I realize that one of the reasons I stalled on the "discovering a genre" series is because I lost track of the purpose.
I originally had the idea of doing this as an extension of the Story Game.
In particular, I wanted to explore a model for a "create your own" aspect of the game. When I started this a year and a half ago, with the Situation Game, I picked a certain kind of romantic suspense story because I wanted to work with certain formulaic aspects of it.
(For those who weren't following the blog at the time, you can start with the Introduction to the Situation Game, or ending "Let's Play" post, which has an index to multiple posts. I've done a few minor games and series since. One day I'll get them indexed....)
So when the "Orphans on a Train" pattern struck my fancy, I thought it might make a case in point for building a game out of a very different sort of "genre."
But, you know what? I don't think the "Orphans on a Train" model is suitable for the kind of story that works with the story game. It's not formulaic enough. Yes, there are very common tropes and patterns, and they kind of reach an archetype.... but they vary too much to make a kind of story that works with something like the Situation Game.
(And yet, I have some thoughts about how there could be a different kind of game involved, more on that later, first I want to talk about why it won't work for the game....)
Two things struck me in thinking about this:
1.) Ideal Game Stories are Suitable for Satire:
The kind of story that suits the original story game has got to be both predictable, and that predictability has to be part of what is satisfying about it. Those kinds of stories are part story and part ritual. We might make fun of the fact that the villain in a certain kind of romantic suspense is always someone the heroine trusts, but that is also what we read it for.
The Orphans on a Train story doesn't fit because the whole point is that it's a story of discovery. While it might be predictable on some level, it isn't the predictability that satisfies. It's actually the discovery that is satisfying. Therefore the tropes are less obvious. But I think they are still there.
2.) I Don't Want to Repeat This Story (or not exactly)
I am interested in writing a bunch of stand-alone mystery-suspense stories. But I'm not really interested in writing a bunch of Orphan on a Train stories. I really only want to write one. This is because, when I read such a story, I find that I'm not reading it to find out how it ends. I'm reading it for the journey itself.
And I don't actually want it to end.
What I personally want out of the story, is kind of like a TV series or even a serial. It could be a series of episodes that never end because they don't really have a plot arc among them (just a bunch of little stories) OR if they do have a plot arc, it wanders endlessly like life and soap operas.
This is why I decided to set it in the world of The Serial (see, The Case of the Misplaced Hero).
I don't think this kind of story needs a game really. In some way it is driven not by the need to vary the same pattern, but to continuously break the pattern.
But then it struck me -- any series is kind of like a genre unto itself. This is particularly true of the kind of long, unending series written in the mystery genre. The great ones have their own patterns, with specific pay offs which are expected and loved by the audience, but also risk boring the audience.
Which is, of course, just like the problems of formula fiction -- how to present the desired formula while keeping it fresh. That was a part of the purpose of the Story Game: to randomize expected elements to keep them fresh and force creativity to another level.
But for all the similarities in purpose, I don't think this is suited for developing a game.
What it IS suited for is developing an important writing tool that I think everyone should master: the Series Bible. That's a basic foundation for a whole lot of activities. (Including the possible creation of a game, later.)
And I think that's where I need to focus the "Discovering a Genre" series. Examine this "genre" to discover the elements I really want to use.
Next time (I hope it will be next week), I'll pull together what I've already talked about, and look at them in the context of what I want to do with the story that's already forming in my head.
See you in the funny papers.