Monday, February 22, 2010

Inspiration and Cliche

Everyone wants to tell a story when they are running a game or writing a story. The second one there is a bit obvious, but well, please forgive me pointing out the obvious just this once (or everytime, that would be awesome). However, there comes a point in every story where you hit a snag. You know how Scene B is supposed to go, or at least be set up, and you know how Scene E and F are supposed to go or be set up, but Scenes C and D? No clue. So what do you do then?

First off, you need to recognize that right there. Everything is cliche, everything has been done already when it comes to stories. Humanity has been telling tales for literally thousands of years, and while the power of human imagination is great the fact is that there are only so many experiences that make stories people want to tell, and at their basic (and sometimes not so basic) levels everything has been done already. So, why are you worried about it? If everything is cliche, you don't need to worry about using a cliche to get from point B to D. Don't worry that it is cliche, worry about how to make the execution of the cliche interesting.

Kidnap a princess, sure it's been done, but you can make it interesting. Maybe the princess isn't kidnapped because she's a princess, but because if she kisses someone on her 18th birthday the world will shatter, killing hundreds of thousands of people. That may not be the best example, but it makes things more interesting. Throw some twists on it, hide them well, and even though it is cliche people will find it enjoyable. A well told story will generally outperform a more unique one, and considering there really aren't any unique stories left to tell anymore you want your story to be interesting.

So as I've said like eight times now, don't worry about the cliches. Just try to make your execution of them interesting, and use them to help fill in the gaps in your stories where you can.

Inspiration is Key
I don't know about you, but I've done a small amount of looking around in guides for people who want to be writers, want to be game designers, and that sort of thing. In every case there is one piece of advice that is always the same and I may as well use it here. Essentially, if you want to tell better stories you need to read/watch other stories. In advice for writing books they say to read books, for writing comics they say read comics, for TV shows they say watch TV shows, and for making RPGs they say play/read other RPGs. Sometimes they say to do the other stuff as well, and that is what I think the best advice is. If you want to tell stories, you need to experience stories.

TV shows where there is an over-arching plot can be a great help for GMing, because they dole out the plot in an episodic format. Once a week you get an hour of story that tells a piece of the plot. Sound familiar? Because for most gaming groups, once a week you meet for four hours for a piece of the story. Comics can do the exact same thing, breaking up larger stories into issues that come out monthly.

The fact is, if you look around there are examples of stories all around you. The web comics you read, the TV shows and movies you watch, stories are everywhere. So use it. If you are running a game, or telling a story, about teen-aged super heroes, you should watch shows and read comics about teen aged superheroes. This simultaneously gives you examples of the sort of things that you may have to deal with in your story, while also showing you what has been done. From that you can see what you like, what you may want to use, and what you definitely don't want to. Don't outright steal things, but take inspiration from them.

If you want to spice up the action sequences in your game or story, watch and read the action in other things. What happens that makes it so exciting? How can you convey that in your own work? The mind is a wonderful thing, and watching other stories will give you ideas for your own. Twists on concepts shown to you that seem to just reach out and grab you, but the fact is if you don't go out looking for stories to experience, if you aren't constantly watching for them, you only have your own brain and experiences to work off of, for everything even ideas. This is something that will lead to stagnation if left alone, so really you owe it to yourself to go out and watch/read all the stories you can. Not only is it entertaining, but it will help you with your own craft as well.

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