Friday, October 25, 2013

Story Game: The Situation Worksheet

The Story Game is either a very complicated story creation game, or it's a set of simple little writing games strung together.  It's kinda free form -- meant to be changed and adapted by the players -- but I'm creating a "Romantic Suspense" Game as an example.

Last week we talked about "Character Structure" as an alternate way to define a genre or structure of a story.

Or in this case, I was defining the roles of a particular flavor of Romantic Suspense, so I can make a game out of it.

I was going to dive deeper into the character roles today, but I realize that this is a good time to actually explain what I'm going to do with them first.

Situation Game

This game is basically a worksheet you fill in with randomized choices, and use to brainstorm a concept for a story.  It's designed to come up with a robust concept. That is, fully featured, lots of info with which you can build a whole situation that the story will spring from.

Step 1: figuring out the Character Structure of the kind of story you want to tell. (Which we did last week.)

Step 2: Create the worksheet you're going to fill in. I call this the Situation Form, and we're going to do that today.

Step 3: Create the lists you're going to make the random choices from. (Which we'll start next week.)

Step 4: Play ball! That is, roll the dice, spin the wheel, fill in the form... and then use the answers to brainstorm, and create a unique idea that still fits the formula you started with.

The Situation Form

Last week we came up with a Character Structure for the genre Romantic Suspense.  That's the six "roles" that characters play in that kind of story -- though this pattern appears in other kinds of stories too:

Heroine, Hero, Villain, Victim, Helper, Red Herring.

At this point we're not generating actual characters -- that's for the brainstorming at the end -- but rather nailing down the part these characters will play in the plot, plus a copule of important points that have to appear in every story of that type.

For my Woman In Jeopardy Romantic Suspense story, we're using the following four elements:

  • The Heroine Type (Her secret or vulnerability that isolates her)
  • The Hero Type (what keeps them apart so he can't help her too much.)
  • The Villain's Cover Type (i.e. "nice" person disguise)
  • The Crime Type (which drives the plot)

We'll also be randomly generating the sex and age of all characters, except the heroine and hero, which with romance are defined by subgenre.  More about that next week, when we talk about them in depth and create our "Character Wheels" to randomly fill in those elements.

All of the above will differ if you are writing a different genre or type of story.  They may differ quite a lot.

For instance, most Whodunnits have two separate character structures.  They have the detective and sidekicks who continue throughout a series, and then the characters of the murder plot.  I would suggest creating a game for the latter, but not the former.  The point of a game is to do it over and over again.  Series characters are only generated once.

And the list of characters for the murder plot might be as simple as: Victim, Suspect 1 (Killer), Suspect 2,  Suspect 3, Suspect 4.  And you might have a wheel for motives or relationships.

But Wait There's More

There are at least two more elements to the Situation Form.  These are classic "idea generation" elements: Title and Theme.  (You could also use "Subject" or even "Location.")

To me the most important is title, because that gives an identity to the story.  However, because it's at the start of the process, I actually only generate a random list of possible title words. This leaves me flexibility for later.

I like to have at least one of other item, because these help you define the mood of the story, and they also give you a hook to help define other elements.

For instance, say your heroine's secret is that she's on the run from the law.  There are a number of options there, but not really a flavor yet. (Or if you do have a flavor, you may be focusing on just one option.  In which case, another element can shake you out of a rut.)

But say your title words mostly kinda suck, except one of those words is "steam."  Hmmm.  That could mean "steamy" but if you put it together with the heroine's situation, you suddenly have another option: "Running Out Of Steam." That could indicate a whole different kind of story and a hook into a different kind of relationship.  He could be a lot more rescue-y, she might be a lot more brittle. (AND it could still be steamy.)

Now we roll a theme.  I just used a randomized theme chooser called Brainstormer and came up with "Letting Go."

Ooo.  A woman on the run, who is running out of steam, and the theme or lesson of the story is about letting go.  What a great theme for a romance in the first place, but there are so many layers you could build of that.  (The bad guy is stalking her becuase he can't let go of something.  She's been running so long she hasn't the strength to hang on any more -- but to survive she must NOT let go.  The hero, meanwhile, has to let go of his pride or past to help her hang on.)

Themes and titles give the story an identity.  And they give you more options if your other rolls are boring.

One thing about this game, you are always allowed to overrule the game's choices. If a couple of the choices give you a full blown idea, you can ignore anything that doesn't fit. (Although sometimes an element which doesn't fit can give you a new take on something.)  But more about that when we get to playing the game itself.

So, to review, my worksheet, or Situation Form for Romantic Suspense, looks like this:

Title Words: (pick up to ten randomly)
Heroine (age/sex chosen by genre)
Heroine Type: (what isolates her)
Hero (age/sex chosen by genre)
Hero Type: (what keeps her away from him)
Villain: (age/sex)
Villain's cover Type: ("Nice" person disguise)
Crime Type:
Victim: (age/sex)
Helper: (age/sex)
Red Herring: (age/sex)

Next Week: the Heroine and Hero Types 

We'll talk about the critical characteristics of these two main characters, so we can make lists of great choices to fill in the worksheet. To do that, we'll have to talk more about the Romantic Suspense genre, and also about what kind of choices make for a good "Story Wheel."

See you in the funny papers.

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Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

What I like most about this game is the opportunity to keep things fresh. At a dozen finished books, I start feeling a little stale sometimes. Nice idea and I'll keep this post handy when I get that "gosh, how on earth can I keep these books interesting?" feeling.

The Daring Novelist said...

Yes, exactly. I think that's part of why Earl Stanley Gardner did his plot wheels, to mix things up.

Plus, I suspect (though I haven't actually written much from it yet) it allows you to keep it fresher for yourself, because it leaps you past some of the decision making, and straight into the cool ideas.

I'm definitely going to create a workbook out of these posts. (Also, I might post some pdfs of the worksheets and lists.)