Writers & Roleplayers, Part 2

Writers & Roleplayers : The Benefits of Collaborative Storytelling

I mentioned in my introduction that roleplaying, or any form of collaborative storytelling, often gets a lot of flack from the writing community. I’ve seen it painted as an exercise in infantilism that will hobble a writer’s ability by miring it into strict amateurism. That it’s a childish game at best, a crutch at worst.

Really, I find any writer taking a high horse on “playing pretend,” as so many are quick to call it, hilariously hypocritical. At the end of the day, every writer is just playing with dolls in a world of make-believe and transcribing the events. It doesn’t really matter if we fancy it up by calling the components “characters” and “setting.” It is what it is.

Sort of demystifies the whole process a little, doesn’t it?

That said, I don’t really see what’s so very different about inviting a friend and telling them to bring their dolls along so you can play together. There are a lot of benefits to adding another perspective to your writing; if there weren’t, there’d be no advice concerning beta-readers, critiques, or editors.

But what does bringing someone (or multiple people) along do to benefit your writing? Well, in no particular order, let’s begin.

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Writers & Roleplayers, Part 1

Writers & Roleplayers: A Little History

Dungeons & Dragons passed its 40th Anniversary just last year. Although I’m willing to bet that human beings have been “roleplaying” as a form of entertainment in one way or another since the dawn of time, D&D certainly brought it to the mainstream consciousness in a way that it hadn’t ever been before.

If anyone is at all familiar with the fantasy genre, I’m sure you’re well and truly familiar with the surge in books that were quite blatantly the writer’s D&D campaign that they thought was too cool not to share. But I’m not going to talk about that here.

No, in those four decades, a lot has changed in the world of roleplay—and one of the biggest catalysts to those changes has been none other than the internet.

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How, then, am I mad?

The Unreliable Narrator

In my humble opinion, one of the most powerful tools in storytelling is the also the most intrinsically human: the unreliable narrator.

People have biases, and those biases color their entire world. No matter how open-minded or educated an individual is, they simply cannot have the whole picture of an event. Individuals are not omniscient.

Narratives that are in third personeven a limited third personinherently offer us an outsider’s perspective. When the prose speaks of “he” or “she” or “they,” we may have the illusion that the one recounting the tale has a certain level of detachment. In that, the reader has an expectation that it’s more or less unbiased.

But in a first person narrative? This presumed detachment is shattered, and can be used to incredibly powerful effect.

Some of the most celebrated works of the modern era are written in first person for this very reason: The Great Gatsby, which has the distinction of being told from Nick’s perspective and not Gatsby’s, crisscrossing preference and prejudice between the two; Huckleberry Finn, whose puckish voice ties together a story of outsiders; and, of course, the most notorious example of the unreliable narrator: Nabokov’s Lolita, a novel that has arguably changed the landscape of literature and language.

I love the unreliable narrator. I love that how, coded between every line, sleeps some of the very bones of what it means to be human. It celebrates the fact that every story has multiple sides. It makes us question our own motivations and understanding. It allows us to settle into the skin of another mind, see the world as they see it, and become intimately (and sometimes uncomfortably) familiar with their skewed perceptions, blind spots, and convictions.

But the first person narrative has come under strict scrutiny these last few years. For one reason or another, it has become a popular choice for the Young Adult market. Whether I agree or not, this has condemned it to the realms of “amateurish,” prone to romanticizing self-important and self-absorbed teenagers all the while flouncing a complete lack of self-awareness.

In this onslaught of criticism, I’m forced to wonder one thing: are the authors aware of their character’s inherent fallibly?

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Soundtrack to Creativity

I’m always surprised to hear that some people write in complete silence. This has always sounded a bit like sensory deprivation to me. More than perhaps anything else, I require music to write.

In a lot of ways, music is one of my greatest influences; not only do I need it when I actually sit down to draft and edit, but it’s a cornerstone to the very conception of nearly all of my stories.

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When is a Writer… a Writer?

This is a subject just about everyone has weighed in on. From Chuck Wendig to Matthew Reilly, the consensus seems to be simple:

If you write, you are a writer. There is no “aspiring.”

Pretty damn good advice, really.

But there’s a problem. Usually, there is one reason for a writer to be inclined to call themselves “aspiring”: they don’t have something published, or (even more likely) a finished final draft. Or maybe not even a finished first draft.

So, there is a looming inevitability for every writer who forgoes calling themselves “aspiring.” It comes in many forms, on a sliding spectrum of well-meaning interest to outright malice. And it usually looks something like this:

“Oh? You’re a writer? Can I read your work?”

For those of us who only have unfinished or unpolished drafts, this question is the closest thing to verbal evisceration I’ve ever come across. And let me tell you, I’ve been well acquainted with quite a few personally-tailored cutting remarks in my time.

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