Today, I’m going to begin waxing lyrical on how I find the shape of a story, starting from the seed of an idea that grabs you and doesn’t let go.
Often, you begin the RPG creative process with a vague notion that you want to run a game in a particular setting or system. My own IKRPG game started with “I want to run an Iron Kingdoms game”. I had, however, no actual idea as to what the story was going to be.
So I had a blank page.
I hate the blank page. With a fiery passion. Fiction, RPGs, Journal Articles, Blog Posts…
The blank page is my true Nemesis.
In order to break the tyranny of the blank page, you need to start putting things on it. “Creative Ideas” (probably… the literature is… somewhat eclectic) come about as a result of new connections, associations, and relations being formed between existing things in your memory.
So you need to start putting things on the page to be connected by the creative process. Like many other psychological phenomena, creativity may be experienced as spontaeneous and magical, but it’s really a learned ability. You need to practice it, and you need to warm up when you want to get it going at full speed.
Start with your players. It should always start with your players. The game isn’t about you. It’s about All of You, and they’re in the majority. What kind of games do they enjoy? What are their personalities and preferred characters?
Now put that info on the page. I don’t advocate the usual “spider-diagram” style for brainstorming- I prefer to write in full sentences, essentially transcribing my internal monologue as I go through this process. Don’t edit, don’t judge – just let the words come onto the page as easily as they come into your mind. Don’t even read back over it.
When you run out of things to say about your players, move onto your thoughts on the setting. What imagery does the setting evoke for you? What kind of people? What voices do they have? What kinds of stories live there?
Finally, what kind of story do you want to tell? What is the theme? What is the tone? What emotions do you want your players to feel? In IKRPG, you can go anywhere on the spectrum from swashbuckling excitement to horror, with all sorts in between. But it’s usually best to try and keep to some consistent central motive if you want the story to be memorable.
The important thing to remember about this process is:
Transcribe your inner monologue as you answer these questions. Make no judgement on what you have written. At this point, no thought or idea is good or bad. They just are, and immediately after you’ve written it down it’s gone, drifted past you on the quicksilver stream of thought. Tangents are fine.
In fact, tangents are the whole point. At some juncture while doing this, you will veer wildly away from the topics I’ve listed above on a route of you own. The idea will have grabbed you.
Run with it. Keep writing words.
Eventually, your hand will get tired or the stream of consciousness will start to loop.
Now, go back and read it. There are probably some fruitful idea seeds in there.