An audience arrives with basic expectations about your work, whether it’s the role of the main characters or the operation of the world. If you violate those expectations during critical points in the story, they’ll be unhappy with you.
A lot of storytellers struggle to find the perfect ending. If you’re one of them, rest assured that even if the world ends, you can satisfy your audience. Just don’t use any of the endings listed here, or your fans might riot. Read more »
In the film version of The Return of the King, Gollum falls into the lava and slowly sinks. But as it turns out, lava is much too heavy for people to sink into. Gollum should have remained on the surface and burst into flame instead. A science columnist made a point of this inaccuracy. Read more »
Oren, Mike, and Chris discuss how to do post-apocalyptic roleplaying games, how not to do them, and how really not to do them. They talk about cultural influences on post-apocalyptic settings, player expectations, and how game masters should prepare for running this kind of campaign. … read more »
Meeting expectations doesn’t mean you can’t turn conventions on their head. Make your story stand out by contrasting it with similar works.
Stereotypes are deeply embedded in our culture. They permeate every aspect of our communication with one another: journalism, lyrics, movies, casual conversation… you name it. It doesn’t take long before they wiggle their way into our minds, and from there they sneak into our stories. Read more »
Discworld is an expansive fantasy series created by Terry Pratchett. It features a flat, disc-shaped world (who would have guessed) resting upon the backs of four enormous elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle, the Great A’Tuin. It’s made up of multiple series … read more »
Oren, Chris, and Mike talk about breaking conventions in stories. They discuss works that offer delightful surprises to their audience, and contrast them with works that simply fail expectations. They also talk about Star Trek. A lot. Read more »
Whatever you do, think it out ahead of time. If you add things to your world because they’re convenient in the moment, your universe will slowly fall apart. Then your audience will know you didn’t do your homework.
There’s a lot of words in that title, so let’s parse some of this down. ‘Multimedia’ here refers to stories that are large enough to exist across multiple platforms, such as film, television, books, comics, video games, and so on. Star Wars, Mass Effect, and … read more »
Magic is a cornerstone of fantasy. A good place to start when creating a magic system is to ask yourself some questions about how the magic works. Knowing the answers to the following questions is integral to building a cohesive world. P.S. Our bills are … read more »
Star Trek is a franchise that I have, shall we say, a mild affinity for. It’s known for portraying a positive future for the human race, alien extras in funny makeup, and wondrous technology based in actual science. Okay, maybe based a little in actual … read more »
There are few things more disastrous for a story than confusion. Worse than simply disliking your story, your audience won’t be able to experience it at all.
Your writing will immerse your readers in another reality. That’s a lot power in your hands. While you could use this power to create meaningful experiences for them, consider messing with their heads instead. By subtly twisting the way you describe objects and places, you can … read more »
Mystery is one of the most common types of roleplaying game sessions, especially for games that have moved out of the dungeon. They provide both a direction and objective for players: solve the mystery! Mysteries come preloaded with suspense and the subversion of expectations, plus … read more »
If your story takes place in another world, none of your characters are really speaking English. They aren’t telling stories or recording history in English; they’re doing it in the language you invented for them. An English language book describing their journey is clearly an anachronism. Read more »
Another issue that plagues many stories is chronic conflict deficiency. Once the story ventures too far into wish-fulfillment, there may not be enough challenges to keep it interesting.
Creating a spec fic character isn’t always like creating characters in other genres. One of the unique challenges we face is preventing our characters from becoming too powerful – and dealing with them when they do. But what exactly is too powerful? Read more »
I invoke the terrible memories of Team Rocket because they are the most extreme example of something that pervades a lot of other stories: recurring villains who simply lose their potency as time goes on. This can ruin an otherwise great story. Read more »
Oren, Chris, and Mike discuss utopias, dystopias, and their use in storytelling and worldbuilding. They question what’s required to create a utopia or dystopia, and debate whether utopian settings can work for stories. Featuring Dinotopia, Star Trek, and Grimdark. Read more »
Luckily, there are many cures for conflict deficiency. Do yourself a favor, and preemptively build numerous conflict hooks into your story and your world.
Are sections of your story dragging? It’s easy to say you should cut them out, but in reality, it’s difficult. Your slow points could form the foundation for your entire plot. Luckily, there’s an alternative: let conflict come to the rescue. Conflict is what makes … read more »
One of the more frustrating habits a roleplayer can have is metagaming too much. The frequent metagamer can alienate the game master and other players if they start to feel that the metagamer is so concerned with winning that they are no longer playing in … read more »
While powerful spells and gadgets are fun to imagine, they can do serious harm to a story. Once you add a transporter or summon giant eagles, it becomes too easy for the protagonists to overcome challenges. Luckily, there are many ways to reduce the impact of … read more »
A satisfying story is shaped by the characters in it. Give your protagonist difficult and important decisions to make, then let them use their skills and ingenuity to save the day.
It’s pointless to debate whether plot or characters are more important. They are both essential, and they work together to create the story. Unfortunately, they don’t always work well together. More than a few storytellers have planned their plot to the end, only realizing once … read more »
The party leader is the Captain Kirk, Malcom Reynolds, or Gandalf (maybe Aragorn, depending on when you are in the wizard resurrection cycle) of your group. They are at least nominally in charge and the one who provides direction. They often end up making decisions … read more »
The best part of running a roleplaying campaign is using the crazy ideas your players think up. The hardest part of running a roleplaying campaign is using the crazy ideas your players think up. These crazy ideas may not always be great, but you’re supposed … read more »
Stories become much stronger when both the storyteller and the audience identify with the main character. Use the outlook of your protagonist to set the tone of the story, and never break character for the sake of your plot.
There are few things that make roleplaying games more enjoyable than playing a part. Even if the GM is railroading you through the Oregon Trail, fun character interactions can save the day. Unfortunately, getting into character can be an elusive target. If you have lots of … read more »
Some days you can’t get beyond the game part of a roleplaying game. You have a clever story, your NPCs are unique and engaging, and your players are even excited about the PCs they’ve made, but they’re just not getting into character. Instead, all the … read more »
The internet abounds with exercises to help storytellers develop their characters. These steps are all helpful, but none of them are irreplaceable. What’s important is the end result. But what does that endpoint look like? Here are five signs that you’ve arrived. Read more »
Don’t let your story become a two-headed dragon trying to run in opposing directions. Keep all of the elements tightly related to one another. Your story will be stronger for it.
You’ve finally finished the draft of your magnum opus. You’ve developed engaging characters and placed them in a vibrant setting. You’ve filled each scene with conflict, tension, and chocolate. But something’s wrong. The friends who’ve read it tell you that while each scene is entertaining, the … read more »
Many storytellers enjoy looking through the lens of more than one character. In speculative fiction, multiple viewpoint characters are often used to show different places in the world, or illustrate a conflict that is epic in scale. Unless the story involves a device that is … read more »
Good roleplaying campaigns get the creative juices flowing for both GMs and players. So it’s no surprise that many people want to make written stories out of their best moments of tabletop. But roleplaying and writing are mediums with very important differences. If you’re looking … read more »
Neglecting basic geography will make your work feel sloppy and contrived, whereas putting extra thought into your story and setting can create a deeper, more immersive experience.
An important part of revising any story is looking at each event and asking yourself how it can be more effective. If you think any of your conflicts are feeling “blah” or your emotional moments are falling flat, use this checklist to make them pack more punch. Read more »
Creating your own language probably brings to mind Tolkien’s Elvish languages or Marc Okrand’s Klingon. Most of us, though, aren’t scholars and linguists like Tolkien and Okrand. Don’t worry. You don’t need to be to add some linguistic depth to your worldbuilding. Creating a relatively simple naming language can do the trick. Read more »
Forests, tundras, deserts and plains don’t appear arbitrarily. These biomes are located where they are on Earth due to the way air and water circulate in the atmosphere – and any Earth-like world should follow the same basic rules for its atmosphere that Earth does. Read more »
There’s lots of work to do, but time is precious. Save it where you can.
Making a new character that you find fun to roleplay can be a lengthy process for many players. You want to have an interesting personality, a backstory to give a hook for adventuring, and something that helps you stand out from the stereotype of your … read more »
Worldbuilding is a time-consuming process. There’s all of those governments to decide on, flora and fauna to develop, architecture to design… and when you have to do it for planet after planet in your spacefaring adventure, well, who has the time? Certainly not the writers … read more »
Speculative fiction readers are interested in different things. Some of them are passionate about characters, some want to explore new worlds, and others look for a riveting plot. It’s easy to make any of these elements memorable if you throw enough words at them. While … read more »