Identifying Inspiration

Yesterday, I talked about inspiration styles, and Michael asked, “How do I tell what my inspiration style is?” So I thought I’d share a bit on how my process works.

I usually begin with form, as that’s the easiest to sort into one category or another, and certainly the easiest to find within myself. Think about how you put your games (or stories, or what have you) together.

Are you the kind of person who works well when outlining what’s going (or most likely) to happen? Is it easy to come up with the general shape of things, but frustrating to have to go back and fill in the details? When running a game, do you tend to try to make sure that people stay with what you’ve got planned? You’re probably a conceptualist.

Do you consider your stories to be as much an experiment as anything, a chance to take variables, put them together, and see if it turns out as you expected? Do you get ideas from wanting to test out a certain game build, to play with an alternate version of an existing timeline and see how it comes out differently? You might be a mechanist.

Do you get most of your best ideas from talking to someone else? Are you detail-oriented, likely to seize on one element or one idea and flesh it out, keep growing it until it won’t get any bigger? Is beginning the hard part for you, but keeping going once you’ve got a good idea a cinch by comparison? You’re probably an expansionist.

Finding your element is a bit harder. There are three things you can use to determine it, though.

One is the kinds of scenes you enjoy planning, running, writing and/or playing (fortunately, these do often overlap). Think about what makes them enjoyable for you. Is it the intense feelings from envisioning the scene itself? The ability to ground the characters in their world? Watching a character and seeing how she reacts to what’s going on, particularly when you don’t expect it? Pulling superstitions and traditions alike out of nowhere? Something else entirely?

Consider also the kinds that you have the most trouble with; the ones that bog down pretty much the moment you step into them. I have a friend who took a while to realize that the group he was running for could be safely left to their own devices to amuse themselves, for instance, because when the same thing happened to him he tended to freeze up. On the other hand, there have been fights I just haven’t had the patience to run because epic and impressive though they were, almost none of the combatants on my side had both wit and a functional larynx. And I’ve known other people who tended to freeze up any time people were interacting with parts of the background they hadn’t finished designing with. If you’re fouled up by the absence of something, odds are that something is the element you mesh best with; on the other hand, if you’re hung up by the presence of an element, it may not tell you what your best is, but it’ll tell you what your best isn’t.

Another thing to consider is what sorts of sequences other people find to be your best. What elements of the story do you tend to get complimented on? Which ones do people notice? Just because they don’t always see you creating doesn’t mean they’d have too hard a time telling which things you’re most comfortable with/suited to. It doesn’t always work, though; I recently pegged someone as setting-first remembering the localization he’d done, but he claimed to be anything but.

Go through one or more of these, and see which of the categories the answers most closely line up with. It might surprise you.

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