You got me. I’m a nerd. An incredibly geeky, RPG-playing nerd. And I love it. And it has a purpose. A grand, epic, life-advancing purpose.
I started really playing tabletop RPGs only a few months ago. Prior to that, I had only dipped my toe in a couple of times with games led by another friend of mine. And, to be honest, even then I felt stigmatized. (Interesting that I seem to gravitate to stigmas: nerd, indie-publishing, religion…). But it wasn’t until I discussed game mastering for our own campaign that i discovered the value of tabletop RPGs. Imagination.
I’ve always loved stories. My parents tell everyone that when I was three, I was enthralled by The Wizard of Oz, and that soon after I pushed to learn to read so I could find all my favorite shows in the TV Guide. I wrote poetry in third grade. I wrote shorts in middle and high school. I played video games for their stories only, and I’m basically an evangelist for whatever story has me currently hooked.
So imagine my joy to find that I could create an imaginary world for my friends to interact in. Infinite possibilities for characters, each with their own ambitions and desires. Protagonists that respond to the world that I’ve set up according to their own will, rather than following the rails of a complete story.
Needless to say, the hooks went deep.
After more than six months going through our campaign, the players are drawing closer to the end of Act 1 in this story. I’ve had to reevaluate, had to react to characters who didn’t respond the way I expected them to, had to build whole family trees of people and create a world where everyone wants something, and those wants create grand conflict and tense drama. And…I’ve learned a LOT about storytelling.
You see, at the end of the day, the story is really meant for the person who is experiencing it. People go on and on about the integrity of the art, telling the story as it should be, and ignoring what people want for the sake of being true to the tale the author wants to tell. But there’s a problem with that.
I started my world with an idea of where I wanted to take this story. I had planned for the players to fail at particular points, for people to die, all in service of this wonderfully-crafted tale I had concocted. Then, they stomped on my dreams. They beat me, took the story in a different way, and I worried about the story I had crafted.
But then I realized that their successes, their choice, made them far happier than me having the opportunity to tell my story. They were engaged, had a stake that was bigger than anything I could have prepared for them. I didn’t get my way, and that was awesome.
People read, watch, and play games because they want to acquire something. A fuzzy feeling. An intellectual challenge. Useful information. A statement about humanity. Engaging a story will always be a selfish endeavor.
And this is as it should be. Authors should always remember that storytelling is not about them; it’s about the audience.
A lot of indie-publishers don’t look for input before they make their stories go wide, and that’s a problem. They say, “I’ve written the story I want to tell, I don’t want someone telling me to change things.” And I say those people are stupid. Sorry guys, but you’re missing out.
You know those stories that have lasted throughout the ages and become legend? Beowulf? King Arthur? Batman? So many of these endure because they have had the benefit of many many people putting their own hearts and souls into their worlds. They’ve been edited, re-edited, revised, re-envisioned, interpreted, changed, stomped on, born again. And they are stronger for it.
Do you really think your story wouldn’t benefit from other eyes and minds before you try to make money off it? If so, you’re likely either a fool or incredibly arrogant (though the two aren’t mutually exclusive). Submit yourself to review, listen to input, and play around in the story with people you know and trust. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.
And give your imagination a little workout. I found RPGs to be a great workout…what’s yours?