Today Andrew Knighton is kindly joining me again and, in complement to my last post, he’s sharing the things he takes away from our mutual hobby. This man has a gift for creating memorable characters – his Stoneburgher mentioned below is still remembered more than 6 years on, and he’s the person the raptor goes to for brainstorming. Listen up, kids!
For many years one of my biggest creative outlets has been live roleplay (LRP), a hobby I’ve heard described as a type of free-form theatre, Dungeons and Dragons with costumes, and even cross-country pantomime. With such a creative hobby it’s hardly surprising that I, like Everwalker, have taken some lessons from it over into writing.
So here, in no particular order, are the three most important of those lessons.
Set your own agenda
A lot of my LRP has been at large festival systems involving thousands of players. Within those systems, people create their own groups representing communities or organisations. It’s a fun exercise in shared world-building, leading to such grand institutions as knightly orders, wizards’ covens and noble families.
The first time my friends and I created our own group it was called Stoneburgh, and it was a reaction against serious groups where everybody had a grand title and their father’s ancestral sword. We became, for a weekend at a time, the inhabitants of a small, inbred mountain community who believed their town to be as big and important as the rest of the world put together, and who approached every situation with the question of ‘how can we fix this with mining?’
We instantly had a reason to meddle in any situation. We weren’t achieving the same noble ends as the dozens of heroes fighting the golem menace, but we were the only ones who knew it was made from granite. Our skewed perspective brought the ridiculous to any situation. We gave lip to kings and princes if they couldn’t recognise quartz. We played combat croquet through great centres of government. We ‘mined’ anything with a rock on it.
We had enormous fun.
And the lesson for writing? Actually, this is two lessons in one.
As a writer, setting your own agenda will be far more satisfying than writing like others do. And if what you write is good then setting your own agenda, your own style of story, will help you to stand out from the pack.
And for your characters, make them look at the world differently from everybody else. Part of the appeal of Crispin, the protagonist of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, is that he sees the world through the eyes of a mosaicist. This affects his understanding of, and interest in, the politics around him. It makes his agenda far more interesting than if he were one more noble jockeying for power.
Combine humour and tragedy
LRP isn’t all wizards and warriors. I used to play in a small Victorian fantasy / steampunk system called the Crimson League, in which I was Jackson, the valet to Viscount Buffington. Jackson was a dedicated servant capable of providing tea at any opportunity. Any opportunity including the middle of a firefight, when I walked around calmly with a tray full of cake and bullets.
But this absurd figure had a serious side, as his employers found out on the dark night when, having met an old acquaintance from a mental asylum, Jackson had a breakdown. Because of course no sane man carries a tea tray calmly through a gunfight. Jackson had seen terrible things in his past and he was not a well man.
The tragedy of Jackson was all the stronger for coming from the same place as his calm and his absurdity. It was a lesson we’d learned in Stoneburgh too – anger and tears are all the more powerful when they come unexpectedly from a comedic character, comedy all the sharper when it emerges from darkness.
Give all your characters light and dark sides, serious and silly ones, and try to make them come from the same place. It will make them more interesting.
Turning up is winning
One summer we played a group of chivalric knights called the Chevaliers D’Or. We joined an established nation in a huge game, and we only played those characters for two events, but years later people were still asking about them because we stood out. We ran headlong into every opportunity for death or glory. We got in people’s faces. We drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of cheese, killed a small number of monsters.
We were just one more knightly order in a nation full of swords and swanky tabards, but we got noticed.
Here’s the dirty little secret, both for you as a writer and for your characters. Most people don’t turn up. Most people don’t make the effort. Just by committing to what you’re doing, by following through no matter how people react, you will stand out.
To the writer I say this – make the effort, write the book, publish it, tell people about it. That puts you ahead of most folks who want to be writers.
To your characters I say – if you just turn up and do something different you will stand out. Turning up and acting up is a form of winning. Committing gets you somewhere, even if that somewhere is in trouble.
And now to the drinking
Live roleplayers risk turning into terrible bores, droning on and on about how great their own characters are, what brilliant things they’ve done. It’s only natural given how fun the hobby is, but it’s also somewhat annoying, so we invented a drinking game to shame people into shutting up and giving others a turn to talk.
After an article like this I am duty bound to go drink my own body weight in scotch.
I hope my liver’s sacrifice has been worth it, that I’ve at least provided some food for thought. But now it’s your turn. What writing lessons have you learned from your hobbies, whether live roleplay or something else? Share your thoughts, let’s all learn from each other’s experiences.