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
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
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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