How RPGs make you a better writer
Over this past weekend I took a break from my usual scrambling and writing to put together an RPG for some friends of mine. It is entirely possible that I'll meander around back to writing up my notes and ideas on this for the purpose of selling it. I developed it without this being the purpose, though, and it forced me to re-examine some of the considerations about writing.
Immediate Audience Feedback
There's a reason that most comedy television shows and comedians say that you've got to do stand-up, and you've got to do it all the time. This is because of the audience feedback. Too often for writers, we've got to sit alone and create. After this, we send out creations out into the world and hope for the best. There's a disconnect of both time and space between the act of creation and feedback from the audience. It is often too late by the time you get there.
If writing is like the creation of a television show, RPGs can be like stand-up. You come with prepared material, but you are pitching directly to the audience and you're seeing their reactions. With agility, you can turn on a dime, edit yourself, and change things. Even if your players say they're having fun, you can see the expressions on their face and you can tell if they're paying attention.
Killing your Darlings
You've heard this one, right? You need to kill your darlings. One of the best ways to see what that means is to run RPGs. Let's say you create some villain. He's powerful, he's a genius, he's going to be the big climactic person that faces down your players.
Then they don't care about him. Or maybe he withers up and dies due to them figuring out his deathly allergy to peanuts way too early in the story. That's your players killing your darlings for you. There are so many jokes about player logic, and you've got to plan for that. They will unapologetically not care about things just because you think they're important. Instead, they are specifically after what they like, and you can learn from that.
Pantsing v Plotting
This old chestnut. Everyone talks about the value of one over the other, and I have my own opinions about it. Nothing on that here though - instead we can look at using running a scenario as a test about whether you're good at one or the other. Think you're novels are great when you're flying by the seat of your pants and making it up as you go along? Try to run an RPG like that, see if the stuff you're pulling out on the fly is as good to your players as you think it is.
Same thing for the plotting side of things - if you're too committed to your plot to the point that your players are fighting against it, that could be telling you something about your writing. Usethat revelation to look at your own writing with a new insight and see if there is a consistency there you weren't expecting.
Either way, there's a lot of reasons that many writers have a background in RPGs. That pie chart - its got some intersection to it.
None of this is hard and fast rules, but so often writing doesn't have a lot of those. This says nothing about using RPGs to try out a genre or style unfamiliar to you, or to develop characters, or to see how people interact in various circumstances. There's so much to drill down into in this that if you like writing and you like RPGs, you're remiss if you're not mining it.