Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Play as Work

Yesterday's "Turnabout" post was great fun -- you all do some deadly impressions -- but it's also a nice, informal exercise in writing voice. Whenever I teach kids about writing voice, I'll use an old joke like this one to illustrate my point, and get them focused on what makes a writer unique.

Games can also help writers do more than relax and have fun. For example, Andrew Gryc's AutoRealm, a cartography software program originally designed for RPG players, can be a terrific tool for fantasy writers looking to map their towns, nations and worlds (or maybe even develop an RPG based on their novel.)

Stimulating your imagination through play translates into more creativity on the job as well. The Dread Tap-dancing Vampire of the Lemonade Stand, gratis Seventh Sanctum's Humorous Monster Generator will likely never make it into a Darkyn novel, but a variation on the Obsessive Brain Cow might.

I love playing with cards of all types; tarot, RPG, duelist and various collector's art decks. My #1 favorite cards for story inspiration are still Lon Koenig's gorgeous Archetypes Storytelling Cards, which I've also used to teach a couple of character workshops. Three of the cards in particular jumpstarted ideas which went on to become whole novels.

How do you use play to help with your work?


  1. For me it's role-playing games of the traditional sort: dice, paper, rulebooks, and three or four equally geekish friends. My rules of choice are an amalgamation of Mongoose Publishing's OGL ANCIENTS and some of the better features of their CONAN RPG (or straight CONAN if I'm feeling in a sword and sorcery mood). I essence, it's like taking a night off from the books without putting it completely out of my mind.

  2. I remember some fun I had in a Rhetorics course I took at university. We had to rewrite a radio soccer report in the style of Nietzche's And thus spoke Zoroaster, a newspaper article in the style of Richard Wagner's opera texts and more.

    I considered using Nietzsche for the post below, but I wasn't sure it would work in English since I don't know the translation.

  3. Anonymous1:41 AM

    AutoRealm looks very cool. Thanks ;)

  4. And to have fun

    *blushes and hides*

    I write fanfiction. Like that Swedish Éomer/Lothiriel story imitating the style of Selma Lagerlöf. :)

    I've never played cards, rpgs and such. When I think back to my childhood, I see myself reading, listening to opera on my LP player, walking and making up stories in my mind. Seldom playing with other kids. The interesting thing is that I've never been shy around people - I just don't care for company. Or games to be played in company. :)

    I also remember a scene when I told some kids a story I'd made up and they were like, "and that's in your mind? just so? weird."

  5. When I'm walking the dog, watering the garden, mowing the lawn or doing housework, I have music pounding my ears; usually instrumentals or classical. With the music, I can think of all sorts of scenarios, characters, plots, the whole kit-and-kaboodle. I think it's because I'm doing things that don't require brain-power, so I can subconsciously concentrate on writing. It's great for solving plot problems, too.

    Other than that, if I'm in a crowd or looking at photographs, I play "What if...". That always gets the creative juices flowing. (I'll mop up later.)

  6. Anonymous6:58 AM

    Roll playing games (I'm captain bagel . . .)

    Um, I meant Role playing games. Running them actually. Creating worlds and scenarios is fun, creative stuff. And nothing beats torturing your friends . . .

    Computer games (Battle for Middle-earth) too. Or re-watching X-files, Buffy, The Original Spider Man - any fun, good (okay some question there) old or new movies or shows.

    And reading books to my daughter as well. Right now we are on "The Phantom Tollbooth."

    And just plain reading, reading, reading other's works.

    Oh, and visiting and posting comments here . . .

  7. Anonymous8:20 AM

    Music is a big source, and the more variation I can fit into one "session" the better the creative results.

    I've used an RPG format before, as well, which helped me define a lot of my characters. As the story was magically-based, it also let me get the rules down for the magic and defined my characters' limits.

    And, of course, the "what if" game is always a staple - and typically where my more unusual creatures come from (probably comes from the fact that my dayjob involves numerous animals).

  8. My hobbies feed into my writing, especially the historical fencing, and the blundering around in plate armour.

    The fiction itself is play as well - if other fiction was more recreational, I'd be doing that instead!

  9. I once bought a set of the green army men to help 'visualize' a war scene in one of my novels.

    I'll draw my own maps, but playing with the game cards and everything are cool too. I bought a bunch of game cards to play with and what comes out is a lot of imagination.

    I also visit the toy section constantly and I buy new stuff all the time. I've got a Tamagotchi! :)

    I play the video games too. Unlike TV, I can actually stimulate my mind into thinking my way through adventure/role play games.

  10. Museums are dangerous places for me. As are castles, cathedrals and sometimes even certain landscapes.

    I always come home with plotbunnies. :)

    And don't get me started on history books.

  11. I'm a daydreamer. Used to get me into all sorts of trouble in class, but for me, it's the best kind of play in terms of stoking the fires of the imagination. :)

  12. Anonymous7:09 PM

    I imagine my characters on a movie set... and I'm the director deciding on how each scene is to be shot... which are close up, which are wide angle. How the characters play off each other, their body language, facial expressions, etc.

    That can be lots of fun because I know that I can keep changing things around... characters, costumes and set pieces until I have each scene playing just the way I want it.


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