Tomorrow Oblivion, Today the World
As you may well know, I’ve been living and breathing Echo of Dead Leaves even as Agents of Oblivion wends ever closer to its release. Having done a lot of background and research already and working from a strong outline, I’ve made some truly rapid progress on the Echo front. I’ll need to come back and refine some stuff, granted, but I want to tell you about a few lessons learned today to help you avoid those rocks I mentioned yesterday.
With the amount of research I do, you might find it odd when I tell you to not get hung up details. This is important and something particularly worth beating into your head with a hammer (may I suggest a rubber mallet so you don’t destroy your word making machine?) You do your research and you have all these wonderful facts spread out before you just like Gatsby’s shirts strewn across a table. Don’t allow yourself to be mesmerized like Daisy was when she said “They’re such beautiful shirts. It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such–such beautiful shirts before.” You have to do something with them. Grab one and go. Make sure it at least kinda matches, but don’t get hung up at staring at yourself in the mirror. You want people to see how you look in the shirt? Get out there and make the magic happen. I’ve worn wondrous shirts and been in a foul mood and wasn’t much fun around and I’ve worn ragged t-shirts with weird little skulls on them and been in fine, festive spirits and had a wonderful time cavorting. You too can cavort. But you have to get out there to do so.
So, getting to the meat of the matter, let me clarify what I mean when I say don’t get hung up detail for how can you avoid the rocks threatening to ravage the underbelly of your fine ship and destroy your forward momentum. What you do is consider the path. Be a Zen Master and let everything fall away but the now. Let’s address plot points in particular. The kernel of the idea for Echo developed over a few days. I wanted it to be 12 Monkeys meets the Da Vinci Code. This was my guideline though, in typical fashion, it found its own path and rhythm. I expected it to. Do I really want to rewrite those things and if I did, would those best be suited for Savage Worlds? Of course not, but it gave me a general bearing and reminded me of the sense I wanted to evoke. I wanted some disparate pieces of information, some fine bits of puzzlement, and I wanted it to feel wondrous and powerful and strange. Dealing with the Mythos, whether it be in the 1920’s or the 2190’s needs to have, at its core the essence of mystery and bewilderment for its target audience, the 21st century gamer, yet it needs to be presented in a form and fashion wherein the Savage Keeper can integrate it into his style of play. So what do I do?
I take this outline and I write a goodly bit of back story, connective tissue if you will, that let’s me, in my role of designer, create a compelling series of interlocked tales which, when put together, creates a cohesive whole. I do this, but you saw where I mentioned whole just a moment ago? Well, when my outline was finished, I saw I had a few holes, certain elements in need of filling in. Elements which my preliminary brainstorming had not quite figured out which I knew could be puzzled out organically once I had the story (read plot) underway. Could I have made it my goal to go ahead and figure out what needed to go where? Certainly. Is it possible things would invariably change along the way making my initial efforts a colossal waste of time? Likely. This isn’t my first rodeo and I know in the past when I felt under the gun to fill in holes along the way only to have to return to them later when they became bumps in the road and was required to smooth them out.
Let me take a step back away from the specific of the plot point and give you the view writ large. Whatever you are working on, be it haiku or short story or novel or plot point or an adventure or script or video game or any other piece of media with some sort of story line in it, take this simple advice: get on with it. You have a story about a keg and a dragon? Cool. You want the characters to have to get the keg to the dragon? Sure. Sounds like fun. It certainly sounds different. How do you get the characters from Point A to Point Z or, better yet, how do you set it up where they’ll do this all by themselves? Don’t get hung up on the minutiae. It certainly doesn’t matter for the purposes of our story (at least on first pass) whether it’s an Elder Red Dragon or a Young Copper Dragon. Does it? Let the characters unfold why the dragon needs the kegs and let them figure out how to get the kegs to him. Throw in some complications. Well, those kegs are missing. Throw in another. Getting more kegs is going to take some months as they are from “far away”. Far away, again, being something which doesn’t matter at first blush and can be figured out during development. Make the audience (in this case, the players) care. What happens if the whiny dragon doesn’t get his keg? Oh, he doesn’t guard the pass, so, oh, the pass keeps the evil baddies away? Well, if we’re fantasy heroes, that’s more than enough reason, now isn’t it?
The point I’m beating into your head (or you should be, if you have your rubber mallet handy) is the art of the outline differs more than subtly from the act of execution. Most any plan can look on paper, but when it comes into contact with people, it can (and usually does) change. An outline is nothing more than a game plan. Your game plan. When you’re on the field of battle, you may have been told to sweep right and flank the enemy, but the field commander didn’t know there were archers over the rise and making the flanking maneuver is going to result in certain death. Drop prone. Sweep further right. Mow down those archers. Give it all you got. And then give it more. I want to see you sweat blood as you crank out the words from deep in your wordy recesses and make something I want to read, something I want to play. If you’re still trying to perfect your game plan, that’s not gonna happen.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!