Boardgame Design and Novel Writing

I ran into a number of my gaming colleagues at Gen Con (designers, publishers, industry pundits, etc.) with whom I had become acquainted when SDRGames put out Bootleggers– see Other Publish Credits page.  I also attended another Stackpole seminar where he stressed the importance of character development – a common thread through his 21 Days to a Novel and Secrets Podcast.

It got me thinking that game design and writing share a common thread.

Gaming has two acknowledged major schools of design – European and American.  I don’t want to start a debate or go into a dissertation on the details of both, but suffice it to say that the major differences are in their views of conflict and luck.  European eschews direct conflict and mechanics involving a lot of luck.  Their focus is primarily on strategy and indirect conflict.  The American school of design, by contrast, prefers direct conflict and has greater amounts of luck.  A hybrid, which is what we intended to create with Bootleggers, has elements of both.  To drive the point home, think of Risk: I am attacking your country and rolling dice to win.  I “attack” another country in a Euro game by outbidding them for cheaper resources thus making it more expense for them to improve their armies– that’s indirect and no luck.

Its that indirect conflict that I find similar to the Stackpole character development process.  In Euro game design, there is usually some objective that is required to win, e.g. the most victory points, the most money, longest road, etc.  Each player develops a strategy and plays that strategy to achieve the objective.  It is in the process of playing that strategy that the player’s actions will disrupt other players’ attempts to achieve the objective.  The disruption, or “player interaction” in a game is really important in the design – the preference being greater interaction.  No interaction between players and the game earns the negative “multi-player solitaire” reputation.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Consider each character a unique player in the game and, unlike a vast majority of the games, each has a very unique goal they wish to achieve.  It is in the attempt to achieve these goals they will be faced with obstacles that they must overcome.  Just like game design, it is best if these obstacles are put in place by the other players.  The more one character’s actions to reach their goal disrupt the other character’s ability to achieve their goal, the more engaging the story should be.  The conflict arises between the characters going about achieving their goals.  Sometime this conflict is direct – Sally is going to stab Drake because he has been cheating on her in an attempt to find happiness, or more of the indirect kind – Sally has locked the house and gone looking for her cheating husband Drake.  Drake returns to find the house locked and is forced to spend the night in a cheap flea infested hotel where he is forced to confront his definition of happiness.

Some random musings there for the folks that have an interest in board game design and writing.  Probably a bigger group than the intersection of NASCAR fans who are also opera season ticket holders… but that is another story.

More on the 21 Days and other helpful podcasts

I started sifting through iTunes and the interweb for podcasts about writing. I was driving an hour each way to work and figured it would be a good way to work on my writing while I really couldn’t work on my writing.

I found the audio version of Stackpole’s “21 Days to a Novel” among other advice he offers here on his website (also available on iTunes):

Secrets Podcast

The other source of writing instruction, probably the best most comprehensive that I have found, is Writing Excuses (also available on iTunes):

Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses is the singular best source of writing instruction that I have found in podcast form. On top of being a great source of information, the hosts are interesting and personable. I cannot recommend this podcast enough. Start at the beginning and listen to them all – you will not be disappointed.

My first 21 Days

Armed with the knowledge, and some pretty good notes, from Gen Con Indy 2010 seminar “21 Days to a Novel” I gave it a go.

My first major investment was a couple of back-to-school spiral bounds and a box of my favorite pens from Staples.  Total cost < $5.

What I liked about Stackpole’s approach was the focus on the character.  The opinion that readers like to read because they enjoy getting to know a character, feeling the conflicts of the character, identifying with the character.  In short, the advice given by Stackpole, and several others I have read or heard via podcast, focus on the character and write character driven stories.  Character driven stories sell.

I religiously started following the 21 days methodology.

2010 Gen Con and 2011 Gen Con

Aw I am daft bugger.  I should have hit the post button before heading off to work this morning.  Sorry steamers, that means you a double tap of postings tonight.

Getting ready to head off to Gen Con this year (again) got me thinking about how I made it this far with my writing.   (queue the flashback effects)

Almost… a year a go I decided to get more serious about this whole writing thing.  I had always wanted to write a book but just didn’t know how to go about doing it.

I had been attending Gen Con for several years and had noticed an increase in the number of seminars for writers.  Either they were increasing or I was just paying closer attention, not sure which.  Most of the writing seminars were focused on writing for game supplements, but there were a few for writing longer works.

For $8 I took Michael Stackpole’s “21 Days to a Novel.”  This was going to be the seminar that would teach me how to do it!  I attended, took copious notes, and walked away with a kernel of knowledge that I needed to get going.  But still absolutely no idea what I was going to write about…

For those of you heading to Gen Con Indy this year, here is a link to the writer’s events:

Gen Con Indy 2011 Writing Events

 

 

 

 

 

Writing…

Next Chapter Bookstore & Bistro is my favorite place to write.   Yeah, sure, lots of people go to bookstores to buy books.  Not me, I go there to write books.  Just the kind of crazy hoot ‘n nanny that I am all about.  The right amount of distraction, endless supply of coffee and snacks combined with some of the nicest folks you will ever meet.

Easter Egg Alert – I have written Next Chapter into the epilogue of the West Wind.

And I finished a scene (3 scenes to a chapter… 1 & 1/3 to go!)