Storytelling: The Personal Apocalypse

Posted on April 27, 2011


I love telling stories. When I was a little boy, my sister and I made up little “plays,” nothing more than skits really, and our parents suffered through them. I made up games for my friends and I to play. At some point, I discovered some small talent for writing. That came in handy when I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. I spent many, many happy hours making up adventures for my players. As I matured as a writer, I learned to tell the difference between good story ideas for fiction, and good ones for our games.

What I’d like to do in this blog feature is talk about story telling in short fiction, books, movies, television, tabletop games, and video games.

Personal Apocalypse

“After Y2K, the end of the world had become a cliché. But who was I to talk, a brooding underdog avenger alone against an empire of evil out to right a grave injustice. Everything was subjective. There were only personal apocalypses. Nothing is a cliché when it’s happening to you.” – Max Payne

Once upon a time, I was the assistant brand manager, licensing for Wizards of the Coast. My job was to manage the Dungeons & Dragons license. That meant that I worked with Atari and various game studios on the D&D games that came out between 2002 and 2007. During that time, one of our concerns was always that we, WotC, maintain control over the various game worlds. We created them, and we only loaned them out to the studios. We didn’t want strangers re-writing the geography of the Forgotten Realms or Eberron, or changing their direction or tone. It seemed like many of the writers wanted stories of world-shaking import, with earth-shattering consequences.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. When you can’t interact with players directly, that’s often the right choice. The consequences draw your players in, and get them intellectually invested. They want to see how you’re going to put all the pieces back, or if you’re going to put all the pieces, back together again.  That said, I always liked Remedy Entertainment‘s approach to storytelling, as exemplified in the quote above. The story grew organically from Max’s personal tragedy.

Making stories personal to your players, or your readers, is the best way to go. The player moves through your story because he has to, because he’s personally and emotionally invested in it.

The next time you’re enjoying a story (movie, TV show, video game), look at the story. Are you enjoying it? Are you intellectually curious about how it ends, or emotionally involved?

Tell Me a Story

In the comments, tell me about a story that stuck with you, and why. Thanks for reading.