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How Not To Write A Romance Novel - The Cover Story
October 2013
Mon, Apr. 24th, 2006 01:43 pm
How Not To Write A Romance Novel

Last weekend was supposed to be a TMA run at WPI, but it fell through due to factors beyond my control. As a result, nyren ran his prototype game, How Not To Write A Fantasy Novel. It was an interesting game in that it ran in two parts: the characters of the novel who were acting out the novel, and the writers, who were writing the novel. Mechanically, the game was implemented by locking the 4 "writer" PC's in a conference room, and having them process "plot cards", which were index cards written by the character players describing what they were doing. The writers would read the card, and write a response on what happened in the novel. Thus, the exchange between characters and writers went back and forth as the characters tried to meet their conventional character goals, and the writers each tried to steer the story into their favorite in-character genre (Goth, Romance, Action, or Horror/Harem). Being a ballast player, I got assigned the writer that was left when I showed up: the Romance writer.

As my first attempt at cross-playing a character, I don't think it was bad. On the other hand, the experience for the writers turned out to be extremely non-LARPish. We technically each had absolute control over two characters each, and if another writer wanted to directly affect one of those characters, they needed our permission. That mechanic went out the window pretty darned quick. We found that with eight characters salvo-firing everything they did at us on index cards, we went into a warroom mode just to deal with the workload. We encountered a number of logistical and mechanical issues, such as multiple characters issuing cards on the same event happening, cards arriving out of chronological order, and total illegible handwriting. Of course, when all was said and done, there was still nearly a 10-minute lag time between when a character wrote a plot card and the time the response from the writers actually reached them, and in the intervening time play was continuing.

It quickly became obvious to the writers group that we couldn't affect tactical-level interactions between characters, or even small strategic-level interactions. Although we could grant players special powers or items or other abilities, and we could bestow on them in-game emotions, that was the limit of our ability, and we had to communicate what goals we needed them to accomplish via these abilities and emotions. Getting the hang of steering the story took almost the whole game, if for no other reason than to get a sense of the lag between initiating a plot point and its completion, usually 30-to-90 minutes later. Initially, there was some attempt to use good writing style and subtlety and foreshadowing in the story. Within 45 minutes, the cards departing the writer's room looked for all the world more like orders than prose; a header with message type and sender, and a brief message of 10-30 words with character and item names underlined for rapid processing.

Having played through the game and having had time to meditate on it a bit, I think that the role of the writers requires a very different skillset than is normally involved in a LARP. The writers' job is communicate information quickly, concisely, and to move the story in a particular direction. There's no puzzle solving, there's no investigation, and there's no acting; there's just responding to the changing situation only described to you via notecards, and your best efforts to herd it onward. That said, I think that the interaction between the two groups is not as direct as it first appears, or as the game was designed, and that the writers need to work with the lag time between the characters and them. As such, I think that if the game ever does run again, the writers might want to be played by players who have at least played in the game at least once before, either as writer or character, and have a sense of the true nature of the game's interaction mechanics, and what level of commentary should be on each communication to make the game run most smoothly.

Current Location: Skillman, NJ


Gregory Pettigrew
Mon, Apr. 24th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)

I was surprised when you said they were in different rooms. My initial impression was that the writers would be whispering in the actors' ears.

Robert Bronzite
Mon, Apr. 24th, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC)

Nope. All comms were over index card using an AGM runner. nyren took all the cards at the end of the game, so presumably we may get a written record of the game at some point.

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