GMs, Writers and Hedgehogs

I first ran into the idea of the Hedgehog Concept in a book on businesses and how they succeed—but hey, what am I if not prone to interdisciplinary approaches? According to Jim Collins, the idea of the Hedgehog Concept is inspired by the idea that the fox has many tricks, but the hedgehog can always beat them with his one—and thus the hedgehog concept is that one thing that a business can do that it does, does well and does reliably. It is, Collins says, the confluence of three factors: what the business in question has the potential to be the best in the world in, what drives its economic engine, and what it is deeply passionate about. Or, for the writer or GM, the Hedgehog Concept can serve as a way to increase the odds that you get from one end of a plot to the other; if it’s the kind of thing you do well and enjoy writing or GMing, you’re much likelier not to lose interest halfway through.

For the writer or GM, the hedgehog concept expresses itself somewhat differently. Granted, the last element, that of deep and abiding passion, requires no translation from business to writing or GMing. The first, also, translates relatively straightforwardly: what do you do well? What do you look over with the most satisfaction, or get the most requests for how-tos on, or find yourself regularly praised for?

Then there’s the economic engine equivalent. Some people would boil this down to “write what sells,” and for the professional author that can be a consideration, but if you’re looking for your Hedgehog Concept in order to get yourself to finish a plot, or if you’re a GM and your ‘payment’ tends to come in the form of compliments, drawings, and/or someone else subsidizing food and transportation for session, money isn’t necessarily the object you’ll want to guide to.

Instead, our analogue to economic engine is what we get out of creation that is provided by our audience rather than ourselves. Yes, for some people that’s money. For some it’s positive feedback, or signs that the audience is interacting with their world outside of gaming hours/reading time. Some GMs like the winces as they mess with their players’ minds, some writers the “I’ve gotta draw that!” as their artist friends read over their drafts. Figure out what your big reward is. I’ll wait.

Got it? Good. Now that you know what it is you want to get out of your audience, it’s time to look at what you do that gets that reaction. You’ve probably got a good sense of when it’s happened before; what were you doing that brought it on? If there were multiple such occasions, did they have anything in common? Sometimes you’ve even struck the jackpot and had someone give you a clear explanation of what they liked: use it.

For something to be a Hedgehog Plot for you, then, it will need to incorporate the kinds of techniques, situations and concepts that you yourself do well with; to regularly utilize the things that make the audience give you what you want from them; and most of all, to feature the kinds of characters, plots, situations, worlds and/or techniques that you yourself are most passionate about. The resulting plot will carry you a lot farther than a plot that doesn’t stick on all your spikes.

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