Yes, it is true. I am that dorkiest of dorks. I am a LARPer, and I am proud. More over, I am a LARP-writer. I’ve dedicated more time to writing LARPs than any other form of fiction (even novels), and you know what? I’ve learned an awful lot from the process. Over a few posts, I’d like to take you inside the weird and wacky world of LARPing and share some of the lessons I’ve learned from it!
Hold on, let’s rewind for a second. What the devil is a LARP? Well, LARP stands for Live-Action Role Play. We’re the folk in the woods with costumes and foam swords, or in the parlor with weird outfits and eccentric modes of speech.
I write for The Wayfinder Experience, a summer camp for teens in upstate New York, and Westfinder, a small group in Berkeley, California. Both are based more on improv theater, so we tend to emphasize storytelling and character. It’s lots of fun! Curious about how all that might work from a writing perspective? Read on!
Well, what goes on in one of our games? Unlike some other groups, most of our games are standalone. Every time you show up to play, there’s a new world, with new concepts, new characters, new everything! We play anything from dark sci-fi to epic fantasy, twisted cyberpunk to comedic murder mysteries. A gamewriter (that’s me!) puts together the setting, writes brief descriptions of the characters everyone is going to play, and orchestrates the overarching plot (called the Flow).
The players spend a day or two learning about the world, fleshing out their characters, and building relationships with other characters. They get costumed and equipped, then the game starts!
The gamewriter generally pre-arranges some major catalyst moments (the King gets assassinated! the Dark Lord returns! the magic sword breaks!) that the relevant people know to execute, but for the most part the plot is player-driven. It’s all improvised, and things rarely go entirely according to the gamewriter’s original plan.
Writing a game is a very different process from writing a novel, or script, or anything else. There are a lot of commonalities, of course. You have to create a world, characters, a basic plotline… We often joke in NaNoLand about how our characters get away from us, and have ideas of their own about the plot, but here they really do!
So what have I learned that applies back to novel-writing? Here are a few big lessons:
1. Deadlines are the best.
NaNoWriMo is wonderful for this and with gamewriting, there’s the added pressure of knowing that there are dozens of people waiting to play your adventure who need their character sheets! Nowadays, if I have writing I really need to get done, I give myself a deadline by which I need to hand the writing to someone else. Preferably, someone who’s about to go on a trip or otherwise out of touch, so I can’t give myself extensions. It really helps!
2. Don’t be afraid to steal from yourself!
When I was younger, I thought that once I had used an idea in a story, that was it for that idea. Not allowed to use it again. Nope. Even if no one ever saw the story, and it just languished on my hard drive forever.
Well, that’s ridiculous! I had some good ideas back then, and they’re not doing anyone any good sitting in the dark. There’s nothing wrong with reusing concepts from older characters. Just give them a fresh spin, and they’re good to go, sent to a new player who will give them a totally new interpretation.
The same is true for stories! Of course, if you’re actually publishing your works, you might not want to engage in blatant self-plagiarism, but… try looking through your early, stowed-away works some time. A lot will be junk, but there might be some good meat to cannibalize.
3. Write the story only you can write.
I know, you’ve probably heard this before, but it’s really true. Wayfinder and Westfinder have tons of would-be gamewriters, and there’s lots of competition to get a game run. Everyone has their own idiosyncratic style, the things they love, and so on. Find the story that’s uniquely yours, and it’ll shine above the rest.
Tune in next week, when we’ll be talking about worldbuilding!