Thursday, July 14, 2016

Adaptation Makes you a Stronger Writer

          I don’t usually talk about non-writing hobbies of mine on here (or at least, I try not to) but yesterday something happened that made me want to talk about it.
          I have been a pretty avid gamer since my late teens, 20 years or so now. The latest incarnation that I play with my friends is Pathfinder, the non WotC successor to Dungeons & Dragons. Soon after I started playing, my boyfriend (now husband), suggested I try to run a game. With the amount I read, he thought it would be a good fit. He was right.
          I’ve always been creative and while I haven’t always proven up to the task, I am very good at the games part. I prefer running open world adventures, where my players have their own stated goals and I simply match the world to their desires. This isn’t to say that my players aren’t adequately opposed, but I have a knack for creating and encouraging conflicts and resolutions that my players may not have considered.
          For this reason, whenever I’m running a game, my players get nearly (and sometimes more) experience and wealth from talking down the monsters or dealing with them as business associates than they would from simply yelling “Attack” and slaying all-comers.
          Adapting on the fly is something I’m good at, but there are times when my players will confound me. That’s what happened yesterday.
          I’ve been running my players through a book adventure (the last one for a while I think) called Mummy’s Mask. While some of the Pathfinder adventures are well-written and entertaining, some are distinctly more lack-luster than others, being just a general slog of “I hit it until it dies of it. What did it have on the body? Alright, every silver piece has been counted, let’s go… Oh, it’s a what? And looks, like what? Cool, I hit it until it dies of it. What did…”
          I’d have honestly stopped playing it ages ago, but my players do like finishing campaigns, rather than leaving them hanging, so we’ve been bravely soldering on. The bad guy told them that to get to him, they’d have to go through the “trials of the pyramid”… and my players just lost it.
          What started out as a rant from one of the players turned into an actual discussion of whether or not it was feasible, with the tools they had on hand to burrow their way past the defenses. I insisted they do the math to prove that it was, but when they had, I agreed that nothing in the game said they had to run on rails to get to the last bad guy. They’d figured out a new way through. I adapted.
          Which is something that you have to be able to do in writing too. People always get so frustrated when they’re writing and you’ll often hear the lament (if you know a writers) that the characters, “aren’t doing what I need them to do”.  This always makes me laugh, since for the most part, my characters aren’t as separate from me as they are with other people. Not to say that they always do what I want them to; they often don’t and it’s usually my mind giving me a hint that the original idea is unstable or unfinished.
          Learning to adapt and going with it is a really important part of writing, obviously. Fortunately, as with most writing, it’s a skill that can be learned – even taught, to a certain degree.
          My first suggestion would be to try improv. There are usually comedy clubs around most cities where adults can get together to try it out. If younger, check out your local school activities. If you don’t see one, create one. Another suggestion is to try your hand at gaming. Whether on computer or in person, creating stories in your mind about your character is not only a darn fun way to pass the time, its teaching you to react with the punches that come your way.
          When we’re only dealing with our own selves, we can feign surprise, fear, gladness and sketch out what our characters would do, but only with other people will you be able to accurately put that learning into use.

          Not only is it great for your stories (I have 5 or 6 people I ask to be my characters aren’t making dumb mistakes simply because I missed something obvious), but its teaching you to react on the fly and continue on the story, despite hitting a bump or 63 tons worth.

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