Complicating matters is the simple fact that schools donít teach story structure. So you learn to write a 5-paragraph essay, and then you get thrown into your first Creative Writing class in college, and although they make you read The Illiad and Frankenstein, still you wonder why your fiction comes apart mid-way through every story your write. Meanwhile, if you want to really learn how to create useful fiction, youíre left to do your own research on the Internet.
So. Story structure.
Or, to be more precise, Scene Structure.
In fiction, there are two basic kinds of scenes: Scenes and Sequels. To put it briefly, a Scene is where the action happens. In fact, in many ways a Scene is like a little story all by itself, save that it has to have an at least partly negative ending. Which is to say that Scenes start when characters want something and take actions to get it. They encounter obstacles, move to overcome or avoid those obstacles, and basically work the story narrative forward until they come up to a disaster. That disaster then provides fresh impetus to the story.
Consider the recent action in our game:
- Story Problem: Having come through the battle for the gate, our heroes want something to show for their efforts.
- Obstacle: they are slaves, so anything they take for themselves is liable to be confiscated.
- Heroic Action: The heroes head downstairs to find the Tree of Knowledge because knowledge canít be confiscated.
- Obstacle: The tree is a malevolent asshole who only talks in riddles.
- Heroic Action: The heroes threaten the Treeóa tricky proposition considering that the tree is likely more powerful than they are. But they do this well, and it succeeds.
- Disaster: The Tree answers our heroesí questions, but the answers have little immediate value. In fact, they could be viewed as straight-up bad news. This creates a fresh series of story problems.
My point here is that running a successful long-term game is about keeping the action moving and fresh. Just as readers bond with fictional characters when those characters overcome obstacles and/or show perseverance in the face of difficulty, Players bond with their Characters when their Characters are forced to overcome adversity and succeed. This is the basic dynamic behind D&D. Characters learn and grow by overcoming obstaclesóusually via combat encounters. That growth and development is what gives the game its addictive quality; that same quality is at work in any well-written page-turning novel.
So then, in fiction a writer must be careful about doling out resolution. If conflict and strife are what keep a story living, then simple character contentment is what will kill it. The same is true in D&D. However, with D&D you have the added pressure of the game itself. You have to honor your Playersí choices. Whether they do something well or poorly, you have to let that change the storyósometimes in fundamental ways. You have to make it a fair game.
In this way, I find DMing to be similar to writing comics. Itís a fundamentally collaborative process. In both media, I can start with a basic vision of what I want to happen, but ultimately the shape of the final product is dependent on the shared vision of others. I find that I can manage it as long as I roll with the punches and remember to write episodically. I also try to hold off on real story resolution until Iím ready to wind up a given episode within the larger framework of the story. But itís flexible. It has to be a fair game. To that end, itís helpful to have more than one story-hook in progress at any given time.
So. Does that make sense? Anybody got any questions or comments?