What My Favorite Board Game Session Ever Taught Me About Storytelling

One board gaming session stands out as the greatest I ever had. Why? I’ve played board games countless time. I’ve forgotten most of my board game sessions. What made that time different—and what does it have to do with storytelling?

This session stands out for the same reasons some movies become blockbusters and some novels become bestsellers.

The board game was Shadowhunters. In the game, there’s a Hunter team, a Shadow team, and neutral characters who each have their own unique win condition. Three outcomes are possible: Hunters win, Shadows win, or a neutral win forces both Hunters and Shadows to lose. Sometimes neutrals can win with Hunters or Shadows, but Hunter victory and Shadow victory are mutually exclusive. Therefore, the Hunters mostly try to make the Shadows lose, and the Shadows mostly try to make the Hunters lose, and the neutrals do their own weird things which interfere with both Hunters and Shadows.

Can you tell that the neutral characters make this game re-playable? When it’s only Hunters vs. Shadows—which the rules permit—the strategies are simple and the game becomes repetitive after a few sessions. The neutrals make it so that a strategy which worked once might fail the next time.

It’s a hidden role game, so players known their own identities, but not other players’. A player may choose to reveal their identity, a player’s death reveals their identity, and some game mechanisms force partial reveals. Since forcing a full reveal is extremely difficult, players must guess each other’s identities based on behavior.

In this session, I was a Shadow. And the other two Shadows died within two rounds.

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Why Are My Novels Important Enough to Sink So Much Time Into Writing and Revising Them?

The stories which most influenced my novel-series-in-progress have this in common: they’re set in a social order which is about to collapse. So is my novel series.

One is about a French aristocrat… during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

Early in the story, she fully believes in the social values of France’s ancien régime. Over time, she notices problems which make her lose confidence in her society’s stability. She finally concludes that the system must fall, fall in the pragmatic sense that it can’t sustain itself, fall because it’s unjust.

During the storming of the Bastille, she dies. The End.

In these stories, the protagonists often die amid the collapse. However, I’m more intrigued by the ending in which the protagonist lives. Alas, the story I have in mind doesn’t run much past the collapse.

My novel series is secondary world fantasy, so historical accuracy doesn’t bind me. (Though I research history for ideas and to check plausibility.)

The protagonist of my series has been raised to believe in her social order without question. The cracks in social order are so glaring even she’s aware of them, but she considers them to be setbacks, not a prelude to the fall.

A wonderful thing about beta reader feedback is getting granular opinions of how people interpret a story. They noticed a gap between what my protagonist observed and her interpretations. One beta reader referred to my protagonist as an ‘unreliable narrator’ (note: the protagonist isn’t the narrator, but it’s written from her point-of-view). None of them predicted the collapse, but they did figure out the true social-political situation is most likely not what the protagonist thinks it is. This is exactly how I want readers to interpret Book 1. I want them to know the protagonist’s interpretation of her world is off without predicting that this entire social order is going to fall apart in the middle of the series.

That’s right. The fall won’t end the series. It’s just the midpoint.

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Revising a Novel Is Zeno’s Paradox

During NaNoWriMo, millions of people are writing first drafts of novels. This is fantastic. Winning NaNoWriMo is an achievement (an achievement I’ve never attained myself).

In my experience, writing the first draft is the easy part. And if it’s not easy, it means that my outline has a problem (outlines are harder than first drafts) (yes, I’m a plotter, but I’m cool with pantsers, I don’t care how a novelist writes as long as I love the published version).

Outlining is harder that spewing out words at the top of my head. And revision is even harder than outlining.

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Why Aren’t the Cargo Ships Waiting to Unload in Southern California Going to Oakland?

Given the current supply chain crisis, you’d think that those cargo ships waiting in line for the Southern California ports would sail north to congestion-free Port of Oakland. Even if it’s not part of their usual contract, surely they could temporarily arrange alternate routes, especially since the Port of Oakland is asking for more cargo ships. Furthermore, Oakland has a rail terminal, so there’s no need for truck drivers: containers can go straight from ships to railcars.

Does the Port of Oakland have enough spare capacity to take all the cargo ships lined up in Southern California? No. But why aren’t the shipping companies taking up all the capacity which is available?

The supply chain crisis is a combination of long-term problems, such as non-union truck drivers, after expenses, earning less than minimum wage from port work (which explains why most truckers refuse to work in ports) (and there aren’t enough union truck drivers, or rather, the ports don’t contract enough union truck drivers because they don’t want to pay union wages). With these accumulating problems, this crisis was going to happen at some point. The pandemic is just one more straw on the camel’s back.

If the people who controlled cargo shipping—that is, the shipping lines and the ports—were interested in a functional supply chain, they’d shift some of the cargo traffic to Oakland.

The crux of the matter is: the people who have the power to ameliorate the crisis make more money by keeping the system broken.

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