Here’s another installment in what seems to be my occasional series on things I learn about writing from being a GM (gamemaster, for those who are less geeky than me).

I was testing a new game system on Saturday with a group of players (the Mongoose Traveller science-fiction role-playing game, for those who are interested). Our group mainly plays Dungeons and Dragons, where most of the conflict occurs when battling monsters. There are skill checks occasionally, and I run political games where the characters have to talk to people and convince them of things, but, for the most part, if something bad’s going to happen to your character, it’s going to be at the hands of some three-headed monster.

Traveller has combat, but it’s also designed to focus a lot on the skills that characters have. A number of scenes in my game required characters to do things like fly out of a crowded shuttle port under intense time pressure, or repair a collapsing tunnel, or deal with failing life support. Because I’m not used to thinking of skills in terms of life-or-death situations, I failed, at first, at giving a sense of consequence. Characters would fail a skill check and I’d say, OK, roll again. Obviously, this kills the sense of rising tension. My husband says I was doing better by the end of the session, but it got me thinking about writing.

Whether you’re writing genre fiction or not, there’s a lot that matters beyond obviously life or death moments. Every time the character does anything or opens his mouth to say anything, he’s doing that one thing instead of dozens of other possibilities, and there’s no taking it back. I’m asking myself if my stories truly reflect the consequences of these character actions. Am I portraying the characters’ choices as truly important? Or, as a writer, am I telling my characters, “Um, OK, roll again”?

In other news: I’m on vacation this week, people. I’m still going to schedule posts, but I may be slow responding to comments. Don’t forget to enter to win a subscription to The Sun. Leave a comment on this post before 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Monday, July 13. Good luck!


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