How to Be a Muse

RPG Blog Carnival this month, over at Campaign Mastery, is on inspiration. Technically, the question is “What inspires your games?”, looking for non-game media that inspires people’s games, but it’s not always media that gets me inspired, nor inspires the people I’ve gamed with. Sometimes, it’s other people that can provide the best inspiration—and sometimes, other people are going to see if you can inspire them. Serving in that role, being a muse, can be one of the most rewarding parts of hanging out with a GM or an author, but also one of the most difficult. What do you need in order to be a good muse?

Know what you’re talking about. For serving as a muse to just about anyone, having some sense of plotting and creation technique is useful—but hey, that’s what reading this blog is for, right? If they’re working in a set world, knowing the world can help a lot; so can having even a vague idea what the plot looks like and what they’re doing with it. Or maybe it’s just that you’ve got a lot of knowledge in one specific area of worldbuilding or strategy or what-have-you that the person you’re inspiring doesn’t. It isn’t necessary to have all of these, though—I have one friend about whose story I only know bits and pieces, so I focus on the info I do have and my knowledge of writing technique and the Laws of Dramatics. But no matter what, knowing the style of the person who’s asking you for help is vital; after all, if you’ve got a style mismatch, your ideas aren’t too likely to bear fruit no matter how good they are when looked at through your priorities.

Figure out what the person you’re inspiring needs, and make sure they know you have it and are willing to help. That way, they know what questions to come to you on, and what questions they really should be asking someone else, saving both of you frustration down the line. For instance, I’m good when it comes to literary technique, worldbuilding and characterization, and if someone wants an epic scene I’m pretty good at figuring out how to implement it, but until a few weeks ago I tended to panic when people asked me about things like tactics.

Ask questions. Then ask more questions. Then ask more questions. Sometimes, either the people who need help aren’t entirely sure what they need; more often, what you think they need and what they think they need are two separate things. Besides, asking the questions often causes them to figure things out for themselves, a more organic process than when you make suggestions. The more of your musework is inspiration, and the less is actually creation, the less you have to worry about the actual creator’s ego, and the less work-work you have to do. The latter’s a useful thing when you’re stumbling around in someone else’s world.

Being a muse isn’t easy; it’s a skilled job even at the best of times, and on some people requires a specialist. But if you can get it to work, it’s extremely rewarding in its own right.

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