Medievia Mudslinger

August 6th, 2001

Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part III - By Excrucior

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

The audience is a fickle creature, but as it is formed from a collection of individuals, it can be anticipated to a certain degree. The most important thing to realize about your readership is that they are reading because they want to be entertained. Because of this, they will accept a certain deviation from the norm - a concept known (to my English Literature teacher anyway) as "The Willing Suspension of Disbelief". This is very important and I cannot stress the point enough. A reader will believe many things if you tell them correctly.

It is rather easier to gain an audience's acceptance on the Mudslinger than in a mainstream fantasy genre, because the readers are players who accept that they can call and fly on dragons; that you can talk telepathically to your own clan members; that you can escape the approaching tornado by going to Medlink. You have a preset world that your readers are familiar with. The trick is not to take it too far.

What constitutes too far? Well, maybe a mad alchemist managed to get hold of a sample from Zeksagmak's hide and has raised several mature clones that the heroes have to fight against. A hero challenges two gods at the same time and defeats them in mortal combat. Invaders come from the planet Zrag to make a settlement for their people. An intelligent reader would look at those propositions and think, "As if..." In essence, things that alter the established genre of the game too far are not going to work.

Perhaps you could invent a new race to do the things that you need for your plot elements? Wrong - you cannot do this and remain credible. Inventing new aspects of any kind for the game is difficult because the readers know what they experience within the system as it currently stands. Maybe your plot requires you to defeat an invasion of violet- tinged octopi that travel across the land on skateboards - you can do this if you want, but don't send it to me please. If it's not recognizably Medievian in style and content, I do not want to see it. Just setting a bizarre happening in the lands is not enough - the plot needs to have Medievian elements to it.

How can you stretch it? Well, there's always the option of stretching it briefly, but having things come back to normal within the scope of the tale - people are generally forgiving of one-off events if they are written well. Someone rescuing Malevich from his prison to rain terror down on the citizens of Riverton would be a reasonable tale - if he was either killed or imprisoned once more by the heroes of the piece at the end. If it ended with his victory and eternal domination, it would mean that the outlook of the zone had changed irrevocably. I'm not saying that this is taking it too far, but I have yet to see anyone manage to write one of these convincingly.

How far you can stretch the tale in the main section is also limited - use common sense. You wouldn't go to your clanhall and suddenly find Horneg sitting their waiting to employ you - he may send a messenger, but the guy stays in his keep all the time and is notorious for not leaving it. Would you expect Marious to lead an army across the lands in search of conquest? Hardly.

You have to decide if an element you have come up with is right and fits. Consider called dragons - you can call them for transport or to fight a hunting dragon. Can you see a way that you can write it so that a reader will accept that a transport dragon can fight other dragons mid-air, a la Dragonlance? The rules used to be that if it's not in the game then you cannot do it in the tale - we've relaxed that some to say that if it still reads as a Medievian piece we're generally happy. This example, however, challenges the observed view of Medievia. How do you explain that they don't fight, then? "You hired me for flight - not for combat, human," is one response. Why doesn't the rider pay extra? Firelizard cannot keep up for the cash, maybe. You can see the problem here - the best way to avoid this problem of justification is to avoid writing a scene that requires this sort of excusing like this in the first place. If you are struggling to make it credible when you look at the ideas, dump it and try something else.

Everything you choose to entertain your readers with ought to have a rationale, a steady and logical continuation from one occurrence to another. So your single-class thief character manages to cast a spell? How? Justify it. (By the way, I couldn't...) Scruff grows to a massive size and starts playing catch with Castle Medievia? Justify it. The City of Medievia falls into a massive crater in the ground dug out by Riverton dwarves. Why did they do that? Justify it. Half a dozen pirates from the Pirate Ship start a brawl with the lizards in Lyryranoth. How did they get there and why? Justify it.

Why are you in a particular zone? Why are you fighting those beasts? What are the reasons? Justify it, and make sure you justify it in more than one place in the text. Saying something once means the reader forgets it; saying it twice means they have a greater chance of remembering it; saying it three times means that they accept it. It takes time to build up a decent amount of acceptance in the reader's mind - take it where necessary and spread out your reinforcement across the tale. Do not dwell on minor things and extend the tale there when you need to make a point clear.

Maybe the advice of clan members took you to Spirited Heights to scout for a future expedition - you could mention this in the introduction to the piece and then have grumbled comments by the person scouting about how they always have to scout to protect everyone else's backs from in front; some thought text near the middle about how the clanleader is probably sitting next to a warm fire with a pot of ale. You need to work things like this into the tale and make sure that the reader doesn't forget it. Reinforce the idea - don't just state the same thing in the same way every time, just make comments from time to time and let the reader's mind accept the concept. Three times is the minimum you should strive for in a short story, four is the most - a general guide but a good one.

Justifying an event is not just saying that "the gods let him..." or anything similar - dragging the gods out for every opportunity is rather lame and reduces any tension that the reader may have gained. So the god wants this? Why doesn't this divine being with overwhelming abilities just get it themselves?

"Well, the character has always been a warrior, but has been good at magic without being trained..." is just as bad. Magic is traditionally the art of those who train long and hard in that field, as are the martial arts when you think about it. Don't try to go too far outside the established boundaries.

What sort of things can you use to justify a concept? Orders from the clanleader have been mentioned, and that's not too bad. A wizard wants a certain root to complete a spell, adequate as spellcasters (wizards and witches alike) traditionally need rare items to cast complex magics. We have a rich tradition of fantasy material that many of your readers will have dipped into - they will accept the traditional justifications with ease. Need to defeat a great evil? Great - count me in! Seeking a treasure from an old map? What better way to spend an afternoon?

One thing to avoid upon pain of me pointing it out is the sudden conversion. This can come in many forms, but you've all seen the movies where the bad guy turns good at the end, yes? How many of these were convincing? Perhaps the only one that I can think of that did it well was episodes four to six of Star Wars where Vader eventually turns to the light side of the force. At least he had the justification of family involved, and it took two films for him to come around to that state. In a short tale, you don't have the luxury of enough time and space to get away with this.

I said this conversion comes in many forms - I'm thinking of more than the "Well, you're such a good chap I'll act that way now myself," sort of thing. I've had stories submitted that contained elements where the characters accepted the word of a turncoat and trusted them implicitly from there on. Try this example I've made up - single character ends up killing the Wargs in the bottom of Riverton Mines. Wanders into Malevich's lair and gulps nervously. Says something like, "Whoops, I seem to have killed all your guard wolves." Malevich prepares to attack but our hero is quick-thinking - "I can guard you instead..." Now what would Malevich say to this? There's no way he'd say, "Yes", but I've had several stories with similar concepts accepted before. In a Mudslinger story, you do not have time to both set a character's personality and attributes in the reader's mind and then make them change convincingly.

One aspect that I'll be dealing with in more detail in a future section is comedy, but in reference to the information above you can get away with a lot more in a humorous piece without justifying it. As mentioned previously, people want to be entertained - if your comments are genuinely funny, people will accept it with less hesitation.

Another aspect to making people accept what you are saying is to make it seem that the reader is actually in the piece. Describe what your character sees as if they can see it - the reader will have some experience and their own ideas. If you can connect with them on this level then this will help then connect with your justifications.

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