Monday, 5 November 2012

Overcoming Old Habits

I am the Warden!!

On Friday, I announced my involvement in a new gamebook for the upcoming solo RPG, Adventurer. Now that it's Monday, it's time to start figuring out how the hell I'm going to write this sum bitch.

A friend and frequent playtester of mine, Brandon Neff, emailed some tips and tricks he used for a similar project of his (SoloQuest published by Kenzer & Co.). His recommendations came in three parts, each as important as the last and suited to a dungeon crawl style gamebook.

Step 1: Build a map first, randomly numbering each room, intersection, and corridor.
Step 2: Take each number from your map and assign them a single line on a notebook, followed by connecting numbers that room/intersection/corridor came from or heads toward. For example, line 48 could read as 48 - 3 - 56 - 112.
Step 3: Start writing out each numbered section, pacing yourself out in a particular direction for six or seven choices at a time before winding back and picking up where you left off so as not to get too far ahead.

As I mentioned above, this process was intended for dungeon crawling gamebooks and the biggest issue with mine is that it's an outdoor, story-based sandbox gamebook. Considering Brandon's more experienced than me at the process, I'm not really in any position to be finicky, so I'll use what's been offered in generosity and figure out how best to use it.

Let's take a look at each of the three steps and re-analize them, shall we?

Building A Map

Forgoing the technical and literal use of the word "map," this first step remains crucial to making this gamebook work and stay focused throughout the writing process. While there may not be many rooms, intersections, and corridors, there are numerous choices, reactions, and retaliations to coordinate. This book still needs a map - a story map.

Just like a dungeon, it all starts at number 1. In this case, the introduction. "You are walking through the woods and discover..." whatever's needed to get the ball rolling and put the adventurer in their first key choice. That choices leads in two possible directions, which lead to more and leads to more in an expanding web. Like a web, there have to be edges and boundaries keeping the web's shape and stability or else it would simply collapse into a useless mess.

More importantly, there will be passages and choices available to multiple segments, such as the adventurer's death. We can think of these are the staircases of the story, interconnecting special areas of the theoretical dungeon and allowing passage from one area to another. Finally, seeing as each passage and resulting choice requires a number, drawing out a story map is near demanded to become successful.

It's times like this I'm thankful for the gigantic bulletin board that came with the house.

Single Line Entries

This one seems hand-in-hand with the story map unless it's combined with the story map and simultaneously breaks the dungeon map comparison. Unlike a dungeon, you can't just build the map first and fill in your story afterwards; you need to know what's going on in that room before you finish building it. This is the part I'm expecting the most trouble with and the irony is another project I'm performing in a time crunched parallel: NaNoWriMo.

In my quest to write a 50,000 word novel within a month, I'm still trying to figure out what the plot will be and that's how I prefer to write. I'd rather know who's involved and simply toss them into a starting point to see where it takes me. I should correct that. I do know where I'm going with it now that the first chapter's under way, but I didn't when it started. That's what I'm comfortable with and it applies to many things I've written over the years. Published adventures included. I know where it starts, who's involved, and where they get the ball rolling, but never how it's going to reach the end.

That's not entirely feasible in a project like this, at least not now for my first effort with a deadline to complete. I need to play this one a little closer to the book. The biggest risk of roughing it the entire way is getting sidetracked and building a book far too large for its own good. Using this notebook style could be very helpful in setting down the plot and leave me free to embellish particular details and alter my map accordingly. Probably best to keep the map and notebook in pencil, I'd wager.

Writing in Segments

Tempting as it would be to go it one choice at a time and carry on until it reaches a natural conclusion, we're right back at the same risks for winging a project like this: size and deadline. This one's pretty much a given and it's one of those no-brainers that's only a no-brainer as soon as someone points it out. Would I have thought about it on my own? I guess we'll never know.

Week One's Objectives

Starting tomorrow, it's time to start cracking on this mother. Clear off the bulletin board (it's probably good to start clearing at least some of the Killshot stuff from the board), grab a stack of blank paper, and build a story map. Correction: research comes first. Play some gamebooks and re-read the Adventurer rules, equipment, and spells, then build a story map. From there, I can break down a weekly schedule for the remaining seven weeks (not including the Christmas holidays) and start writing by next week.

When I have a complete story map, I'll be sure to post it on the blog. Until then, stay tuned.