Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Writer Writes, Always - Part One

Thus Spake Billy Crystal, in the 1987 dark comedy Throw Momma From The Train. Perhaps it says something of my much-beleagured struggle as a writer that this film for me, more than any other work I've come across except perhaps Showtime's Californication, defines what it truly means to be a writer; 99% exasperation and frustration while beating one's head solidly and repeatedly against the wall, 1% vomitous explosion of chaotic creative energy that can't get out of one's head fast enough.

I've noticed an interesting pattern in a lot of role-playing gamers. Maybe not so much in the dyed-in-the-wool "old school sandbox" variety who abhor any allusions of "plot" or "story" in their campaign settings, never mind their campaigns. But amongst the "sliver age" (I gag slightly as I type that term, but I suppose it fits the bill) gamers and later, those of us pulled into RPGs in the 80's and early 90's not so much by computer games, as I think is increasingly the case, but through genre fiction closely associated with RPGs.

Many of those folks, and I include myself within this category, found within RPGs a way to create "stories" as it were that, while a merest shadow of those which pulled them into the RPG hobby, nevertheless uncorked some creative bottle many of them knew existed, but were either unwilling or incapable of opening themselves. You see, we all know that "writing is hard"; every writer who has ever been successful can tell you that is a fact, and the untold legions of writers who have been unsuccessful may very well tell you it can be impossible. But cobbling together a crudely slapdashed, largely pastiched world based on your favorite fantasy or science-fiction stories, and putting your friends through some hackneyed, tortuous gameplay in order to somehow create similar stories on your own? Sadly (or perhaps not so sadly?), this is all too easy.

The unfortunate by-product of all this lackadaisical yarn-spinning is that some of these GMs (and even players, in rarer cases) get it into their heads that if creating their own original (hah!) campaign setting and running an entertaining and successful (double hah!) campaign was that easy (cackle!), why not turn their prodigious powers of world-building and story-telling in a more prosaic direction, and write fiction for fun and profit?

I imagine the entire painful process evolves as follows:

1. Read the works of numerous successful fantasy or science-fiction writers.

2. Allow said works to percolate in one's creative subconscious for a time.

3. Pour oneself a hot, steaming cup of supposed creative genius in the form of a RPG campaign and its attendant campaign setting.

4. Inhale the intense bouquet, savor the heady aromas, and savor that cup from first sip to last drop.

5. Assume that, because you like the taste and smell of your own blend so much, others will no doubt PAY to experience such genius themselves.

6. Go into the business of brewing up more of this creativity in the hopes of marketing it to the general public.

7. Fail miserably at the task, belatedly discovering that you have little to no actual marketable talent, or at the very least, lack what it takes to properly discipline one's genius and turn that talent into something tangible.

8. Suffer crushing emotional pain and suffering at the thought of your lifelong dream of becoming a successful fantasy or science fiction author falling apart like a poorly-engineered house of cards.

9. Begin blogging...

Now, shockingly enough, I'm not ACTUALLY laying all this out as some projection-of-self "I know this one guy who..." story. I won't deny that some of my own personal experiences color my commentary, but it's also true that I've known a number of gamers who have also wandered down the path of amateur fiction author, most of them unsuccesfully.

I'll continue this exploration of gamers who attempt to become writers in the next column. In the meantime, I leave you with this, which I think kinda sums up most gamers' attempts at writing fiction professionally.


Dungeonmum said...

sob - ouch!

Badelaire said...

Don't cry just yet - hopefully I'll post Part 2 come Monday, wherein I'll try to dissect the issue more and look for ways to mitigate, avoid, or overcome this most embarrassing of RPGing pitfalls.

Dungeonmum said...

I look forward to it. Although, I am under no illusions that I am some kind of author - the plot is already there. I'm just the stenographer.

Dagda said...

I use my blog as a portfolio for game design work- and by extension, a way to build up an audience & set personal milestones when it comes to actually writing some of these ideas down for others.