Web Comics
Meet The Creators
 Blogs Page


Storytelling Part 2 “Suspension of Disbelief Part 1” I’d like to discuss the subject of “Plausibility.” Many years ago I was reading a short article written by the publisher of one of my favorite RPG games where he talked about how fans would talk to him at cons and say that they wanted more “realism” in his products. He thought this was odd because by the very nature of RPG’s they are anything but realistic. If you ever made the mistake of asking a gamer to tell you about his adventures you’ll know what I mean (and I say this as a gamer myself). Mistake may be too harsh a word but it sure is easy to find you’re trapped in an hour long one sided conversation. Anyhow, his thought on the matter was that they really wanted “Plausibility” as opposed to “Realism.” The game needed to be believable within the context of its setting. This is an interesting topic when you look at the subject of comics. If you are creating your own original series or revamping something that doesn’t have much popularity, you’re generally free to do as you please. Your only problem is how to make it interesting enough to people to create a fan base (or satisfy an existing one). When you are working with an established character the game is entirely different. I’m a huge fan of the Comicpop YouTube Channel and Sal (the main host on the channel) is frequently complaining about this very point; and I think his concerns are well founded. They review Batman & Superman stories (Superman for Tomorrow would be one glaring example that comes to mind) a lot and he is often complaining about how the stories don’t live up to expectations. It’s a fair complaint because those characters have been built up with certain expectations in the public eye and when you don’t deliver what the fans want or expect the story immediately has an uphill battle. In the above example, the writer wanted to do a story where Superman was sad and behaving in a very “non-Superman” manner. I can definitely appreciate why Sal was not happy with the book. Something like this could be fine but it needs to be handled well and make sense in the context of the story. Apparently it was not because Sal was quite livid in his disdain for this book. I’m not a huge Superman fan myself (and admittedly did not read the book) but from the story he was telling I’m not sure I would have been any more impressed than he was. At one point in the story, Superman was mouthing off to the Justice League and putting them in their place by pointing out the obvious disparity in power levels. Obviously this didn’t go over well. In the story (part of the main continuity of DC at the time) Superman thought Lois might be dead and was depressed over the matter. The problem with this was that this part of the story takes place a year later and Superman would have either found a way to rescue her or gotten over it… like a normal person. He has friends & family to lean on and fantastic resources with which to attack the problem (like, oh I don’t know, the greatest detective in the world). Instead he was depicted as losing touch with his humanity and alienating his friends. So we have a character that is known for mental stability and our greatest ideals of heroism, courage, honor & integrity but was depicted as a whiny looser. It didn’t exactly work. Now if you look at the Injustice comic series you have a Superman who went crazy and took over the world. This version also lost Lois however, instead of a mysterious disappearance, he was tricked into murdering her by the Joker. To make it even worse, Lois was pregnant with their child at the time. To make a long story short, Superman out right murders the Joker and completely loses his moral compass, going so far as to declare himself absolute ruler of Earth and form an army of super humans (both heroes and villains) to help him do it. It was his reputation as a hero that rallied all these people behind him. They trusted him completely and were unwilling to accept that he’d lost it. “If Superman says to do it he must have a good reason.” Here we have two very similar stories (the latter one existing within its own continuity) with one that doesn’t work and one that does. In fact the Injustice series is, as of this writing, in its fifth year of publication and, by all accounts, a smash hit. The difference here is believability. Anything works as long as it’s done well and fits within the established framework that has been set down for a character. I personally consider it lazy storytelling if you don’t take continuity and expectations into consideration. Obviously some great stories have come out of this but it is still an uphill battle right out of the gate if you don’t take the time to consider your audience first. I can think of several great examples on the subject of RPG’s. Back when I was first learning to be a GM I definitely wasn’t very good (I had no lack of creativity but I had no idea how to tell a good story). Now, as an experienced storyteller, I have a tough time just being a Player because it means suffering through the same level inexperience on the part of the younger GM’s who want to learn the craft. Their storytelling abilities are nowhere near what mine are and sometimes lack enough life experience (or even genre savvy) to recognize a good story from a bad one. One example that springs to mind (and if the person who did this happens to be reading this article, I mean no offense) we were playing a team of super heroes. We were definitely not A-Listers (probably at the low end of B) though we were well known in our own area. At one point the President showed up to personally ask us for help in some crisis. Obviously the GM had a plan and it did make some sense but for me, I was pulled completely out of the story. It totally violated the suspension of disbelief because there was no way the President even knew who we were let alone would come into the middle of a major disaster zone without an entire platoon of Secret Service Agents just to talk with us in the middle of the street. If he was going to do this we would be met by a go between who would have us come to a secure location where his protection could be guaranteed. More likely we’d never even meet with him at all and the whole mission would be arranged by some government agent. And of course it would not be public knowledge and probably there would be some strategy in place to coerce our cooperation if we refused (hell, my character was a former soldier who was hiding the fact he had gained super powers while in the military; talk about a golden opportunity to force the team into his storyline). It’s been my experience that the more elegant and subtle you can be with these kinds of storylines, the better it works. When trying to put together a plausible storyline the best place to start is with your group of characters. Take a good long look at who they are and what they motivations have. Is one of them a former Jewel thief? Do they have a military background? Is one of them a Hacker? Reformed criminal? Government connections? Is there a way to take the story you want to tell and connect it directly to one or all of the characters in your group? The real trick, I think, is to make the story relevant to the characters you are telling the story about. If they wouldn’t care why would you expect the reader (or the Player) to give a damn? If the setup makes sense, if nobody can easily poke holes in it, and you do a good job of connecting your characters to the story in a way that makes sense then they would already want to get involved. If you can do this well then you don’t have to resort to coercion to force participation and half of your problem is at least solved in the beginning. Obviously you aren’t going to get everyone (if you want to tell a horror story you aren’t going to interest people who don’t like that genre) but at the very least you are delivering something that the fans of the genre will be able to agree with. My last article went a little long so I’m going to make a point of limiting these things to two pages. This may be a tough thing for me but I’m going to go for it. I will however be making this one a two parter. In Part 2 I’m going to take a look at an example of what I’m talking about here. I’ve already given some bad example so I’ll outline one that did work and explore why. 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.

Back to Top