Collaborative Storytelling

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I’ve been playing Dungeon and Dragons every other week with some friends for a couple years now.  And recently, I was reading back through some fanfic that I wrote with a friend, and it got me thinking about collaborative storytelling.

I’ve actually been collaboratively telling stories since I was a kid.  That was one of the ways my best friend and I played.  We’d act out stories with various stuffed animals, plastic figures, or other toys.  It usually worked in a way where we each had one (or several) characters that we ours, and we talked through what was happening and who was saying what.  And that’s basically what table top roleplaying games are, except there are dice and rules for resolving combat and other contested interactions.

I’ve realized that’s how I did my collaboration with a writer friend several years ago as well.  She liked a magical power I’d given someone in my own fanfic and wanted to use a character with that ability in hers.  So instead of her borrowing the idea with my permission, I came up with a couple characters and we wrote the scenes together.

It was a ton of fun to sit around her living room trading documents back and forth (this was before Google Docs had really taken off…) and working through the scene together.  It’s the kind of collaborative storytelling my RPG group tends to engage in.  We’re all coming up with ideas and taking turns and steering the story in various directions.  It’s the kind of collaborative storytelling I most enjoy.

There are a lot of opportunities out there for this kind of collaboration.  From table top RPGs to text-based online RPGs to working with a real human being on a story.  I think I’d like to continue making time in my life for this sort of collaboration.  How about you?  Do you like participating in collaborative storytelling?  Where do you do yours?

Collective Story Telling

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I’ve talked about my very first role-playing group on the blog before and how important they have been to my writing journey.  I have a group of friends, most of them fellow fiction writers, who I play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) with every other week.  We’ve been playing for a couple years now.  We all met through NaNoWriMo, and the woman who wanted to try out being a DM (that’s a Dungeon Master, who runs the game) mentioned at a write-in that she had trouble finding players.  Most of the write-in attendees were interested, and some of us brought a friend or spouse, so that’s how the original group got started.  It was nine players originally, which was way too large, especially for two or two and a half hour sessions on a weeknight.

She broke us into two groups and we went off in different directions in search of answers to the same mystery.  She brought us all back together for an epic battle at the end on a Saturday afternoon.  Over all it was an incredibly fun game.  She ran another game with a smaller total number of players (max 6) so my husband and I volunteered to step back and not play that one.  Partially because I couldn’t play every week, and I liked the Adventure Guild idea we were talking about for off-weeks better.

Adventure Guild has been very fun.  We’re all taking turns being the DM and we’re developing the world as we go along.  We decided the original characters from the first adventure she ran, would be the founders of the guild and the current guild master was the protégé of our original ranger, which explains why he’s so deadpan as well as why he sometimes just doesn’t care and sends us off into horribly dangerous things.

I’ve taken a bit of a leading role in instigating and planning for Adventure Guild.  I made the original two primary NPCs for the guild (the guild master and a sort of den mother type who runs the tavern part).  I’ve picked out what city it’s in and where we are (we’re very loosely based in the Forgotten Realms universe).  At some point before our next session I’m going to come up with a good name for the guild.

What I like best about role-playing games with friends, and our Adventure Guild campaign in particular, is that it’s a form of collective storytelling.  I get to tell the story of my character.  The DM gets to build a story around the player characters and we all collectively get to build the story that unfolds.  Sometimes players will do what the DM expects, and sometimes not.  When they don’t do what I expect is sometimes the most fun for me as a DM.

This kind of collective storytelling can be very helpful for me as a writer.  I can see where someone else reacts differently to the situation in front of us.  I can put players into a situation similar to one in a book I’m working on and see what happens.  It’s just as fun for me as a player, when I’m trying to really inhabit the character I’ve built and react as he/she/they would react, rather than how I would.

My particular group laughs a lot while we play.  Ridiculous things happen and sometimes it’s just too funny.  We also have a great time being together and enjoying the game together.  It’s something I’ve really come to value over the past couple years.  I missed having a group that got together regularly for some form of gaming or socializing, and this has given me that social space again.

When I don’t have social interaction with someone (work colleagues, friends, even just cashiers while running errands) I can get a little weird and it tends to dry up my ability to write.  Making sure I have that social time is important, for my writing and my mental health.  Being able to incorporate it into my writing by practicing collective storytelling just makes it that much more useful.

I’d love to hear about how others incorporate their social activities into their writing life, whether it’s as directly as I do through role-playing games, or more indirectly.  Where does your energy to create come from?  Is it all internal, or is some of yours external like mine?

Storytelling

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I was browsing through my list of blog post ideas and suggestions today and came across one that suggested writing about the first piece you ever wrote.  I find this idea very interesting partially because I have trouble defining what that first piece was.  Is it my first novel-length work?  The first story I wrote after I knew I wanted to be an author one day?  The first story I ever wrote down?  Or is it the first story I ever told?

Obviously those are all different things for me, which is why I have fun thinking through this question.  We’ll go backward chronologically and maybe you can help me decide which one is truly my first piece.

My first novel-length work was written between my sophomore and junior years of high school.  I was sixteen.  I spent a lot of time talking through it with my best friend at the time and all the characters were based on friends in my role playing group.  They weren’t very faithfully based, and the characters all changed and grew over the writing of the novel, but they were supposed to be based on my friends at any rate.  This was the creation of Alimonhal, which I’ve talked about on the blog before.

That first novel was a lot of other firsts for me.  It was the first time I tried to do extensive world building that I actually wrote down (there were maps and files full of explanations and everything).  It was the first time I felt confident enough in my personal (ie not done specifically for school) writing that I showed it to a teacher.  It was the first “public” reading I even did when during my senior year my creative writing (and AP English) teacher asked me to read the first chapter to the creative writing class as an example of a good hook for the reader.  (Yes, I’m still super proud of that praise.)  It was the first novel I ever entered into a contest (a national contest for high school writers that I did not win).  This was a very important part of my writing journey, but I don’t think I’d call it my first piece.

The first thing I wrote after I realized I wanted to be an author was a school assignment.  And it might be more correct to say that this was the piece I wrote that made me realize I wanted to be a writer.  The assignment was to take a picture the instructor put up on the overhead (yes, I’m old enough to remember overhead projectors in schools) and write a story about it.  It was a picture of a big, leafy, tree.  It made me think of tree climbing and treehouses, so I wrote a story about sisters (I think they might have been triplets?) who stayed too long in their tree house and got stuck when a pack of wolves showed up at the base of the tree.  Their parents came and rescued them of course and there was a happy ending.  I was in sixth grade.  I don’t know what about that made me realize I wanted to tell stories my whole life, but that was the moment when the goal of being an author really coalesced for me.  I wish I still had this somewhere.  I know I typed it up, and at some point I probably had it backed up, but it’s likely on a three-and-a-half-inch floppy disk, and I know I don’t have a drive that can read those anymore, let alone a program that would recognize the file.

The first story I ever wrote down was probably also a school assignment.  I don’t actually remember most of the school assigned stories I’ve written, but I know there are some illustrated stories from my early elementary school days.  My mother still has them in a box somewhere.  If I ever find them, I might actually post them just to show that from small beginnings we can come so very far.

Whichever of those counts as my first piece, none of them are my first story.  I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember.  One of the very first was probably the one about the family of mice that lived in my bellybutton.  Yes, I know how weird that sounds, and in my defense, I was about three or four at the time.  Apparently, I was very concerned with drying my bellybutton after baths, and that’s the story I told my mother to explain why.  This is probably proof that I’ve always been this weird, but I’m proud of the weirdness now, so I’m okay with that.

My storytelling didn’t stop there.  I acted out stories with my stuffed animals and then with Barbies and various other figures.  Later on, this turned into telling stories with my friends.  We’d create elaborate situations for our toys and we’d act out how they resolved them.  Sometimes the characters were just people (Barbie and friends), sometimes not.  There was a long stretch when everyone was an animal.  First it was plush dogs from 101 Dalmatians, then it was plastic figures from Aladdin and later The Lion King.  (Disney is a key feature in the childhood of most children who grew up in the US during the 1980s and 1990s.)

As I grew older and the figures and toys became less important, I would talk through my stories out loud.  I’d have whole conversations (yes, I talked to myself a lot as a kid).  I’d imagine situations for my characters and they’d talk about them and experience them and talk some more.  I don’t think it ever occurred to me to write any of my stories down until that assignment in sixth grade.  And I think this has helped me as an author.  I have a great memory for characters and plots, developed from years of keeping them all in my head.  I also to this day talk through my dialog out loud.  I thing it greatly improves my dialog and makes it sound more realistic and less stilted.  Sometimes I’ll talk through a conversation two characters will be having five or twelve times before I ever write it down.

Whatever my first piece was, I’m glad that I wrote it and I’m glad that people encouraged me to keep writing more.  I believe that everyone has a story to tell and that everyone should have the space to tell it.

(The image on this post was created from stock photos.)

The Joys of Group Storytelling

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I’ve had the great good fortune this year to find a group of local friends interested in playing pen and paper roleplaying games (RPGs).  I’ve talked about my first RPG group on the blog before.  They were a driving force in my development as a writer and storyteller.  This new group is largely made up of fellow writers, so it’s a wonderful group to roleplay with.

Before I get too far into this, a quick not about the acronyms I’m using.  We’re playing Dungeons & Dragons (DnD), and that means that we’re being guided through our adventure by the Dungeon Master (DM), who sets the narrative frame and plays all the non-player characters (NPCs).

RPG groups come in all varieties, and can be anything and everything from serious to whimsical to hilarious.  This group can be pretty serious when we’re in the middle of a battle, or we’re trying to puzzle our way to the next direction we need to move.  The rest of the time, there’s a lot of laughter.  We’re a reasonably snarky bunch generally, and our DM seems to encourage this behavior.  We’re also pretty good about playing to our characters.  The Paladin will not let us be too evil.  The low intelligence barbarian (may he rest in peace) would charge right in and attack things in pretty much every situation.  My healer does stupid things to make sure she can keep the rest of the party healthy.  Hilarity often ensues. Continue reading