Let me tell you a story.
Well, actually, let me tell you a story that consists of several stories. And it’s *about* stories.
This should not surprise anyone, really. This is what I do.
* * *
Back in 2009 I attended Gen Con as author Guest of Honor. It was one of my first GOH gigs, and at a convention I’ve been attending off and on for most of my adult life.
That said, I was still a pretty new author in 2009. I only had one book out, and had only been published for two years. People came to my signings and panels. I had fun. But honestly, I wasn’t a very big deal.
Wandering around the dealer’s hall, at one point someone came up to me and said, “What makes you so honorable?” When I gave him a baffled look, he pointed down at the ribbon on my badge that said. “Guest of Honor.”
“Oh,” I said. “I write books.”
“Oh,” he said. And walked away.
* * *
After taking a break from Gen Con for a couple years, I headed back in 2012. I wasn’t GOH or anything, and was mostly going to play some games and hang out with friends, including my new bestie Robert Gifford of Geek Chic.
But in 2012 I’d been published for *five* years. And I had *two* books out. I’ve hit #1 on the New York Times. I’ve been hugged by Felicia Day. I’m not really a big deal, but I’m certainly a bigger deal than I ever was before….
The difference was most notable when I walked around the dealer’s room. People would stop and say, “Are you Patrick Rothfuss?” And we’d stop and chat a little bit. One particularly memorable couple came up to me and said, “That’s the best Pat Rothfuss cosplay we’ve ever seen! The beard looks so real!” and asked to get a picture with me.
I won’t lie, it’s kinda fun. One of the main reasons I go to conventions is to meet up with my readers. My readers are lovely people.
Still, I was surprised at how *many* people recognized me. Artists, dealers running their booths. Catgirls.
On Sunday, a tall dark stranger came up to me and said, “You’re Pat Rothfuss, aren’t you?”
“Yup,” I said. We shook hands and I read his badge. “Nice to meet you Colin,” I gestured to the vast panoply of geekery around us. “How do you fit into all of this?”
“I write games,” he said.
“Role Playing stuff? Computer games?”
“Both,” he said. “I worked on Planescape back in the day…”
“The computer game?” I asked.
“Planescape Torment?” I asked.
He nodded again.
“You are fucking kidding me,” I said. “I was just talking to someone about Torment. That was one of the best games I’ve ever played.”
He looked at little surprised at this, “Wow,” he said. “I….”
“The narrative was brilliant,” I said. “It’s been ten years, and I haven’t known a game to come close to it.”
“I mean you had honest-to-god open-ended character development that was an integral part of the main narrative,” I said. “Nobody else has ever pulled that off as well. It was amazing.”
“I still remember the interaction you could have with some of the NPC’s,” I said. “You actually had to be clever talking to them. You could offend them and piss them off. The writing was solid and smart. You had a branching narrative that still felt cohesive and engaging. I’ve never seen that handled so well except for maybe in the early Fallout games.”
“And the dialogue,” I said. “It was great. How the hell do you manage to write things like that? To keep track of all the different ways a conversation can go…?”
Eventually I shut up long enough for him to tell me he liked my books. We traded e-mail addresses, and he offered to show me what the dialogue trees looked like when you’re writing a computer game.
I was happy as a kid at Christmas.
* * *
A couple months later, in November, Colin and I chatted a bit.
“We’re going to be writing a game that will follow in Torment’s footsteps,” he said. “Good character. Good story.”
“I’m tingly at the very thought,” I said.
“Want to help write some of it?” he asked.
“Oh shit,” I said. “Yes. I’ve always wanted to take a poke a writing a computer game.”
“Cool,” Colin said.
“No,” I said. “I want to, but I can’t. I have to work on Book Three.”
“We don’t want you to write *all* of game,” Colin said. “Maybe just a side area. Subplot. A piece.”
I made a miserable noise. “I can’t.” I said. “My editor would be pissed. My readers would be pissed. I’m already behind schedule.”
“That sucks,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
I’m paraphrasing a bit, you realize. But the sentiment is dead-on. When I said “no” I felt like a kid who had to stay inside and practice the piano while all his friends got to go eat ice cream and have awesome sex on the moon.
* * *
Colin: You sure?
Me: I really can’t. Revision is going slow. I should keep grinding away.
Colin: Fair enough. I understand.
* * *
I bring in Colin McComb, Jerry Holkins (From Penny Arcade), and Veronica Belmont (From Sword and Laser) to talk about videogames and storytelling on Storyboard.
It ends up being one of my favorite episodes so far, probably because everyone is passionate and outspoken. Colin, Jerry, and Veronica all know so much more than I do on the subject, and that’s great.
(Sorry. It’s embedding ugly. Just click over to Youtube.)
Colin mentions the upcoming Torment game. They’re going to launch the kickstarter tomorrow. They’ve got a lot of great creative people on the project.
During the panel, I get a little crotchety about modern games. I make some noises along the lines of, “Video games are pissing away the storytelling opportunities available to them. There’s bad writing. Foolish mistakes. When I was a kid….”
Jerry steps in and says, “We’re at the helm now. If we see these things we don’t like, it’s our fault. […] We can’t just point at it and expect the universe to fill it.”
It’s startling to hear. But he’s right, of course. I know he’s right.
* * *
InXile launches their kickstarter for Torment: Tides of Numenera.
They raise over $2,000,000 in less than a day. It seems like I’m not the only one who remembers those old games fondly.
* * *
I realize the story I’m trying to write for an anthology isn’t working out. It’s my second attempt to write a story to fill this obligation I agreed to more than a year ago. I’m months overdue, and I feel like an asshole.
I need to get this story done and out of the way so I can get back to working on book three.
Though honestly, those revisions aren’t going that well either. It feels like a grind. It’s going slow.
* * *
I’m at the Tucson Festival of Books, eating Pizza with Sam Sykes, Kevin Hearne, and Diana Gabaldon.
Sam Sykes says, “We’re at our most creative when we’re at play.” Then he tells a story about a famous director who would send people home for the day if they were taking their job too seriously.
And he’s right, of course. I know he’s right.
* * *
Coming home from Tucson, I think to myself, “Fuck it. When I get home, I’m going to start a new story for that anthology. Something fun.”
* * *
I decide I’m going to write a story about Bast.
I have no idea what the story will be about. I have no plan. I have no plot in my head. Honestly nothing.
When I teach, I stress that writing is not merely a communicative process. People think writers are effectively engaging in transcription. We have something in our heads, and we just write it down. That’s how people think stories happen.
But that’s not how it works. Writing can be communication. But most of the time, writing is a generative process. The story comes into being as it’s being written. It’s about discovery. Assuming you have to know what happens before you sit down to write is a rookie mistake.
So I sit my ass down. I decide I’m going to take my own advice. I’m going to write even though I have no plan. I’m going to write and see where it takes me.
I’m going to be irresponsible. I’m going to play.
At the end of the day, I’ve written 4,500 words.
* * *
I write 16,000 words. Good solid words. That’s not even counting the crap I trimmed out and threw away. I finish the Bast story except for one or two small scenes. It will be a great fit for the anthology.
I feel great. I’m excited about writing again. I think about revising book three and it sounds fun. I want to get back to it.
If you don’t know how much 16,000 words is. Let me put it in perspective for you.
If I wrote 16,000 words every week. By the end of the year I would have produced over 800,000 words of text.
That’s twice as long as The Wise Man’s Fear.
If I can maintain my sense of play. I could easily write a book a year.
A book a year *plus* all the other things. Fun little stories. Poems and songs. Maps.
* * *
I call Betsy, my editor. She’s glad to hear the writing’s going well again.
She’s not surprised that a fun side project has helped refresh me. She’s knows how writers’ brains work. She knows more about it than I do, actually. That’s her job.
She’s a great editor.
* * *
I send Colin an e-mail. Then I decide to call him, instead because I know we’re getting down to the wire.
“Do you still want me?” I ask. “I know it’s kinda late.”
“We’d love to have you,” he said. “We can add you as a stretch goal.”
“How much writing are we talking about here?” I ask.
“Maybe 10,000 words,” Colin says. “More if you like. Less if you need it to be less.”
“Could I maybe help with some of the character arcs too?” I ask. “I’m pretty good with character. You could use me as a sounding board if nothing else, and ignore me if you think I’m being an idiot.”
“Um…. let me think,” Colin says sarcastically. I can hear the smile in his voice. “A chance to chat with you about stories and character development. I think the answer to that is…. yes. “
I want to for so many reasons. But still, I hesitate.
“We’ll pay you of course,” he says. He names a number. “I could get you more, if you need it.
“That seems fair,” I say. “I don’t want to put the squeeze on you.”
Then a knee-jerk instinct kicks in. “However…” I say in my best used-car salesman voice. “I do run a charity….”
“You mean Worldbuilders?” he says.
“Oh,” I say, pleasantly surprised. “You’ve heard of it.”
“Of course I’ve heard of it,” he says.
“Well,” I say slowly. “This year we started accepting corporate sponsorships….”
“I can make that happen,” Colin says. “I’ll talk to the boss, and one way or another, we’ll make it happen.”
“Okay,” I say. “You’ve got me.”
* * *
So there you go. Pretty soon, within just a couple of hours, they’re going to be announcing my involvement in the project.
You can go and check out the Kickstarter over here.
I’m not going to lie. I think it’s going to be an awesome game, and I’m not just saying that because I’m writing a piece of it.
If you’re on the fence, here are a couple reasons to consider jumping into the kickstarter.
1. If you’re planning on buying the game eventually, it’s cheaper to buy it now.
2. If you know you’re going to want to try it later, chipping in early means they’ll be able to make it an even better game. More development money means more content.
3. If a healthy number of my readers rush over and jump onboard, I get to look kinda cool to the developers. They’ll think things like, “Oh, maybe we didn’t make a horrible mistake bringing that Rothfuss guy in.”
4. You have to give these guys credit for supporting Worldbuilders. That’s mighty damn nice of them.
5. This is the first step in my extended master plan. If this goes well, it means we’re *much* more likely to see a Kingkiller game. More importantly, a Kingkiller game I’ll be able to have a direct hand in. Personally, I think that would about a thousand flavors of awesome.
Later Space Cowboys, I’m off to sleep. I’ve got a story to finish tomorrow….