I’m currently running two games as a narrator (one steampunk, one SF) and playing in three. One of them seems particularly promising but it’s early days yet; I find that most games tend to fizzle somewhere around scene 3, so we’ll see how it goes.
If you’re interested in seeing how a game plays out, the link to my first narrated game is here; unfortunately, I’m not sure if you’ll be able to read it unless logged into an account. But I’ll give it a shot.
Previous attempts to narrate these games (both of the currently-running versions are recent reboots) reinforced some important lessons about writing that I already sort of knew but hadn’t really appreciated…
- Hook them from the beginning: if you are bored, your readers (players) are bored. Don’t start with a boring scene; don’t start with a bland “getting-to-know-you” challenge. Start off in the midst of the action, or at least at a point where something is changing. Show off something cool about your setting right away — show off what what makes your book (game) unique.
- Do your homework: You don’t have to go in with your plan set in stone — in fact, especially for Storium, it’s better if you don’t. Part of the fun is in collaborating with others. Part of the challenge is writing to constraints that you hadn’t expected to have. BUT, having said that, don’t go in with no plan at all. Have, at the very least, a loose trajectory in mind, or you’ll find yourself floundering a few scenes in.
- Shake things up: One thing the Storium obstacle card mechanic is really good for is forcing me to keep thinking up new conflicts. Something was resolved in the character’s favor? Find a new wrench to throw in their gears. Ended a challenge with a weak outcome? How will that make their lives harder? It really forces me to think about and examine the types of conflict in my story, and pushes me to think about pacing.
- Start with a strong character: This is a biggie. If your character has interesting sharp edges, there are places for the plot to hook onto. By which I mean, the richer the character, the more opportunities there are to really shape the story around them.
In fact, let’s expand that last bullet point, because Storium has really taught me a lot about the process of creating a character…
There are two ways to join a game in Storium: you can be invited, or you can apply. In either case you go through the same character creation process, but if you’re applying the narrator may reject your character, whereas with an invite you’re basically already in the game.
So: character creation. First steps are to chose (or create) a strength card and weakness card. Then you can select a subplot card, to define your character’s unique narrative arc (if the game goes on long enough, the mechanics allow for tweaking of your subplot over time to reflect character development).
From there, it’s on to the biography, where you turn those little cards into a fully fleshed out backstory.
Of course, reducing a human being, even a fictional, created human being, to a handful of bullet points is a bit simplistic. Formulaic, even…but it’s exactly the sort of basic framework that I needed. It gave me the perfect starting point to think about making people with a bit of internal conflict.
Writing Without Pressure
The other great boon that Storium has given me is a place to write without pressure. My personal writing projects are things that I’m really excited about, sure (or I wouldn’t write about them), but when you’re working on a novel all by yourself…it’s a little bit daunting.
Storium allows me the chance to play, to experiment, to try new things, in short increments that aren’t overwhelming and without the responsibility of carrying the narrative on my own.
And the game element means that often, on days when writing feels like a chore, Storium is fun. I can exercise my creative and linguistic muscles without the burnout that can accompany a tough project.
If my ultimate goal is to write, though, I have to be careful not to let playing on Storium become and excuse for not writing. It’s something to keep an eye on.
Still, I think the benefits far outweigh the costs; so far, I’m very happy with the site.
Does Storium sound like the kind of site that would appeal to you? Have you ever engaged in any kind of online or real-life roleplaying, and did it have any effect on your writing?