Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Would Mark Twain Do?

Have you ever wondered what Mark Twain would say if he were a role player or owned a role playing game? How would he conduct himself and how can we be positive he'd create an interesting character? Sure! We all have pondered about that. I think I can help answer this.

Mark Twain hated author James Fenimore Cooper. He hated him so much that he wrote an article called "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" where he completely tore apart the stuff he didn't like about Cooper's novels. He didn't even care that Cooper was dead when Twain wrote this because that's how he is! No holds barred!

I know this article refers strictly to fiction writing but I've plucked out parts that could be translated into role playing and I don't even care that Mark Twain is dead because that's how I am. I am positive Twain would agree if these were the no no rules he created for his rpg.

2. They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

Think of "episodes" as threads in an rpg. Threads ought to work like scenes in a movie. Something important should happen in each one. Things should be exciting and take the characters someplace fun. The end result should leaves the characters wanting more. Eliminate the dull, boring and pointless things that make some rpgs mundane like getting to know a girl by asking her what her favorite color is or what city she grew up in.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

Don't make characters that are boring, shy or asleep due to a wonky spell so often that they are mistaken for dead people.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

Make sure everyone in a thread is there to do something useful. Don't drop in and offer nothing but wasted space just to up your post count.

5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

Stop talking. Don't drag out a scene if the passion and enthusiasm died out long ago. Just say goodbye if all has been done and said. If you do decide to throw something in to make it more exciting, be sure that new element is actually thrilling and not a half-assed attempt at excitement.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader.

The reader or the other people in the thread. "Crass stupidities" can mean lots of things here. Take what you want. I choose to believe it means don't turn back time to take a parting shot at the character that left already. Or ripping the hoodie off someone's body after they said don't do that. Or pouting and saying that you are going back to the tavern only to return and muck up the scene with more pouting. I could go on but the point is made. Crass stupidities covers lots of territory but can be easily recognized by everyone.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

Don't suddenly create a full family tree with members out to kill you but it's okay because you're suddenly aware you have mad kung fu fairy fighting skillz.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

It's really true that if you tell someone to love your character, they won't. You have to earn that love. And if you create a mean character, also, don't demand that everyone love her. Make these things happen through character interactions. Stomping your feet around and crying won't make anyone love you, just walk away quickly.

In addition to these large rules there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

Don't be shy. Don't be incoherent either. Be open and meaningful and not afraid to engage others.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.


14. Eschew surplusage.

No one really cares about your character's hair, how they are breathing or what they had for breakfast if they asked your character what his or her name is. Get to the point.

15. Not omit necessary details.

Like inheriting a sword after you died.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

Don't say, "She sat on a swigs and herd a noise behing her."

17. Use good grammar.

Than you can be better then everyone else.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Too much wallowing in a character's past will completely stop an character from moving forward. If they can't say what needs to be said do what needs to be done and just wants to sit on a dock staring at water and thinking about her dead family, she's not going any place. If she wants to dwell on the complexities of life and death, where we go when we die, why didn't she die too and what will become of her now, she'll have a rough time having a simple and straightforward conversation with any one attempting to get involved with her.

He would make an excellent rpg owner and keep those crass stupidities out. He'd monitor those deadly boring characters that flop around in scenes for no obvious reason. Twain would keep all plots on task and not veering off into Mary Sue showcasing.

Watch out for these things improbable miracles, get to that discoverable purpose and stop talking when there is nothing to say. If you can't, ask me what white washing is. It's something you'll like.

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