Writing and Boardgames…

Writing and Boardgames…

Ok, this may be a stretch, so bear with me…

I find writing, the structural part of writing, a lot like designing a good euro-style strategy board game. For those who know me, or taken a look at some of the other pages off the main of my blog, you may be aware of my work in the board game industry.

The definition of “euro-style” is applied to style of strategy board games that rose to popularity in Europe late 1990s that prefers indirect over direct conflict and has very low level of luck.  It has seen a huge growth here in the hobby game market, particularly with the last 15-20 years, more so recently with the emergence of Kickstarter.

In a strategy board game, generally speaking, each player is trying to execute their plan to win the game.  As part of executing their plan, they are disrupting the other players’ efforts to execute their plans.  Better games typically have a high level of interaction whereas those with very limit interaction are considered “multi-player solitaire.”

Applied to writing, I see the interaction between the characters much the same way.  Each character has goals and needs to overcome challenges.  I think it makes the story better when in the process of achieving an individual character’s goals, they are creating the challenges for the other characters.  Sure, challenges can come from the setting or the plot, much the same way a game can throw other obstacles at a player to overcome, but it really the interaction between the characters, much as in boardgames, that make it more interesting.

Again, hats off to Michael Stackpole who introduced me to character interaction in his character driven “21 Days to a Novel” methodology.

If you are interested in hearing more about the upcoming Kickstarter to fund publishing a number of my short stories, and to be notified when the campaign goes live if you are interested, check out: www.brymlight.com

Character Driven Stories

Character Driven Stories

My writing preference is character centered stories – focusing on the characters, their challenges, their triumphs, and their despair rather than on plot and setting.  I go even further in my stories – prejudices, dark motives, hatred, and jealousy.  Good raw emotions.  Don’t get me wrong, I think plot and world building are also important, but I don’t want them to be central focus of my stories.

Some of this, of course, is based on the “21 Days to a Novel” from Michael Stackpole which helped me plan for and successfully win my first NaNoWriMo thereby solidly guaranteeing that it will be a guide post for my writing.  Tip of the hat to Mr. Stackpole I think he gets it right on a number of levels.  My first encounter was in a seminar where his opening premise was the importance of character vs. setting driven stories – his recommendations was character driven all the way.

Another rationale I have heard for Character vs Setting is based on the adage: “show don’t tell.”  I apologize that I cannot credit the source for this because I haven’t the foggiest where it came from!  Basically, it goes like this:

Focusing on characters is engaging the heart, whereas setting and plot being central is engaging the brain.  Similar to show vs. tell.  Telling requires the brain to be engaged where Showing lets you engage the emotion.  Connecting emotionally engages and connects better with the readers than intellectually.

Applying to my own writing preferences – the deeper, more intense the emotion, the greater the engagement (by logical extension) (at least that is my theory!)

Ok – so many more established writers are thinking of course that this is all obvious, but for me, I am seeing it play out as I struggle to write my own stories!

My publisher is planning a Kickstarter for the end of July to publish my short stories.  For more information, and to sign up to be notified when it goes live, head over to: www.brymlight.com

How is the first revision of “The West Wind” going Don?

Ummm.  Well.  Not so well.

I’ve heard much about the fear and incapacitation caused by a blank page.  I am suffering the opposite.  The sight of a full page of my prose sends me running the other direction.  I keep finding plenty of other things to do…  such as…

I was flattered to be asked by David Mark Brown to beta read his latest work “The Austin Job.”  If you are a follower you recall that I had read and reviewed his first work: “Fistful of Reefer.”  This next installment brings back some “love to hate” characters from the first book and a few “easter egg” references for readers of Fistful to discover.  David continues to develop his narrative skills as he begins to explore the “punk” side of the v1.0 Xpunk genres.  Ever present are the over-the-top characters and action that I enjoyed from his first work.  Expected release date of “The Austin Job” is on or about December 24.

In the meantime… back to not doing what I should be doing…

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.