Working on my indie cred…

In the film industry, if you take off and make a labor of love project you hope like hell that a distributor picks it up and it gets seen in arthaus cinemas around the country. In the already borderline-cottage industry of role-playing games, you fall back on word of mouth and producing a great game that does one thing particularly well. Hence, the joys of the Indie Press.

Of late, there’s a few indie games that have been close to my heart. Fiasco, the self-described game of “Big dreams and poor impulse control” is a narrative game designed to replicate the heist-gone-wrong films for which I have such a fondness: Three Kings, Blood Simple, Fargo, A Simple Plan. Fiasco is very true to its source material, and it does a great job of putting people in the position of making tremendous plans and watching them all go to hell. Of particular interest as a writer is their use of a two-act structure that hinges in the middle on what they call “The Tilt”. The Tilt is that moment where everything falls apart – the triggering activity that sends the plans into their death spiral. It is a game for fans of schadenfreude, which rewards people who are willing to screw over their fellow players. Just as it should be.

Zombie Cinema is another well done, genre specific narrative that I’ve played a lot of lately. Like Fiasco, it’s designed to replicate a specific style of film (I’ll leave you to figure out which). In this case, the narrative scenes are played out against a track that progresses the zombies’ presence within the story – from scattered news reports to total apocalypse. The players also move up and down the track, pushed around by the outcome of their scenes. Those players who fall behind are eventually consumed by the oncoming tide. Of particular interest to me is their method of randomly creating characters using role and attribute cards – addicted housewife, noble beggar, cheerful survivor. It creates some interesting dichotomies that allow for interesting characters and maintains everyone as normal people caught up in circumstances beyond their control.

So there it is, a couple of mini-reviews of Indie Games I love, and more importantly, why I love them as a writer. If you’re interested in narrative games at all (and if you’re not sure, I recommend a visit to @@SITE to review the elements of game theory – I don’t want to discuss it here), or you’re curious about the storycrafting process of these particular types of tales, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

Plotting, Pantsing and Plontsing

I dislike flying. There’s an implied lack of control involved and it always makes me terrible nervous to do. Why I’m writing, it’s the same thing – I just can’t fly by the seat of my pants. I know authors who do this, have even met some who swear by it as the only way to write. It’s not for me, though. Instead, I plot. Meticulously, thoroughly, and without remorse. Heck, I even outline my short fiction, just to make certain it follows a logical progression of plot and theme.

There are some who say (and yeah, that’s a straw man – my blog, my logical fallacies) that they love the surprise of just writing and seeing what the characters will do next. If it works for you, then congratulations, but there’s no way I can do that. The amount of time I have available to write is precious, and I can’t afford to waste it on dead-ends and recursive moments that will get ripped out of the final draft. If my story’s going to surprise me, if it’s going to catch me off guard, it will do so during the outlining stage, because once I start writing, I like to know where I’m going.

This isn’t to say I am 100% married to the outline and never deviate – heck in my current Work-In-Progress I ended up rolling two characters together because it added depth to the character and meant I didn’t have to draft scenes creating this secondary character’s ties to the plot. I do stick to it enough, however, that I often write my closing scene first. Once I know where I’m going, I can set my goals towards getting there. In some cases I can even foreshadow language used in the end at the beginning to help bring a sense of closure to the piece.

Is there a middle ground? Certainly. Plontsing, or whatever the portmanteau would be, allows some freedom within the larger structure of the piece. I plonts more with short fiction than long, partly because it’s easier to fix, and partly because my outlines for short fiction tend to be more abstract that for long fiction – on especially short pieces, the outline may only be a few character sketches and a 5-6 line diagram of the basic plot.

In the future, I’ll talk more about my specific method, but this seemed like a good topic to lead into that. Much of how I write comes from the fact that I’m a plotter, rather than a pantser, so we needed to get this out of the way early. How about your? Plotter? Pantser? Or Plontser?