Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

A few weeks ago, I discussed the fact that my three fish-out-of-water main characters from Flow - Kit, Chailyn and Hadrian - were all characters from roleplaying games that, for one reason or another, hadn't got enough play in their original homes.  I introduced them to each other, they hit it off (... sort of), and the book was born.

I've always enjoyed roleplaying games, and I often use them as writing aids.  For instance, the sourcebooks for GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) are often surprisingly great starting points for research or brainstorming.  GURPS Religion contains as thorough a checklist for creating fictional religions as any book specifically geared to fantasy writers.

Then, of course, there's character generation.  Every RPG system has its own method to create characters, sometimes starting from a point that a writer would normally never choose.  I find this really useful for thinking about characters in a different fashion ... and being able to quantify abilities, relative strength, etc, between characters can be helpful, even though (obviously!) the numbers never show on the page.  Of course, the flip side of this is that once you enter the writing phase, nothing on the character sheet is a rule.  It's more like a guideline ...

Miayde, the eponymous protagonist of Butterfly's Poison, originally started out as a character in a short-lived Exalted game.  (Exalted is an eastern-inspired fantasy game centered around exceptional martial arts feats ... all of which disappeared by the time Miayde became a part of the world of Seventeen Seas.)  In a moment of full-circle poetry, I designed a roleplaying storyline in the same setting, different system, that was never played out - but it may some day become a new novel in the same world.

Of course, I would be painting myself in too marvelous a light if I claimed I've always used roleplaying games appropriately.  I'll confess to writing a long-since (and permanently) shelved epic where I actually used the system and its random rolls (... mostly ... sometimes I'd change my mind) to resolve action scenes.  On the other hand, sometimes this would send the story off in a direction I hadn't intended, and I found it was better for the diversion.

When I set out to write Who Wants To Be A Hero? I wanted to simulate some of the randomness and unpredictable turns of ... well ... reality.  I felt that having the spontaneity in the writing process was important for making the final book feel right.  So I ended up giving my characters very simple stats - basically just a handful of numbers indicating broad areas of competence, such as Magic or Diplomacy.

For each round, I picked an appropriate stat(s) that would apply to the heroic task at hand.  Sometimes, there would be the "option" to use another, less appropriate stat, at a penalty.  Each character got a random roll plus their stat to determine how they did.

At this point, I took randomness back out of the equation somewhat:  any of the top three were eligible to win; any of the bottom three might go home.  I'd write the action and the first phases of judging, then assess how events had fallen out.

Of course, I had executive control, but I had an understanding with myself:  think about standing back and watching what happens ...

That's really what appeals to me about using roleplaying systems as a supplement, ultimately:  it makes you look at things in a new light, whether it's filling in part of a character sheet that has nothing to do with your story or dealing with a "weird" random roll.  But as always, the numbers can't tell the whole story:  that's up to the author.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I know I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of the "yes, but ..." ending:  the main character succeeds in their goal, but the getting of it creates new complications, and the reader is left with the feeling that life goes on.  Just as invisible past events lead into the story, invisible future ones flow out of it.

The pat, tidy ending where everything resolves is not a favorite of mine - sometimes in very short stories, but in those tales, there's often not room to introduce extraneous elements in the first place.  The demon-summoning sorcerer may be in love with his childhood sweetheart or have gambling debts, but it's not relevant to the plot, so the reader never learns it.

I enjoy creating loose ends in fiction - it makes the end result feel more organic.  As long as the main story question is answered, other, supporting questions can sometimes be left dangling ... or have a negative answer, rescuing the story from tooth-ache levels of sweetness.

And these other threads don't even necessarily need an arc.  It may be a static element - even something inherent to the world that the character clashes against, but it's not a problem that they can solve.  If they tried, well ... that's a whole book in itself, if not a series.  (Maybe the NEXT book ... hmm ...)

I think these loose ends contribute to the iceberg effect, the feeling a reader gets that there is a lot more to this world and these people than ever shows up on the page.  And maybe - just maybe - it makes the real victory, the struggle the story was, after all, about, that much more satisfying:  even if everything else is uncertain, THIS went right.  THIS is my success.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Have I mentioned that Flow makes an awesome Christmas present, or other denominational holiday of your choice?

I'm sure I've told this story before, but here's a glimpse into how the novel came about, and it all started with character.  To be specific, three short-lived characters in online roleplaying games.  I didn't get a chance to play them to my satisfaction for one reason or another, so I decided to give them a new life in a different setting.

Kit initially never got beyond the "application" phase - where the character is created for pitching to the staff of the game.  At the time, I was planning on a fantasy game that mixed a few themes, including mythological divinities, with a race of evil beings that hunted them and ate their energy.  Kit was designed as an estranged member of this race, but right about as I finished the application ... staff decided to close neutral or good members of this race, as apparently they were getting a flood of them.  Curses.

I retooled her for the "beta" phase of another game where I was part of the staff.  Besides removing that backstory, I had to tweak the effects of her powers somewhat to fit in with the rules system ... and because I was also brand-new to aforesaid system, the character was haplessly unplayable in action sequences.  She never made it out of beta; she did, however, make a brief re-appearance as a demon-borne antagonist from a mirror-realm.

So Kit before I started to work on the novel idea was a collection of bits and bobs, various origins that contradicted each other, and personality traits in potential, but never fully realized.  I actually started with her origin story and designed much of the supernatural world history around what I wanted her to be.  That world, however, needed another aspect, and I had already found it in the character of ...

And here's Chailyn, water-witch, fish out of water, raised in a world that was never intended for children and plopped into ours.  Again, she started as a game character; in this case, she was retired because the game shut down.  In her first incarnation, that globe of light she wields in chapter one was actually a fully fleshed character, her "sidekick" - it allowed me to make snarky, biting remarks that were out of character for Chailyn herself.  Obviously, with Kit (and Hadrian) around, I didn't need another outlet for quips and banter.  I couldn't resist keeping around a hint, though.

Finally, Hadrian was also a character from a game that crashed and burned, this time after I had played no more than a few scenes.  The game's story gave me an easy origin for his powers, and he had some more bizarre applications - he could sense people's weak spots and incapacitate / sicken them by touch - that didn't seem appropriate for the setting I was building.  Hadrian's origins, as rewritten for Flow, have a hint of mad science to them I haven't really explored in the setting just yet ... they do fit the overall narrative of the world (of course!), but suggest possibilities not yet touched upon.