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From GM to Novelist

Writing a killer plot when you already have a killer plot

Have you ever been tempted to write up the last fantastic role play campaign as a novel? A great arching awesome novel of epic adventure that'll sell a million copies and be made into a feature film? Have you spent any time wondering if you want to cast Johnny Depp or Craig Daniel as your lead role? It makes so much sense! You've got the plot, you've got a bunch of exciting interesting characters, you've got a world of adventure that you've lovingly crafted over months or even years of play. All you need to do is write it down, right?

Well, yes! And also no. But also Yes!

Single Point of View character

When writing this stuff down, you need to pare down to a single character view in any given plot thread. What I mean by that is, while it's fine to have a party of heroic adventurers fighting together against evil - pick one and write everything from that one point of view. It's very easy to slip into the trap of trying to get everyone's view across because each character is interesting and exciting and having deep thoughts. Naturally you want to show them all off. Don't. Simple as that. Stick with one main lead and let the deep thoughts of the other characters show through in their actions alone. This is a lot harder to do, sure, but it'll add depth and maintain your reader's attention.

Yeah, but Game of Thrones has all these different viewpoints and...

Are you George R. R. Martin? No? Ok. When you are, come back and we'll talk about that. For now - just think KISS - Keep It Simple, Sunshine.

Give your main character a clear goal as early as possible

After running a few games you learn how to tell when your players don't have a clear goal, because they're listing about like beached ships and not achieving anything. And you know what to do about it: Introduce conflict! Get them threatened and excited about something. That's what you need in a novel too! Many works of amateur fiction, like many campaigns, take a while to really get going. It's tempting to feel that you need to explain a few things about your world, your settings, your characters, or your premise before you get going with the story. "It won't make sense unless I first mention..." You know what? No matter how awesome your world is, how intricate your social systems, how rich your culture, nobody is going to want to read about it if there's nothing going on. Random, unexplained action won't cut it either. You need a character and that character needs to be trying to do something - and meeting resistance. That said, go ahead and write the six pages of rambling introduction if it helps you get started, just don't get to precious about it - because you're going to end up cutting it later (or your editor will if you haven't the guts to do it yourself).

Everything must make sense

The difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. Works of fiction based on real events have to take artistic licence in order to make convincing stories. Why? Because life is full of nonsensical, unrelated events that don't neatly fit into stories. The same is true when translating role play campaigns into fiction. You need to strip out everything that's not related to your plot. In a long campaign, nobody minds that much if you have d6 goblins attack the party for no reason other than a bit of a fight to break up a long journey. In fiction that just won't cut it. If the a bunch of goblins attack, the reader will what to know why.

A single clear enemy

In many campaigns various enemies come and go as the plot progresses. In written fiction, this can dilute your plot or worse, spread confusion into your narrative. It helps to have a clear opposition to you main character and relate the trials of the adventure to that enemy. Develop one bad guy to personify your threat and make other lesser villains in your plot subordinate to this main villain.

Yeah, but...

Are you George R. R. Martin? Right.

Stripping out the gamer from your plot

There are a lot of things that happen in role play campaigns just because they're role play campaigns. Player Character often get some implied priority over the lesser NPCs (because, they're players!). Player characters make odd decisions based on out of character comments, and, most dangerous of all for a fiction writer, player characters go along with the plot because it's the plot. Don't take this lightly. This is one of your major challenges when converting a campaign to a work of fiction. The motivation of those pesky players is often completely at odds with the sensible motivation of the characters they control. You'll need to identify this and iron them out. Characters must act on their own, for their own reasons, towards their own goals. The instant a character takes up a job in an abattoir as an XP scam, you've lost it.

Editing out the Game Setting™ from your world.

In addition to getting down to the core of your plot and characters, you'll need to strip out anything that isn't your creation. Things you borrowed from the D&D rulebook, ideas that you copied from Game of Thrones because you were reading it when you were planning. You need to get it down to what's original and yours - otherwise it's going to come over as derivative or worse, fan fiction (and nobody likes fan fiction, not even the people who write it).

Finally, practice the craft of writing

Write lots. Write every day. Write session logs of narrative for each session you play, just for practice. You need to write a hundred billion gazillion words of rubbish before you start writing anything good, so you might as well get a few of them out of the way. Also, if you have a pile of session logs written as you play through your campaign they're an invaluable resource for building a plot later, so it's not wasted effort! So write lots. Write every day. Not just most days. Every day. In fact, start now. Go on...

Really? Write every day?

Are you... Oh. Hi George. Sure, take the weekend off. You've earned it.

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