Friday, October 4, 2013

The Story Game - Introduction

What is The Story Game?

It's something I came up with this summer. It was intended to help me write a particular kind of story better and faster, but mostly it turned into something I was having such a good time doing, that I didn't really write that much.

But it was fun, and my new experiment in life and writing is to chase enthusiasms rather than chasing dreams/goals. (More about that Sunday.)  So, I'm going to develop this into ... something.  A workbook, an actual formal game, I don't know.

It consists of a whole string of little exercises -- randomized choices, brainstorming, formulas, research -- which can be played as a big formal game, or as little individual games/exercises, or even as an ongoing activity.

Who is the game for?

I'm not sure yet.  I think it will be of most use to two groups of people; student writers who are still struggling to actually write a book (and their teachers), and people who love to play creative games.

Professional writers who already have their skills under control may find it fun, and may find parts of it useful, but honestly, I think most pros will have the same problem I did.  As a whole, it's more a time wasting hobby than a major professional tool.

Parts of it will be useful, though (as the plot wheels were for Erle Stanly Gardner) and I think it could be very useful for a pro who was preparing to strike out in a new direction -- like writing a screenplay or a genre with a very different structure than you're used to.  The "create your own game" parts of this are really about studying the genre and getting to know it on a different level.

And some of these exercises and games might be useful to book bloggers and reviewers.  They'll give you subjects to blog about, or some deeper thoughts to help with a review.

On to the game....

The Formal Version of the Game

Today I'm going to introduce the big formal game, but since it'll take a few posts to really get it all started, I'm also going to give you a mini-game that works by itself, but also can be used in part of the bigger game.

One note: This game has one problem, if you want it to be a useful writing tool; you have to create your own game materials.  But it's hard to do that until you have an idea of how the game works.  So we're going to start with materials I've already created, and then start talking about creating your own.

How It Works

Like Fight Club, there is only one rule:  Your creative side is allowed to trump any part of the game at any point.

The main point of this game is to allow your creative side to skip over pesky decisions that don't interest it, and get straight to the stuff it wants to work on.

But the secondary point of this game is to challenge your creative side to come up with new cool solutions -- so it can be a good idea to try to stick to the game as much as possible.  Basically, if you already know where you want to go, go for it.  However if you don't have a great idea in mind, but you just don't want to go where the game is pushing you... it can be a good idea to give it a try.  Even if the problem is that it sounds boring and cliched, your imagination might come up with something really cool, just as a form of self-preservation.

And if it doesn't.... Your creative side is always allowed to trump any part of the game at any point.

Playing the Game

The actual first step is creating the game materials.  Part of the reason is that the game works best if it is specific to your own style or genre.  If you want to use this as a writing/learning tool, it's important that you create your own.

But it's hard to write your own until you have an idea of how the game works.  So we're going to start next week with materials I've already created, and then start talking about creating your own.

Game Materials

*Situation Form - suited to the genre or your style of writing.  It has all the background for a story: characters, conflicts, and a few wildcards -- such as title and theme -- to get the imagination going.
*Randomized Lists of possible answers for the Situation Form.
*Brainstorming Materials -- paper, pens, or your computer, or whatever.

And for many writers, that may be all you need to take off an start writing.  However, for the full game you also need  two more things:

*A Plot Formula suited to the genre and to your style of writing.
*More Randomized Lists of plot points and tropes you can plug into the plot formula.

Game Play

1.) Fill in the Situation Form with random choices from the lists. (If there is some element you already know you want to do, go ahead and fill that bit in first.)

2.) Brainstorm your actual story concept and a logline.  The situation form should have enough information to give you interesting problems to deal with.

3.) If you're a pantser: Start writing.  If you're a plotter (or just want to keep playing this as a game), you move on to the plot formulas. (Note, you don't have to fill in the whole plot before starting to write.  It can be fun to just do it one act at a time, and go back and forth, too.)

4.)  Fill in the Plot Formula. There are a lot of ways you can even randomize the creation of this plot.  That can be a  series of mini-games in and of themselves. I've developed a few, but we'll talk more about that when we get to it.

Next week I'm going to give you my Situation Form for my version of the "Woman in Jeopardy" Romantic Suspense story, and explain how and why I created it.  I'll have a downloadable PDF of the form and lists for you.

Since you have to wait until next week to get on with the big game, I decided to leave you with a little mini-game (which can also be used within the bigger game).

Random Relationships Mini-Game

Stories aren't just about a person who interacts with random other people.  It's about the relationships between those people.  No one exists in a vaccuum.

This little exercise creates a circle of characters and their relationships.  It's particularly interesting for traditional mysteries where you need to build a circle of suspects.  (I sometimes call this "A Plate of Red Herrings Game.")  You can adapt it to suit your needs.

How you play:

*Decide how many characters you want. (I suggest five.)
*Roll a character from List A below, then roll a relationship from List B. The relationship tells you what the character is to the next character.
*Keep rolling characters and relationships until you get to the end, and the last character's relationship will be with the first on the list.

(To "roll" a selection, you can use, or you can get ten playing cards with numbers 1-10 and simply draw them to make a selction (or write numbers on slips of paper).  If you draw cards, be sure to put the card back in the deck for each draw. You actually want to have repeats, because that's more natural.)

List A - Characters

  • 1. male elderly
  • 2. female elderly
  • 3. male middle aged
  • 4. female middle aged
  • 5. male young adult
  • 6. female young adult
  • 7. male teen
  • 8. female teen
  • 9. male child
  • 10. female child

List B - Relationships (to next character)

  • 1. Parent/child
  • 2. club/church acquaintance
  • 3. sibling
  • 4. aunt/uncle/cousin
  • 5. stranger
  • 6. friend
  • 7. enemy
  • 8. coworker
  • 9. boss
  • 10. neighbor

So if you draw 1 - 1 - 6 - 7 - 4 - 9 - 9 - 3 - 4 - 1 you will have a character circle that looks like this:

Elderly man -- is parent of -- Young woman -- who is enemy of -- Middle aged woman -- who is boss of -- Teen boy -- who is sibling of -- middle aged woman -- who is child of (the first character - elderly man).

So... it looks like the young woman, the teen boy and the second middle-aged woman are all siblings -- all children of the old man.  Which means he was a pretty active guy for a long time, unless one or more of those are step children.  Furthermore, the middle sister hates her younger brother's boss.

There's some interesting potential in that.  Especially when you consider how these disparate charaters became siblings, and why the sister might have it in for that other woman.

With these particular lists, you can end up with some weird things. For instance: a little kid is the boss of an old man.  Not likely, unless you're going for something a little over the top.  There are two ways you can handle that.  You can go with it as a brainstorming exercise: how can a little kid be a boss?  Or an enemy?  That can force you to come up with some out-of-the-box ideas.  Or you can just re-roll one of those items.

If you keep coming across items that cause you problems -- or simply bore you -- then change the lists.  Replace some of the family relationships with working relationships, or don't have children in the mix.  Tweak it to suit the kind of story you want to tell.

For instance, I find that "enemy" is a pretty hot item and you might want to load the list with similar items.  "Hated by" and "Hates" shifts the relationship. (Does the sister hate the boss or the boss hate the sister, or is it mutual?)  "Rival" has different connotations -- more competitive.

If you want your characters more similar in age (say, a school story) narrow the age ranges (use grades) or take age out and use something else.  You can even put repeats of the same item to increase your odds of something you really want.  And yes, you can make special lists just for special kinds of stories -- like a Halloween list with werewolves and witches and ghosts.  Or NA romance with the relationships having to do with romance.

A really good list have two things: it will be loaded with items that spark your imagination, but it will also have a few items that maybe you don't like so much -- and those will make you work harder.

Next Friday, we'll continue The Writing Game, with the "Character Structure" behind the Situation Worksheet.

But before that, on Monday and Tuesday, we'll continue our Characters, Wealth and Power series; moving on to Domination!

See you in the funny papers.


Carradee said...

That's a pretty neat idea, as a starting point for a story. Thanks for sharing!

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Carradee!