The Quest for Fascinating Fiction

Fascinating your audience is part of your job whether you are a gamemaster or a writer. One way to do the trick is to make more out of the tasks your story or game offers.

Task

Tasks are an important part of narration and especially of games. In fact, there is no game without at least one task for the player(s), because games revolve around changing a situation. Some narratives do not, but the overwhelming majority does revolve around changing the situation of a character. So for the sake of brevity let's say tasks are important for stories and games.

A task is not necessarily pressing. Why hurry when there is no deadline? Why be efficient if costs do not matter? Why strain yourself when there is no adversary? Why hesitate when there is nothing to be dubious about? In other words, why bother?

A task without pressure may be relaxing or kills time in real life, but in a narration or a game, it is just boring. On the other hand, a pressing task gains weight. It is important.

Pressure

There are two types of pressure you can add to a task.

External pressure is something that makes it harder to accomplish the task. If time is limited or resources are low or someone interferes, it is a challenge.

Internal pressure is something that makes it harder to decide how to accomplish the task. When there is no objectively correct choice, no ideal approach to the problem, then there is conflict.

Challenge

When things can go wrong and fixing them is unlikely, a task becomes a challenge. "Take out the trash" is a task. "Take out the trash in under a minute" is a challenge. "Get the steak" is a task. "Get the steak from the mad dog" is a challenge.

Challenges are essential for typical male fiction: win the fight, get the girl.

Conflict

A task becomes a conflict if either outcome is desired, but for different reasons. "Get shelter" is a task. "Do I want to live near my kids or near my job?" is a conflict. "Stay alive" is a task. "Do I want to stay alone or trust the stranger?" is a conflict.

Conflicts are essential for typical female fiction: a girl between two guys.

Challenging Conflict

Add external and internal pressure to a task and you get a challenging conflict. The character is not only under pressure to decide what he wants, but he is also under pressure to do it with limited resources or against an adversary. "Keep your family save" is a task. "Who do you rescue first from burning alive: your kid or your spouse?" is a challenging conflict.

Challenging conflicts are essential for humane fiction: people you can relate to with problems you give a shit about.

What does this have to do with writing and gaming?

As a writer increase pressure on your characters to create more interesting fiction. Don't be nice to your characters, entertain your readers.

In narrative games do the same as a gamemaster. Players can pick up tasks on their own. They may also pick a challenge on their own. But they cannot create conflicts or challenging conflicts without the gamemaster's help. If you want your game to be intense, try creating conflicts for your player's characters. If they get involved, make it a challenging conflict. Don't be nice to the player characters, entertain your players.

 

Originally published January 28th 2015

Photo credits: Les Chatfield - Some rights reserved

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