My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Six Things I Learned (As A Writer) From Dundracon 2013 Part 1

You will never find a more wretched hive
of geeks and nerdery.
And by wretched, I mean awesome.
So after I got the SciGuy to come back to Writing About Writing, I stopped over on the way home at a gaming convention called Dundracon to get my geek on and *L.A.R.P. like it's 1999.  It has been a slow month on the financial end here at W.A.W., and there's been some "What the hell am I doing with my life?" type thoughts, so there's nothing quite like a couple of thousand sub-culture gamers to remind me that I'm not alone in my non-mainstream proclivities.

Though last year I was still writing articles that were way too long for a blog, I wrote up last year's con as well.  I should probably think about re-writing.  The point is, I'm not going to rehash those ideas (any more than some of these are variations on a theme). It's worth a look for a serious writer, as it talks a lot about why character is so important, and how the lack of cool CGI special effects forces a writer to be awesome in actually awesome ways.

*L.A.R.P.= Live Action Role Playing- Think of it as a "How to Host a Murder" game except your friend wrote it, and there are rules for getting into a fight if you want to.

So here is my con report, thinly veiled as writing advice:


1- If you don't give your characters a reason to be together, it may get railroad-y if you force them to be.  (To Boldly Go)

Friday night is always a perfect night for fun and silly games.  Most people aren't quite in the groove yet and laughter gets the endorphins cranking up to eleven, so that you can go the whole 60 hours remaining with only one night's sleep and two actual meals. Lauren A (who has guest blogged here in the past) wrote a wonderful, and CRAZY funny LARP called To Boldly Go (a split infinitive, by the way, for those keeping score) that mashed together several seventies and eighties science fiction.  Dr. Who, crews from Star Trek (TOS and TNG) and even a Star Wars/X-files hybrid.

And we were all stuck in The Land of the Lost.

There's a trope in one-shot LARP's that is one of the most basic: you can't leave.  As the stakes of a game go up, or characters get into mortal conflicts with other characters, the simplest solution is often just to go away.  A game will get pretty boring if everyone walks out because another player is gunning for them.  So there's almost always a reason you can't walk away.  You're in a prison, there's an inexplicable bubble, the weather is terrible, you just can't no matter how hard you try.  Or in our case there were dinosaurs roaming around the exit and none of our weapons worked.

Since we didn't intend to be there, and had no reason to be there, pretty much the entire LARP was focused on the question of escape.

I played Special Agent Skulder next to my partner Special Agent Molly.  I was looking for aliens because the truth was out there.  Ironically, I was the alien.  In a room full of humans, Molly and I were sort of proto-Star Wars empire characters (we even had non-functioning light sabers).  We assumed they were like us.  Mores the pity.

I had a great time talking to various aliens, exposing The Doctor, trading meaningful touches with Barbara Ella, and vacillating between "I was right all along, Molly" and "My whole life is a lie, Molly" in true X-files style.  But Molly was much more interested in the two Star Trek crews and getting in with the Federation of Planets.  The problem with this is that we were all mysteriously transported to the same cave and trying to get out.  The Star Trek crews went into "Star Trek mode" which was meant work amongst ourselves with the complimentary skill sets we have to solve this problem, and be wary of everything else.  They ended up forming an insular group that basically dealt with escape mostly among themselves--and with a few hitchikers.  Molly's efforts to get in good with them kept hitting their Prime Directive and their general lack of need for anyone else to be a part of their escape plan.

Of course Molly and I ended up leaving in The T.A.R.D.I.S. with The Doctor and those two aliens from the halloween episodes of The Simpsons.  We all headed over to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, to grab some food before being taken home.  We weren't sure we were going to be able to keep the aliens from eating the red-shirt ensign from Star Trek on the way there though.  He seemed almost to have a death wish, and was down to one functional limb by game's end.

I did mention this LARP was silly, right?  Silly and fucking hilarious.

In fact, the other characters were so un-forthcoming with any meaningful interaction, that at one point I decided we were all in a mental institution.  It was the only way to explain all the convoluted reasons everyone around us had for not giving us any REAL information, help, or assistance--they had to be unable to do so and were weaving their lack of ability into their delusions as a lack of willingnes.  (Testing that theory was actually why I drank Barbra Ella's "magic water" and ended up....well, let's just say for "just my partner," Agent Molly became a bit jealous.)  The lack of reasons the other characters had to work with us on the real problems left us mostly having light social interactions and being edged out of the problem solving interactions.  ("Adults talking real shit here.  Out of the way, peck.")  This frustrated Molly (and I think the player playing her too) to no end.  We just couldn't catch a break because everyone thought we were back-world yokels with nothing to contribute.

And who ended up having the energy cell to charge the sonic screwdriver?  That's right bitches.  It was US.  Back-world yokel power FTW!!

Don't get me wrong...I had a blast!  I don't usually laugh that much even at other comedy games.  The characters were hilarious and many of them I had no trouble interacting with (I literally ran out of time before I'd talked to everyone I wanted), but the "big kids" could solve the LARP problems without us, they kept edging us out of the big kids table, so we were left mostly with comedic interactions.  And as hilarious as they were, eventually there was so much comedy relief that I started hoping for some serious relief.

Here's what a writer can learn from this: in a crisis, we pull inward.  We stick with what we know and can predict.  We can't afford to take chances when the stakes go up unless we have no choice.  Characterization should reflect this increased suspicion and wariness or it looses credulity.  The motley crew trope of eclectic characters joined for a myriad of different motivations to achieve a common tends to be seen as incredibly stupid because it IS incredibly stupid, and it tends to feel incredibly contrived.  Most of us think twice before getting a jump start from a stranger (and probably wouldn't if our friend lived close).  Imagine how we would react if the life of our loved ones were involved or the person giving us a jump revealed they had ulterior motives for wanting us back on the road.  And that's just a jump start of a car. As our wants and needs increase in urgency we are less and less likely to go with an unknown quantity to meet them.  We won't trust a stranger.  We won't look beyond what we know.

If people meet and interact before crisis, they might work together during crisis--especially if there's time to establish trust.  But when already within crisis we will only go with an unknown quantity when there is absolutely no other choice.  You might take that jump start from the stranger more readily if you had to get to an interview and were already running late.

So if the frame of your story is a crisis--especially one that is ramping up--give your characters a reason they absolutely need each other (or a shared background) or any cooperation they do just cause will come across as incredibly railroaded writing.  Yeah, you might have some leeway for a comedy, but you better make sure that your readers (like the people playing this LARP) are laughing so hard they can barely see through their tears.  Not every book is going to be as awesome as this game was.

PART 2--Redemption is REALLY Hard (Mutant Saga)


  1. "So if the frame of your story is a crisis--especially one that is ramping up--give your characters a reason they absolutely need each other (or a shared background) or any cooperation they do just cause will come across as incredibly railroaded writing."

    Very good advice. Glad to have discovered you on Facebook.