Lesson #4: The Write Mindset

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Today marks the start of what I’m sure you expected to do on day 1: writing! Like I’ve said before, a one-shot benefits from extensive, thorough planning, so there’s a reason we’re not actually writing until almost two weeks into the month. There’s not much to write if you haven’t solidified your ideas. You can write lore and backstory, but if a playable game is your goal, there’s much to do before writing. 

Consider this a transitional phase between outlining and writing. If you’re not quite finished with your outline, I really recommend making that a priority, and using that as the skeleton of your whole RPG. (Truthfully, if all you have at the end of the month is a solid outline, that’s awesome. You can still play-test that material and continue to work on it over time.) In fact, if you haven’t made an outline, I suggest closing this email and going back to lesson 3

Note: I understand that not everyone writes with an outline; while that might work for other forms of creative writing, I really think that works against you with a one-shot. Unless you’re writing a one-shot for your own use and never plan on having another GM/DM use it as a resource, an outline is necessary. 

Lesson #4

Objective: Write the “meat” of your one-shot

Deadline: July 20th

If you’re trying to meet a word count goal, aim for 2,000 words every two days. 

I shared this in the last lesson, but I want to share this outline template here again just in case:

You certainly don’t have to use this template as-is, but if you’re stressed out about writing and don’t know where to start, try using it as a worksheet. 

So, what does it mean to “write” your one-shot? This is where you provide all of the additional information to flesh out your story. If your outline is a list of narrative “beats,” events, and encounters, this is when you’ll start to elaborate on that. For example:

  • Describing the setting, environment, or atmosphere

  • Describing the appearance/demeanor/motivations of NPCs or creatures

  • Explaining how to facilitate an encounter or how to role-play an NPC

  • Sharing the history/lore that pertains to the story

  • Writing call-out/read-aloud text*

*What you’ll see in many one-shot modules and campaign books are blocks referred to as “call-out text,” also known as the “read-aloud” text. This is what GMs can actually read aloud (word for word or paraphrased) to their players, so this text contains only what is necessary to convey the scene/details to the players at that time. Real-aloud text is then preceded or followed by additional information intended for the GM. 

Essentially, it helps to start by turning the bullet points in your mind map/outline into full sentences and paragraphs. 

Remember that your prose should be clear and functional. This isn’t to suggest that there isn’t poetry/literary value in the language of your one-shot, but it ultimately should be informative. You can always improve the language later (this is what revision is for!). In the meantime, stick to simple sentences. Don’t worry about writing everything perfectly on the first go. Just get the thoughts out of your head.

Writing can be hard; it’s arguably the hardest part of this whole process. 

What to do if you get stuck

  • Use your mood board as a prompt.
    Pick an image in your mood board and describe what you see. Pretend that you are describing the image to someone who can’t see it — what details do you focus on? What is depicted in the image? What mood does it convey? Continue doing this with all of the images on your mood board; you’ll be surprised by how much you can pull from that. 

  • Write out of order.
    You don’t have to start at the beginning. Maybe you have an idea for how a scene plays out later in the adventure; write it down! Work in whatever order works best for you. Eventually you’ll go back and fill out the rest. 

  • Talk to a friend/loved one and record yourself, then transcribe the recording.
    This is a trick I used with my students when they were working on their end-of-semester research papers. You might be having a hard time getting the words onto paper, but you can likely talk about your story and explain some of the events in it. Have a friend prompt you with simple questions, such as:
    What is the story about?
    What are the main “goals”?
    Where is it set?
    When X event happens, what happens next?
    etc.

Once you’ve been able to answer some questions and talk through your ideas, transcribe the recording and put the transcription into your draft. (If you don’t like hearing the sound of your own voice, pay a few bucks to have it transcribed online.) What helps writers the most is seeing something on the page that can be built upon.

  • Write what YOU enjoy in an RPG experience.
    Your first one-shot does not need to meet every players’ needs. Taking on too much in your first story can quickly become overwhelming and then discouraging. Write selfishly; write what you think is fun. Do you enjoy role-play more than combat? Write situations with role-play! Do you enjoy picking out interesting creatures and monsters? Do you enjoy creating motivations for villains? Do you enjoy exploration and world building? When you feel stuck, come back to what you love. It’s OK if your first one-shot isn’t balanced and appealing to every person. Once you get in the flow of writing, you can branch out and start pushing yourself to think outside the box.

Final Notes

In the coming days, I'll share some resources that pertain more to the actual storytelling process, including world-building, developing characters and villains, creating settings, and more! These will be links, roundups and recommended reading rather than full lessons, but I hope they will aid in your project. For this workshop, I wanted to focus on process more than content, but there have been some requests for these types of resources so I will do my best to oblige!

I'll also check in with you half-way through this writing portion. I'll share a pep talk by a creator I admire, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Happy writing!
Ashley