Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Writing to Serve Five Masters

I don't know if this is endemic to RPG writing, or is idiosyncratic to how I'm writing Full Light, Full Steam, but it struck me as unique to this writing experience. When I write a segment -- especially in the setting half of the book -- I am writing towards a number of different goals, all at once. Say I'm writing, as I was at lunch today, the section for American territory on Mercury. This 500-word section must:

  • be engaging on its own merits
  • exemplify the tropes of the genre -- ingenuity, tenacity, and duty
  • express the setting in general -- steampunk space opera
  • detail the setting in specific -- Mercury
  • color the portrayal of a faction of people -- Americans
  • offer a plot seed that could be expanded into an adventure concept -- rampaging insectoid monsters
  • attempt to portray prosaically how the game could actually be played mechanically -- die rolls, thematic batteries, handing off narration, et al

Now, I picked up this style of writing RPGs from Tribe 8 (thank you, Hilary, thank you, Brand) and I really really like it, because it squeezes a whole lot of information into very little space. It really packs a punch due to its compressed nature. But god damn is it tough! The only other example I can think of that comes close to this multi-layered writing is mystery and suspense novels where there is a narrative of what appears to be happening and another, hidden narrative of what is actually happening, and there's a couple books actually in the canon that tinker with ambiguity in similar ways (Ulysses, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse 5).

Hopefully, the resulting product won't be too dense to be enjoyable like Ulysses -- I'm hoping for something closer to Catch-22, which is enjoyable to read even if you're not aware of all the elements interacting on first read. I also have this niggling fear that I'm going to exhaust all the potential stories of FLFS in the rulebook -- that latter one isn't very likely, but it haunts the back corners of my mind.


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