Thursday, December 20, 2012

How I reconciled myself with fantasy (no thanks to Dungeons and Dragons)

I've come around from my last two entries here at Plan D.  I figured it out.  I didn't do it on my own, but writing the posts helped me to finally start processing my issue with getting locked up in various ways when I try to write (non-urban) fantasy fiction.  I talked about it with Brenda (who's more awesome than anyone I've ever known EVER), and asked the members of the Listeners of the Dead Robots' Society Facebook Group if they had any insight.  And I started unblocking myself.  (Take that sentence out of context, why don't you?)

We were either heading in from or heading out to the car when Bren and I were talking about my Plan D posts and the subject of writing fantasy, and ultimately the topic of my role-playing game history came up.  Now, I've not thrown dice in a long time (and, if I'm honest with myself, I kind of miss it a little bit, but I don't have the time these days for it), but before launching Mail Order Zombie, I was gaming every other weekend.  And before we moved to Portland?  We had a weekly game every Saturday, and we were all so committed to that epic AD&D campaign that when the decision was made to bump up our leave-Bozeman-for-Portland date, we spent three solid days  wrapping up all the current campaign's various story lines.

In a world I had created.

And therein is my biggest problem.  Dungeons and Dragons broke me.  When I came to D&D, I learned the game from my high school Creative Writing teacher.  We spent a summer playing in a world he had created when HE was a high school student.  He and his friends had been playing in it off and on all through their high school/college/professional years, and by the time we got to it (with one of the players that had been playing with him since high school), that world had a rich history shaped by the players and the DM.

I loved the idea of building a game world, and when I brought AD&D to my group of friends, I assumed the DM role, built the world myself, and off we went.   I didn't use modules or anything like that - I just build my world and adventures from scratch, and we spent years in them.

As a player, I LOVED character creation.  Give me a set of parameters (this is your level, this is your starting gold, etc.), and I would have almost as much fun creating a character as I would playing it, and then I got to let that character lose in someone else's homebrew world.  (Once when playing in one DM's modified Ravenloft campaign setting, I actually got the DM to give me permission to retire one character early just so I could create a new one because the character creation was just so much fun for me.)

The bottom line is that I thrived on world creation . . . and letting the players create the story.  Or I'd groove on character creation, leaving the world details to someone else.  Neither of these approaches seem to lend themselves to fiction writing.  So, yes, Bren helped me realize D&D broke me as a fantasy writer.

And then in the DRS Listeners' FB group, some excellent advice was shared, and I was able to distill most of what was said into this:
  • Start big.  Build the world of your dreams.  Don't spend so much time at this level, though, because you need to . . .
  • Narrow your focus into one or two areas of the world that you REALLY enjoy.  Further develop these areas keeping in mind that eventually you'll need to . . .
  • Work your characters into this wet world-building clay.  Something about the history, the government, the arts, the law, the culture - something has to connect to one or more of your characters in SOME way.  Once you do this . . .
  • Continue to world-build, paying attention to how the details you create affect/impact your character(s), because, finally . . .
  • Your story can come from all of this.
This worked for me, on a very surface level.  I have a fantasy world.  I have a character.  I wanted to marry the two, and really struggled until I started looking at all the HOWS and WHYS, and more importantly, the CONNECTIONS.  Once I found these connections, I could see the fiction possibilities for REAL this time.

This may seem like an oversimplification, but it's a journey I needed to take to feel like, if I wanted to, I could write a sword-and-sorcery fantasy piece or two.

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