In the first part of this article, I got to compare the process of writing to flying, walking down a cobbled road, and playing Sonic. More pragmatically, I discussed two of the unique challenges and decisions in turning your tabletop game into a novel: handling loose plot threads, and establishing character consistency. In this article we’ll examine the choice of Perspective, the pros and cons of each type, and the pitfalls to avoid in order to improve your story.
Last but certainly not least, choosing a perspective to tell the story through is perhaps the biggest challenge of the writer in adapting a story from a game to a novel. Roleplaying is largely about action and dialogue; the unique perspective, thoughts, and emotions of the characters in any given scene is much harder to capture, especially for characters other than your own (or any of them if you were the GM).
Assuming you were a player and not the GM, if the entire party stayed together the whole time, you could of course stick to your own character’s perspective, in first or third person, and work the extra information into the narrative in creative ways, like news bulletins at the beginning of each chapter. In the far more likely circumstance that the party does not stay together for the entirety of the story, this could, however, exclude large portions of the plot and relevant scenes, forcing you to have characters explain what occurred “off-screen” in narrative. Done well it might not be an issue, but too much of it handled without sufficient care will surely break the cardinal rule of “show, don’t tell.” If you were the GM, the easiest by far is the third-person-omniscient approach, but this is largely unpopular in literature for a reason: it doesn’t usually give the same feelings of immersion or coalition with the characters.
The best method for including the most information while keeping the writing engaging and immersive is to switch perspectives between characters at different points in the story. This however poses its own challenges. Namely, you’ll have to decide whose perspective to use when, how often to switch without being too disorienting, and how to handle chronology.
Example: Alice is writing about an important battle that takes place about midway through the story of the last game she played in. In the battle, her character Amber had taken command of a rogue spaceship after killing its captain, and was directing its crew to assist in the defense of her planet. Unknown to her character, a mutiny is taking place below decks, and her friend’s character Jayce had gone down to quell it.
In addition, while Amber and Jayce had struggled aboard the rogue vessel, the other players in their playgroup had been involved in the larger battle. Mardec and Chloe were in single fighter ships dogfighting the invaders, while Taric acted as commanding general of the planet’s forces and oversaw the battle while directing ships to newly appearing threats.
Alice needs to capture all the events taking place, but is having trouble switching perspectives cleanly in such a fast paced, action packed scene. She wants to go over what happens in each perspective as well, but keeps running into problems of chronology. Should she have each perspective shift denote a continuous timeline, or is it okay to have some overlap in events? There’s no right answer or proper way to do this, but there are ways to mitigate the difficulty:
1) Use perspective shifts for lulls in the action. Alice doesn’t need to detail every single event from every single perspective. It’s much more efficient and easier on the reader to switch perspectives between major events, and leave the less exciting bridges to imagination or quick exposition at the beginning or end of a section.
Example: “Jayce saw the men in the engineering bay slumped over their consoles and cursed. He knew he had to stop the saboteurs from reaching the engine room, but he couldn’t take the time to tell Amber what’s going on: she had enough on her hands. He said a quick prayer and pulled out his blaster, following the trail of bodies quickly but quietly.”
Now Alice is free to switch to another perspective, and come back to Jayce when he reaches them. We can imagine what occurred in the meantime fairly easily, so the author is free to focus on more complex events.
2) Avoid repetition. Sort of the inverse of the first, Alice doesn’t need to detail every major event from every perspective. Let’s say Taric has to go through a grueling emotional decision under pressure on whether or not to risk killing his own men, including Mardec, by destroying a deadly enemy carrier that’s nearby them. She doesn’t have to immediately switch to Mardec’s perspective to detail how he narrowly escaped the explosion. A quick paragraph in past tense once she does switch to a new character is enough to give a sense of what they went through.
Example: “Mardec blasts the fleeing fighter into a bright flash of soundless light, visor automatically dimming to shield his eyes. That’s the last of them around here… he takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. His heart is still racing from the unexpected explosion of the enemy carrier: he’d been just pulling out of a dive on it when his sensors showed the incoming lasers, and had barely managed to accelerate free of the blast radius, his whole ship vibrating enough to rattle his teeth.”
Or let’s say Alice wants to keep that part a scene because she believes it’s more entertaining and wants it to be a surprise. She could detail the unexpected explosion from Mardec’s perspective, and later on in a Taric section describe how hard the decision had been to make knowing that some of his own people might have been caught in the blast.
3) Organize and plan large events out in brief outline ahead of time to ensure each character has sufficient “screen time.” Maybe Alice can free up a later important scene for Chloe’s perspective if she keeps it in Taric’s perspective, since she has already established Taric’s general mood and the flavor of his struggles in the battle. Or let’s say Taric has an important scene coming up later that he absolutely must have priority on: this makes it easy to decide that the unexpected explosion happens from Mardec’s perspective.
Perspective can be one of the simplest or most frustrating parts of novelizing your game’s story. Whether you choose third person omniscient, focusing on a single character’s perspective, or shifting perspectives throughout, the choice you make in how to frame the story is one that will present its own unique problems throughout the entire process, and your best bet is to stick with what you feel the most comfortable with. With enough determination and skill you can tell an amazing story in any format.
With these things in mind, immortalizing your favorite roleplaying sessions in a novel for all to enjoy can be a fun and rewarding process. It’s a great practice for any writers who have trouble starting from scratch with their own plots and characters, and can be especially fun in collaboration with other players in the game who enjoy writing as well.
May all your dice rolls be their maximum beneficial value, and you use writer’s blocks to step ever higher.