A conversation with WannabeWriter at our writing group meet-up two weeks ago got me thinking about certain things that have prepared me for writing and telling stories.
I suppose I've been making up stories since my parents forced my brother to share his dinosaur toys with me when we were small children. He would smash them into each other. I'd divide them into families and create stories with them (though come to think of it, the triceratops mommy and stegosaurus daddy would not have been able to produce a t-rex and a brontosaurus as children unless mommy triceratops was keeping something from Mr. Stegosaurus!)
Of course after a thousand games of make-believe, my friends started to get tired of playing through either age or popularity. However to my luck, right before my pre-teen years I discovered online roleplaying games. My involvement started small with a Star Wars chat-based game and then evolved into generic fantasy on not only chat rooms, but in forums. Forum posting and chat rooms were probably the main vehicles for teaching me how to write. Many times when you needed to collaborate with another roleplayer, you had to be able to create the scene as well as interact with the character. You also had to learn how to respect the boundaries of your and the other person's characters and plotlines, or the other person would not take you seriously and won't play with you anymore.
|You want me to do what with whom and that herring?|
Also, if you were lucky like me, you would find a group of people who would give you advice and encouragement in writing your posts. I kept writing my own works, mind you. Though looking back at what I wrote back in high school and also at the style I am writing with now, the only ways I could submit the previous works for publication is to either change the stories completely, or rewrite most of what I have and pass them off as a YA novels.
Anyway, I digress
Later on when I started college, my classmate and friend Laura got me into tabletop roleplaying games. Now there were rules on what you could and couldn't do, what you could and couldn't be. It didn't stifle creativity, though. Rather it gave it parameters to work within. Hell, my first tabletop character was a renaissance festival juggler who had been hit in the head one too many times with clubs, and according to my character sheet, the only two things I was good for was juggling and comically insulting people. Within the first 15 minutes I had done more damage out of anyone in the party. Looking back now, I find it rather entertaining that 3 years later I met her real life equivalent while I was working at the Georgia Renaissance Festival.
|Tiny, but fierce!|
Through gaming, we learned that failure was not always an end all, but rather it was just another path to something more interesting. We also learned that even the most basic or flawed of characters had the ability to become epic in their own right. Eventually I started live action roleplaying with Forest of Doors as a full time monster/ non-player character where I was required to switch characters up every half an hour or so--not only did my costumes get a full run of the gauntlet, but I needed to adopt different belief systems, cultures, and motivations-- and thus learned how to provide a greater of variety of characters beyond what I pulled from my own personality and intuition.
|Laugh about them all you want, but they probably know a hell more about characterization than you do!|
They say that it takes 10,000 hours (or 10 years) to master a craft. I think though in terms of writing fiction, this statement is bollocks. Most people may probably think that only writing, writing classes, and reading books on writing constitutes experience towards story-telling mastery. However there are so many other ways to learn character and plot development that you probably never even heard about. You can probably write for 10 straight years and still not be able to master telling a story unless you have other experiences to support it. Sure, you can make a paragraph flowery and powerful, but can you write and understand a convincing relationship between two characters?
Ever do any acting? You're getting experience in character development. Write and poetry or song lyrics? You're getting experience in language and perhaps plot development depending on the nature of the work. Watch television and the news? You have an abundance of possibilities before you in learning about writing and storytelling as a whole!
|Though conversely, you can also learn a lot about what NOT to do when writing.|
So faithful readers, as an exercise I want you to start paying attention to the activities you are involved in and what can you learn from them. I did it mostly with roleplaying, but I also played music, acted, watched documentaries, and simply surrounded myself with a wealth of experiences. Do you work with doctors or engineers? Start paying attention to how they interact (or don't) with each other, does their environment influence their actions or attitudes? Do you like jogging? Start paying attention to the people and areas you pass, create stories in your head about them based off of what you see and hear. Have a favorite stand-up comedian? Pay attention to his words and expressions and try to figure what it is that makes him funny and successful, use it for one of your characters!
When you start becoming one with the universe and how it can work, the more likely the universe you create will become just as real as the one you live in. So get out there and experience the endless possibilities, yourself! In the meantime, happy writing!