Thursday, July 18, 2013

Want to Write Fantasy? Play Skyrim!

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Want to Write Fantasy? Play Skyrim!

In case you live under a rock and haven’t heard of Skyrim, it’s the fifth installment in a fantasy roleplaying game series available for PC, Playstation, and other platforms. It’s insanely fun, and it could really help your writing!

Ok, so writing and playing a video game don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I wouldn’t recommend doing both at the same time, unless you’re really damn talented at multi-tasking. However, if you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at creating a fictional fantasy realm on paper, take a break and pop in Skyrim (or an equally cool game) into your PC or Playstation.

Why waste my precious writing time playing silly games, you ask? You do need a break now and then. All work and no play, right? Think of it as visual research—fun, exciting research in which you get to kill pretend bandits, dragons, and a slew of other fantasy critters. Preferably while you’re eating something tasty and drinking something cold. But, don’t discount the things Skyrim can teach you to help fashion a believable and fantastical world. Let’s hit on a few of those subjects:

1.      World building: Every good fantasy novel has a detailed world that varies in climate, physical characteristics, population, customs, etc. Just explore the territory in Skyrim for a while, and you’ll see what I mean. From snowy peaks, to marshy plains, the landscape gradually changes as you traverse the countryside. Skyrim’s many towns vary in architecture, customs, and clothing.  Adding such geographical and social variety to your own fictional world will keep it interesting and believable.

2.      Wildlife: Skyrim’s best known for its dragons, but they’re not all you’ll see. Or hear. Pay attention as you stroll from town to town. Birds will fly overhead. You’ll hear them singing from the trees. Foxes, rabbits, and deer will scamper away at your approach. You’ll hear them rustling through the leaves. If you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your character), you’ll hear a bear growling or a wolf howling just before you stumble upon them. In writing your own fantasy story, be mindful of the wildlife your characters will hear and see as they journey through the pages.
3.      Quests: For those of you familiar with the Hero’s Journey, you know how important accomplishing challenges, or quests, are to any character. In Skyrim, you are presented with quests from the start. Some of them you come across quite by chance and are relatively quick and singular, while others are ongoing and connected to reach a common goal. What makes these game quests valuable to story writing is that each one is a little subplot in itself. Quests serve to advance the character’s main storyline, and they test the character’s mettle, allowing you to see their weaknesses and strengths. Think about famous fantasy novels, like The Hobbit. Without all the obstacles (or quests) that led up to the climax, we would not have cared as much about Bilbo and his predicament. Each little conflict (or quest) along the way, taught us more about him (and his companions), and made us care whether they defeated Smaug in the end. Throw a few quests at your character along the way and watch him/her grow like a proud and nervous parent. Then, when the big fight comes along, you’ll have a good idea about how they’ll handle it and what the outcome will be.

Q&A: Have you played Skyrim or similar games? If so, how could they help your writing?

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  1. Great post, Mysti :)

    I'm a long time Zelda fan, and I'm anxiously awaiting the re-release of Windwaker for the Wii-U this Christmas, but for the last year or so I've been playing a lot of Minecraft. It definitely helps with world building because it lets you create your own :) It's a great way to flesh out a story world, but mostly it's just a lot of fun.


    1. My husband can relate to your Zelda attraction :) He loved that game and even downloaded it to his iPad. My kids play Minecraft, but for the life of me, I can't see the appeal in that one *shrug* But, yeah, I can see the worldbuilding potential in it!

  2. Mysti, because of your talk about Skyrim before, I'm now addicted! But putting that aside, I agree with your points. The world of Skyrim can remind authors that its the small, seemingly insignificant details that make a world feel real. I also think its a good thing to remember that everyone in our fantasy world wont automatically be o. The same page as your hero. They have lives and problems as well. Maybe making your hero solving another person's issue before they tell them where to find the sword of wonder is what the hero needs. Great article, Mysti. I loved it.

    1. Woohoo! I've made a convert! If you become the arch mage, you'll get plenty of chances to solve other people's issues. Some students even test their spells on you. I was green for a while ;)

    2. LOL I've done that mission as well.

  3. I've been reading up on it and can't wait to play! I'm sure the graphics alone will put me in the mood to write. :)

    1. If you have the video card, enough cooling, and processing power, you'll love the graphics! The PC version also is highly modifiable with all kinds of user-made mods to be found. If you get it, message me for some of my favorite mods :)


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