It’s November again. The post I’m about to write would have been better written before the start of the month, but the fact that it’s the second of the month and I’m only now sitting down to write it does rather underline why it’s needed.
In November we grow moustaches, and we write novels. Unless you’re one of those people who hates NaNo, or is a less-than-optimally hirsute type. I don’t think I could manage a moustache worth sponsoring (maybe in a few more years), so I’m concentrating on the novel thing.
There are as many ways to approach NaNo as there are NaNoers. Over 200,000 this year. But there are two broad types that you can fit people into: the planners, and the pantsers. The pantsers, as in fly-by-the-seat-of-your, are happy to sit down with no idea what they’re going to write about, wiggle their fingers joyfully above the keyboard, and set to. I’ve done it that way. It’s a lot of fun. However, if you want to practice shaping and developing a novel, it helps – I’ll refrain from underlining this three times, but imagine I have – to do a bit of planning in advance.
While I talk and the flies buzz
a seagull catches a fish at the mouth of the Amazon,
a tree falls in the Adirondack wilderness,
a man sneezes in Germany,
a horse dies in Tattany,
and twins are born in France.
What does that mean? Does the contemporaneity
of these events with one another,
and with a million others as disjointed,
form a rational bond between them,
and write them into anything
that resembles for us a world?
Great art is most commonly defined as that which casts some light on the human condition. This poem, Fulcrum / Writing a World, by David Morley, is one of the current crop of Poems on the Underground and a perfect illustration of the conundrum facing the storyteller. In a chaotic world, full of overwhelming irrelevance, we seek meaning. The storyteller takes on the fearful task of linking disparate facts, events, places, people, in ways that resonate for us, that help us to make sense of it all. We cannot take in every detail, and we tire quickly of information without pattern, without story.
As I said in my introduction to my interview with David J. Williams (game writer and novelist), I’ve become fascinated by storytelling through the medium of computer games. Unsurprisingly, being an MMO junkie, I want above all to look at the state of storytelling in MMOs, which present tremendous obstacles for writers, but also really exciting possibilities.
There are a lot of assumptions to examine along the way. What are we talking about when we talk about stories, and games, and narrative, and play? What are designers trying to achieve, and what are gamers looking for, and are they the same thing? It’s a rich field in every sense, what with the games industry having been widely reported in 2009 as having overtaken Hollywood as the biggest sector of the entertainment market.
With Apocalypso firmly on hold, I’ve had time to do some reading. For the past several months the focal point of my interest in games design has been converging with my interest in narrative, which is a boring way of saying Stories! Gameplay! WTF?
WTF, because stories and gameplay do not always seem to get along happily when tied up in the same canvas sack. There’s no shortage of commentators pushing the opinion that games are unsuitable as a medium for storytelling, that games will never be ‘art’ nor contain anything of literary value, etc., etc. Some folks are fine with that, some are pissed off about it, and some of us just think it’s a load of crap. Games can tell stories, and well.
So I contacted a man I thought might agree with me: David J. Williams, author of the Autumn Rain trilogy, and story creator for the first Homeworld game. I started off by asking him how he first came to be involved with Relic, and Homeworld.
From The Persistent Illusionist
At this year’s GDC, Jeff Kaplan of Blizzard talked about quest design, outlining nine problems with quests in WoW. Lum picked it up at Broken Toys (which is where I saw it first, though it’s all over everywhere now), and now Timothy Burke has posted an interesting response at Terra Nova, which has prompted me to post my own thoughts on the subject. more