Repeat after me: Don’t make your points by telling people to “repeat after me.”

I’m sure Deborah J. Ross is a good person who’s kind to children and small animals, but she’s completely wrong-headed here. First of all, don’t make your points by telling me to repeat them, as though I’m a child. Because, really.

Second, it’s terribly easy and terribly unconvincing to try to disprove an assertion by trotting out The Bad Version. You know what I mean. Someone makes an assertion (playing tabletop RPGs can be helpful for writers!) and the counter-argument is always Something Awful That Might Come Of It: you learn to railroad a story like a railroading GM, you write a bunch of fights and encounters with no emotional content, you let the characters carry around Too Much Magic (srsly, check the comments), you get the pacing wrong.

But this is like saying opera isn’t beneficial to prose fiction writing because you might make all your characters sing their dialog. Yeah, gamers sometimes write bad stories that are too much like games. Guess what movie- and TV-watchers sometimes do?

Of course there are aspects of games that don’t translate to fiction. Do I want to buy a novel that recounts someone’s D&D adventure? Probably not.

But there are things to learn, too. I’m not going to make an exhaustive list: I’m only going to mention one: PCs are annoying. No matter what a GM thinks will be the proper course for the characters, the players will come up with something else, something fiendish and clever that slants things to their side.

That’s what they do: they scramble and plan for every edge they can get. Bad guys holed up in a house, waiting for you to break down the door? Hey, is that a wooden house? Well, let’s get some gasoline from the car, put it in this old beer bottle–who has a lighter? We’ll shoot them as they come out.

Long corridor with doors on either side? Treasure we want probably down the hall? Let’s not fight our way through. Just jam those doors shut and we’ll bypass the enemies there. Anyone have spell for that?

A new super-hero in town with water-based powers? And the new D.A. is named Sam Lake? We break into his house and search the place until we find his costume.

Players will teach you to be sneaky, to cheat, to take unfair advantage (but always within the games rules). They’ll teach you to look carefully at the plot, and to make it better.

So says I.

 
  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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