Alleged Entertainment

Writing: No, really, the writing part

Written by Susan Weiner

So, Nat just wrote a lovely entry on the group part of the writing process. However, I’ve been lucky: that part has worked smoothly for every game I’ve written. In the groups I’ve written with, people love hanging out, brainstorming, and showing off their work. That’s easy. The hard part is actually doing the writing in between.
So, you’ve come up with a perfect game idea, you have some concept of the structure and a group of GMs. How do you get from that to the finished game?
Like everything else in any creative process, there are as many ways to go about this as there are LARPwriters. I can’t really describe what they do, so I’m going to start with how I work.

Character Inspiration

Most characters start with a personality seed, although some start with a plot seed. This usually comes about in group discussion. It can be anything from a quote to a snippet of personal history, to a general attitude about the situation. From there we elaborate on it until we have a brief description (usually 3-5 sentences or so) that frames the character.

Plot Structure

While not every game is heavily plotted, in a game that has a lot of plot it is important to make sure that a) all the characters have enough plot and b) all the characters agree on what plot they have. If Rachel thinks she has been dating Eric for years, but is seeing Robert on the side, Eric and Robert may or may not know about each other, but they better know about Rachel! This is a problem more often than you might think. Before we start writing, we write the plots for each character on the page for that character, and try to check the connections among characters.

The Hard Part

So, now I have the skeleton of a character. What do I do with it? For most characters I start off by writing a character history. Knowing the events that shaped the character’s perceptions helps me understand who a character is and how he or she will respond. In a rather circular fashion, however, I have to know something about how the character responds before I know what tone to write in. In order to get this, in my head I often role-play out a few interactions this character might have. This gives me a voice for the character, which I can then write in.
Once I have the history that got the character to where he or she is today, I go on to incorporate the current plots. These should tie in tightly to some aspects of history, but I like to repeat them and emphasize them towards the end of the character sheet so that the player knows what is important to the character. For very plot heavy games, I may even put a separate goal list at the end of the character sheet.

Final Touches

Finally, once everything else is done, I go back to the beginning of the sheet and write a hook. Sometimes, if I was particularly inspired, I might have started with a hook, but I often modify it at this point. The hook is a little bit of character at the beginning that gives flavor to the rest of the sheet and (hopefully) puts the reader immediately into character headspace. For example, I once started a character with “There was a time when life was simple and you lived in the lap of luxury. Now you are enmeshed in a complicated and difficult struggle to save the world and you have never been happier. For the first time, you are doing something important.” This doesn’t tell you much about the character’s history or current challenges, but it tells you a lot about his or her attitude. If, on the other hand, the character started with “Gold isn’t everything. Oil and guns are important too,” you would know it was a very different type of character, and possibly, a very different type of game.
At this point, I have a rough draft of a character. The character may get a little more plot added or get mechanics tucked in somewhere, but this is what I take back to my writing group for criticism.

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