Randomise Your Fiction!

9 Apr

In roleplaying and war games, events never proceed as you expect them to. Whether it is the unexpected interaction of different plans or the random element that many rule systems supply, a game seldom turns out quite how you expected it to. This is something that I have found can work wonders for fiction.

Whether you plan your stories in detail before you begin or have a freewheeling, make-it-up-as-you-go approach, it is very easy to take the obvious approach to fiction writing. Those twists that do appear are frequently there specifically for the story and, too often, plots run along rather hackneyed rails. The simple reason is that, consciously or subconsciously, you are following a script in your head and it probably isn’t as original as you think it is. By inserting some degree of randomisation into your plan, you not only can avoid writing something stereotypical but can also find yourself coming up with ideas you would never otherwise have had.

(I must digress for a moment to point out that, for all its benefits, any sort of random element should not be followed slavishly if it will completely derail the story you want to tell or force you down extremely improbable paths. It should enhance your story, not ruin it.)

There are numerous ways you can include a random element in your story. The most obvious is the traditional means of breaking writers block by randomly picking elements such as characters, locations and plot elements and putting them together in a plot. You could even randomly build your characters by making elements of the appearance and personality subject to the roll of a die or draw of a card. To go a little further, rather than deciding just when certain things will happen, such as when a character will arrive, things that often tend to be conveniently timed to help or hinder the protagonist, why not make them random and see how they affect the story as a result (if you do not wish to be entirely at the whim of fate, you could look at each permutation – what if the character is early, what if they are late, what if they are right on time – what happens as a result? Which is most interesting?).

You can also tie your plot to reality – if it is set in the past or present, check to see what all the pertinent elements were like at the time. What was the weather like? You may have been envisaging a lovely sunny day, but it may have been an unexpected thunderstorm – how does that change things? If they are making a journey, what were travel conditions like? If your story is set ‘now’ base it on tomorrow’s travel news – decide the route they will take and see what conditions are actually late – will they be late as a result of delays? Would they have to take another route? What happens as a result? This can be especially useful in action adventures if you are planning an ambush or something – the victim may arrive early or late, or not at all, if they have gone another way. A fairly straightforward snatch narrative might suddenly become a great deal more convoluted and interesting as characters react to events beyond their control that you might not otherwise have considered inserting.

You can also involve other people. Different people see things in different ways and someone else might have a very different idea of how to react in a certain set of events than you would have thought of, offering you a new take on what you are writing. You might ask them how they think someone would react in a situation facing the protagonist or to plan a daring raid, or to even to make political decisions as you develop your fantasy setting. You might be surprised at the very different outcomes they can offer!

So, don’t just go down the obvious route, take the opportunity to see what variables you can insert into your plot and really make it stand out!

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