Thursday, December 26, 2013

Develop Your Story Creation Skills with Tabletop Role-Playing Games

Since I'm the kind who thinks about these things, I've come up with a list of the different skills of story creators, and I use the word "skills" loosely here. While creating stories, I find myself making use of all of them, some better than others.

1) Research - The ability to search for, consume, and digest relevant and interesting information.

2) Omnipresence - The ability to go into "god mode," that is, to see a story from all angles, within and without. You are aware not only of the events that take place in your story world, but also of the aspirations and motivations within the hearts and minds of your characters.

3) Causality - The ability to see how things lead to other things, why some events take place, and what these events can lead to.

4) Interconnectedness - The ability to determine the connections between seemingly unrelated elements.

5) Psychology - The ability to dissect personalities, attitudes, relationships, and states of mind, and how they influence actions and reactions.

6) Structural Awareness - The ability to choose what to reveal, when to reveal, and how to reveal in order to give audiences a satisfying story experience.

7) Expression - The ability to clearly articulate story.

8) Thematic Awareness - The ability to see themes running through events or a series of events, and allowing them to influence story decisions.

I'm sure there are other skills, but these eight are what I can think of right now. I didn't include "writing" in the list, because I believe that those who don't have superb creative writing abilities can still create a good story. These people can create the plot which, when turned over to a true wordsmith, can be transformed into something artful.

I think every person has these skills in varying degrees, because we are, after all, shaped by story. But the greatest story creators would have mastered most of these skills. For me, one of the best ways to develop a lot of these skills is to regularly play story games, or games wherein you're tasked to complete stories. I will be biased by saying that the ultimate story game is the tabletop role-playing game, and those who would want to take their story creating skills to a higher level would benefit from playing one.

If you haven't heard of tabletop RPGs, here's what Wikipedia says about it:

"Participants usually conduct the game as a small social gathering. One participant, called the ... Game Master or GM ... prepares a set of rules and a fictional setting in which players can act out the roles of their characters. This setting includes challenges for the player characters to overcome through play, such as traps to be avoided or adversaries to be fought. The full details of the setting are kept secret, but some broad details of the game world are usually given to the players. Games can be played in one session of a few hours, or across many sessions depending on the depth and complexity of the setting.

"The players each create characters whose roles they will play in the game. As well as fleshing out the character's personal history and background, they assign numerical statistics to the character; these will be used later to determine the outcome of events in the game. Together, these notes tell the player about their character and his or her place in the game world."

From this description alone, you can see how the different story skills can come into play (pun intended). Gameplay progresses spontaneously--there is no script. As a Player, you have to keep your wits about in dealing with and adapting to what the Game Master throws at you. Plus, interacting with other players "in character" exposes you to the different ways people deal with challenges. When you're the Game Master, you're in charge of creating the world the characters will inhabit, the other characters they have to interact with, as well as the tasks they have to complete. Since you're dealing with more than one player/character who each have distinct personalities, you're forced to think on your toes in case they make decisions that surprise you.

Unfortunately, you need a group of people to conduct game sessions, but it's a great reason to meet up with friends, especially if you're all out to hone your story skills.

Fortunately, there are FREE downloadable PDFs of game manuals which you can take a look at. A list of links can be found in The Trollish Delver. Gather a few people, read the rules, meet during weekends, take turns being the Game Master... and have fun!!

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