Writing Exercise: Jumping to Conclusions

A good writer or GM needs to be good at getting people to draw the right conclusions. Readers who like predicting the action, or players on general principle, are served well by being able to draw them without the extra help. Heck, observation and logic are useful in the real world, particularly for identifying problems and finding their solutions. And now, we have an exercise good for both of them, and particularly good for people who need to learn both stills.

The exercise itself is simple. First, one of the participants comes up with a sentence or two. It might be something a character does or says, a short description of an item, something’s location—there’s actually very little it can’t be. If they’re trying to test themselves, it’s best to say something that they hope their partner will come to a certain conclusion are; if the object of the game is to get the partner’s critical thinking up, they might say something they hope it’s really difficult to get a reasonable conclusion out of.

That’s where the second person comes in; her job is to take the sentence she’s just been given, and draw a reasonable conclusion (or at the very least, one that she can back up if challenged) from it. Someone managed to actually land a knock on the boss’s door without a “come in”? The boss is out. Dexter hasn’t cracked a joke in half an hour? Clearly he’s worried about something.

Switch at times if desired.

This exercise works best if both people are familiar with the world(s) that they’re working in; they don’t need to be completely, intimately familiar, though, just good with most of the major details. Cluelessness can be worked around—it gives a creator a really good idea what she can get away with in the beginning while she’s still establishing her setting—but it spoils some of the fun; it gives the responder less information, and severely limits the pool of sentences the sentence-creator can use without having to make them obnoxiously long.

One other thing I find important is that the second person can explain her reasoning. Guesswork is all very well, but it’s a lot easier both to improve someone’s mental patterns and to figure out why a description went wrong if the responder can track her conclusions back to the source. So while justifying unprovoked is optional, it’s in both parties’ best interests for the responder to be able to explain how she got from “Olathe’s got her hands partway over her ears” to “There’s some really heavy-duty magic at work over there.”

So need a way to both keep busy and refine multiple skills at once? Set some conclusion-hurdles and start jumping!

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