PLAY SORCERER 35: If We Don’t Have a Plot, How Do We Have a Story?

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The Interviewer asked, “What did you learn while working on Angel with Joss Wheadon?”

And Shawn Ryan replied:

The main thing I learned from him is to approach stories from a character point of view, as opposed to a plot point of view. Forget about the plot in the beginning, because if you know what emotional journey you want to take your character on, the rest will follow. We break our crime stories [on The Shield] not in terms of who did this and what’s the clue; it’s what do we want our cops to go through on this particular story. Once we know that, the plot will come later.

If the Players just have their Characters do whatever seems most interesting to do—the most compelling thing, the most emotionally true thing they can think of doing—and the Game Master isn’t trying to guide the story under construction in any way, but just pokes and prods the Player Characters with the gift to make new revelation of character as he presents opportunities and threats, reversals and revelations, how exactly will there be any order? How does a story get made? How do we know there will be anything resembling a story at all?

Let’s look at the first sentence of that previous paragraph again. It’s a long sentence, but worth looking at several times.

The Players are having their Characters do the most interesting, the most compelling, the most emotionally true things they can think of having their Characters do.

In terms of story there is nothing better than this. This is gold. This is what makes the best stories—characters doing interesting things, honest things, compelling things.

Don’t fret about “the story.” Certainly don’t worry about “the plot.”

You know what makes a story? Characters doing the most interesting, the most compelling, the most emotionally true things you can think of.

“But certainly,” you’re thinking to yourself, “it can’t be that simple.”

And, indeed, it is not. We’re discussed many moving pieces so far. Let’s look at them.

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