Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing Fiction w/o Friction Part 1

The process and preparation that went into writing my first book was somewhat arcane. I think it is worth committing everything I've done to a record of sorts. Do I think anyone will look at what I've done and find something they can use to help in their own writing? I severely doubt it.

Every book begins as a glimmer of an idea waiting to be born in one of a dozen different ways. Dreams & Echoes began as a Live Action Role Playing Game (2002-2003) adapted to allow people to play supernatural creatures in a post apocalyptic setting. I had a creative staff and roughly twenty five participants who went through the process of exploring my ideas. I mixed metaphysical and temporal concepts to give people a fun outlet every other Monday night.

Only a few participants had any inkling that they were a part of something that went beyond your typical LARP. Most were content to show up, dress up, and just socialize. In the end the project imploded because people on staff couldn't get along. Pretty typical for the Live Action Crowd, drama at the expense of fun.

I wasn't ready to let go of the idea of Dreams & Echoes however. The Live Action Game had lasted almost a year but barely scratched the surface of my ideas. I had a big story to tell and I wasn't going to let a few small minded people discourage me. In 2004 I wrote my own Table Top RPG for the purpose and showed it to a few people. It wasn't well received. A year later I decided to play test the RPG anyway and gathered a couple of tables together for the purpose.

Those RPG tables would provide me the mental exercise to explore my ideas and the feasibility of them with a real audience. From those tables I birthed fertile science fiction and fantasy worlds to write within. Eventually I called the RPG Storytelling Sciences, because in reality that is exactly what it was designed to do. I would tell my story with the participants acting as the main characters. We relied largely on dice and mathematical language to steer the outcomes for hundreds of hours worth of play testing.

At one point I was running three tables every two weeks for a minimum of four hours each. I kept detailed records at each table, gauging my audience's reaction of certain types of stories and characters. Also, everyone had a great time. I could always tell when I'd stumbled across something truly magical, particularly at my Dreams & Echoes tables.

Grubbs and Nippy were written to be very small characters, almost barely a foot note to begin with. The people at that table turned a five minute encounter into something that lasted almost an hour's worth of table time. Even after they got written into the first novel, people have asked me about prequels, short stories, and maybe a graphic novel on those two unlikely heroes.

Numenarch was the same way. I had always written him to merely be a legendary figure, but whenever people had the chance to meet him with their characters during the course of play, the whole tone at the table would change. Even when I stumbled to portray him during the course of the story, people still looked forward to his presence.

Having to mechanically render every character, weapon, and the worlds in which they dwell has helped immensely. I've written no less than five books for Dreams & Echoes that just talked about what characters could or couldn't do, the paths they can follow, and the implements at their disposal. Three out of the five saw lengthy periods of play testing that opened my eyes to a lot of what worked and what didn't. These RPG books are like blue prints or play books for writing my novels.

What it all amounts to is this:

The story I've wanted to tell has already seen numerous audiences.
The characters have already endured the scrutiny of those same audiences.
The substance of the worlds in which I write had to leap the same hurdles.
During the course of all this, I took detailed notes, logging critical data.

It has been crucial to have a peer group (thanks everybody) willing to listen to my ideas, and share in the burden of assessing them. Is there any advice I could give to someone about to start their career writing fiction? Do not write fiction while dwelling within a bubble.

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