Thursday, November 03, 2011

Epiphany v2.0

I find it difficult to finish most novels most of the time.

This is true for most people as far as writing them goes. For me it is also true so far as reading them goes.

Beginnings are of course the easiest and most fun to write: and I also find them the easiest and most fun to read. It is best when a story is full of mysterious possibilities. Once a novel has settled down to a 'plot' and most of the possibilities are blocked off, I almost always lose interest.

I think that thirty years of GMing, most of it on the fly, for most of that time more than once a week, for the past twenty years most of it in a system we invented ourselves, has ruined me for the novel. This used to make me feel bad. But I have had an epiphany.

Life is complexity: it sits at the interface of order and chaos. By the time the reader gets hold of it, the content of a novel is preordained. No matter how much it may seem complex, it belongs to order: it cannot sit at the interface. It is only an unfolding in the reader's mind of what already existed in a different embodiment in the writer's mind. I hate how every time I read a book the characters do exactly the same thing.

In a role-playing game he interactions between players are not preordained. They can sit at this interface between order and chaos. The mechanisms within role-playing games that introduce chance drag the story towards this interface. The GM has to abdicate the desire for complete control, to become one of the co-creators. There is no question of honing a scene to make it perfect, of taking days to find the right word: the word must be spoken, now. In a role-playing game there is only one draft. A role playing game is a more complex artistic product than a novel and requires a greater degree of skill. Thus, I assert:

The Role-Playing Game is a greater form of art than the novel.

Though the people who can play a Role-Playing Game 'well' enough to actualise its potential do not yet exist. One day they will, and passively consumed art will fade into the background.


Marco said...

I agree completely. I even perhaps think that is why I enjoyed reading nanowrimo novels in their first draft and am not interested in suggesting improvements. They had the freshness of not being rehearsed and letting the narrative go where it will. I find almost all commercially popular fiction contrived in comparison. I can't even bring myself to read the shortest of short stories, yet I like reading non-fiction of any length.

Dr Clam said...

Thanks Marco!

Lexifab said...

I've been wanting to have a go at this for days. I'm not sure if I want to nod vigorously or start a furious argument. As usual I will settle for somewhere in the middle.

There doesn't seem to be much acknowledgement of craft in your assertion. Both roleplaying and novel writing are to some extent skilled endeavours, at which one may improve with time, education and personal insight. You can get good at them, in other words.

The primary difference (albeit not necessraily one applicable to Marco's omment about NaNoWriMo novels) is that a roleplaying session is far more exposed - and more often falls prey - to the fact that there are multiple people involved, and it only takes one of them to be 'off' to degrade or ruin the experience for everyone else.

This may or may not have pertinence depending on your personal definition of art, but I still derive a greater sense of satisfaction from a well-crafted novel than I have from even the best roleplaying campaigns. The latter may improve in the memory and retelling, but all too often are made up of a series of extremely uneven components.

Dr Clam said...

Ah, an argument is always more interesting than vigorous nodding! The acknowledgment of craft is pretty much just in the throwaway line at the end. I agree with what you say, and I think (while trying not to be too much of pretentious twit) that one ought to try to improve one's roleplaying skills.

The primary difference you note is interesting because a lot of other forms of art that we consume or produce - music, films, theater - also usually involve multiple people, any one of whom can be off and wreck things. The difference could really be that these things are all heavily rehearsed, but there is still a recognition that the peak of the art is achieved when the band is improvising something good, or when Harrison Ford says "I know."

The problem of course ultimately lies with me and what I find satisfying. I like dialogue better than monologue. If I had put the same amount of effort into running an RPG as I did into writing that one NaNoWriMo novel I actually finished, I would have had a lot more epxerience of dialoguey goodness, both in the actual roleplaying and in the meta-roleplaying analysis: people would have been interested in the motives of character X, and why incident Y happened instead of incident Z, and would have talked to me about those things, instead of remaining silent about the corresponding characters and incidents in the novel...

Lexifab said...

Slow responses FTW! (Sorry, been more or less off the internet for about a week)

So is the issue for you specifically dissatisfaction with reader feedback of written work (yours in particular or anyone's in general) more than the more-or-less guaranteed interactivity inherent to roleplaying?

Audience response for writing, even writing that directly invites a response, requires a commitment an effort on the part of the audience over and above the primary mechanism of engagement (i.e. reading it). In roleplaying, responsiveness *is* the activity, or at least is a central component of the activity; even post facto analysis seems like an extension of the game rather than a separate level and type of engagement, even though that's what it is.

I know that I often find it difficult to find appropriate means to celebrate, critically engage with or otherwise acknowledge written works - whether because I think I have nothing more useful to say than "Jolly good show!" or "I liked the bit with the marmots" or "What a turgid, derivative piece of time molestation, you wretched dross-peddler"

Dr Clam said...

Strange... I thought I saw another comment from Lexifab in me emails, but it doesn't seem to be here. Maybe it was a comment on a completely unrelated post that was following this thread...?