I have caught RPG fever again! It's been a while, but I've had the task of GMing a session at the weekend thrust upon me, with not a huge amount of time to prepare, but that's okay because I love it. Obviously I'm the GM, I'm a writer, I'm not allowed to be a player character. I am in charge of the universe, I AM GOD. Life and death of characters is in my hands and dice rolls. That's where I like to be.
And I've been wonderfully reminded of how useful approaching a different type of story is for the creative process. Worried that I was far too rusty for it, and because I've never actually done a classic D&D style adventure before (we're using a very streamlined version of it called The Black Hack) I've been powering through a bunch of videos on YouTube about how to be a great GM. Not to worry, it's all come rushing back into my tiny little brain, as well as about fifteen new ideas for my various current writing projects. The videos are very good at unpacking all the elements in a story, in a setting, in a world, in a villain and so on, and how they affect or drive the story. Hang on, isn't that what writing a novel is?
Because RPGs have a function to entertain the players, give them accomplishments and rewards more periodically or episodically, relying on them entirely for writing a story probably isn't so great an idea. But to open up my brain and to look at my current novel – Zora's Remorse (yes, I have a title now, writing it in the public space to get more used to it) – it is very useful for analytically looking at scenes, chapters, events, settings, and characters, examining what their point is, what drives them, and how do they move the story along. RPGs provide a very satisfying journey, and that's what I want my stories to do, whether it's through a dice-rolling medium, or an evening reading session medium. We found the rules to this RPG variant at a wargames convention last weekend, which is another useful creative tool too, as I always put a lot of theme into painting and playing with my toy soldiers; good world-building mindset. So there are a lot of tools out there, and these are the ones I find the most useful. I haven't got to the stage of using the I Ching or pulling out Tarot cards to inform decisions on my novels, but I wouldn't hold it against me to do that in the future.
The other thing I'm doing at the moment is planning another novel. Now, I note down novel ideas all the time, and it takes a lot of restraint to keep on the current project and save them for later, until the pull becomes too strong and I realise how the novel is going to shape up. (Not that I'm abandoning a current project at any time, but it doesn't hurt to think about something new for the future, especially if one needs a quick rest from editing a chapter.) What I'm doing differently this time is planning it. Properly planning it. Writing down a chapter-by-chapter outline. The only time I've done this before was for my first novel idea, the one that got me into writing in a very real sense. It was almost chapter-by-chapter, ran to about 11,000 words long, and it's resulted in me not finishing writing a chapter of it. Eventually I will write that novel, but that plan needs another look at.
Since then, I've mostly come up with a rough idea of how a novel starts and where it's ultimately headed, with a few key scenes sprinkled en route, but no full structure in mind. And there's nothing wrong with that system, it's got me a first draft of two different novels. But it is interesting to think about this next one more methodically, and perhaps I won't run into the issues I currently am, where I need to untangle a lot of thoughts and story ideas so that I can get them into the beginning of the story on this edit I'm embarking upon.
In fact, I think I may write a plan and an outline for the novel I'm currently editing, just to give me something to fall back on, to remind myself of exactly what needs to happen and when. It shouldn't take long to knock up a spreadsheet with all the key events noted down, because I already know what all those events are, having written the entire thing. Going to such a system now will be useful because I also know which of those events really are the important ones, the ones that drive the story (that's a callback to the beginning of this blog post, BY THE WAY) and so are the ones to focus on, build the story around.
I think I'll go do that now. Retrospective planning: better late than never. Oh, except I rolled a 5, way above my intelligence characteristic, so I'll have a sandwich instead.