I don't know about you, but for me half of the fun of making any work of pixel art is envisaging the greater story behind it. We have our U.S Colonial Rangers courtesy of the previous article. But what would they be like in the 'real life' of our fictional world? How would they fight? How would they die? Who are the men beyond the uniforms? There is no better way to answer this than through a story set within your universe.
Unfortunately for many, however, writing a story is no easy thing. It takes quite a bit of effort and time to plan, write and review a full-blown story, and quite often the motivation or the inspiration just isn't there, especially after the initial momentum of the project has worn off. Although I am sure that there are plenty of how-to pages on story writing spread all over this world wide web, I have a few tips of my own to share with regards to creating an RP for your universe.
The Situation and the Protagonist
All stories start somewhere, and have a distinct world in which they inhabit. Luckily for us, we have already spent the previous three lessons building a detailed and in-depth world with clear parameters for a story to follow. By breaking things down to the 'Campaign' level, we have narrowed down the range within which our story will be set. Specifically, we are following the Hollis expedition into the wild and unknown westlands beyond the Stonewall Ranges (remember this from Part 2?). We should now choose a character to follow who will provide the best 'eye' on the unfolding events. Any of the military men could do, being guaranteed action, but their actions and their goal-oriented mindset would make them better supporting characters. Part of the Campaign narrative focussed on airman Rick Boone and indicated that he has a lot of potential with regards to backstory and character, so it would be logical to follow him as our main character. On reflection, he has a lot of options for exposition (experiences from the railyards, flying a plane, being drafted into the expedition etc.), an interesting array of skills to make use of, a source of potential plot in his status as a civilian amongst military men, and the appeal of being an 'everyday' kind of person. Let's go with him for now as our story's protagonist.
So now we have the main character. What to do with him? We are fortunate this time in that we already have a plot pre-determined by the Campaign (namely, the expedition); all we need to do is work out the major details. Some people, myself included, often work with only a brief framework of plot in mind and kind of 'ad lib' the bits in the middle. Although it may seem vague, this is actually a good idea, as it allows for great flexibility if you have a sudden change in character direction or a shift in narrative.
Let's apply this to our story. We've already said that Boone might come into conflict with the military guys, so how about getting them into a situation where this is bound to happen? How about an old classic: the team's radio equipment conks out in the middle of some vital orders, and there is a general disagreement over direction in which Boone takes a major role? Good, we now have a workable plot point.
Important to keep in mind, however, is the end goal. In this case, the end goal of the story is to get the expedition across the ranges and into the wild westlands. All roads of the story must, therefore, lead to this proverbial Rome. And this gives us another plot point, and an opportunity to develop the characters at the same time. To get there, somebody had to have made a final decision over the radio issue, and their opponents would likely resent this. By assigning characters to either side (do the timid civilians want to go back, or do the military officers think they got a recall?), we can better reveal their motivations, characters and emotions, and also set up further conflict later on, giving us another plot point to work with. I have heard this domino effect of ideas called "plot bunnies" - once you have one or two key points present, they start to breed other ideas like wildfire. Why did x want that decision? Was it something to do with their sense of duty, or an event in their distant past? Constantly think; what is happening, how is it happening, why is it happening, who is making it happen and [/i]where[/i] will it take the story and the characters?
Before we can get to these juicy plot tidbits, however, we must get the story started. This can often be harder than it sounds; your first words have to entice the reader and draw them into the characters and the plot. But how to start? Where to start? Who to start with?
A good way to begin is with a statement that includes one of the important characters or objects in the story. E.g:
Before the expedition lay an impossibly steep ridge of granite.
Within an opening statement, however, you can also set up a plot or an immediate problem facing the main characters:
It was the impossibly steep slopes of the granite ridge that had halted the expedition.
It was on the impossibly steep slopes of the granite ridge that death had come to the expedition.
It was the impossibly steep slopes of the granite ridge that threatened to end the expedition before it had begun.
See? Instant conundrums and drama in a single sentence. The audience now wants to know what happened with/on the ridge, and how the characters will get around this posited problem. You have laid a 'hook', and the audience has bitten.
Another way is to use the opening statement to reveal something intimate about a character or their backstory to draw the audience right into their personal narrative. E.g:
Rick Boone always made sure to clean his revolver at dawn. Every day, without fail. It was like an obsession, and yet it was the one constant in his ever-changing life.
Established: Rick Boone's routines, character fixations and the reality of his turbulent lifestyle. Or:
Rick Boone had inherited the revolver from his father.
At once we have a paternal link to build on, and a couple of questions: why had his father willed him a gun? How long ago did his father die? How did he die? Were they ever close? What significance does the revolver have going forward? To set a question in your readers' minds is to set a spark to brittle tinders; at once they are alight with questing flame. Now that we have our gripping openers, we must choose one and then build upon it. I have chosen the first Rick Boone one, as it has plenty of scope for development, and have launched the story from there:
Rick Boone always made sure to clean his revolver at dawn. Every day, without fail. It was like an obsession, and yet it was the one constant in his ever-changing life. Wipe, scrape, click. The metal was bright to his eyes, and the wood-clad hilt worn to the touch. It was a weapon with a tale of its own, and Rick never let it out of his sight.
He knew that the others were watching him, of course. In the small camp below the steep granite ridge that had foiled the expedition, nothing passed unnoticed for long. Certainly, this daily ritual of ramrod and pipecloth has soon been picked up on, and observed with rigour. The expedition's commander, Captain Grant Hollis, watched him from the corner of his eye as he leant against a gnarled jungle tree, pipe in hand. His weather-worn features were immobile, his waxed moustache in rigour mortis, but his mind was alive with contempt for the man. No soldier under his command would ever waste their energies so needlessly. Damned civilians. He would much sooner have had another squad of combat-hardened Rangers in this expedition than put up with these civilians a moment longer. Scientists and scholars be damned! This was not a land to be studied, to be catalogued, but to be conquered!
Here we have established the nature of the cleaning ritual (the wooden handle is worn smooth from it), Rick's protectiveness of the revolver (story point: why is he so protective? Plot point: what would happen if he lost it?), the compressed and watchful nature of the camp (along with its location), the character of Grant Hollis, his attitudes toward the expedition and his companions, and an indication of interpersonal conflicts to come in the form of his contempt for non-military men. How 'bout that? From here, the goal is to build and build and build; explore every avenue that comes to mind (or leave a few untapped for potential sequel stories) and flesh out the setting and characters to satisfy both the story and the audience reading it.
Reviewing your story
Reviewing can be difficult, especially if you've already read the sentences a thousand times or just aren't in the mood. But it is an extremely useful way of touching up certain points to 'sew up' your story and make it a slick and efficient piece of writing. Editing is a part of this, but not one that I will go into; the many complexities of English grammar and spelling (especially if you consider the great British-American spelling divides) are far too big to go into any great detail here.
Instead, I shall give you my short but (hopefully) helpful guide to reviewing your work; I call it the CSS method. Every paragraph (indeed, every sentence to some extent) you write should be in aid of one of three things: Character, Story or Setting. Character and Story are pretty self-explanatory; the first is used to develop or 'grow' one or more characters or provide vital information about them to the audience while the second advances the plot or subplots in one way or another. Setting can be a little more ambiguous; technically you can argue that anything is setting in one way or another. I prefer to define it as something which reveals important details about the situation of the universe as a whole. If I spend a paragraph or two talking about a plant and the bugs on it, that is not going to be good for anything unless those plants or bugs have some (considerable) bearing on the major workings of the universe or the story progression. 'Flavour' pieces, like briefly describing a carried book or specifics of a certain item/machine are fine, as they add to the 'catalogue' of things that define the universe in question.
This is all probably a little confusing, however, so let's see how CSS applies to the previous opening piece:
Rick Boone always made sure to clean his revolver at dawn [Character]. Every day, without fail [Character]. It was like an obsession, and yet it was the one constant in his ever-changing life [Character, arguably Story (in the form of backstory) as well]. Wipe, scrape, click [Extension of previous ides]. The metal was bright to his eyes, and the wood-clad hilt worn to the touch [Character/Story by inference]. It was a weapon with a tale of its own, and Rick never let it out of his sight [Character/Story].
He knew that the others were watching him, of course [Story, also Character for the watchers]. In the small camp below the steep granite ridge that had foiled the expedition, nothing passed unnoticed for long [Setting]. Certainly, this daily ritual of ramrod and pipecloth has soon been picked up on, and observed with rigour [Character]. The expedition's commander, Captain Grant Hollis, watched him from the corner of his eye as he leant against a gnarled jungle tree, pipe in hand [Character with some setting]. His weather-worn features were immobile, his waxed moustache in rigour mortis, but his mind was alive with contempt for the man [Character]. No soldier under his command would ever waste their energies so needlessly [Character]. Damned civilians [Extension of previous idea]. He would much sooner have had another squad of combat-hardened Rangers in this expedition than put up with these civilians a moment longer [Character]. Scientists and scholars be damned [Character]! This was not a land to be studied, to be catalogued, but to be conquered [Character, also arguably Story in that it is establishing a foundation for future conflict]!
So overall this fits the CSS profile for relevance. I'm not saying that you have to take it sentence-by-sentence like I just did; you just need to make sure that everything you write can be 'sed' by the audience in some way. Part of this is the concept of Chekhov's Gun; every major object you introduce should have some relevance to the story, or else it shouldn't be there. The revolver is a literal example; at some point we expect it to be used or else there is no point in Boone having it.
With the story now underway all that remains is to continue writing and gradually expanding your audience's knowledge of the characters featured as well as the setting as a whole. Up next: my tips for building interest in your setting in anticipation for a grand reveal.