Okay, I need to make a confession here. I play nerd games. A lot of them. So much so that I don’t even celebrate New Year’s Eve anymore. For my friends and I, we celebrate Nerd Year’s Eve. And I’m totally okay with it. Hours upon hours of nerd games is the best way to ring in a new year.
Of all the geeky past times I enjoy, however, my favorite is a fantasy-themed strategy card game called Magic: The Gathering. When I first played it, the depth and complexity of it overwhelmed me. But the more I played (largely hooked by the captivating artwork on each card), the more I got a feel for it. Now, I’ve spent far too much time/money on the hobby.
So why am I writing about it here? What’s it have to do with fiction? A few things. Firstly, since I write fantasy, it’s a great way to overcome writer’s block. All I need to do, when stuck for a lead, is flip through my binder (okay, binderS) of cards. Something there is bound to inspire me. But more so, by studying the balance of power in the game helps me better understand the balance my fiction needs to have (see “The Price for Magic” post from a few weeks ago).
But more than that, here’s what Magic has taught me about fiction—you’ve got to have a clear vision if you want to succeed. The best players, those who go on the pro-circuit and end up making WAY too much money on the “sport,” all build their own decks. While each player must abide by the same set of rules, how they maximize their power within those rules is fascinating. The best players, the best decks, all have a “theme,” be it an aggressive onslaught of creatures, a heavy dose of direct damage from elemental spells, or an intense manipulation of the rules, each deck does one thing really well. And while it may have a few defensive measures, the best defense is a good offense (generally speaking).
Our fiction should also have the same clarity of vision. All fiction has a set of “rules” to abide by, but how we test those rules, press up against them, bend them, twist them, and sometimes even break them, determines how successful our fiction can be. If we play it safe, we may not win. Our clear vision of which rules we’re going to focus on to manipulate and exploit can make for powerful prose. We can do it in short fiction, focusing on one rule, or we can dedicate a chapter in our novel to stretching the boundaries of what our fiction can do. Just make sure you’re doing it deliberately, for a specific purpose, and not just to show off your “gimmicky” writing. Don’t bend and break just to bend and break. It should serve a purpose, just as it does in Magic: The Gathering.
Until next week, nerd well.