Game to Narrative

Hey, you.

Yeah, you.

Not you, that gamer over there.

The one who has been running the game.

Hey, want to take this campaign to a book or two?

Don’t think you can?

I beg to differ.  You can, and if you are creative, willing to put in a little work, and willing to think outside the box, you will.

How do I know?  Because I have done it.


Let me help you out.

For starters, remember how your campaign started?  The adventerers were drawn together from where ever they originated.  Depending on your game system, this might have been due to an add, or a call from someone, or even a chance encounter – you started with one or two traveling together, but now you have the entire group.  Yeah, that was easy, right?

Well, this intro is the same type of thing you will want to have in your book.  Start the action just as the last of your group joins up, and let the dialogue reveal where each of the characters comes from as they sit around talking over the night’s dinner.  Spread it out over several story days.  Meanwhile, have them continue traveling towards what ever destination they have a reason to continue together for.  (This would be the finale of your campaign.)

Wait, you don’t know your characters yet?  That’s fine, neither do your readers.  Take a moment to go back and look over how to take your character from a character sheet to a book character here.  Make sure you have at least a good sketch of all of the group you want to use as main characters.  This is important, because this will allow you to drive the story forward, just like your players drive the campaign forward to its conclusion.

Now, you have the setting, the foundation in your characters, and are ready to tackle the fun part.  Yeah, this is the hard part too.  Now, you have to figure out how to make your characters come alive on the page.  So, take a deep breath, put on your thinking cap, and get ready to have one wild adventure!  Now, we are going to dive right into the writing part of this exercise.

Remember your campaign – how you described the scenes to your players, the other characters you had on hand for your players to interact with.  Call up those memories.  You are going to need them.  Start writing the descriptions of these scenes – what they looked like, how the air felt, was it hot?  Was it cold?  Was it windy?  Still?  Summer? winter?  Was there some smell, like spilled beer?  Stale straw from the stable?  An open cesspit?  How about the bitter smell of oil?  What could the players hear?  A general babble coming from the town?  A specific conversation they just HAD to over hear?  The sound of the forest they were walking through?  Running water?  The hum of the engines?  Paint the scene in words.  Add in as many of the niggling little details as you can remember.  Go back to your players, and get their impressions as well.  Often a second set of eyes or ears can lend depth to what you are writing.

Write out ALL of the scenes your players played out in the campaign.  If you skipped something in the game, then skip it in the book(s), it was uninteresting enough to play through in the first place, so it can safely be ignored.  Don’t worry about continuity yet.  Get those scene descriptions!

Got them all?  Quite a bundle of parts isn’t it?

Good!  The more the merrier!  Now, go back to the first scene again.  Dive into it, and see the characters.  You have all of the general senses engaged for the characters to interact with.  Now bring your characters into play.  How do they talk to the each other or any extras you have in place?  Write it in.  For the moment you can leave the dialogue generic “he said/ she said” because you’ll want to come back and revisit this again.

Go through each scene, and get the main theme dialogue scattered through it.  Because this was a game, feel free to go back to your players and have them help you remember who said what when and to whom.

Now, you have all of your main theme dialogue written in?  Now, go back and look at the emotions behind the words, and any movement ticks.  Did your ranger gasp at something, or whisper to one of the others?  What about the mage declaiming his spell while swirling his arms around his head?  Or even the technomancer who had such a time with the mechanical contraption they kept beating on it, timing their words with each stroke of the wrench.  This is when you can start to add these extra details if you haven’t all ready.  Yeah, it means wading back through everything again.  But, hey!  You can also do a little on-the-fly editing while you are at it.  If something doesn’t run together properly, or you think some attention needs to be shifted, feel free to do that along the way.

Go ahead now, and polish each of these individual scenes until they glow.  The dialogue flows realistically, the characters move and feel real, and you can see/hear/taste/smell the scene in your mind.

Now it is time to string these together to make a final cohesive tale.  Starting with the first scene, figure out how the characters got from here to the second scene.  Try to keep it brief.  If they traveled, and you want to add in some of their stories, then just mention they had covered so much distance and stopped for the night.  Then show how they set up camp – sort of like a miniscene.  Instead of the hustle and bustle of the first scene, have the group talking.  That way you can tease out some of the backstory without just dumping it all at once.  Try to keep this restricted to one character per “night” or story time.  And, don’t show/tell everything that character can do.  Oh, sure she is a monk of Corelleon with all of the wonderful monk’s attacks that come with the class, but she wouldn’t just sit down and describe herself that way.  Perhaps something more like, I trained at this temple or with this school.  That way you get to see some of the world outside the immediate story.

Take however long you need to tell one tale enough for the potential reader to get to know the character, then have them decide to turn in.  Move down the road a little more, or even into the first encounter of the adventure.  When night comes, pick out a second character to do this with.

Lather, rinse, repeat until you have all of your main characters.  I’m willing to bet you have covered more ground than you expected!  If the group is still on the road, then have them speculate about some of the encounters they have already had, or about the reasons for the encounters.  If they have not had any encounters, then STOP!  Go back and rearrange your ideas.  Reading a story with the same plodding “they traveled today and set up camp” over and over gets to be BORING.  Now, I’ll grant you, that if you have a cargo to get from here to there and only so many days to get it there, then feel free to use a day-by-day approach.  But, with either approach, please, please, PLEASE sprinkle in some encounters!  Help liven things up.  If the group is escorting cargo, how likely is that cargo to be passed along without someone trying to take it?

If the group is heading towards some destination – like a city or town – how likely are they to NOT come across a bed of ants, a patch of cuckle burrs, or even a wild animal or twenty?  If they are in space, they may have run afoul a pirate, or even some comet storm.  Give them something to over come.  Yeah, it will look easy – but the characters are only level 1!  Remember they don’t have all of the skills and abilities a hero would have… yet!  Maybe, one or more of them could encounter an instructor?

Yeah, you are getting the hint now!  Use the same technique to get all of your pieces strung together into a “beads on a string” type feel.  Sure, it may not flow completely smooth but it will at least be able to plausibly lead you from the beginning to the end.

Now, it is time to go back and begin the hard, and not-so-fun part.  From the top, go through and take a critical look at what you have written.  You are looking for two main things, but any editing skills you have should also be brought into play here.  You are looking for definite references that come directly from the game system you used as your foundation.  Some terms you can use safely, others you will want to change if you plan on actually publishing this.  (Since you actually have an almost book, isn’t that a wild idea?  Feels great that you are this close, doesn’t it?  Don’t stop, you are almost there!)  Get those direct references changed.  For more on this, take a look at my post Trademarks and Copywrite.  The other thing you are looking for in this reread are the spots when the story itself seems to stall – where nothing is driving it forward.  Yeah, it’s not fun, but cut these sections out.  You might be able to rework them if it looks like only a small amount of work can fix it and the particular piece is critical for a later bit of action, but don’t use a ton of time here.  Just cut them away.

When you get done, now is the time to return to the beginning AGAIN, and make one last effort to ensure everything flows smoothly.  Work on those pieces you snipped in or out, so the joins remaining are seamless with the rest of the work.  when you get to the end, find yourself some folks to read through it again and let you know if they see any glaring errors in your content continuity.  Don’t use your players for this part – they know the story as well as you do.  If possible, find some strangers, so they will be honest.  Sugar coating at this point is poison, so be ready to take some bitter medicine.  Just know the critiques are only there to make your work glow!

Congratulations!  You have now successfully taken one of your campaigns from an old game into a new book.  Now, you get to decide what to do with it – publish or leave it to languish while you go onto other projects.

So, you want to go ahead and publish? Wonderful. The next step is outlined in my next installment for this series. Why not hop over HERE, and take a look?


Comments and questions welcome.

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