Writing is my full time job, but my writing has a hobby…
That hobby comes with a bit of a confession. I LARP. And not only that, but I write fiction about those LARPS after the fact.
Hold for applause, hold for booing, hold for confused noises…
LARP, for those of you who have blessedly not seen *this* is Live Action Role Play. Think like Dungeons And Dragons, but instead of using dice and a table, you dress up in a costume, and use an entire field.
You’ll never see these fics on this blog, they’re not really up to my usual standard, and without the context of the setting, they can fall very flat.
So why do I write them? What is there to be gained?
Well, it all starts as a hobby…
Getting On the Same Page
While this article is mostly aimed at people who already LARP who are maybe looking to dip their toes into writing about it, I do want this blog to be actually legible to those who don’t. With that in mind, here are some quick fire explanations:
- Festival LARPS (Festlarp for the terminally lazy) are big events that occur at predetermined dates throughout the year, usually over the course of a weekend. They’re like big music festivals, only everyone’s in costume…and horrible tents…and there’s usually a lot of drinking and…actually hold that thought.
- At festlarps, you play a character, whose status is continuous from event to event. If your character dies, you can make a new one.
- LARPers are people who play in LARPS. Simple enough.
- Yes, it is as dorky as it looks. Yes we know this. Yes, we’ve heard literally every joke. No one cares, Sandra.
- Fic/fanfic/fan fiction/larp fic are all shortened terms for the same thing. For the purposes of this blog, this is referring specifically to people writing about what happened at events after the fact, but people also write fanfic about things that could have occurred between events. It can also refer to people writing stories about other people’s fiction (say, a short story about Kirk and Spock going on a date, or Holmes and Watson only it’s the modern day ohwaitthathappenedandmademillions).
With me so far? Right, now let’s look at what sets fanfiction apart from … literally everything else.
Fanfic Teaches Bad Habits…
On a purely technical level, fanfic is an entirely different beast to original content, for reasons that get more obvious the more you think about it.
In a fanfic, the reader has an assumed level of understanding about the setting and the characters, so you can jump right into juicy bits.
Sometimes those juicy bits are exactly what you think they are, (how many synonyms do you think there are for ‘turgid’ because I can assure you I have seen a lot) but sometimes it’s two characters who’ve never canonically met going off to solve mysteries…and then they get to the bit you’re thinking about.
One alternative to turgid is tumescent. Just…one for the notebook.
Sometimes those juicy bits are people sitting in a modern coffee shop talking. This is always bizarrely compelling.
You can often tell, when workshopping other people’s fiction, if they’ve come from a fan fiction background. There’s a certain cadence to the language, and certain rushed sense of moving pieces where they need to be to get to those juicy bits.
Often they’ve inhabited the world they’re writing in for so long, they’ll forget to catch you up to it.
Don’t think of fanfic as baby’s first foray into writing a big proper grown up book. It’s a different form, with a different skill set, and has a totally different appeal.
I don’t tend to write regular fanfic much anymore, partly because I don’t have time, but I still write LARP fanfic. Why is that, do you think?
LARP has two noted psychological phenomena among its player base.
- Post Event Blues
Bleed is when IC feelings and OC feelings start to blur together and affect each other. When your character dies, for instance, you feel sad. When your character’s friend dies, you feel sad. When you win a fight, you feel happy. Pretty simple stuff, despite having a spooky name. It’s not that people can’t differentiate between the game and reality, it’s just that no one has such a stoney heart that they’re not emotionally affected by these things. It’s like reading a book, only you’re directly involved.
Tied into this are the post event blues. LRP events tend to ride on some pretty big emotional highs and lows, not to mention the physical strain of running around a muddy field for a weekend, and the occasional intellectual rigours that pretending to be someone else throws up. It’s a pretty common feeling to be a bit down for a few days after an event.
Both these facts sound a bit spooky out of context, and it’s definitely true that dealing with them constructively can be a challenge.
(Consult your doctor if you’re affected by Post Larp Blues for more than a week…)
We don’t give actors shit for being sad after a show ends, and while not everyone on a LARP field is a TRAINED THESPIAN these feelings absolutely are rooted in the same sort of thinking.
Writing up what you did that event is a good way of getting those feelings compartmentalised. Fanfic is powerful in that way, I’m not having to worry about the nitty gritty of setting, you can cut right to the emotions.
I write my LARP fics in the first week after the event. If it takes longer than that, I tend to stop, because by then the vividness of the events tend to fade. I don’t share everything I write if it’s not up to standard, but I write after every event. It’s not really for an audience, it’s more for me, and I choose to share it.
Get those bleedy feelings out on paper, pop them in a box, and don’t think about them until your next event. It makes everything a lot easier.
But still. It’s nice to be good at things, and it’s good form to make sure I’m putting out the best stuff I can. It’s all good practice.
I know of a lot of LARPers who want to write fic, but for a myriad of reasons don’t. One of the big ones is that they worry they won’t be ‘good enough.’
So, with that in mind, I’ve got a few tips for writing LARP fic that people want to read.
Centre Of Mass
A friend of mine expressed concern about writing fic because ‘I’d never be able to remember all the dialogue- all the things I say and all the things that happened.’ She was so concerned with getting things one-to-one, capital A Accurate, that she forgot the key joy of fic.
Allow me a wild diversion.
There is a tendency amongst larpers to meet up after events and discuss things that happened. These are usually a right lark (technical term) but there is one moment everyone dreads.
Someone starts telling a story, about a Cool thing they did. And it goes on, and on, and they diverge briefly to contextualise, they flashback to an obscure thing that happened two years ago, they’ve forgotten the original point, and there’s no real ending beyond ‘and then I hit them with my sword.’ Usually, they talk over someone quieter trying to share their own story, which is very obnoxious. It’s not chatting, it’s a monologue.
We fear The Anecdote. We Dread the Anecdote. The art of conversation is Dead and LARPers personally killed it.
The thing that makes The Anecdote so feared, I think, is not just the fact that it usually involves grabbing the spotlight from the gantry and dragging it onto you so no one else gets a look in. It’s also that the person gets so focused on the minutiae of the details that they can’t just get to the bloody point.
LARP fic can stray perilously close to being The Anecdote if you’re not careful, which is where my advice to my friend came in:
LARP fic should never be a 1-1 recreation of Events As They Happened like you’re a slavish scribe, getting things down as a matter of historical record. Instead, you want to capture the feeling of a scene.
The ebbs and flows of mood in a scene are infinitely more powerful that getting every play by play exactly right. Don’t worry about dialogue. Worry about AESTHETIC.
Especially because it means you can use words like AESTHETIC. That way lies swirling wine glasses with your pinky finger out.
All these Other Players
When writing original fiction, I find that the best way to describe a character is to focus on one key part of their appearance, plus a distinct item of clothing. Rarely is this flattering, even if the character is nominally Hot Stuff.
“John Smith walked with a slouch no matter where he was going, and his lips were so thin they vanished when he smiled.”
“Jane Doe was a woman who bounced, with a broad smile on her face that reached her ears. Her blouse wasn’t buttoned up quite right, and her tights had a ladder in them, but she barely seemed to regard this as she chattered away.”
Nobody wants to read a long paragraph about all the designer gear Jane Doe owns, or how her medium-sized breasts are especially voluptuous when she examines herself in the mirror (as female characters in badly written novels are often want to do). A character is more charming and memorable for the little details.
Now in LARP Fic, this gets a bit trickier, because the other characters are all real people, people your readers will directly interact with…or in fact are.
It’s a bit awkward if you’ve drawn attention to the fact that Wulfric has small hands and an uncomfortable comb-over if Wulfric is in fact John Smith and he’s sensitive about these things, and he doesn’t really see his character that way. Likewise, Jane Doe absolutely does not want to hear what you think about her Medium Sized Breasts, even if you’re trying to convey that her character is attractive.
But that doesn’t mean you can ignore description entirely, it’s an important way to make the world more vibrant. You have maybe a paragraph to get across a great sense of character. Use it.
…darn this LARP business would be so much easier if it wasn’t for all the OTHER PEOPLE.
Here’s some rough rules I go by:
-If a character is playing a fantastical race- an elf, an undead, an orc- odds are they’re wearing a trapping to draw attention to this, and odds are they’ve put a fair amount of work into the look. Ariana’s golden skin that seems to light up the night (face paint), Inez’ vibrant scales that catch the sun and dazzle you if you look at them for too long (a very nice face prosthetic), and Draken’s cruel filthy claws that look like they’d infect any food he handles (hand paint and stick on claws) are all fair game.
– same goes for costume and kit. Did they have anything that stands out? Perhaps a nice weapon, or accessory. What colours drew your focus? What does the costume say about them?
– Otherwise, ignore physical descriptions entirely. Go with more abstract things, the energy the character puts out. Are they charming? Aggressive? Sly and sleazy? There are ways to convey this without being able to see anything.
– Most characters in the field have a role, whether this is a traditional class (like a bard or cleric) or something more abstract (a group leader, or a trader). What parts of their job can you glean from their actions, their look?
– If in doubt, ask. Which leads me nicely to…
LARP relies on a lot of subtle social cues which often surprises people, given how it’s the nerdiest of nerdcore things.
(Which genius decided that all the best nerd hobbies required social interaction and can they stop taking all my money?)
Most people I’ve written about have, in my experience, been very flattered, even when the exchange between the two characters isn’t a pleasant one.
(LARPers being as thirsty for drama as they are, they’re often especially flattered if it’s an unpleasant exchange.)
But there’s no way of guaranteeing that’s the case, and you know what they say about assumptions and their propensity for asses.
If I’m writing about someone else’s character extensively, I tend to send the extract to them directly if I can, so they can check it over and make sure they’re ok with it. If they have any objections or amendments, those are added immediately, no questions asked. This isn’t always possible, but it’s good form.
This doesn’t really gel with my usual rules for feedback (listen to everything, consider carefully, writer gets final call), but the circumstances are pretty unusual.
You’re playing a game with other people, and other people’s feelings are important. You are not the only person in the world who matters.
Having Something To Say
There are two problems, in my experience, that writers often run into, not just in LARP fic. The first is that they, after years of not having an outlet for the many thoughts they have, naturally tend to vomit forth every philosophical musing they’ve ever had onto the page.
The second, more common, is that in getting caught up in plot details and such, the story just ends up being a glorified checklist of Events As They Occurred.
This first can be fixed with an editor and a second draft. (…oh so many problems can be fixed with an editor and a second draft, people. Please.)
The second requires you to look at your work and ask three questions:
- What is happening?
- Why is it happening?
- What’s the subtext?
This is often mistaken to mean that I think everything written should be about THIS, THE SUFFERING OF MAN, THE STRUGGLE OF THE HUMAN CONDITION, TRULY WHAT IS MORTALITY- or that everything needs to be chock-a-block with symbolism that the narrative then helpfully spells out.
But text needs subtext to be compelling, else it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened, which is one step above the Long Boring Larp Anecdote.
Nobody wants that.
If your character is going on a date, and is starting to get flutters about their love interest, what does this mean, in the greater scope of their life? How are they changing?
If your character is in a battle, what are the stakes, both on a personal and a broader one?
When picking and choosing what parts of an event to write about, try and get a cohesive theme going. One event, I wrote a lot about grief, another was about parenthood, and a third was about heroism.
Because LARP is improvisational, involves other people, and rarely goes the way one expects (rather like real life), it can be difficult to draw these things out. But stick with it.
You’ll often find there’s more connectivity than you realised.
Perhaps the keyword for all this is ‘catharsis.’ If you were moved enough by something that you want to write it down, there’s usually something in it deeper that you’re trying to draw out. Find it, and show us, your readers.
Anyone can write, anyone can put pen to paper and express something new. Oh there’s skills and nuances that can be taught and learned, grammar and structures and ways to sound better, but your voice is your own. Use it.
I’m of the firm belief that writing things down makes the game that little bit better. When we see the worlds we inhabit and the characters we play through a broader lens, they can touch you in a deeper way that you thought.
What do you think? When you write or read fic, what do you like to see?
If you don’t, what’s stopping you?