Collaborative Storytelling

(So, I’m trying something new.  Let me know how you like it (or not).  I’ve recorded a companion video, seen below, that tells what I’m trying to say in the following essay.  Same information, just a different format.  Some like videos, some prefer text.  We aim to please here at Start Being Your Best.  Also, I bet you didn’t imagine my face for radio would be betrayed by a voice for the written word, did you?)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever played a role-playing game…  For those that haven’t, a role-playing game (or RPG for short) involves a group of people.  One person, known as the Game Master (or GM), prepares the outline of a plot before hand.  He or she determines the setting and has a general idea of what’s going to happen in the story (much like writing a movie or a play).  The other people create characters that will interact with the plot the GM has created.  It’s their job to operate within the rules of the game and the plot presented to them to solve the mystery, or rescue the country from invaders, or what-have-you.

There are a couple of things that interest me about RPGs.  The first is the ambiguity of it.  The GM probably takes a lot of time beforehand, setting up scenarios for the players to navigate, puzzles to solve, and creating characters for the players to interact with to advance the story along the path that the GM wants.  However, the players are free to navigate through the world in the way they see fit, which often times may be totally different from what the GM intended.  In this case, the game goes “off the rails”, and the GM is forced to adapt the plot to the choices that have been made by the players that he hadn’t intended.

The second is the collaborative nature of the process.  As opposed to regular board games, where one person or team is trying to beat all the other people or teams playing, RPGs require everyone to work together to essentially create a story out of nothing.  Sure, the GM writes the framework before hand (where the players start and the end result of the game), but how the players go about getting from point A to point Z is entirely up to them.  Give and take is necessary on everyone’s part.  A GM can’t come to the game with too many preconceptions as to how the players should accomplish the plot, or he’ll end up forcing the players to act in accordance with how he thinks they should act.  This diminishes the players options and can prevent them from feeling they have any say in how the game is played.  Conversely, the players have to pay attention to the scenarios presented for clues as to what will advance the plot the GM has created for them.  If they see that the GM has clearly planned for events to occur in a certain location, they shouldn’t try to go the opposite direction simply to prove their autonomy.  In that event, the plot dies and no one has any fun.

So, what’s the point?  Why am I talking about RPGs and collaborative story telling on my blog about personal development for people in crisis?

1. Your life is a story. I believe there’s a plan.  It may not be obvious, and it certainly doesn’t go in the direction that we expect all the time, but there’s an ongoing plot.

2. The plot is fluid. In the story of life, we have people coming in and out of the plot all the time.  You choose how they impact it, though.  Circumstances are external to who we really are.  How we respond to those circumstances, even the ones that are created by others and are out of our control, is where the story is written.  You can choose to let the circumstances sweep you up, drifting along through the good and the bad, or you can choose to take control, and bend the circumstances to your will.  Ambiguity around those decisions will always remain, but make sure to eliminate as much as possible by making responsible choices.

3. The characters are yours to include or remove. This may be the most important of all.  You’re the main character in your life, but if there weren’t any other characters, it’d be pretty boring.  Other people are going to be involved in what you do and how you advance the story of your life. John Donne said “No man is an island”.  No matter how introverted you think you are, you need contact with other people.  Humans are social creatures and we need interaction with those around us, especially when we’re in a time of need.

Look to include characters in the story of your life that advance the plot in a good way.  Remove those who inhibit the plot from developing at all, or who are intent on ruining the game for everyone.  The most important thing to remember is you make that decision.  It’s up to you who you allow to help build your story.  Choose your friends and mentors wisely, because they can direct the flow of your plot in ways that often times are not known to you until much later on.

Recognizing that my life is much like the plot of a story that I tell with the people around me has been helpful, because it’s caused me to think of the people involved as characters.  Now that I view myself not only as a character in the story (moved by the circumstances), but as the author (in charge of developing the circumstances), I’ve come to realize that I need to pay close attention to who I let into my story.

Without naming names (unless you want to), have you made some poor decisions as to who you allow to tell your story with you?  What are some strategies you’ve developed for getting those negative influences out?  What about good influences?  Where can those characters come from?  Let us know in the comments

Also, let me know how you feel about the video.  Do you like it?  Dislike it?  Feel totally ambiguous about it?  Don’t worry, I can take it. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Collaborative Storytelling”

  1. This is a good example of the difference between being proactive and reactive. Much of my life was spent being reactive and I"ve let others direct my play. I wonder if it's too late to start some new directions, but I hope to be more proactive even if I'm not sure if it's worth it at this late point. I do wish someone had taught me to be proactive with my own life 30 years ago.

    1. At the risk of sounding trite, I really believe it's never too late to start over. I'd encourage you to take a shot, Beth. Assuming the worst case (that you don't succeed in reaching the outcome you desire), I still think you'll feel better about how your life is going if you're charting your own course. Keep us posted!

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