[⚔Swords & Stationery✐] What I’d learned from Dread (Part 2)

Continuing from last week’s post, today I’m going to discuss how Dread (and, really, most RPGs) help to promote creativity.

One issue that young writers struggle with is properly fleshing out a scene. I use a few unique frameworks for teaching writing. These require writers to be able to construct in their mind’s eye a scene or location. However, while budding writers can more or less visualise the general outlines of the scenes, it’s the finer details that they struggle with.

Imagine and create

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Readers, I’ve got a task for you. The instructions are below, but they’re in white. Highlight the line to reveal the task. Ready?

Think up a room. You’ve got 8 seconds.

What kind of room did you think of? Was it a bedroom? An empty storage closet? The lobby of a building?

What if I’d furnished the room with more details before asking you to imagine it? Suppose, for instance, if I’d added that its interiors are of a clean metallic sheen, and that it has a huge steel door on one side. For many of us, we would automatically make assumptions to better visualise the room, leading to the belief that it could be a sci-fi prison cell or a cargo container. With more details furnished, we could further identify the room’s specific nature. It could well be a cloning lab or a deranged killer’s “playroom”.

Filling in the gaps

The provision of details, however, only serves to fill in gaps. It narrows down, but doesn’t specify, the exact nature of the room unless the GM does so. It is therefore possible that players, especially younger ones, will not know how to utilise their environments to full, interesting effect.

In the Dread game that was mentioned in the previous post, players had used their environment effectively. They had used the tools in the maintenance room to distract the monster, and had hidden under tables to evade it. Again, however, that had required some prior visual exposure to such content.

Comparisons with media that the players are familiar with. A maintenance room of a derelict spaceship wouldn’t look too different from that of a modern seafaring vessel. And if the comparisons should fail? Time to fall back on traditional visual aids like this one:

Although it’s an engine room and not a maintenance room, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things so long as it conveys mood and function. This and games give learners the flexing power to imagine scenarios with rich, varied environments. The end result, hopefully, is that our budding writers learn how greatly one room can differ from one another with a near-infinite pool of aspects to pick-and-match from.

Constructing environments in stories is a skill that’s very difficult to accomplish. Even before one conveys the thought in words, he/she must first develop the thought, the mental image in the case of environment-construction. There’s much more to be gleaned from the Dread game that we had played, but this and the last topic are what I feel most strongly about. If you have any thoughts to share w.r.t. this, feel free to post in the comments. Have a great week ahead!

-Jim

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