November 4th, 2001
Mudslinger Writer's Guide - Part VII - By Excrucior
The Game's Afoot!
One important concept to remember, and so many forget it all too often,
is that you're writing about a game. If you want to create a
believable tale, you have to work out what would be acceptable to say. You
have to break down your terminology into what a player would say and
that which a character would say. There's a world of difference between
them. A good tale is written as if you're a character, a poor one as
if you're a player. (There are certain exceptions to this, such as the
technique of alienation and in comedy - often one and the same - but
most stories should be written as if the narrator is in the game itself).
A character would talk in terms of another wave of guardsmen galloping
down the street - a player would say, "Ah - repop!". See the difference?
You have to describe things as a character would see them, not the
player. I've had pieces that describe the characters as being level twenty
or whatever - that's not what a character would say. Would you
describe yourself as a level thirteen programmer? Use other terms - such as novice,
veteran, well trained in the arts of magic - whatever, but only if you
must, and then rarely. Try and keep that sort of thing out for preference.
Continuous references to the guardsman you were fighting now was
less versed in war compared to the Janitor you fought earlier will just
annoy your readers. It also annoys me and that's more important. Just try to show that your character is skilled through his or her actions.
You speak English, your reader speaks English - what do the characters
speak? Don't even try to answer that one in your tales, just assume
the humans all speak the same language. Maybe a character has a Scottish
accent - where's Scotland? Use a game area such as Derah or Vanlarra
to differentiate accents. Define people in different terms and don't
use phrases that you'd hear in everyday life. Don't compare the straightness
of a blast of magical energy to that of a laser beam - the reader
knows what you mean, but it doesn't draw them into the tale. Real life
can ruin a Medievian tale.
A lot of things are described as 'runs' in the game. Trade run,
equipment run, xp run - you know the sort of thing. That isn't a good term
to use for a good narrative. You could try things like, "I need cash,
anyone willing to haul freight with me?" or "I shall seek a better
weapon - rumor has it that there is one in yonder castle." You don't go
out on an xp run - you venture with your comrades for valuable combat
practice against the fell beasts of the wilderness. Use phraseology that
you would in real life if it were you doing the deed.
It's actually better, and a more advanced technique, to try and avoid
any mention of things like the above as plot elements - even better than
paraphrasing them in fact. If you can then try and have your characters
not saying phrases such as those above, but instead make the plot take
them there. To introduce a trading expedition you don't have to say
that the protagonists decide they are going to trade, give them a reason
to need money and then have them saying something like, "Back to the
wagons then...". The next scene after this would be on the road and
watching the birds springing from a bush - you know the rest. However, the
fact is that you can introduce an ingame activity without mentioning
the activity by its ingame name or just a paraphrasing of it. Give your
protagonists a reason to do what you want.
Try reading the standard fantasy novel - people don't just go out and
kill things for experience, because people don't talk like that in real
life. You could have someone who guards a fortress in the wastelands
explain something like...
"I've traveled out some distance and taken on the bears in the forest
from time to time. They make good sport and their hides keep the floor
from seeming too chill. Be wary of their claws, though, for their reach is
more than it seems at first."
"This is Hector, one of the local guides. He's familiar with the
terrain around here and the animals you may have to fend off. I'd suggest
you listen. The last people who didn't ended up as a feast for the
This intimates experience of the fauna around the area without saying
that they are a level twenty+ warrior or whatever. It suggests competence
instead of an xp to next level total.
If you manage to keep your terminology and plot as in-character and not
ingame as possible then this helps with trying to immerse the reader
into experiencing the tale as it is told. It's just another of the
techniques available for the author - use it.
There are a few game elements that make for bad narrative. I've had a
few stories submitted that involve character vs character fights, and
as you may expect, a few of these had them backstabbing each other.
Think about this for a moment. In the game, you can watch a herobattle and
they'll be backstabbing each other with regularity, fleeing and trying
to get a strike back in at their foe. It's an aspect that many writers
have tried to copy, but they tried to make it the same as they see on
the screen. Can you justify the three combat round lag after a backstab?
People have tried - "stood in one place while I regained my balance..."
etc - but it doesn't work in narrative. Justify to me that a character
can backstab another, his foe runs out of the room, and the attacker just stands
there to let the guy come back in the exit he just left (entirely
unnoticed of course) and returns the same attack. Then of course the guy who
was first attacked has to stand still for a while while his opponent
does the same to him. Can you make this work in narrative? I can't and
I wouldn't dare to try.
Just to extend the concept here - is a backstab always a backstab? One
of the more common assassination methods used to be a garrote, the
surprise of the attack from behind cutting off a sentry's chance to raise
the alarm. Someone leaping from an upper window onto a passing enemy by
surprise is a devastating attack - something approximating the game
element. Don't just take the game text literally. If in doubt about
something then ask me for hints or advice.
As mentioned earlier on you have to have things believable. Can you
link to escape a tornado? In the game, sure. In a story... you'd have
to be really convincing, and it wouldn't really work - the reader would
learn to expect it whenever danger strikes. It reduces the tension.
Auction channel? You could convert it to an auction block in the City of
Medievia where people take goods to sell to make it believable but a
telepathic communication channel? Would that work for a reader? It's
that willing suspension of disbelief again. (I mentioned before that the
Medievian audience would accept this - they will, but it doesn't make a
good narrative and an outside audience would be less than happy with
it.) Going through the same mobs again to try and get a better weapon
this time? That's a game element and not a story one - there should only
be one of a named item in existence for a story purpose (Magnificent
Sword of Ice is a named and rare(ish) item - a Guardsman's sword from the
City of Medievia is a common one).
We gods are an interesting case to consider. We run quests on a
regular basis, interact with mortals and chat, but the divine doesn't always
work in a tale. Read successful mainstream stories that involve the
divine - they all have to have some sort of mechanism to explain why the
gods don't just smite the wrongdoer themselves, and these are usually
pretty lame. If possible, try not to involve a god at all - players know
we can dispense instant justice as necessary and that there is little
that a high ranking god cannot do. Limiting a god within your tale
("forbidden from interfering..." *yawn* - cliche) will not work for the
majority of the readers.
The ancient Greek had a phrase for this - Deus Ex Machina. It literally
means "god out of a box", and it referred to a standard technique for
ancient Greek theater. The audience of the time genuinely believed in
a pantheon of gods who would rescue their favorites in times of need
(read the Iliad and Odyssey for prime examples of this), and as such they
cheerfully accepted a play ending in a god coming along, smiting the
bad guys, helping the good guys, and down with the curtain (so to speak -
amphitheaters didn't have curtains). It doesn't work with a modern
audience, so avoid it.
In essence, don't try and explain game elements away in story terms -
explain story elements in story terms and alter the game elements in the
story (but not too far) to fit a decent narrative.
As a side note, comedy is somewhat exempt from this rule if using the
technique of alienation - more on this in a future section.
There's one aspect I've left out from this section. However, that
deserves a section of its own - Death and how to deal with it, next.
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