A View Askew: Manipulating Memes

When one gets down into the heart of adventure writing and scenario design, there are emergent patterns, memes, and tropes. Elements which are building blocks we use to create interactive stories which transcend their source material. Just as reading a play isn’t the same as seeing a play (and believe me, as a Lit Major, I read and saw plenty), reading through an adventure is certainly not the same as participating in one (regardless of the side of the screen you happen to find yourself on). We’ve touched on the subject of experiencing versus reading when we talked about the rules of reviews some time back (search the archive if you’re curious), but today we’re talking about using expectations to their advantage.

In other words, I want you to do what I do every day. I take reality, and blur it. This principle is mentioned in every lecture by every writer I’ve seen and nearly every writing book I’ve read–take a typical plot and twist it about. You want to combine intrinsic logic with a good story. You want to compel and propel your audience headlong through your work, so when they get done, they’ll pause, and go, huh, I didn’t see that coming but (here’s the important part) it makes sense.

This principle isn’t something you should apply just to story elements, but should be in the very fiber of your work. Give it an intrinsic logic (even if the logic doesn’t make sense out of its unique world). Having rules is something many of us don’t think we need in our writing as we start out. We feel the impulse of the creative. We feel the muse might be muffled if we try to constrain her, so who are we to clip the wings of our ideas? They must fly high. However, you can wind up like Icarus, letting your thoughts remove you far from where you should be going, and you’ll wind up with your wings on fire with a one way ticket to the water. Unless you’re Aquaman, that’s not a good thing. And do you really want to be Aquaman? Think about that for a second.

So come back to earth. Terra firma awaits. Plant your feet firmly on a path and stick to it. While you’re walking along, constructing a story (or setting) like you should, make haste slowly. Consider permutations and paths. Analyze the structure. Consider what little domino you could kick over to throw the whole thing out of whack, and then you can focus your creative energies on that particular point. For example, in RunePunk, I knew early on I wanted some clockwork cyborg type of characters as a playable race. Certainly, variations on this theme have been done in various games before–nothing new there–but within the context of the game, it was evident early on that it made sense for this dystopian setting to provide this great power to individuals on the bottom of the rung. Who really wants to have their bodies embedded with machine parts? While it’s a cool idea for a character, is it something you really would volunteer for if you didn’t have any other options? The industries of Victorian Times were tough, and people, especially factory workers, were cogs in a machine, easily replaced. However, if you could make the people actual cogs, think how much smoother things would go? The limitations of technology in the setting, short on computing, found humans an easy, cheap commodity, and added in some of the mind-set of the era with child labor rampant, allowing parents to “contract their kids” was both macabre and contextually sensible. I’d hit upon something much deeper than if I merely created another machine warrior class. Agreed? This led to limiters on their power, because with tumultuous social upheavals, the Overwrought (a name derived from wrought iron and overworked, coupled with the literal meaning of the word) eventually did try to rise up, and they were put in their place by the upper classes, and their rebellion was never forgotten. Sound energy supplies were handicapped making the Overwrought true servants who could be shut down if they got too uppity again in the future.

This is an example of how my mind works, but you can see if you run along the rails long enough, things get fleshed out. Before considering everything, consider one thing. The one thing you consider certainly has the facility to behave in a hydra-like manner once things get going. It is not creativity which gets projects finished, after all. It is discipline. Creative ideas float about us daily. We have to have the wherewithal to know our limitations. File away interesting ideas and move forward with the task(s) at hand.

So my challenge for you is to focus on what you’re working on with care and discipline. Give it just enough of a shove to turn an idea askew, and you’ll find it throws everything out of whack which is a good thing. If there are no immediate answers to your dilemma, this typically means your hard work, your inspiration, and dedication to create something new. And new is a sort of wonderful, isn’t it? Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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