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Young Writers Society
General Storybook Discussion
Tue May 16, 2017 8:08 pm
This is an unnecessarily long and unnecessarily intellectual post on storybooks. Ignore this entirely if you're wondering why someone would write something so long about something so simple. There is no tl;dr. Sorry.
Traditionally, storybook theorists on YWS have been divided into two schools.
One prefers a centralist approach to running storybooks, wherein the DM establishes a firm groundwork that other players adhere to, and their contributions, at most, depend on how skillfully and creatively they deliver their assigned story segment; the other is instead more loose, the DM starts the story, and likely has a general idea of where it's going to go, but players have a lot more freedom and can substantially impact the story. A scroll through the forums will reveal that most people in fact fall into one of these two schools.
They both have advantages and disadvantages. The former is excellent at seeing a storybook through. It treats it as a novel that requires multiple people to unfold, and because it is more or less planned a priori from start to finish, is very easy to follow as an actual novel, or television series. However, it strongly limits the participant's initiative, they are simply actors. The latter can create a greater sense of investment in the participants, as their actions are actually relevant. However, it is easy to lose steam, or lose track of where things are supposed to go, and falter.
Here I propose a possible third way, which should take the strong points of both and mitigate their drawbacks. This is split into parts, which go over the most important bits of my idea.
Theme is the concept that dominates the entire storybook. For example, "this is a story about faustian heroes that sacrifice everything to obtain ultimate power, only to be destroyed by it". Every storybook that's had some thought put into it has had one, this is nothing original. Themes are important because they give everything a focus, help you decide on a style or detail to portray, and otherwise make things organic.
An Arc is an event which the cast of characters must resolve. Television shows, novels, they all have arcs. The length of an Arc in storybooks varies on post length, assuming everyone writes a lot each post, an Arc could be ~10 posts long, more if the average post is short. Arcs are always in some way related to the Theme. Continuing my faustian heroes example, the first Arc could be: "the heroes investigate a cult that practices black magic on behalf of the kingdom police. Its leader is a charming and charismatic individual who shows them the potential of their magic, making them doubt their mission." In the loubook, post order is randomly selected at the beginning of each Arc. Posts are sequential, there is no backwards writing.
The Spotlight Character
The Spotlight Character is simply the character that gets the most "screen-time" in that Arc. In the loubook, the spotlight character is randomly selected at the beginning of the Arc. That Arc's events somehow revolve around the Spotlight Character. Their author has a big say in the flow and events of that Arc.
Sub-Arcs are like an Arc within an Arc. They're shorter, obviously (maybe ~5 posts), and tangentially related to the events of the Arc. They usually feed into the events of the next Arc, and are a great way of anticipating future events. In the loubook, each Arc should have at least 1, maybe 2, Sub-Arcs. The Spotlight Character does not necessarily need to, and in fact often doesn't, feature prominently within Sub-Arcs. In my example story, a Sub-Arc could be: "One of the characters belongs to a wizarding school, but their participation in the cult investigation leads to friction with the school's conservative rector."
Arc Subject Selection
In the lou-book, Arc selection is a collaborative and democratic process. The DM might spark the discussion as to what the Arc might contain, but each player should have a substantial say on it. For example, one could create the setting of the Arc, another a relevant supporting NPC, or a sub-Arc, very common, as Sub-Arcs allow non-Spotlight Characters to shine.
Why the Loubook?
Randomly selecting spotlight characters and post order, as well as stressing that Arc subject matter is collaborative, should allow more contributions to filter in. At the same time, establishing a fixed number of posts by which Arcs terminate, as well as fixed (albeit randomly generated) post order, helps eliminate some of the confusion that more freedom generate.
Furthermore, the collaborative aspect, formalized in the Arc creation rules, has several advantages. In doing this, the DM has a lot less work cut out for them, because players make much of the material. Of course, the DM has to make sure that each Arc flows smoothly into the next, and so should pay particular attention to Sub-Arc selection. Once the players warm up to this method, things should flow smoothly. Formalizing player contribution simultaneously increases player investment and helps maintain focus and order.
Try it at Home
What do you think? Please do try this formula in your next storybook, post here to let me know how it goes! If you managed (congratulations) to reach the end of this post without your eyes glazing over, and still have some doubts regarding the loubook, don't hesitate to ask me. If you think my analysis of storybooks was wildly incorrect, do yell at me. Basically, anything that came to your mind while reading this, let me know!
vulgus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur
Don't be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.
— Roy T. Bennett
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