The Joy of Constrained Creativity

So, did I accomplish my goal of getting the novel’s final creative revision done by Friday? You might remember that I promised to set myself on fire if I did not, but…I did not. However! I decided to delay my frustration-induced self-immolation for another week because I did accomplish something equally noteworthy: the cover!

Fugitives from Earth Front Cover
Now I figure another three to four hours of work will finish up the creative revision, and then it’s just copyediting and layout. I’m encouraged by reports from fellow NIWAns that layout won’t be crisis-level hard, since they’ve got templates, tips, and tricks that’ll make it easier. The trick will be to take care of the submission stuff early enough that I can get a full gallery/test copy mailed to me, correct it, and then get a bunch more mailed to me for the con.

So, that’s enough of a countdown post for today. I want to briefly talk about an awesome experience I had last week: it’s called Fiasco.

I imagine that plenty of you writers out there play or have played tabletop roleplaying games. If you’ve played more than once or twice, you probably know that some RPG systems have a lot of stats, mechanics, and die rolling, and will thus tend to play more like wargames. Others put more of an emphasis on story and character, with mechanics that influence gameplay without dominating it. And then there are a few indie games that have few to no mechanics, so as not to get in the way of the story.

Fiasco is one of the latter. It has rules, but those rules exist just to put some interesting restraints on gameplay. Without over-explaining, I’ll just say that character relationships are determined by a series of die rolls, and the characters themselves naturally evolve out of those relationships. For example, in our game, two players had the relationship “mutinous.” They were on a 1930s-era Titanic-esque ocean liner, so we decided that they were officers on the ship. One of those guys would be a criminal, since his relationship with another player was “mutual criminals.”

And then the game took off. We decided two players were working with pirates to hijack the ship, and the third player was the straight man, a crew member who stumbles on the plot. Over the course of the games 12 scenes, the players killed the captain, accidentally framed each other for the crime, barricaded themselves in the bridge, accidentally shot a passenger, and blew out the engine. It was the most fun two hours of recent memory.

I bring this up partially just because I had so much fun with it, but also because I think that, more than most RPGs, it’s a great tool for writers. It doesn’t have a game master, so everyone gets to participate in the plot. You’ve got a framework, constraints that force creativity, but don’t stifle it. The theme of the game is, generally, “small people get over their heads with fatal results,” and that informs the action as well.

The world of writing is similar. The constraints are generally self-imposed rather than external, and obviously there’s a wider variety of stories to tell, but the thinking process is the same: “Next scene. What would be awesome?” I think Fiasco is an awesome creative exercise for writers, particularly ones that wouldn’t roll a D20 if their lives depended on it.

Anyway. I hope to have more triumphant news to report by the end of the week. Also, NaNoWriMo approaches! So much to do.

P.S. Might be fun to do a Fiasco hangout on Google+. Anyone interested?

2 responses to “The Joy of Constrained Creativity

  1. OMG that sounds like fun. I hated two things about game playing back in the day, the stupid freaking dice and the dungeon master sort of just hanging there being imperious and often too annoyingly godlike. Can’t just shoot the $*((e# . This sounds like a blast. Why, oh why don’t I have more free time? I guess if you can pull this off on Google + it would be a good exercise both for writing and to force myself to navigate into +. Let me know the when and where. The story you constructed sounds like one hell of a plot!

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