The Reality of Reality Optional
Writing fiction is exactly like running a game for the worst bunch of players imaginable.
Not only do you have to come up with the plot and the setting and so forth, but you’ve also got to motivate the characters. Without the GM prodding them to get up and do something, they just lie there, a panoply of apathy. On the rare occasions when the characters do act of their own accord, they run off in unexpected directions instead of following the plot you’d planned for them.
That’s why writing fiction was such a hurdle for me. To borrow from Woody Allen (edit: who borrowed from Groucho Marx, known Commie Mutant Traitor), I didn’t want to play any game that would have me as a player.
When Allen Varney approached me about writing a PARANOIA novel, I accepted in the hope that taking on a deadline would stimulate my guilt gland -
(You don’t have a guilt gland? I do. It’s hyperactive. I take medication for it.)
- and force me to write fiction.
The plan worked… eventually. The outline took longer to write than the book did. Writing a detailed outline for an rpg adventure is anathema – a good adventure leaves the major decisions up to the players, so at most you can have an outline full of conditionals, counterfactuals and loops (if the players choose x, then y. If they’ve already done y, then you can salvage the situation with z.) In the past, I approached fiction in the same way, which doesn’t work.
So, this time, an outline was necessary.
(The passive voice is much safer.)
The first outline let to the second outline led to the third outline led to an endless death march. Allen & I would send each other mails starting off “I’ve got the homicidal thoughts under control now, so…” The book wandered in the desert for rather more than 40 nights.
My legal team & I are pleased to report that the endless death march did, in fact, pay off in the end and therefore there’s no need to smother anyone with a giant pile of old outlines. Once the final outline came together, the book flowed like The Computer’s own Bouncy Bubble Beverage. It was fun to write. That’s fun in a genuine way, not in an Alpha Complex reactor-shielding-is-fun way.
Some writers can write without an outline (Stephen King’s the best known example.) The big lesson from writing Reality Optional is that I’m not one of them. I need a map to keep me on course. That’s a very valuable insight to take away from the whole experience, and one that I’m going to build on this year.
The map’s not the territory, but it’s the first step to conquering it.