In the spring of 2007 I did not work. I wrote. A lot! This was before I started writing for Dungeon Mastering. I was writing a novel (which is still just a draft). Writing fiction is tough, but it’s also fun and rewarding. For me it was also a great learning experience. I polished skills I had only used subconsciously: crafting complex character, creating unique settings, weaving story elements together.
Two and a half years later, my fiction writing projects are on hold. I’m all about gaming nowadays. But my stint as an aspiring novelist made me a better writer and a better storyteller. I thought I’d share a few writing techniques that I learned through books, websites, and experience and how I use them to be a better DM.
30 Fiction Writing Tips That Will Make You A Better DM
This is a three part series:
#11 – End your preparation sessions mid-sentence
This one is from Johnn Four (Roleplaying Tips, Campaign Mastery, Gamer Lifestyle). By stopping a writing session or game prep session mid-sentence you can pick where you left off easily the next time to sit down to write.
#12 – Build on assumptions
Description can bring your game session to a grinding halt if it’s not necessary. To cut down on description while still getting all the important information across, let your players know that you will build on their assumptions. For example, in a tavern players can assume that all the cliches are present – rowdy crowd, food, gambling, even mysterious hooded figures in dark corner. Of course, if your players assume something and their character acts accordingly, say yes, go along with their crazy ideas, and let them be the driving force of the story.
#13 – Have a single, clearly defined them
Redemption. Revenge. Exploration. Try to choose a theme – your players should have a say in this – and stick with it as often as possible. It will help set the mood for your campaign and help you make game prep decisions.
#14 – Use all five senses in your descriptions
Sight is the default. Describing sounds can greatly enhance the quality of your descriptions. Adding smells when appropriate can really immerse your players into the game world. Touch and taste are a little tougher to use. At first you might prepare these descriptions. If you keep at it and keep making a conscious effort to include all senses in your narrative, eventually it will come naturally.
#15 – Brevity and levity
I got this tip from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. If you can squeeze more information with less work, you automatically increase the pace of your game. For this to work you have to focus on story elements, characters, and scenes that really make an impact on your players and your game. Whenever an encounter – roleplay or combat – begins ask yourself: how can this moment make a major impact on the campaign or on one of the players? Go for it: make something happen!
#16 – Repetition
You can’t expect your players to remember everything about your NPCs or your game world. Repetition is easy to use and it will help you etch characters and scenes in your players minds. Repetition is easy to use and it will help you etch characters and scenes in your players minds. Repetition is easy to use and it will help you etch characters and scenes in your players minds.
#17 – Comparisons
Comparisons can really bring descriptions to life – they help you paint a vivid image.
#18 – Don’t let disapointment (or complete failure) stop you.
For every 5 great ideas and brilliant scenes you prepare, only one, two, or maybe 3 at the most will turn out just as good as you hoped it would. Don’t let that stop you. Keep DMing, keep planning games, keep writing, and keep having fun. Here’s my take on this success rate of 1 or 2 out of 5. As I get better as a DM my expectations rise and I try to pull off new techniques, different scenes, wilder ideas. So I’ll never be completely happy with my overall performance since I’m always trying something new, but even my “failures” are not that bad. In fact they might even be better than my successful scenes from 2 years ago! Failure, success, satisfaction, disapointment – it’s all relative. Just get people together, keep trying out new ideas and have fun.
#19 – Be open to criticism
Not only should you be open to criticism but you should seek it out! Ask your players what they like and don’t like about the way you run your games. And listen!
#20 – Make a difference
As a game master, a writer, or a storyteller you have to realize what your ultimate goal is. Is it to entertain? Is it to get your friends together? Is it to make your players feel good about themselves and their characters? Is it to relax and get away from your hectic daily grind? Knowing the reason behind the game helps you enjoy it more and run games for the right reasons – not just because it’s Wednesday and Wednesdays are game nights. Telling your story, running your campaign – it can be a great way to make a difference in your life and in the life of your friends.
This is a three part series:
If you are an aspiring fiction writer or game designer and want to get published, take a look at the Gamer Lifestyle coaching program that I run with Johnn Four (of RoleplayingTips.com). The program is currently open to new members from November 5th through November 7th. You can download our 70+ pages free e-book on working in the RPG industry to learn more about the Gamer Lifestyle project.
We opened the program to new members for a promotion that we are doing with Men With Pens, a popular blog for freelance writers. The Men With Pens Crew also runs Escaping Reality, a gaming fiction forum, and Capturing Fantasy, where fiction writing meets online gaming.