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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

R.I.P. Gary Gygax

Well, it had to happen eventually. The Man Who Started It All, Gary Gygax, died today at the age of 69. He failed his Save vs. Death, and no amount of screaming, bribing or rules-lawyering is going to convince his DM to let him re-roll.

It's funny, because I mentioned role-playing games in yesterday's blog, and here he ends up dying the next day. Some might call that spooky. I think spooky would have been if I'd received a call from him out of the blue, and it turned out he'd dialed the wrong number. And then died. While talking to me. That would've been spooky.

Still, as every other obit piece has already said, Mr. Gygax (Can I call him Gary? Sure I can.) provided the genesis for a significant portion of today's popular culture. Personally, I can draw a pretty solid line between my early influences from role-playing games and my creative products today.

In the course of role-playing, I learned a lot about characterization. It didn't take me long to realize that playing Dungeons & Dragons was about a heck of a lot more than hack n' slash and fireballs -- although that's still some pretty fun stuff. Heck, I even won an award once at a gaming convention for the best-played characterization, and that wasn't even for a character I'd created.

Of course, every good author knows that characterization is one of the essential elements of a good story (the others being plot, setting or mood, and theme). Imagine what Star Wars would have been like without characters that seemed to leap off the screen, even when they were just standing still. Yeah, see what I mean? B-movie. Totally.

When I write, I usually have a good enough understanding of the characters that I can pretty much let them write themselves. I don't need to think too long about how a character would react to a certain situation -- in fact, if I do, re-reading tends to show me wooden characters with exaggerated or unbelievable responses, behaviours, and dialogue.

Conversely, when I find I'm stuck on what a character would do, it usually means I don't understand the character enough. In such a case, I'll step away from the story (or at least that part of it), and ruminate on the characterization for a while (sometimes months) in a background sort of way, thinking about it at odd moments in the course of otherwise unrelated mental activities. Later, I'll go back to where I left off, and the problem will have disappeared, seemingly of its own accord. In fact, what it really means is that I 'get' the character enough that I can write without overthinking.

I'm also seeing a parallel in real life: if I'm stuck on what to do in a particular situation, it usually means I don't know enough about it to make a decision with which I'll be comfortable. Just another example of life imitating art, perhaps.

Unlike our departed friend, Gary, for whom art imitated what he did with his life. I'm guessing he understood what he wanted to accomplish rather well, to have been so successful at it.

So, like so many others have blogged or will blog today, thanks, Gary. Happy gaming.



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