So many indie authors get their start writing on creative writing role playing forums. Whether it’s fan fic or a gaming system adapted for online creative writing, creating characters and bringing them to life on a daily basis is what sparks the flame for a lot of writers. You may be one of those gamers who everyone wants to write with. The one people actively seek out to do a scene or two. People tell you, “You should be writing a book!”
Maybe so and it’s a good thing, but there’s a long road between gaming and writing a coherent story for the masses.
Wendi and I learned this over the last four years as we’ve developed and published our Bonds of Blood & Spirit saga.
The year was 1998 when I was first introduced to play by post online. It was a Yahoo! group. I created a werewolf character and started writing. The game and storyline (if one actually existed) were rather rough around the edges. There was direction, but at the same time, none at all. The loose story rambled on and on forever. As I learned more about the web (and got increasingly frustrated with the politics of gaming with boards that weren’t run by me), I struck out on my own and for the next ten years ran three very successful creative writing games.
Along the way, I met some very talented writers, including our very own Wendi Kelly—and you all know what happened with that. Our partnership gave rise to the Bonds of Blood & Spirit saga, four full length novels with characters we just HAD to share with the world.
The Pros and Cons
When it comes to transitioning from gamer to author, I won’t kid you, it’s not as easy as it looks. For as good as we were, we had also developed a lot of bad habits and ways of writing a story that seriously did not work at all when it came to writing a novel. Here are a few of those pros and cons we’ve discovered:
- You will write EVERY DAY. Yes, you will. For hours when the game is good and you’re in a scene you just can’t leave, even if it’s 4 am and you have to go to work in less than three hours.
- You will learn how to think fast. Gaming (role playing) is a form of improvisation. On creative writing boards, you still have time to think about your responses, but you still have to react fast, keep the dialogue engaging (if you want people to keep playing with you!) and stick to the current plot while doing your part to move it along all at the same time.
- You will learn teamwork. If you don’t like writing alone, you’ll learn how best to work with other writers in a collaborative atmosphere. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll end up with a partnership like what Wendi and I have.
- You will inspire and be inspired. The constant flow of new ideas, the turn of a phrase, character concepts, a wicked twist in the plot by your favorite players or a devious game master will light your creative fires.
- Character development. Face it, when you’re writing, living and breathing your characters each and every day, they GROW. And you grow. You will push that character to their limits and beyond. You will add depth to that character without realizing it, giving them a history beyond the initial background and prelude.
- Bad habits galore. Writing on a gaming board you’re not concerned with editors or the masses reading your posts in print. Not everyone knows the mechanics of proper spelling or grammar. What looks right may not necessarily be right.
- Lack of true plot. Games like these are divided up into campaigns. Game masters devise a plan of action for the players, they set the ground rules for the “universe” in which they live and everyone reacts or takes action within those predefined boundaries. Not so different from a novel so far, right? Here’s where it deviates; there is no real story structure. GMs (Game Masters) have a rough idea where they want the players to go, but as a famous tactician once said, plans never survive the first line of contact. Each player has a mind of their own, and so does each GM. It’s a constant push and pull between the two as they try to outwit, outplay and outlast one another. This kind of thing doesn’t fly well in a novel. You need a beginning, a kick ass middle and an end. On a board, the Game never ends. It just keeps going and far too many gamers turned writers get used to this floating along and have a hard time settling down with specifics.
- Head hopping. In most games it’s standard you write in third person. That’s fine. Most novels are written like that too. The only problem is you’re writing with dozens of other people doing the same thing and you are only allowed to react and respond for your character. Including an action or dialogue for another person’s character is a mega gaming sin. This was one of the most difficult challenges for Wendi and I to overcome. We had to let go and trust the other to handle any character at any given time. Until we figured that out, the rough drafts were extremely choppy, each paragraph jumping from one character’s head to the other. We’ve since gotten so good at making smooth transitions between characters we can’t tell anymore who wrote what. Creating a novel is more than just copy/pasting your gaming exploits into a Word doc. You’ll need a lot of refinement and work.
- Fan Fiction and Copyrights. Remember, above all else, the universe you game in is not your own. Chances are your GMs are using an already established system or basing it on a pop culture movie or TV series. You and the GMs do not own these ideas. Amazon has instituted a means for fan fic writers to publish their works with the permission and licenses of the creators. Games like the White Wolf system on the other hand, will smack you down hard if you so much as think about using their ideas from their games in your work. Authors (like Anne Rice and ourselves) while flattered that fans love our character so much, don’t want fans destroying the integrity of our characters by putting them into situations we wouldn’t approve of. Plus, there’s the rights of all the other participants on the board. Technically, unless otherwise stated by the board’s rules, those characters belong to each individual player. You can’t just take them and use them in your own novel. In some cases, not even the admins of those boards will allow you to keep your own characters for your own personal work. So, if you’re on a board or thinking of joining one with plans for writing that beloved character on your own later on, read the fine print.
- No filter. When playing on a forum you think in individual little scenes you’d like to do with other players. Sometimes they move the plot along, sometimes they don’t. You can be as self-indulgent as you like for as long as you like. In a novel, every section, every chapter, every paragraph, sentence and word is carefully thought out to move the plot along. You have to have a filter or else your story will just end up a string of scenes that never go anywhere.
Overall, creative writing forums are fun and a great way for dipping your toes in the waters of writing and maybe even find a lifelong writing partner while you’re at it. You’ll get in the habit of writing, you’ll collaborate, you’ll build characters and worlds. But…there comes a time when you’ll want to stop spinning your wheels, create something of your own and leave your mark on the world. One day you’ll get the bug to strike out on your own, and when you do, we’ll be right here to help you out.