Monday, August 18, 2014

5 Things GenCon taught me about Writing

A friend of mine was kind enough to give me her ticket to GenCon Indy 2014, "the best four days in gaming," which I'd say earns it.  While I was there, I was reminded of what should be obvious, that these Sourcebooks have a unique publishing industry all their own, that the same writing skills you might need for that epic fantasy novel can apply just as well to the 3rd Edition of Mutants and Masterminds. I think it's a downfall of our creative writing education system that such opportunities never even get mentioned.  I only got a tiny glimpse into this world, and wish I'd had time for more.  I thought I'd share a few things I learned.

Some of what I learned was basic writerly things.  Don't overuse words2 or punctuation marks, and think about how they look when on the page.  Read your work aloud, especially if it's going to be read aloud in game.  And of course, get everything in on time.  Publishing
Pictured: Average Paizo, Inc. Freelancer
always has a lot of moving parts, a lot of people waiting on the one before them in the assembly line.  Getting your work to someone sooner makes it more likely they'll still be waiting next time.  After all, 

2. Publishing is a Relationship
An important part of a relationship is of course, communication.  It's important to be honest with your ability.  If you can't pump out 20,000 words in two weeks, your editors should know, rather than wait on you and shatter a schedule.3 Many writers will be afraid that by asking questions, seeking clarification or further instruction, they might be annoying, but, at least in Paizo, Inc.'s case, questions are good.  Far better to ask "How do people in the River Kingdoms feel about Cheliax?" early on than to structure a subplot around an incorrect assumption, and take advantage of the

3. "Distributed Memory"
At one of the panels James Sutter talked about how he's been spoiled working with the shared universe of Golarion.  With so many people building the world together, he doesn't have to keep track of all of it, he just has to keep track of who is best to ask about, say, Ustalav.4 This idea of "Distributed Memory," and the way fans will make wiki entries for everything, creates a safe, comfortable world to work in, but the gaps in the built world are all fertile, open territory.  However, the downside of "Distributed Memory" is that an editor might blindly trust that the writer did the fact-checking.  So,

4. Don't try to sneak anything past your editor.
If you want to write an epic chase across Molthune,5 but don't feel like bothering with the river?  Sure, you might be able to not mention it. Sure, maybe your editor won't notice, and it'll all get through.  But the fans will notice.  Fans can smell continuity errors like sharks can smell blood in the water, and that can ruin a writer.  It's the downside to "Distributed Memory."  If you forget something important, everyone will remember this horrible breach of trust.  Because, after all, 

5. Writing for Games is about Love and Trust
When I reviewed Adventures in Time and Space, I didn't talk nearly enough about how flawless the adventure paths that come with it are.  Because, well, they're flawless.  They're fun to read and fun to run. Full of personality and perfectly capturing the spirit6 of Doctor Who, they're probably some of the best adventure paths I've ever encountered.  I said as much to a man selling the books only to realize I was talking to Andrew Peregrine himself.7  It hit me that writing for games requires a full awareness of the way storytelling requires both writer and reader to create a world between them.  To write for an established universe, like Goalrion, the Whoniverse, etc, it's an invitation to the readers more than most books are, to enter a world of wonder and merriment.  It's a sacred duty, bound by trust and respect, to be the one to create these portals.  Which is a heavy task.

Many thanks to Christopher Carey, Judy Bauer, Ryan Macklin, Chris Jackson, Gabrielle Harbowy, Howard Andrew Jones and James Sutter for their excellent and informative panels. 

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