The lovely Anna runs a brilliant blog about RP, hunting, Paladining, Shamaning and healing. Her blog was the first WoW blog I ever read with any regularity. Here is her first (of hopefully many) guest spots at WTT:RP!
Hello, wonderful readers of WTT:RP, Anna here! Thanks to the usual writers, I’ve been given free rein to write a guest post for you guys. I thought I’d tackle something that has been rattling around in my brain for awhile. I’m working on some bigger, more extended storylines of my own (which are still in the embryonic phase at best), and I’ve gotten to tag along on some extended storylines that have happened within my guild, so the subject of a “character created epic” is near to me.
What is a character created epic? Well, it’s an Epic. Like the old school kind that poets and bards used to tell in rhymes around fires with lots of beer and mead and meat. Mmmm… beer and mead…
An epic of this sort, in Warcraft, is something that you create the idea for and then invite the active participation of your friends to help finish. These are extended stories that involve multiple characters working on them – sometimes even an entire guild. You could write it all yourself, but it’s much more interesting (and usually a better story) when many brains are working on it all at once. You get different perspectives, different writing styles, and some motivation from outside sources to keep going!
That said, there are also a few big pitfalls that I’ve found myself and others tripping over at times (though I must say that the four folks that usually write WTT:RP do a particularly good job of avoiding them!).
Five Reality Checks, as it were, to putting together a storyline so Epic, it will get a name and your guildmates will tell it to potential new members in the pub.
Reality Check #1: Long, multi-character storylines… are long.
Long storylines are hard to develop, even harder to keep motivated, and increasingly more difficult to “control” the more people are involved and the longer they go on.
And they take a long time, chronologically, out of game. Sometimes, a /really/ long time.
Not everyone has infinite writing inspiration. Not everyone has the ability to devote themselves to a story in which their character is peripheral, especially if that writing is unexpectedly dropped on them (Don’t unexpectedly drop writing requirements on your friends!) Every long, extended storyline that I’ve been a part of has taken longer than originally expected. MONTHS longer than originally expected. People have lives, responsibilities, families, jobs, emergencies, and writer’s block, and not everyone is comfortable with rattling off a post in the morning before work.
These kinds of Epics also involve MASSIVE amounts of out of character, out of game preparation, even if it’s just to be shooting the breeze about ideas that may or may not end up in the actual writing. This means that you’ve got to be prepared to deal with your story both in and out of game… and that you have to be patient enough to wait and get EVERYONE on the same page. It’s a juggling act of (sometimes) epic proportions.
Reality Check #2: Your expectations might not mesh with reality.
Putting together a new story requires patience. It requires either working around the fact that not everyone has a consistent gaming schedule, or restricting involvement to those whom you know will be able to meet the expectations you have. It also requires that people know exactly what it is that you expect of them in participation with a longer storyline.
If participants don’t know what’s expected, they are justified in being confused and hurt if you blow up at them, make radical announcements from left-field about your character that vastly differ from the stories they were told, or act passive aggressively towards interactions. Communication, as with SO many aspects of RP, is absolutely crucial to keeping things moving. If people aren’t on the same page, bad stuff happens. Of course, you might also have unrealistic expectations of other players (“You must write 12 posts every week!” = not realistic in most situations), but we’ll assume that you’re not expecting everyone to drop everything else in the world to work on your story.
If you can’t find people that meet the expectations for writing, you have essentially two options:
1. You can change your expectations.
2. You can write the entire story yourself.
Both have consequences.
Reality Check #3: Spotlight vs. Drama Whore
Not everyone will be as gung-ho about your story as you are, especially not at the beginning before their characters are really involved. There are MANY levels of involvement in a story, from Hero/Heroine/Villain to side character that gets introduced for one episode to create a situation, solve a problem, or just be disposable when the Super Villain needs an NPC to murder. If you’re writing the story, you do have more of a vested interest in it than those side characters, so obviously (especially in the beginning) you might encounter some less-than-enthusiastic writing. This is even harder to do if your character is really the only one affected by the story, so try to create a story that will actually affect or mean something to others.
Also – be gracious when it IS your turn to be the Hero/Heroine. Don’t force every single conversation to be about you and how awesome (emo, hurt, tortured, pursued, or in danger) you are, and don’t force all out of character conversations to be about your story. If it really is that epic, people will talk about it anyway.
Other people might also (gasp!) have stories that are going on at the same time. Be considerate of those stories, and perhaps even get an alt of yours peripherally involved!
Reality Check #4: Be consistent with your story
If your character is supposed to be unavailable (sleeping, poisoned, sick, kidnapped, eated by a dargon, thrown into a volcano) – don’t have them show up at pub night. If they’ve received a Terrible Wound of Festering Nastiness, they’re probably not going to show up to your guilds annual Spring 3-legged races. Play an alt, or play in a way that is consistent with your story.
This goes for story cohesiveness as well. Of course, things are going to change over time, especially with multiple people working on something. Still, going in and retconning your Uber Villain as “not really all that bad a guy” later on because it makes the story convenient? Is hard. And usually bad. Let the story grow and change, but make sure when you start that you have something in mind for the end. I could easily title this section “start with an end in mind” and it would work.
Reality Check #5: Start with an End in mind – but stay flexible
Other characters will change your story. This is why I don’t suggest starting with THE end in mind. Just “an end” – have somewhere that the story is going. Something you want to achieve with the story itself.
Inviting other participants means you want your story to be changed. Telling someone “I want you to be part of my story, and your character has to do This, That, and Those things in your first post”? Not cool. It’s a slightly more polite way of God-Moding. Polite doesn’t make it better. However, you can say “I want you to be part of my story, and I eventually want it to end up where my character has this awesome revelation, so try not to get too close to This, That, and Those subjects.” That’s acceptable – you are not metagaming, or God-moding someone else’s character.
There’s a difference between guidance and God-Moding. Avoid the line, but make sure everyone knows where the eventual story is supposed to end up (again with the Communication thing). If everyone KNOWS that at the end of the story your Super Villain of Villainous Doom is going to get killed, beheaded, and then skinned and eaten by a rabid bear, they can guide the story in that direction as well, and keep awkward things like someone falling in love with him from happening, or any other circumstances that would prevent him meeting his fate.
If you can’t let go of the control enough to let other characters guide and shape the story? Then maybe you’re better off writing your OWN epic, instead of trying to manage a multi-character epic. Because, if you couldn’t tell, there’s as much managing, communication, planning, and coordination involved in a multi-character story like this as there is actual writing.
So that’s that. If you’ve got the creativity to come up with a story that can sustain a group of people writing and the communication skills to keep it cohesive throughout, you’ve basically got the tools to get moving.
Of course, there’s no substitute for experience, and any first-time storycrafter will run up against things they didn’t expect, roadblocks, writers block, and maybe even the occasional tinge of drama. You might have an integral character disappear randomly in the middle of writing, or maybe someone new will join the guild and want to participate starting in the middle. These are all normal situations, thanks to the transient nature of WoW as it relates to real life – just roll with the punches, and do the best you can.
Remember that RP and RP groups wax and wane, as both are affected by many exterior factors, including other RP, stuff out of game, and other in game commitments. Just because someone says “I want to write more”, that doesn’t mean they will react automatically to any writing project proposed. “I want to write more” rarely means “I want to write more on any story, even if I don’t really like it” – in fact “I want to write more” can be nothing more than a statement about a current situation, even if the person cannot actually do any more writing at that given time. Also, there is a HUGE difference between “I am unavailable to commit to something right now, due to RL responsibility” and “I don’t like your story/character/idea and think you should find someone else.” When you get this kind of response (“Wow, great idea! I wish I had time to participate”) you get to decide whether you want to forge ahead, and risk having people not get involved at all, or wait for awhile and see if things clear up.
As with so many things, it’s a balance that can be difficult to manage, but when done well, everyone can love both reading and writing what’s going on. Good communication can determine the difference between epic fail and epic success – and sometimes even bail out a failing story and turn it into a success. Out of character or in character, all of these points boil down to communication and working together. Your story can, in fact, become an Epic, told and re-told – remembered for the cooperation of a group of people to craft a story that will still be remembered – even after WoW fades away.