liberty to delve into more complex (and realistic) issues of humanity. You can spend time to flesh out history and back-story, as long as its relevant and necessary. Your players are anxiously waiting for you to finish explaining these things so they can “do something”. Your readers will have the patience to absorb it all. But with this gift comes a responsibility. You need to make this information important or relevant somehow, (even if it just demonstrates “how religion works” or “how people typically act” in this world) otherwise your readers will feel cheated for sitting through it.
2. “Dynamic” NPCs: effective table-top NPCs are very different from effective literary NPCs (also called side/minor characters). The crazy wizard with the burnt beard and the jugs of alchemist fire for sale is great to act out at the tabletop. But he is just a little over the top for a manuscript. Your players inherently have fun interacting with crazy, larger-than-life, quirk-injected characters. Readers will just roll their eyes if any amount of time is spent with such a character. Writing effective side characters is a lot more delicate, but there will also be much less of them. The written story often doesn’t need all these extra people: the inn-keep, the street-sweep, the homeless man. Or at least they can be put forward in a considerably more minimalistic fashion (if they play no true role in the story). The ones that get any attention should also be dealt with economically.
Consider, for example the crew leaders of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy. We do not know the inner complexities of these characters, but we get the general idea of them very quickly in The Final Empire. Play along if you haven’t read it. Ham is a strong thug, but also happens to enjoy philosophical discussions. Breeze is narcissistic and really loves wine. We need nothing more to define these characters, they are ripe enough to insert into action. Economic, like I said. Makes sense?
3. Meta-Meta: Good News: your characters will never have the exact hit points and DR of their enemies memorized. The strange co-existence of the the 20-something intelligence wizard and the 20-something year old absentminded pot-head will not bring about strange, nonsensical moments. Why would that epic wizard flick off a beholder? Oh, because the extra-planar being controlling him is really high right now. But at the same time, this brings about challenges.
Your manuscript must fundamentally address issues of humanity, because nearly any world you are trying to portray is more “real” than that of your campaign. Yes, its more comfortable for both you and your dude-friends to avoid or skim over possible romantic side-plots in your games. But you can’t avoid them in your manuscript. You can’t “summarize” anything: back story, religions, magic, history, relationships. “That’s the relic that will kill the demon lord” is not a sufficient explanation. Everything needs to be full, understandable, unique, and clear. Luckily, as stated above, your readers will have a much higher tolerance for the stuff than do your average door-kicking players.
4. “Inspector Gadget” Magic Items: speaking of magic items, there are seemingly no fantasy stories that feature the vast array of “mechanically” beneficial magic items that you find in the typical D&D-style game. Even the legendary Drizzt Do’Urden didn’t have his “item slots” filled. He had his two trusty swords and armor. The bag of holding full of immovable rods, potions of Cure Critcal Wounds, a +1 silver short sword (for werewolves), a +2 coldiron longsword (for fey), multiple different boots of springing,
5. Bad Guys: have a considerably longer life. They can get away. They don’t have huge XP tags over their heads, so the heroes often times let them get away. So spend some time and make them fully fleshed out characters. But please, please avoid the “childhood trauma” excuse for them being evil. Sometimes people are just plain evil for the sake of being evil (chaotic evil, if you will).
6. “Sandbox Approach”: the campaign style that is often exciting for experienced players. The promise not to railroad. As your GM, I promise that your characters will be given the option to do whatever you want, and will not be forced on any storyline of my making. Yes, it leads many times to gloriousness.
My most famous PC (from one of the few games I have actually played) Uklix Vallamar won 2million credits (a quarter of the price of a Star Destroyer) in one game of pazaak, practically owned Tatooine, and even named his own city (Mos Woogly). Yes, it was glorious for Uklix, and for all the other characters in his party, who all had their own great accomplishments. But players are fiercely invested in their characters (they’re their characters afterall) and so nearly anything that involves them is interesting to some level. However, readers are not invested enough in the characters of a story to witness the every-day aimless, disconnected meanderings of their “adventurer” lives.
Perhaps re-writing the adventures of Uklix and his company in a more plot-driven form might yield a great story, but at its most fundamental level, the written story requires direction to be effective. Otherwise it seems like an overly vainglorious, pretentious account of pointless heroism.
7. Character Motivation: in manuscripts is unfortunately more complex than just the acquiring of money and magic items. Characters in literature, even genre literature are real. They have real wants and desire, they have real psychological issues, they have drawbacks and flaws in addition to their seemingly super-human powers. Yes, perhaps the Han Solo really only did want credits at the start of Episode IV. But we quickly understood that he was far more complex than your average bounty hunter. And there was real life reasons why he wanted credits so badly. He was neck deep in debt from gambling. He should’ve taken a few more levels in Scoundrel, perhaps he could have fared more like Uklix…
But don’t be discouraged! If you didn’t catch it the first time, reference back to my previous article about how GMing can help your creative writing. And don’t ever stop GMing. Don’t ever stop writing.