The world of LARP is changing. Although it’s starting with Dystopia Rising, I have no doubt that other LARPs and similar industries will have to take note of what’s occurring. To my knowledge, Dystopia Rising is the first LARP (outside of corporate-driven LARP-like experiences) to pay its writers and allow them to build the potential for a professional writing career. Since announcing it, there’s been a lot of gently knocking on the doors of many Storytelling Directors by writers who want to turn their passion into a job – both from the community and outside of it.
For years, I’ve had people come to me with module ideas that I couldn’t accept or the desire to write or run just a single event without the commitment every month. Now those folks have the chance, along with others who are simply paying attention and are seeking more avenues to be paid for their trade. It’s not like creative writing and game writing have a broad field, after all.
The shift isn’t even a few months old and I’m aleady receiving the question I frequently heard from my Storytelling applicants before, and now has reached a louder cacophony as we expand: what do I look for in a writer?
Keep in mind: I can’t speak for every Storytelling Director for DR. I can tell you what I specifically look for in people who I want to work with, write with, and cultivate as a game writer. Different Directors will look for different things, especially depending on the needs of their game and their audience. For example, at Massachusetts I am in favor of plot that pins consequential decisions on the players, the Tell Tale Games equivalent of making a choice and seeing the text pop up on your screen “(NPC) will remember you said that.” That style might not fit other games or their players, so speaking to each Director about their expectation is key.
Know Your Branch
The Mass branch focuses consequence-driven storylines, suspense-based horror, war, and morality (such as slavery and strainism). Part of what makes Dystopia Rising unique and interesting is that while the rulesets are identical, the stories and “flavors” found at each game can be very unique. I wouldn’t expect to see a story about a sea-driven war cult to exist in the Kentucky or Oklahoma game, and that requires a little bit of research from a potential writer into what their client might be looking for. If playing the game you’re writing for isn’t an option (and I would recommend that, plus you can write it off as a business expense!), talk to the players, other writers, and directors about what works and what doesn’t.
A writer who does their research can expect less edits and more success as a repeat hire. It’s a lot less work for me if a writer already provides me exactly what I need for the game instead of something they’re writing blind.
Be the Goldilocks of Writing
Not too much detail, not too little detail – you need to be just right. It’s easy to step into the pitfall of writing too much, giving immense amount of detail for a story you treasure. Remember, writing for a LARP is unique – it isn’t about the story you’re writing, it’s about the story the players are writing with the framework you’re giving them. On the other hand, you can’t give so little detail that the Ops Marshal who is sending out your work doesn’t understand what the intent is. A – very morbid – question I frequently ask my team is “if you are hit by a bus and can’t come to game, will a stranger understand how to send this module out?”
This is the part that often takes a lot of practice and trial and error when you’re new, but the best advice I can give is the advice I gave any writer, regardless of content: give yourself enough time that you can write the content, put it away for a few days, and come back to it afterward with fresh eyes. When you’ve given it some time to detach from your brain, it’s easier to see what you need to edit, what you need to add more detail to, and what in-jokes can be removed before your director does it for you.
What “flexibility” means can be broad when it comes to writing for a LARP. I appreciate writers who are flexible with edits, timing, and content. Another one of my favorite quotes is “stagnation is death” – and for LARPing, that’s very true. You need to be flexible enough to know when something isn’t working in your writing and know when to abandon something, change directions, and except that the work is no longer your own as soon as you sign your contract. What we need from you as a writer will change based on the players. This is the biggest difference with writing for a LARP versus writing fiction – Dystopia Rising is a living, breathing world and your writing needs to be the same way.
I’m more apt to hire a writer who I know is willing to accept change at the drop of a dime, say “cool, got it” and turn around to adjust their perspective when the game changes around them. Ultimately, this game isn’t about us or our writing – it’s about the players who interact with it and we will constantly need to adjust our scope because of it. The nice side of that is that your work will never, ever be boring if you allow yourself to be flexible. It’s like a constant rollercoaster and you’re crafting the ride based on the beautiful screams of the passengers.
Communication is Queen
Got questions? Ask them. Can’t figure out if your idea is on theme? I’m here to help. How will PCs derail this module? Let me tell you the ways. Your Director and your fellow writers are a resource for you – especially because you’re all under NDA together, so you’ve got some ready-made peers just for you to work and hash out ideas with. I’m a big fan of digital “writer’s rooms” where everyone has a chance to hash out their ideas and concepts before writing them down and submitting them. Without a doubt, it creates a more coherent and successful end product than without. As a freelance writer, it’s easy to cloister yourself without any communication and the only feedback you receive is when you get your edits back. But in reality, the best way to hone your craft is to share it with your peers.
Your players won’t see your writing, but they will see the results. Taking the time to communicate and make sure the writing will produce a better end product will result in the modules that players talk about for years to come.
Deadlines are King
Even if you are the most flexible and communicative of Goldilocks writers, if you don’t meet your deadlines, I can guarantee I will be less inclined to hire you. LARP is deadline driven and if you’re unable to meet those commitments, then the value of all that effort you’ve put in is moot. Personally speaking, I am more apt to hire a writer who has work that needs help if they meet their deadlines every single time. That means you’re committed to me, so I’ll be committed into improving your craft too. It’s a two way street of improvement and I’m happy to help you if you make my job easier. It’s as simple as that.
Ultimately, I feel genuine excitement about the future of Dystopia Rising and my game with these changes. I’m excited to help create more Game Writers in the world and finally be able to share the amazing stories that many of you have to share. I’ve already received some great writing from completely unexpected places – and if you want to give it a shot, check out your local game’s writer submissions too!