Are you a short fiction fanatic? In need of a quick fix inbetween books? I know I always like reading a short story in between big books. In cases like that I always have a short story anthology on hand. Or I take a break and play a good video game.
One of the authors featured in the anthology THE BOOK OF APEX: Vol 4 – Michael Pevzner is here today to tell us all about role playing games and writing!
Enter to win a copy of THE BOOK OF APEX on my review post!
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Other than writing fiction, I’m also quite a bit of a role-player. In addition to being a fun hobby, role-playing offers many techniques you can lift from the gaming table and use at your writing desk.
First things first, what is a role-playing game? Essentially, in a RPG a group of friends sits down at the table and weaves together a story. One of the participants takes the role of Game Master, while the rest take the roles of players. Each player controls a character in the imaginary game world–a Player Character, PC for short. The player decides what the character does and how they behave. The Game Master controls all the other characters inhabiting the game world–Non-Player Characters, or NPCs–the environment and everything else.
The granddaddy of all RPGs is Dungeons & Dragons, where players take the role of brave adventurers in a fantasy setting, but there is an immense multitude of RPGs out there, with different settings, tones and styles of play.
But enough generalities, let’s talk writing!
The first, perhaps most obvious technique you can use in your writing is to simply run a game for yourself, alternating between the roles of GM and player. The important thing in this technique is to stick to one role at each time. When you’re the GM, your job is to think of challenges for the players. Things they will have to overcome, tough decisions they will have to face. If you come up with things a player would love to see in a game, there’s a good chance those are also things a reader would love to read about. However, at this stage you don’t think about the solutions. You describe the trap closing shut and the walls beginning to close in–it’s not your job to think of a way out. You describe the paramedics wheeling in the character’s wife when he is the doctor on duty–it’s not your job to think about what he’s going to say to her. Then, after the situation is all set, you switch seats. Now you’re the player in control of the character. Now you need to think of a way out, think about a good thing to say–but it’s not your job to think about the consequences.
Another technique is an old advice for GMs: “Let everyone shine”. Different characters have different strengths, and during the course of a game the GM should create situations that allow each of the characters to showcase those strengths. Strengths don’t necessarily mean things the character is very good at doing (though they often do), but rather things it’s fun to watch the character do. In the context of writing fiction, think about the sort of situations in which the protagonist is most fun to read about. Social interactions? Fights? Crime scene investigations? Then, try to steer the action towards those scenes. Or you could look at it from a different angle, which isn’t applicable to RPGs but is to writing–adjust the protagonist for the scene. If you know you’re headed into a series of scenes heavy with social interaction, make sure the protagonist is fun to read about when they’re doing social interaction.
A third technique is to choose PCs and NPCs for each scene. The PCs are the ones in the spotlight in a scene, they’re its center and what the scene is about. The NPCs are only there to help, narratively speaking. Then, when you are writing the scene, make sure that the characters stick to their roles. If a character is a PC, make sure they act as one; that the spotlight is on them most of the time, that the scene shows something about them, drives their story forward. If a character is a NPC, make sure they don’t hog the spotlight and only act to serve the PC’s purpose in the scene. If you notice that you simply cannot write the scene without one of the NPCs staying in the spotlight, maybe it means you chose the roles incorrectly and that NPC in fact should be a PC in the scene.
Lastly, there’s more than techniques to be taken from RPGs–there are elements that can be used as-is to create your fiction. Some RPGs include very interesting mechanisms for creating characters and settings, and you could use those mechanisms in your fiction. The game Dresden Files, which is based on the series of the same name by Jim Butcher, includes a system for creating the city where the action of the game takes place. The game Diaspora, whose style is hard sci-fi, has a mechanism for creating star systems. The game Microscope, which isn’t exactly an RPG but is still a great game, is about creating the story of a civilization, as it lives through different epochs and major events, and the result of such a game can be a great setting for a book. Games such as Traveller and Fading Suns have systems for creating characters by guiding them through major events in their lives.
There are many more techniques and tips from the world of role-playing that can be used in your writing–and the best way to discover them is to sit down with your friends and play!
Thirty-three science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories grab readers by their emotional cores to star deep into the source of our humanity and inhumanity. Well-known authors like Ken Liu, Genevieve Valentine, Catherynne M. Valente, Lavie Tidhar, and Alethea Kontis, along with newer voices, sketch surreal pasts, presents, and futures full of characters with familiar and outsized desires and fears.
“The Book of Apex Volume 4″ collects the original fiction from Hugo-winning editor Lynne M. Thomas’s first fifteen issues at the helm of “Apex Magazine,” which included two Hugo Award nominations for the magazine.