Behind the Scenes: Role-Playing and Storytelling

Hello, readers.  This is Jarred, your loyal blogger and the person who gives voice to the beloved (or at least I hope they’re beloved) Graenas and Urizenya.  The next D&D session, which will then move the main story on this blog forward, is only a few days away.   In the meantime, I wanted to reach out and share my thoughts on this writing project.  As a matter of fact, I’m hoping to establish a pattern where every Wednesday or Thursday, I add some sort of extra “goodie” to the blog that complements the main story, whose installments will be posted on Sundays or Mondays (depending on how much time I need to write and edit).  They might be a peek behind the scenes at my own creative process.  They might be a short story involving one or more of the characters. (For example, I will probably post a short story in which sixteen year old Graenas first meets and makes his deal with his patron, Auril.) I’ve even toyed with posting audio or video of me reading one of the installments.  (I read the first installment to my husband and dungeon master, Joe, while I was editing it and he loved the way I read it.)

These posts will be put in a special category according to their content type (Behind the Scenes, Short Extras, etc).  That same content type will also be part of the post title to make it easy to recognize.  Main story installments, on the other hand, will just have a title.  They will also be placed into the main story category, so you can easily find them if you don’t want to sort through the extra goodies.

Anyway, on to today’s topic.  I wanted to talk about my decision to turn our D&D campaign into a work of fiction and my thoughts and feelings about it.  I actually decided to do it at the recommendation of Joe.  He and I were originally planning to play a different campaign when he made the suggestion.  That campaign never got off the ground, and I think it might be interesting to explore the reasons for that and compare them to why I think things went differently this time in a future post.  Of course, I had heard of using role-playing for story-telling purposes before.  Most famously, I remember Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, authors of the Dragonlance Chronicles (and many of the books that came after the trilogy), wrote in an appendix (or was it an introduction?) of one their books a brief comment about how the character Raistlin Majere developed his identifying raspy voice because a friend (actually, as I looked up information for this post, I learned the man was actually a coworker at TSR) roleplaying him used the voice in a D&D session. I no longer have my copy of those books, so I don’t remember the full details.  But I was able to find an online post in which Hickman once again talked about it:

The first was Terry Phillip’s portrayal of Raistlin. Whenever Terry spoke ‘in character’ as Raistlin, he did so in a raspy, whispering voice. It was menacing and not just a little creepy to hear but what Margaret observed was that whenever Terry spoke in that voice, the rest of the room went silent in order to hear what he had to say. Margaret realized not only was this a quality that would have come from Raistlin’s background but it was also a manipulative technique of getting everyone’ attention and having them pay careful attention to him when he spoke. This, Margaret realized, was something which Raistlin would pick up on and use for his own gain. From Terry’s voice characterization that night, the essence of Raistlin drew life’s breath.

I recommend reading the whole post.  Anyway, as I created the twins, I thought back to both Joe’s suggestion and my recollection of the above anecdote.  I immediately became fascinated with the idea, and also saw it as a way of getting back into writing. It had been a few years since I worked on anything other than the rare writing exercise. Plus it already gave me an instant audience of two, as I was certain both Joe and my fellow player, Deb, would love to read how I narrate and interpret our adventures that we playe  at our (virtual) D&D table.

Since writing the first installment, I’ve been pondering (and impatiently waiting for Saturday to roll around so we can have our next session), and it occurs to me that for me, this approach to a fiction project works nicely for me because of my own strengths and weaknesses.  I’m great at character development.  I can generate enough backstory to understand how my character’s would act.  I can give them quirks and personality traits. My dialogue is pretty good, too, so if two (or more) of my characters get in a room together, I can make them talk with one another in engaging and interesting ways. I can even come up with some pretty cool “big picture” concepts.

The one thing I tend to struggle with is actual plot. My answer to the question “where are these fascinating characters headed and what’s going to happen to them along the way” is often “I’m not really sure.  It’s happened to a couple of my previous writing projects.  In one project, my main character went through countless scenes that were themselves pretty good, but I felt like it was going to meander forever and never really reach a conclusion.

Joe, on the other hand, is a plot-generating fiend (or maybe he’s an arch-fey).  It’s a skill that I think is one part natural for him and another part developed over two decades of creating and running D&D campaigns. The man has taken Deb’s and my character ideas and backstories and woven them into the campaign as personal story-lines in addition to the shared story-line.  That’s kind of cool, as it’s neat to know that the creation of my own characters have in turn shaped the story we’re going to end up telling.

But most importantly, it means that someone else is providing me the plot outline that I so often seen to struggle to figure out myself. I don’t have to come up with all the  situations and can focus on how my characters respond to each one, then turn the whole thing into a narrative someone might enjoy reading.  That’s something that has me very excited.

So that gives you, my readers, a brief glimpse into my own thoughts as I kick off the project.  I’d love to hear from you.  Maybe you’re a writer or a roleplayer who has an experience you share.  Maybe you’re a writer who has used roleplaying to help develop your stories (I get the impression it’s a rather common practice) and can share how that’s worked for you.  Maybe you can share you how make allowances for and/or overcome your own weaknesses in the writing and/or roleplaying experiences. I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

Happy adventuring, whether it’s with dice, pen and paper, or a book and your own imagination!

— Jarred.