What’s Your Inspiration Style?

We all know ideas come to different people differently, and all have some idea what sorts of things tend to trigger us, whether it’s reading or music, thinking about the problem or working on something else to let the subconscious take over, or any of a number of other inspiration tricks. But we don’t often think about what forms our inspiration takes, and how working with those can help us to minimize our blocked periods. As a result, I’ve gone through and looked at what I consider to be two general categories of inspiration source. One is the kind of story element the inspiration manifests as; the other is the general form the inspiration takes. First, the elements:

  • Event-based. Event-based inspiration tends to focus itself on either scenes or incidents, often ones of particularly high emotion; the event-based storyteller’s main problem is just figuring out how to get from one scene to the next. He’s likelier to be proactive than reactive in GMing style, setting up circumstances to ensure that his events come into play. An event-based GM is likely to be on the plot side of the plot-sandbox continuum, or at least likely to make his events as unavoidable as possible; one whose ideas are mostly things happening is likely to have trouble keeping motivation if they don’t happen.
  • Setting-based. Setting-based inspiration is the province of the worldbuilder. Rather than focusing on characters, or on story, the setting-based storyteller’s best work is done on the world as a whole. Her plots tend to spring up from the world itself; its cultural clashes, its politics, its climate changes and ambient magic and who-knows-what-all-else. That is, when she has plots; a setting-based storyteller thrives in the sandbox, letting her stories come from how the players interact with the world she’s created.
  • Character-based. Logically enough, character-based inspiration is centered around one or more strongly developed characters, the paths and events and possibly even the character-based storyteller’s view of the world springing forth from what these characters would do. Character-based storytellers tend to make better players than GMs, the better to focus their energy into one character; however, when they GM, they thrive on plotlines based on a character (ally, enemy, it doesn’t matter) making a decision, and as a result often write the best villains. One thing that can help a character-based GM is making sure he understands who the characters he’s writing for are, in as much detail as possible; the better he understands them, the better he can appeal to them, and the more inspiration he can get from what they’d likely do.

Now, the forms.

  • Mechanistic. What happens when you get a clash between two equal and opposite builds? Can a group of X power level be effectively challenged by the significantly weaker Y if Z factors are applied? Whether the mechanist can precalculate it or not, she wouldn’t mind seeing for herself. Mechanists play it by the numbers, usually solving or creating problems within the system and then going back and figuring out how to justify it with the details; they’re excellent in established systems, but usually lost in freeforms until they learn or establish some ‘rules’.
  • Conceptual. A conceptualist knows the shape of things to be created; that’s not a problem. The difficulty is just coming up with the details. Then again, this might be why he GMs; details can be left up to the players. The difficulty for the conceptualist isn’t so much coming up with ideas as coming up with the ideas he needs when he needs them; he’s likely to have the overarching story planned out up to a year in advance, but getting the details for the stuff under his nose, not so much. He’s not as plot-driven as the event-based storyteller, but he does often err on the side of plot rather than on the side of sandbox.
  • Expansion. An expansionist is rather like a supersaturated solution; she has trouble coming up with her own ideas, but give her the seed of an idea and she’ll turn it into something spectacular. As a result, an expansionist GM needs interaction to function: with her players, getting their opinions, speculations and wouldn’t-it-be-cool-ifs; with an assistant, who can toss in quick concepts she can work from when she’s blocked and can give her a little push when she’s expanded one idea to its limit and doesn’t have another waiting; even with a friend from outside, who might not know much about what she’s doing but will cheerfully listen to her talk about it anyway. Unless they have a really strong central idea, Expansionists are probably better off with pre-established settings, but only to a point; too defined, and there’s no room for them to make it grow.

I, for example, am a Character-based Expansionist. My game concepts are usually based around one or more characters, their plans, and how they interact; when left to my own devices, I often just throw conversation possibilities at people until something clicks. I don’t usually get ideas from whole cloth; rather, they’re inspired either by having a problem in need of solving, or by someone else making a suggestion that gives me ideas.

So what’s your inspiration style?


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