It’s been said more than once that people who write role-playing games are frustrated writers. One need only read the turgid and horrible prose in many RPGs to see there’s some truth to that and the bastards make it worse by hiding nuggets of useful information in amongst the story writing, thereby forcing you to read it.
It’s not all bad though and there are plenty of writers who grew up playing RPGs and sometimes you can see that in the way they write or the things they include. Sometimes it spawns collaborations between the writers and RPG companies or at the very least, oversight, to ensure a product that passes muster.
I’ve written a lot of gaming material and a fistful of short stories. I’m also over half-way through my first novel and I’m noticing that there are useful things from writing and playing role-playing games that help in the writing of fiction.
Gamers occupy detailed fantasy worlds and construct them individually and collectively. Keeping it all consistent and plausible is what makes a world work in both fiction and in gaming. Games, necessarily, tend to have a broader reach and cover more ground whereas in stories tend to follow the experience of a very few characters – or even a single one. A story benefits, however, from taking place in a context. Even if you don’t see any of it, it creates a context.
When you’re the Games Master of a game you learn to think on your feet. You know how to react and how to get the game back on track when it starts to drift, without being too obvious about it. Written fiction can wander as well. Stories can get out of hand or you can get into a groove where you want to keep on writing and don’t want to stop to research or you’ll lose your flow. If you can improvise you can get it done and then you can always come back and fix it later, when you lose your flow.
Visualising the Space
Some gamers play with miniatures and boards, grids and landscapes but an awful lot don’t. When they play they’re imagining the positions of all the characters, the landscape and its features. In action scenes, especially, whether writing or playing a game, this is a really useful skill and one that transfers brilliantly if you’re able to both imagine and describe the scene.
Dealing With Renegade Characters
Characters can and will run off and do their own thing. This is supposed to happen in an RPG but not so much when you’re writing a story. Characters can and do gain their own voice and start to do their own thing. This can be a problem but, related to the usefulness of improvisation if you’re used to this happening you can go with it and let the characters be themselves, shifting the story to fit and keeping it going.
I reckon more writers should play games, but the only problem I see is that they’d all want to be the Games Master!