Three Risks of Epic Scenes Planned Ahead

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t dream up complex scenes that they totally want to run because it would be seventeen kinds of awesome with a cherry on top. I’d never say that; those are beauty, and I think the pursuit of beauty is an important goal for a writer or a gamer. I do, however, think that people shouldn’t hang their dreams for a story on them, particularly not if the story is an RPG and not a novel. For everything, there’s a risk. For that, there are three that I’ve seen, and probably many more.

In all these cases, the same thing happens. We get this image, of a grand, grand epic scene, something that’s not going to happen for a while, and we decide we want to see it. So we design ourselves a scene, and we start trying to shape things to make sure it happens. That’s where the trouble starts, and one of the three risks kicks in. What are they?

One, the most obvious, is the scene’s aversion. It could have happened, we were ready for it to happen, but it didn’t. If we’re running a game, maybe it was something the group did—I once had an idea for a meeting between my group and my primary antagonist that was prevented twice, in two different forms, because the group kept not going where I thought they would. If it’s a story, maybe it’s something about the characters, a realization that for whatever reason, it just wouldn’t work that way. Some people try to force the scene anyway, throwing suspension of disbelief and free will by the wayside to ensure this one moment. It doesn’t generally work, and is likelier to annoy people who would have enjoyed it otherwise.

The second is our own loss of interest. For people who aren’t long-thinkers, this is a very strong risk: that somewhere in the time between when this idea first struck us and when we actually get to execute it, we lose our spark for it, and the lack of enthusiasm removes one of the vital qualities from the situation itself. While I think it should be salvageable by reminding ourselves what’s important about the scene, I don’t often have to deal with that one—my problem is more the third:

Anticipation. This one’s a major threat for the people who can plan something six months ahead and still remember it when a year’s gone by and it’s not time yet, and the perfectionists. In short, people like me. What happens here is that the scene is a constant in our minds. We’ve been working on it for weeks and weeks, changing a detail here, testing different background music there, figuring out how we’d incorporate different contingencies and how best to foreshadow it, slipping foreshadowing in and worrying about whether it was too blatant. In our mind’s eye, it’s perfect. But that’s it’s downfall. We’ve had scenes like this before, gotten to execute them, and they failed. And looking back over it, we know why they failed. So we become afraid to execute the scenes we’ve built up our anticipation of, because we know that our platonic ideal and what we actually create aren’t going to be the same thing. Why risk it? (Not to mention that once we’ve done the scene, it’s over. No more planning. No more ideas. No more editing, nor bursting into maniacal laughter in the middle of the night as you come up with a grand alteration.)

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t plan scenes like that ahead. But it does mean that we shouldn’t hang too many of our hopes on these plans; rather, we should be prepared to accept the risks that they create, and find ways to work around them.

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