Monday, September 30, 2013

What Actually Makes A Story?

One of my friends, and players, has a new series on Youtube where he investigates videogames to determine if, academically speaking, they count as literature or not. It is an interesting discussion to have, and it is definitely worth having. However, it also gets me to thinking just what exactly constitutes a setting? This can be particularly important because as role playing gamers we are, in many ways, in the business of telling stories. So, today, let's talk about story telling and what goes in to telling a tale.

At The Most Basic...
At the most basic a story is just a sequence of events. I do mean just as well. Any sequence of events can tell a story. Maybe not a good one. The story of how I get to work everyday isn't very entertaining, but it is a story.  Because of this almost every game session we have is a story. There is a sequence of events happen, and how those events are interpreted or told tells the story of that game session. Of course, what this means is that there can in fact be multiple stories every session depending on how you want to cut it down.

But We Want Plot
For the most part though when someone says story what they mean is plot. A plot is like a story, in that there is a sequence of events, but with a plot there is also an objective and the sequence of events involve over coming challenges towards obtaining that objective. In general most game sessions have these as well, as do most adventures. The players are given an objective and the adventure is made up of obstacles in the path of  achieving that objective.

This is where a lot of players come up with the stories for their characters that they share. The over coming of obstacles towards the objectives they have in mind for their characters. This can be something small, such as the accomplishment of a small adventure, or it can be the culmination of a multi-year campaign.

So What Was The About Literature?
I started this post talking about literature and what constitutes it. Now, setting isn't something I intend to go into here, but there is one other thing beyond plot that a truly good story needs and that is character development.

How do you get character development? Well, as a GM you can't really force or make it happen. All you can really do is provide opportunity for it to happen. How do you do that? You challenge your PCs. Now, by challenge I don't mean you put obstacles in front of them - though that is part of it - but rather you have to challenge their view points on things, or make them define their view points on things.

For example, in Shadowrun it is good to know if a character will use non-lethal methods or lethal methods while out on runs. Etiquette says to use non-lethal means because it just makes a mess and makes a professional gig personal when someone's BFF takes a round to the chest and dies. However, if you do establish that one of your PCs uses non-lethal means than it can be fun to see what will cause them to switch over. On what jobs do they load in the real bullets? What makes them go for the throat?

Then, once you have that you can keep pushing and challenging. What if you throw something else into the mix what happens? What if you throw a reason for why the "bad guys" start with lethal and it is a good reason? What if it is a bad reason?

Basically, you find the cores of your PC's belief systems and then take a hammer to those cores and see if they hold up or break. And if they break, what is holding the weight?

In The End You Choose Your Own Level
In the end you choose your own level for the story. Sometimes it is good to just have a simple sequence of events. Sometimes you want the plot to shine too. Others, you want to go full on and see what you can do to prompt the PCs to grow and thrive or wilt and wither?

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