In Part One I talked about a general overview of what gaming provides a writer, while in Part Two I went into a bit more detail about how roleplaying games can help a writer develop his plots, characters, and worlds.
Here in Part Three, I’ll talk a bit about how wargaming can help you craft and design more realistic scenes for your books. Obviously this advice holds a bit more true to those of you writing military or combat themes in science fiction or fantasy, although if you have even a small fight scene in what you write, it may behoove you to pay attention.
So, what does wargaming offer? Well, it gives you some basic understanding of tactics and planning. This, in and of itself, can show in your writing as your characters refer to flanking an enemy or massing fires. Knowing even just the basics of how a fight would play out can really help when you go to write up that fight scene.
It can also help you to visualize where characters are and what kinds of odds they face. Knowing that Throk the barbarian has to face a hundred orcs is one thing, putting a hundred markers out to show just how insane that would look is something else entirely. Where this plays out is that it allows you to keep your fight scenes somewhat grounded. It makes no sense for one person to hold out against hundreds without some huge advantages… unless you’re writing manga or some kung-fu movie type scenes.
Also, wargaming gives you a sense of the scale of a fight. If your characters are taking part in a huge battlefront where tens of thousands of warriors are clashing, seeing that scale can help you to write scenes that feel more epic and with high stakes to increase the tension. Whereas if you have a small skirmish deep underground or with a handful of people in a forest, that close, intimate description can set the tone and the immediate consequences for characters can set the tone.
Where do you get started then? Well, there are a variety of games and a variety of methods, but the easiest is to probably go to your local gaming store on a Friday night and just ask around. Most gamers are pretty welcoming and would love to talk about what they play. If you tell them you’re an author and you’re researching for a novel, you’ll probably have several eager gamers willing to talk about the basics.
In general, games like Warmachine and Hordes are small skirmish games with a handful of fighters per side (squad and platoon size), games like Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy are larger, small armies (company size or larger), while games like Flames of War are for larger scale battles (company and battalion). There are a variety of ship-combat games, ranging from fighter level to capital ships (X Wing, Star Wars Armada, Battlefleet Gothic, and more). Game rules range from very complex to absurdly simple and most give you at least a decent approximation of how a fight might play out.
One thing to remember as you go about converting what you learn with what you’re writing: don’t get too caught up in the technical details. Writing is about characters, so spending a long time discussing the technology, tactics, and advantages of one side or the other is a good way to put your reader to sleep. Slip that kind of thing in here or there, but focus on the characters, the stakes, and anything else to drive up tension. A fight scene (whether between hundreds of capital ships in a distant galaxy or just two characters locked in a grapple with knives), is there to show conflict, increase tension, and to make the reader excited. Dry, technical dialogue is a good way to ruin an otherwise perfectly good scene. Don’t take pages to get to the point, do it quickly, establish the stakes, show the danger, and complete the scene in a manner to accomplish your plot goals.
Another point: the main character doesn’t always need to win. In fact, oftentimes it is far better for the story if they don’t. They might be defeated ingloriously and either left for dead or taken prisoner. They might be forced to withdraw in the face of overwhelming odds. There are lots of options for you, as a writer, to use conflict to batter your character, to force them to grow and into introduce themes and plots that you couldn’t explore otherwise.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!