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Storytelling Part 1 “Where to Begin?” Hi, welcome to my Blog. This is the first time I’ve done something like this so please bear with me as I work out the kinks. So I write comics and I run Role Playing Games (RPG’s) with my friends every weekend. The comics thing is a relatively new endeavor in the last several years while I’ve been running RPG’s for about 30 years. When I was a kid (and by that I mean 18) I decided I wanted to be a professional writer but I wasn’t very good at storytelling. I think I was wise in realizing that you can’t necessarily go to school to learn creativity (I could tell a story but I felt like what I was coming up with was pretty amateur). You are either good or you aren’t and if you aren’t the only option is to get practice. RPG’s provided me with a great venue to get lots of practice since nobody else wanted to run the game and I could try out all kinds of different storytelling styles over a short span of time. I figured that if I could engage my friends and make them want to come back every week I was on the right track. Suffice to say, it worked pretty well though life happened and I didn’t end up following my dreams until recently. So today I am writing comics (a lifelong dream of mine) and working my tail off to create a career out of it. I also still run RPG’s and one thing that constantly amazes me is how applicable the skills of the Game Master are to writing and storytelling. For those who are uninitiated, the Game Master (or Dungeon Master if you’re a purist who plays Dungeons & Dragons) is the guy who runs the world and its population in the RPG game. The Players are only responsible for a single character while the Game Master (GM) has to be able to skillfully keep track of hundreds of different details and make it look smooth & natural. When I first started I sucked but after 30 years I’ve become pretty good it. But as I said, these skills are applicable to writing comics (novels too I’d assume). What I want to do is to write a series discussing all the intricacies of good storytelling, the various pitfalls I’ve run into over the years, good stories versus bad ones, how to create interest & keep it going and how all this applies to writing comics. Lots of people have written books on how to be a GM (Usually knows as GM Guides) but most of these are specific to a particular game system and generally focus on useful information like tables of magic items, world building and the like. The actual techniques of running a game get very little attention comparatively. Some have tried to go into detail but I never thought it was handled as thoroughly as it should and usually it comes down to advice and a commentary on how you need to find your own rhythm outside of what other people say you should do (technically true). I have found that the skill of storytelling is its own specialized field with exact techniques and successful actions that can be taught “and” are applicable to many styles of fiction. Having gone to the effort of learning all this through study, trial and error I would like to release a book (or possibly a Blog) sharing what I’ve learned. I like comics. The X-Men were never better than when Chris Claremont was writing it. My all time favorite series from Marvel was Excalibur, an X-Men spinoff series that took place in England (by the amazing team of Chris Claremont and Alan Davis). I’ve been a fan of the Transformers comics since day 1 with Marvel (I got the first issue at a 7-11) and IDW is currently knocking it out of the park with their new series. Black Science (a cool book from Image) is amazing. It’s pretty much what Sliders should have been (look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t remember the show). “And” my dream project is to be the guy who relaunches Crystar the Crystal Warrior for a new generation. Next to the Transformers, it was my favorite comic as a kid. After going back to reread the series I still enjoyed it just as much as I did back then. I’ve read my fair share of superhero comics though they aren’t holding my interest like they used to. The writing tends to be a bit superficial (the challenges of writing for every age group I suppose) and I find the concept fails to hold up in an increasingly technological world. It seems like writers are having a tough time writing good and engaging stories about people who are essentially living gods. Obviously there are writers who are doing really well with it though it is also pretty obvious when they take a job just for a paycheck. Superheroes are an interesting subject to look at since they dominate the majority of the business. Occasionally I find a series that I get into but these days I find myself gravitation more towards indie books since storytelling quality is usually higher and the stories are more self-contained. Even though the Transformers are still a corporate property I do find that they have fewer restrictions (they can actually kill off characters and keep them dead permanently). This has allowed publishers like IDW or Image to create some awesome storylines that couldn’t have existed under the Marvel or DC. As I look at Superhero comics I’ve noticed that there is a trend with regards to character interactions. At Marvel & DC you find characters having to over explain their powers (this was particularly apparent in the 80’s at Marvel) and go out of their way to use them even when the situation doesn’t entirely warrant it. Cyclops has optic blasts. This is his entire thing and without it he’s be just another guy in cosplay. It seems like he has to use his optic blasts, and a crazy impossible skill at geometry, to flip the light switch at night when he could just walk over an use a finger like everyone else. Comics have to go out of their way to manufacture situations to justify the use of a character’s super powers so that they can demonstrate them in action. It seems to me that sometimes writers forget that the character himself (or herself) is what is interesting and the story is what will engage the reader. The use of superpowers is secondary. I think you’d be better off deliberately writing yourself into a corner with no idea how to get the character out of that situation and then come up with a clever way for them to solve the problem rather than create a situation specifically intended to showcase their powers. I do get where they are coming from with this because every comic could be someone’s first however I think there could definitely be more elegant ways of handling it. There is an issue of the X-Men that particularly sticks in my mind and is sadly representative of how certain characters are approached in comics. The X-Men are attacking this complex in retaliation (sorry if I get a few details wrong) for finding some of their allies crucified on the lawn of the Manor. Never mind the fact that the whole place has better security than Fort Knox and nobody could have pulled that off without getting attacked by security systems, students or full X-Men. Anyhow, the team goes off to attack those responsible in retaliation and encounter fully armed resistance. So what does Wolverine do? He runs right into the heart of the enemy heedless of the danger and gets roasted alive by flame throwers (and yes he saw them coming). The rest of the team is supposedly held at bay until someone comes up with a clever plan to get past these guys (which did not, by the way, include a flanking attack against a different part of the base). So why did this happen…? Naturally we need to show Wolverine getting injured otherwise the reader won’t know he has a Healing Factor. “And” the other X-Men finished the issue without a scratch. Why? Well they don’t have a Healing Factor so there is no reason for them to get hurt. There is this think with Superheroes that they need to be shown as larger than life icons that are superior to normal people. They frequently trounce bad guys without ever taking a hit. This works for a character like Longshot who has powers based on luck but it isn’t entirely realistic for the rest of them. Batman is a great character because he is one of the few superheroes that could actually exist but he would still need body armor (even with the skill he supposedly possesses he would still get hit). The Michael Keaton and Christain Bale versions of Batman were amazing because they used body armor and needed it. I have often said that we’d probably get better, more realistic, comics if more comic writers played role playing games. As a comic writer you have the problem that letting your hero get injured means you may also have to address recovery time. Our heroes are larger than life and the average comic writer will tend to show them as so superior to normal people that they can evade any injury (even with characters like Batman who do not have any special powers to accomplish this). However, a GM thinks in terms of, “how do I injure the characters.” More precisely the line of reasoning is how to injure the characters just enough that the Player feels threatened and challenged. This applies to superheroes as well because anyone who is reading the comic on a regular basic (and paying the $4 monthly fee) is probably invested in the characters. You care about them and are eager to know what happens next. If this is the case, having Spiderman get shot should produce a legitimate and visceral reaction from the reader. It means he’s in real danger and that he isn’t invulnerable. It’s OK if he heals fast but without a sense of danger there is something missing from the story. Wolverine used to be portrayed with a much slower Healing Factor than he is now. He was still just as reckless but it took several days (as opposed to several seconds) to recover and this created some really fun storytelling opportunities for him. The perception of vulnerabilities adds real depth to a character and improves the kinds of stories you can tell. One of the most brilliant points (I thought) in the Dark Knight Returns was when Frank Miller showed Batman wearing body armor and explained that the reason for the brightly colored symbol on his chest was to give thugs something to shoot at. It meant they were less likely to shoot at his head or limbs and allowed him to limit the amount of armor he wore (presumably the symbol was protected by a small piece of highly resistant armor) while allowing for maximum mobility. On a related note, there is a school of thought that says the reason Robin had such a brightly colored outfit was to be a target for gunfire and distract attention away from Batman. Does this mean his entire outfit is made of body armor? If this was true and Batman was just going through sidekicks like popcorn it would be amazing and probably means that Waynetech must be investing a ton in cloning technology. In one of my RPG books (years ago) the writer stated that people would come up to him at conventions and ask for more realism in his games. His response to this was that it wasn’t realism but plausibility they wanted because none of the crazy stuff that happens in RPG’s (or comics for that matter) is particularly realistic. I found this to be very good advice over the years because what you need is for the story to be believable within the context of the world. The story you are trying to tell and the methods you are using to tell it need to be believable to the reader and something that they are willing to accept. You can violate this even in comics (where it seems that anything goes) and when you do, you immediately lose readers. It definitely lost me. When Claremont left the X-Men the quality of the storytelling took an immediate nose dive and all sense of plausibility was gone. For all the crazy stuff the X-Men went through during his run, it was all executed well with great believable. You were along for the ride and everything fit neatly within the universe so that you could accept it for what it was without having to stop and remind yourself you were reading a comic. I think I’ll call it there, I could discuss this subject for days. If you like what you read I look forward to seeing you in the next one. Woody
Unusual Terms Hi, My name is Woody Arnold. I like to write comics and play RPG's. People tend to write about what they know and so I am writing a Blog about RPG's (specifically how to run them) and how those storytelling techniques apply to other things. With almost 30 years under my belt I think I might have something valuable to say on the subject "but" people who aren't familiar with RPG's may not know what I'm talking about. For the uninitiated you can find an ever expanding glossary of terms below (terms in Bold have definitions elsewhere in the Glossary): aI: Artificial Intelligence; This is a term for extremely complex computer programs that possess the ability to think and reason like people "or" are sufficiently well programmed to make it look like they can. They aren't necessarily considered to be alive though that depends on the genre and setting you are using. Campaign: This would be a series of sessions of a Role Playing game that are played in sequence and form ongoing chapters in a continuing story. I can be anything from two session to five years worth of play (or more if you're really dedicated). Cyberpunk: Named after a Role Playing Game by the same name, the Cyberpunk genre usually takes place in a near future with significant advances in technology including cybernetics (often available to the average citizen), advanced weaponry, virtual reality internet (see Decker below) and oppressive governments or corporations. It is usually presented as a dark future setting though this is not always the case. Psychic powers or magic may be elements of this genre. The Shadowrun RPG and Ghost in the Shell would probably be the two most famous examples of Cyberpunk. Decker: In the Shadowrun RPG a DEcker is a person who uses a Cyberdeck to become a super hacker. A Cyberdeck is a powerful piece of computer hardware that allows for full immersion VIrtual REality and includes powerful programs to assist in the process of hacking. This sort of thing is common in SciFi stories, especially those taking place in the near future. the best example of this process can be found in Ghost in the Shell: Stand along complex. Fantasy: This is the Genre made popular by such novel series as Conan and Lord of the Rings. The first Role Playing Game (Dungeons & Dragons) was exclusively a fantasy game. The Fantasy Genre commonly includes magic (with great variability in how common it is), medieval european tropes (though other cultures are often substituted or included), fantasy races such as Elves & Dwarves, classic monsters such as Orcs & Goblins and fantastic creatures such as Dragons. Castles, epic quests and magic artifacts are frequent tropes of this genre. Genre: This would be simply defined as a particular style of world setting which includes such things as styles of clothing, tech level, the presence of psychic abilities or magic, specific races and other specific things that are usually associated with that genre. Every genre has certain things (sometimes uniqute to that specific setting) that fans have come to expect. GM: Game Master. This is the guy who runs a Role Playing Game. also known as a DM (Dungeon Master), referee and all manner of other clever things. Megacorporation: These would be corporations that are so big and powerful that they can stand toe to toe with national governments. They are truly global conglomerates with holdings in every continent and participate in a wide variety of business ventures (frequently being so diversified that they are also completely self-sufficient). Megacorps are commonly depicted as being completely separate from national government and not bound by their laws even when operating on their soil (corporate land is considered to be sovereign territory). Megacorps are a key part of the shadowrun RPG and are a common element of various sciFi settings. Player: These are the people in a Role Playing Gamer that are actually playing. Usually they only get to control one character at a time. RPG: Role Playing Game; It's a lot like improv acting with rules. A Game Master sets up the scenario and the Players (who have fully fleshed out characters with all kinds of cool special abilities) get to go on an adventure. It's very similar to games like Final FAntasy however the storyline is usually waaaay more free form & flexible. Session: this is a single session of a Role Playing Game, usually running about 4 to 6 hours depending on the group. setting: For Role Playing Games, the term "Setting" refers to a particular game world that the characters exist in. This is a technical term separate from (though similar to) the usual dictionary definition. A Setting in an RPG would usually fall under a specific Genre but have qualities and characteristics that set it apart from other world settings. Differences could include such things as higher or lower levels of technology, the presence of magic (to greater or lesser degrees) and unique countries & histories. Space Opera: This is a sub-category within the SciFi genre that usually focuses on faster than light space travel, encounters with alien races, interstellar wars and space exploration. Good examples of this would be Farscape, Star Trek and Star WArs. Super Heroes: This term is jointly owned by Marvel & DC (or more correctly Disney and Warner Bros now) but is also used to describe the Genre these companies created. The Super hero Genre is usually contemporary and focuses on exceptional individuals with special powers, skills and/or training that set them apart from normal people and allow them to accomplish superhuman feats. Characters in this setting are either Super Heroes, Super Villains or some sort of secret organization (or government) that is involved with or opposed by either group. The Heroes are usually champions of the average citizen while the villains tend to be focused on using their abilities to make money, get revenge on a hero or dominate the world. Epic battles between heroes and villains are common. Space travel and contact with alien races is a common Trope of this Genre. In this Genre the world usually looks the same as the current time period however the average tech level will be a few grades higher and specific people may possess technology that is centuries ahead of the average. The comics published by Marvel & DC are great examples of this Genre as are the films produced by those companies. TPK: Total Party Kill; This is a scenario where all of the characters are wiped out in a single evening without being able to bring in replacement characters. This is frequently the end of the story whether it was planned or not. Trope: websters defines a Trope as "a common or overused theme or device." BAsically a Trope is a common element you will see in a particular Genre and forms part of the flavor of it. Tropes are not necessarily good or bad but are instead just what is usually done and the quality or effectiveness of it depends a lot on who is telling the story and the interest level of the person experiencing it.

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