Storium Theory: The “Draft” Principle

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on April 12th, 2016.

Storium is a writing game. It is similar to writing stories…but not quite the same thing.

When we write stories on our own, we are in complete control of things. We can adopt whatever writing style we want. We can plan out our plots in intricate detail. We can figure out the ending before we have the beginning. We can make everything perfect before we release it (well…as close as possible, anyway).

Storium is a little bit different.

Storium is a collaborative writing game in which the story (barring some experimental setup I haven’t witnessed) is told in chronological order from beginning to end. While it’s certainly possible to plot some things out in advance, and narrators (and players) do this to varying degrees, any RPG GM will tell you not to expect things to go precisely according to the plan. You’re sharing your writing power, after all.

It isn’t just about the way the story will go, though. You’re sharing your writing power–and that means that you’re sharing the game’s continuity. You’re sharing the game’s revelations. You’re writing with players with varying writing styles and varying goals for the game. You’re seeing the same characters written by multiple writers.

All this to say…don’t expect things to be perfect.

Justin of the Storium Arc podcast (@Twisted_Gnome on Storium itself) suggests treating Storium stories like they were a “first draft.” Accept that not everything is going to be perfect–there may be little continuity errors, character portrayals may change as stories go on (or when they’re in the hands of different writers), plots might trail off without a resolution, details of a scene might not be quite right…a whole host of things might arise that, if a writer was writing on his own, he’s iron out on the second, third, fourth, or seventy-times-seventh draft.

It may be a bit unexpected considering how much detail I put into the thought process on character arcs, challenge setups, subplots, and the like on this blog, but…I agree.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about continuity, character portrayal, complete plots, and the like. You should care. Definitely. And certainly, you should be making an effort to keep it. You should be making an effort, period.

But at the same time, you should accept that this is, effectively, “live” writing…not quite stream-of-consciousness, but not that far off. Mistakes happen.

Heck, sometimes they’re not even mistakes. Sometimes it just becomes clear that a character should be a little different than originally imagined. Sometimes a plot needs to be tossed in order to keep things from getting overcomplicated as a game moves towards an ending. Sometimes people have two different, entirely valid interpretations of an item of continuity, and while the game started out using one, it ends up feeling that the other is more correct.

In a novel, you might go back after you were done and clean up the error points–or the “transitions” of thinking–and make everything flow a little better. But in a Storium game…just let it flow. Think of it as a draft.

Why does this matter?

Primarily…preventing writer’s block.

Storium is a game of writing…and writing…and writing. You’re going to be writing a lot of moves, and really, you’re going to write them over a pretty short time, overall. If you rewrite every post a million times until it feels absolutely perfect, you’re going to get yourself stressed out enough that you can’t write.

There’s a tendency for writers to let their internal critic poke at them and poke at them and poke at them until they just can’t find a way to make themselves satisfied with what they wrote. I know I’ve been writing stories (or, heck, blog posts) where I’ve rewritten the opening paragraph multiple times, unable to let myself progress until it was perfect.

We have to tell our internal critics to shut up already.

I’m not saying to avoid checking things. I’m saying not to stress about it too much. Take a look at the scene, or past events, or how a character is portrayed, or whatever you need to look at, and write your post–but if you’re not sure about something, go ahead and put it out there anyway. You can pop in a comment asking about what you weren’t sure about, too, and that may be a good idea…but be willing to put the move out there anyway.

It’s a weird mental trick to pull, but it works. Write like you’re going to come back for another pass later on.

As an example, one little thing that happens a lot with my characters is that I take a scene or two to really nail the character’s voice. If you read the first scene of a story, then read one midway through, you’ll often notice that my character speaks in a different manner later in the story–he started out more generic but developed a more complete voice as things went on.

And that’s fine. I can change the character’s way of speaking as the story goes on. I’m writing a draft. This isn’t final.

Justin had another good example, on a character detail–he’s played a character for a couple games now, but just revealed that she had a younger brother who died. He didn’t know that himself until he wrote it, but it was fine. He can add details to a character’s background as things go along. He’s writing a draft.

Again, I’m not saying that you should write at random, without thinking of continuity or character personality or character voice or background or any of the other details. Do think about those things. I do encourage people to know their character, at least the broad strokes, before they begin writing. Make an effort.

But you don’t have to make it perfect. You don’t have to know every little thing. It’s okay to discover some things as the story goes on. It’s okay to reinterpret elements of the character later on.

So think about things…but don’t stress about them. Don’t try to make every post absolutely perfect, or you won’t post. Storium is a game–have fun with it.

It’s a draft.

2 Comments

  1. Justin Hall
    Jul 13, 2016

    Great post. Especially the part about agreeing with me 🙂

    Sadly, I think the fact Storium is first draft keeps some people away. They expect final draft work and complete story focus. This really just isn’t possible…unless the narrator has it all planned out and gives everyone their moves ahead of time. But if you are doing that, why don’t you just go write a book lol

    • Robert Mohr
      Jul 13, 2016

      Yeah…though I think you and I have slightly different interpretations of “first draft” sometimes (i.e. what to do when players drop), I think it’s just really important to acknowledge the fact that things will not work out perfectly while you’re writing on the fly, collaboratively. There will be things that come up where you’re just going to have to say “this doesn’t jive with what happened before, entirely, but it works now.”

      I want to be clear that I’m not saying “don’t try your best.” I think it’s important to do so. But it’s important to acknowledge that stories don’t spring forth perfectly on the first attempt, and this is a first attempt! I agree that people who expect perfection are going to struggle…especially if they expect perfection of themselves.

      I’ve had players convince themselves they weren’t good enough to write in Storium games because they couldn’t come up with the perfect move every single time. No one in the game was telling them that – they just felt, themselves, that they had to revise and revise and revise until it was perfect, and they frustrated themselves with that. That’s just going to give you writer’s block. Sometimes you just have to put it out there and say, “that’s my best right now.”