Getting good at something is hard, even if you love it. The constant repetition can make it a chore, but don’t despair young storytellers, I’m here to tell you there are exceptions. Let’s take writing for example, what if I told there’s an activity that can help you become an amazing writer and it’s also lots of fun? Well, this miraculous activity exists and it’s called roleplaying games.
For those of you that are skeptical about this let me tell you that it’s quite common. Writers like George R.R. Martin and China Miéville started with roleplaying games before making the jump to professional writers. Now if that’s not proof that being a rolepaying geek pays off I don’t know what it is.
The question is then, how does roleplaying help someone become a writer? Before we go on, know that being a player helps, but if you’re really set on becoming a writer then you must step up and became the one directing the game, or game master. Sure, it’s more work, but consider that you have now a group of helpless vict…I mean enthusiastic adventurers to experiment on. That power feels good, trust me. Each step in the creation of a roleplaying game teaches an essential skill for designing stories. Here are the most important ones.
During the character creation process, the young writer learns how to breathe life into the characters of a story, or in other words, characters that are a bit more complex, and interesting, than a single adjective, like Erik the Brave.
Questions are the best way to start: What are their motivations? What was their past? What is their profession? Do they have any enemies? With these questions, the character only known as Erik the Brave becomes Erik the brave warrior who’s hunting the bandit leader who killed his family.
It is all about learning how to turn the characters from simple concepts to full-fledged people. That is how the young writer makes the characters in their stories relatable to the readers.
Stories do not happen in a vacuum and the setting it is in many ways another character of the story. The circumstances of a world (law, physics, culture, races, etc…) are going to influence the characters, and they affect the world in return.
Many roleplaying games include a crafted world in which the stories happen, but the majority also include tools to modify this world, and even create new ones from scratch. That is called worldbuilding, and it is another key instrument for the writer. So put in some effort when you start designing, or modifying, the world. You need to flex your creative muscles, and no other activity forces you to imagine so much as worldbuilding.
Then we have the story itself. It’s the exciting experience that you’re going to force your players go through, hopefully.
Questions are also a good way to start building the story. What is the inciting incident that propels the characters into action? Why does it matter to them? Who was responsible for it and why did they do it? What are the characters going to do about it?
For example, a thief is under orders from an evil wizard who needs the family amulet to cast a spell that will give him vast power. The store owner needs that amulet back because it is tied to the life of the land, without which the village will die. He and his friends decide to go on a quest to retrieve it.
With just a couple of simple questions, we have built an entire story ready to be told.
After everything is done, the only thing left to do is to test the story with your group of players. They can help the young writer by pointing out inconsistencies in the story, boring pacing, inconsistent elements, and offering exciting new ideas as to where to take the story. This interactivity is the most valuable part of the roleplaying game as it provides feedback in real time.
At least that’s the theory, players are known for driving the game master nuts or into a frenzied rage, but for the sake of optimism let’s assume everything goes well.
And with that last part I have this to say to any young writer: get some friends, pick a game, grab some dice, and start learning how to tell amazing stories, or at least gain the virtue of saintly patience.