It’s been just over a week since Clarion’s ended, and since then I’ve taken a small break from writing quite so intently. What’s surprising is that my writing hasn’t slowed down much at all — I’m still averaging about a thousand words a day — but that productivity is suffusing through a number of different projects.
I run a Pathfinder game once or twice a month, and we’re currently going through a small dry spell where there won’t be a game for a while. I’m taking the opportunity to get my ducks in order. We’re coming up to the end of the first big arc, and I want to make sure that major questions are answered in a satisfactory way, a new status quo is settling in so that my players know what they’re working with, and when the first arc is over everyone’s demonstrably grown while there are any number of obvious ways they can progress further. It’s all the structure and plotting concerns of, say, episodic television, but with characters you don’t control.
I’ve played under several good Game Masters, enough to know the benchmark I’m trying to hit. And I have to say, it’s really hard. In a really excellent role-playing game you want a little bit of wish fulfillment for your players, an engaging and entertaining plot, and a surprising, twisty mystery that keeps your players guessing. It’s really hard to nail all three, and when it’s done well it feels like your GM has performed an excellent magic trick that extends for weeks and months.
Some folks are naturally gifted at telling that kind of story. I’m not sure if it’s my inexperience or my inclination, but I’m finding myself struggling with the juggling act. I tend towards being heavy on the plot, which I’m sure is enjoyable, but I constantly worry about making sure the players have enough room to explore what’s interesting about their characters. What happens if people are interested in something entirely different that leads them away from the plot? I’ve never been good at that, but I’m learning.
With that taking up most of my organizational and creative energy, I’ve sunk most of my fiction-writing time into simple stories that will (hopefully) provide a thrill to a few friends. They’re going slowly because I want to make sure I’m using a consistent mood through the story (which is only five to eight thousand words) and that every part of the scene is interesting in its own way. It’s hard to write with confidence, and that timidity shows. Hopefully my friends don’t mind being guinea pigs for a while as I search for a voice that I’m comfortable and confident with.
This year I’ve been trying to focus on getting stuff done and out there, regardless of whether or not it’s good. I’m hyper-sensitive to feedback because I want to be great already, past this whole stage of fumbling for it without any idea of how to achieve it. I like to think that I have such trouble writing because I have such excellent taste in stories; I know when something is done exceedingly well and I want to do that. Never mind that I don’t have the tools or experience yet to get it done. Let me be great now!
But for now I’ll have to settle for being productive now, great later. I have a lot of mistakes to make and learn from, and many of them will come from my role-playing game and my stories.
What about you guys? What are you working on? What writing mistakes have you made lately? This is a judgement-free zone, so feel free to be honest! I won’t tell.