Tag Archives: story

Roleplaying for Writers

Before I went on my leave of absence, I started writing about how role-playing is beneficial to writers. That was prompted by some questions I’d had from people who didn’t understand the correlation between the two subjects. I’ve always intended to get back to the question but this time I will answer it in a single post. *deep breath* Here we go.

What is role-playing, anyway?

Role-playing, at its heart, is a collaborative storytelling experience. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and found yourself thinking, “I would totally have seen that coming.” Or: “If that was me, I would have done something different.”? Congratulations! You know how to role-play.

In a role-playing game, each player takes on the role of a character and plays that character as s/he takes part in a story. The Storyteller (also called GM, DM, etc) is the sole exception to this. The Storyteller designs the plot and plays the role of every non-player character in the story.

(If you’re interested in reading my long, rambling introduction to role-playing games — as well as the experience I had introducing my parents to role-playing — you’ll find it here.)

Playing a Character

Most of the people involved in any role-playing game take on the role of an individual character throughout the story. … What does that actually mean?

1) You develop a character concept, personality and background to suit the genre of the game you’re playing.

My character’s name is Cinderella Daniels. She’s 18 years old, about 5’2″ tall, with mostly dark hair — she’s dyed one stripe a vivid fuchsia. She grew up half with her Mom and half with her Dad. Her parents are quite civil to each other, she just happened to be the result of a one night stand, and her parents don’t have anything else in common. So half of each year she spent time with her Mum in a hippy-type commune just outside San Francisco where they lived on minimal money and spent time skipping school to hand- craft goods to sell to tourists. The other half of each year she spent with her Dad in New York, where she lived in an expensive apartment in Manhattan, went to the finest school, and had everything she could ever ask for. When she graduated high school, both parents expected her to live with them — so she moved to Miami to work out what she wants to do next. Her Dad bought her an apartment and gives her an allowance (much of which she gives to charity) and she volunteers weekends at the local science museum.

2) Once the game begins, you take on the role of your character, responding to the Storyteller and helping craft the story as you go.

Storyteller: You’re walking along the street when you notice a dog staring at you.
Cinderella: I love dogs! I look around to see who owns it.
Storyteller: There doesn’t seem to be anyone else around. The dog’s not wearing a collar or a leash, but it’s definitely watching you.
Cinderella: Poor thing, maybe it’s hungry. I’ll approach it — cautiously, though. I remember one time at Mum’s place when I was 8 or 9, this dog wandered in that looked harmless enough, but attacked everyone who tried to touch it.
Storyteller: As you approach, it starts to wag its tail.
Cinderella: Awww… I hold out my hand and talk to it. “Hello, little doggy. Are you hungry?”
Storyteller: The dog says, “Yeah, I’m starving. You got something to eat in that bag of yours? Maybe a burger? I love burgers. But hold the cheese — lactose, you know?”
Cinderella: Um. Did that dog just talk? I look at the dog. “Did you just talk?” Seriously. I must be going insane. I’m talking to a dog.
Storyteller: The dog tilts its head to the side and whines at you. Then it definitely talks. “Shit. Did I scare you? I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m not s’posed to scare you.”
Cinderella: I take a few steps backwards. “Noooo…. Not scared. Um. Hi?” 
 

Playing a character in a role-playing game is quite different to writing a story because you only have control over what your one character does. You don’t control the world, or the plot, or the other characters. It’s up to you to solve the mystery, or catch the killer, or plot to steal all the money in the bank vault of one of the biggest casinos in Vegas using only the skills and knowledge of your character.

Telling Stories

In each game there is one person designated as the Storyteller (DM, GM, et al.). The Storyteller is responsible for designing the plot, describing the world, and playing the roles of minor characters that the main characters come across. … What does that actually mean?

1) Develop a premise, plot, and antagonist to suit the genre of the game you’re playing.

The Morrigan and the Dagda have had a falling out. The Morrigan knows she can’t attack the Dagda directly, but she knows Lugh has a 19 year old child named Cinderella Daniels. Even better, the girl doesn’t know her father is a Celtic God. The Morrigan sets out to have the girl kidnapped, planning to use her as leverage to force Lugh to take her side against the Dagda. Lugh catches wind of this plan, but is unable to get to Cindy, so he sends a dog — a pup sired by his own dog companion, Failinis.

2) Once the game begins, you are the character’s eyes and ears. You take on the role of minor characters and antagonists as they appear, dictate the passing of time, describe the scene, and present the plot — always making sure to give the players space to play their character and make decisions about the direction the story will take.

Being a Storyteller in a role-playing game is quite different to writing a story, because you have no control over what the main characters do. You set up a scene, you provide back-up characters and antagonists, and you react to the characters as they react to your plot. Together, you tell a story.

How Does This Help When Writing?

When you’re writing a story, you take on the role of both the player/s and the Storyteller. You design the premise, plot and antagonists as well as the character/s. Then you build all the elements into a story.

Role-playing lets you practice each of those roles individually, which in turn helps you think about them as individual roles when you’re writing.

Instead of thinking:

Lugh’s dog shows up. It has a brief conversation with Cindy and Cindy agrees to take it back to her place.

I will think:

Storyteller: Lugh has sent his dog to meet up with Cindy. The dog is going to try to convince Cindy to take it home with her and then patrol the house looking for bad guys.

Cinderella (when the dog starts talking): This is totally creepy. There’s no way this dog is coming home with me. Oh, look how cute it is… Okay, it can come home — but it’s not coming inside and I’m taking it to the pound first thing in the morning.

Thinking about the story in this way helps prevent (1) characters from doing things because “it has to happen for the plot”, and (2) unrealistic plot points (based on the world and the antagonists). It helps ensure characters are always acting “in character”, and also forces you to push the boundaries of your plot.

There are a number of other storytelling techniques that I’ve developed and practiced through role-playing — such as setting a mood, rising and falling tension, and building micro-tension — and the “instant feedback” scenario of a group of people reacting to my character and/or storytelling is fantastic. But coming to understand the strong differentiation between plot and character when writing a story is the aspect that has had the largest impact on my writing.

So, all you role-players out there: What aspect of role-playing has had the largest impact on your writing?

4 Comments

Filed under The Inner Geek, Writing

Flash Fiction: Bedlam

The TerribleMinds challenge this week was to write a 1000 word story in two parts. Half from the perspective of the protagonist and half from the perspective of the antagonist. It took me a little while to come up with this one, but I can honestly say that it proves that I don’t write happy stories. (Be ye warned!)

Bedlam

With the blankets tucked snugly around him at last, Bedlam Blue peered up at his mother. “Where do Wishes come from?”

“Wishes?” she asked.

Bedlam sat up in bed and nodded. “Where do Wishes come from?” he asked again.

“Well,” said his mother, sitting back down on the bed. She ran a hand through his hair and then down his gossamer wing. “Wishes come from the Human World. Sometimes, when a Human hopes and dreams of something with enough passion, a Wish is born.”

“And the Wish comes to the Wish Collectors?” Bedlam asked, his golden eyes bright.

“That’s right.”

“And the Wish Collectors trap the Wish in a crystal and give the crystal to a Wish-Bringer?”

“Yes.”

“And the Wish-Bringer goes to the Human World and finds the heart that created the Wish and makes it come true?”

“Yes,” said his mother. She lay him down and pulled the blankets up to his chin. “Now get some sleep.”

Bedlam smiled and closed his eyes. “When I grow up, I’m going to be a Wish-Bringer. Just like Daddy,” he murmured.

 # # # # #

 “You shouldn’t encourage him.”

“It’s harmless.”

“It’s not harmless. There’s barely enough Wishes as it is. By the time he’s old enough, there might not be Wish-Bringers at all. Saber and Cloud took redundancies last month, and I’m pretty sure I’m next.”

“Oh, you worry too much,” said Bedlam’s mother to his father. “Besides, it’s just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.” 

# # # # #

 Bedlam’s wings propelled him faster and faster around the course. Left, right, dodge a tree branch, duck under an acorn, spin to the right again and… pirouette on to the perch at the finish line.

He looked back. Leaves swayed in the breeze his passing had created, but nothing was out of place. It was a perfect run. He looked to the judging platform, a grin on his face and a whoop ready on his lips.

Wish-Master Strife Morningstar stood alone on the platform. His lips compressed to a thin line. Then he shook his head and walked away.

“Wait! Wish-Master!”

The old man kept walking, a flick of his wings the only sign that he’d heard. Bedlam’s grin faded. What had he done wrong? He flung himself off the perch and felt the moment of free-fall before his wings took his weight. “Wish-Master!”

When there was still no reaction, Bedlam beat his wings harder, banked, then landed in front of the Wish-Master. “Sir?”

“I’m busy,” the Wish-Master snapped. “What do you want?”

Bedlam balked, then pressed on. “Wish-Master, please. Did I miss something?”

The Wish-Master stared at him. Seconds passed in silence. Then the old man spoke. “You don’t have what it takes to be a Wish-Bringer. I’m sorry. It’s over.”

Bedlam’s mouth opened. He wanted to protest, but his voice was gone. He watched in impotent silence as the old man’s wings beat a discordant rhythm, lifted him into the air and propelled him toward the Collector.

“No,” Bedlam said at last. “It can’t be over.”

He’d worked so hard, and yearned so much his heart ached. It wasn’t over. 

# # # # #

 Strife Morningstar peered through the gap between the stone wall and the curtain. There was a big crowd. The biggest he’d seen in the Collector. He wished again that he could hand the responsibility over to someone else, but there was no one. The title would die with him.

“It’s time, Wish-Master.”

Strife nodded to his assistant. His wings fluttered against his back, betraying his nervousness. He took a deep breath to still them, then pushed the curtain aside and stepped on to the dais.

A hush fell over the crowd.

Strife raised his hand. “Bring out the accused.”

The boy, Bedlam Blue, was dragged on to the dais. Noise erupted from the crowd. Strife had known the identity of the accused, but nothing could have prepared him for the pain and resentment in the boy’s golden eyes, or the gut-wrenching, soul-destroying sight of the boy’s tattered wings.

He swallowed back bile as he waited for the noise to fade. “Bedlam Blue,” he intoned. “Did you or did you not steal a Wish-Carrier for the sole purpose of travelling to the Human World?”

The boy met his eyes without shame. “I did,” he said.

“And did you or did you not travel to the Human World without permission?”

“I did.”

“And, whilst in the Human World, did you knowingly grant an unsanctioned Wish?”

“I did.”

The noise was deafening. It went on and on. Strife didn’t try to stop it. The same shock and pain were echoing through his heart.

Eventually peace returned. “Bedlam Blue,” he said. “In light of your confession, I have no choice but to find you guilty of unauthorised Wish granting. Do you have anything to say?”

Bedlam pushed himself to his feet and looked at the crowd, then back at the Wish-Master. The guards stepped forward, but Strife waved them back. He watched the boy, watched him struggle to find the words he wanted.

“I granted a Wish,” he said at last, his golden eyes burning with equal parts pain and pride. “You didn’t believe me but I do have what it takes, Wish-Master. I’m a Wish-Bringer. Just like my father.”

Strife’s wings were quivering uncontrollably. The boy was right. He would have been a great Wish-Bringer. One of the best. If only…

If only the Human World wasn’t so full of entertainments and distractions that the Humans didn’t need Wishes anymore.

If only there were Wishes to grant.

Once, the boy could have been the best Wish-Bringer Strife had ever trained. But those days were over.

Strife couldn’t look the boy in the eye so he spoke to the crowd. “The penalty for unauthorised Wish granting is death. Let it be done.”

Then Strife turned his back and walked through the curtain, his heart howling in harmony with Bedlam’s cry of pain and rage.

 

 

11 Comments

Filed under Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction: Charlene

This week’s challenge at TerribleMinds was to write a 1000 word flash fiction based on a fairy tale. Specifically, to take a fairy tale — any fairy tale at all — and rewrite it in a modern context.

I played around with at least half a dozen ideas before finally settling on the one below. Hopefully the fairy tale it’s based on is obvious when you read it. Enjoy! And remember to hit me up in the comments to tell me what you did and didn’t like. I thrive on comment-love.

Charlene

“She’s green.”

“No she’s not. Well, maybe a little… chartreuse.”

There were three people talking. The man in the white coat was familiar. The other two were new.

“Chartreuse?” one said. The voice was harsh and loud. “She’s green! I paid you good money and I expect a quality product!”

“Oh Chris,” the second stranger said. This one sounded softer. “It doesn’t matter if she’s a little green—“

“Chartreuse.”

“—chartreuse. She’s beautiful. She’s the daughter we’ve always wanted.”

“But she’s—” the loud one said.

“She’s ours.”

White Coat spoke again. “Don’t worry, the chartreuse tint is just a reaction to the chlorophyll used in the procedure. She’ll probably grow out of it.”

“What’s her name?”

“Well, that’s up to you,” said White Coat. ”She’s your daughter.”

The soft one looked me up and down and smiled. “We’ll call her Charlene. Our chartreuse girl.”

White Coat turned back to me. “Congratulations, Charlene. This is your mother and father.”

 ###

“Oh, Mum,” I sobbed, resting my face against her shoulder. “I’m so ugly. It’s not fair.”

“You’re not ugly,” Mum said. She stroked my hair. “You’re beautiful, Charlene.”

“I’m not,” I sobbed. “I’m ugly and hideous and everyone hates me.”

“No one hates you, Charlene.”

I lifted my head and stared at her. She didn’t understand. She was so beautiful, with her soft round face and her brown eyes and blonde hair. How could she possibly understand?  “They do, Mum. They really do.”

“Well, what about Lance? You were so excited when he asked you to Prom.”

My eyes burned. “It was a joke,” I said. “Just a stupid joke. They threw… They threw salad at me. Called me Queen Lettuce. Then Cindy,” the bitch who had tormented me for the last four years, “and Lance were named Prom King and Queen.”

“Oh, Baby. I’m sorry,” Mum said. She hugged me again, and wiped at my tears. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. But you just wait, in a few years you’ll look back on this and laugh. You’ll see.”

Eventually Mum went away. I washed my face, put on my pyjamas and climbed into bed.

I was woken by muffled voices outside my bedroom door. It was probably Mum. Not wanting another speech about how things were going to be fine, I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. 

The door opened. “There she is,” Dad whispered. “Just like I promised.”

An unfamiliar voice answered. “I’ll take her. She’ll be perfect for my son. Are you sure your wife won’t mind?”

A damp cloth covered my face and I struggled; tried to scream. Then the world faded and my father’s voice was a million miles away. “She’ll get over it. And we can always make a new one.”

 ###

 His bloated body was covered in warts and bed sores and his face looked like something from beyond the grave. He was lying on a dirty mattress on the floor. I could smell him from where I’d woken up on the other side of the room.

“Come closer, my dear,” he said. “There’s no need to be shy. By tonight, you’ll be my wife.”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to say. Then the door opened and a woman came in. “Good, you’re awake,” she said.

I knew that voice. It was the one I’d heard in my bedroom right before my father drugged me.

I lurched to my feet and charged at the old woman. My shoulder hit her in the chest and she fell, flailing wildly. Then I was out the door and into a dirty hallway. I barreled along it until I slammed into another door. I fumbled with the door handle and deadbolt, hoping it hadn’t been key-locked.

I was in luck.

A minute later I escaped into an unfamiliar street and slammed the door behind me. Then I kept running.

 ###

“Living on the streets is hard,” the reporter said, “whether you’re an old hand,” the camera panned to a man in his sixties, “or a stripling of a girl like Charlene.”

The camera focused on me and I tried to smile. I never should have agreed to the interview but the reporter, Regina Swallow, had promised me twenty bucks.

“How long have you been sleeping rough, Charlene?”

 I shrugged and pulled my tattered coat tighter around my shoulders. “About five months,” I said. “I think. It’s hard to keep track.”

“And how did you end up on the street?”

I answered a few more questions, not giving away too much. Then the interview was over and Regina handed me a twenty while the cameraman packed his equipment.

“Have you got somewhere to go?” she asked.

 “There’s a woman I know,” I said. “She lets me sleep in her garage when I do her housework. And there’s a man who wants me to move in. He’s got cataracts. I don’t think he knows about my…” I trailed off. “I’ll be fine.”

Regina frowned at me. “You don’t keep up with the news much, do you?” she asked. I looked at her blankly. “Come with me. There’s someone you should meet.”

 ###

It was like any other new development – houses and half-finished landscaping – except for the military-style checkpoints around it. We left the news van outside and entered on foot.

There was no sign of any guards. There was no sign of any people, either. Everything was quiet.

“Back again, Regina?” called a male voice from behind us.

I turned.Regina said something but I didn’t hear her. I was busy staring.

He was tall and handsome and muscular and had the greenest skin I’d seen outside a mirror. His dark green hair hung to his shoulders. His eyes were sea-green. He was gorgeous.

“Welcome to Chloroville, Charlene. I’m Michael Prince.”

It wasn’t love at first sight. That only happens in fairy tales.

But exactly one year later we wed.

 

EDIT: I was fairly convinced that the fairy tale I based this story on would be so obvious that no one would bother reading through to the end. As it turns out, it’s easier to see the plot similarities if you’re the one who wrote the story. 🙂 So, for those who are interested, this is a modernisation of the story of Thumbelina.

9 Comments

Filed under Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction: Smoke and Mirrors

The below story is one I wrote quite a few years ago, and then tidied up a bit last month. It’s a lot lighter and fluffier than most of my more current work. I hope you enjoy it.

As always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comments box below.

Smoke and Mirrors

“So it was all a lie?”

I looked into her eyes for a long moment, and then sighed and lowered my head. “Yes,” I said.

I could hear the frown in her voice. “I don’t understand it, Christopher. Why? Why make up all that nonsense?” There was a moment of silence, and then she said,. “I’m not even going to talk to you about this anymore. I’m sick of you lying to me. You can stay in your room until your father gets home.”

I didn’t answer. A moment later she left, closing the door as loudly as possible without actually slamming it. I waited a couple of minutes to make sure she wasn’t coming back, and then whirled into action.

Sasha!

I flung open the closet door, and rummaged through the piles of clothes and books scattered on the floor. After a few seconds, my hand closed on the pack stashed beneath them. I grabbed it and opened it, stripped off my jeans and t-shirt and abandoned them in a heap on the floor. Then I dressed in the pants and tunic I pulled out of the pack. I checked to make sure I had everything I’d need, including a selection of coins marked with the Swallow insignia of Greyholme, and slung the pack over my shoulder.

Then I moved to the bed and reached underneath it for my sword. It was a beautiful weapon, and very well used. I ran a hand over the topaz set into its hilt and smiled. I loved that sword like my friends loved their playstations. I buckled the belt around my hips with practiced ease and turned towards the mirror.

“And the Great Kristof returns to battle,” I said aloud, thrusting out my chest and striking a heroic pose. Then I gestured and muttered the esoteric words I’d been taught by Paavo, the great Greyholme mage. The image in the mirror shimmered and disappeared and the mirror took on the familiar green glow of an open portal. I took a deep breath and stepped through.

I was in an alley. Alone, thankfully. I didn’t have time to explain my sudden appearance to bystanders. Sasha was in trouble, and it was up to me to save her.

Sasha was my companion, colleague and, I liked to think, something of a soul mate. She had fiery red hair with a temper to match, and she was at least as good at flinging spells as I was with my sword. We’d met the first time I came to Greyholme, and had worked together ever since.

We’d been on our way to see the King when my wards were tripped and I was summoned home a few hours earlier. Just as the transition spell took hold, bandits attacked. Together, we could have taken them without breaking a sweat. But we weren’t together. I couldn’t stop the transition spell, and Sasha was left to face them on her own.

Now that I was back in Greyholme, Sasha was my priority. My plan was simple. First, find the bandits. Second, kill them. Third, rescue Sasha.

Surprisingly, the plan worked. That doesn’t often happen. But three hours later, I pulled my sword from the chest of the last bandit and wiped my blade clean. Then I made my way to the hut where Sasha was being held prisoner and unlocked the door.

“Never fear!” I announced grandly as I made my way inside. “I’m here to rescue— Oh.”

Sasha was halfway out the window, having somehow pried the bars and shutters loose. She rolled her eyes and slid back into the room. “Let’s go,” she said, stepping towards the door.

“No kiss, then?” I asked, attempting to keep up my heroic pose.

Sasha just looked at me. Silently. I guessed that was a no.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that she doesn’t like me. She just hasn’t fallen for the mighty Kristof charm yet. I would have said something to have her swooning into my arms, but I was interrupted by the familiar, irritating sense that my wards had been compromised.

“I have to go,” I said.

Sasha nodded. “Very well.” She paused, and then said grudgingly, “Thank you for coming to rescue me.” Then she shot me a wicked smile. “Hurry back or I’ll defeat all the bad guys before you get here.”

With a promise to return the following day, I murmured the transition spell and stepped through the portal and back to my bedroom.

The battle had left me tired and sore, but not wounded. I would probably have a few cuts and bruises to show for it, but I didn’t have time to check. My wards had been crossed – someone was approaching my bedroom. I pulled off my Greyholme clothes, bundled them into my pack, and pulled on my jeans and t-shirt.  I slid my pack and sword back under my bed – I could clean and oil it later. Then I collapsed onto the bed just as there was a knock on the door.

It had to be Dad. Mom never knocked.

“Come in,” I called.

My father opened the door slowly and peered around the room. He paused in the doorway a moment, and then came in and sat on the end of the bed. “Your mother says you’ve been telling her stories again.”

I nodded, not making eye contact.

He rubbed a hand across his beard, and shook his head. “She says you told her you couldn’t clean your room because you needed to rescue Sasha.”

I nodded again.

He sighed. “We’ve talked about this, Christopher. When I taught you the transition spell, I thought I made it clear. If you can’t keep this secret, I won’t permit you to return to Greyholme.” He paused and leaned forward, looking at me seriously. “Now, is Sasha alright?”

 

6 Comments

Filed under Flash Fiction