Not to seem unappreciative of everything great the Failbetters do, but writing stories in Fallen London is terribly dull. It also takes a really long time. Perhaps the process could be made more – dare I say it – creative? If a story was more than a number to push up, if it were actually built plot element by plot element, then… I’ve thought about it, and here is how I would so it.
Rock, paper, scissors… umbrella?
Under the system I propose there are four values to keep an eye on when writing:
Inspiration, to be built up outside of the literary storylet. Once work on a story has started, all cards and actions should have a chance to increase Inspiration, so one can leave the desk if this seems to be lacking and venture out into the world. Inspiration is spent when adding Settings and Twists (see below). It also determines the range of available Settings and Twists. At Inspiration 1, only minimal choices will be available. Inspiration replaces "material" under the current system. Basically this is what story length one is inspired enough to put down. Now the player doesn’t have to waste actions on getting mere pages.
Originality, which is raised by introducing unexpected Twists into the tale. It may drop if you add logical Twists. It starts at 0 and can remain there for all anyone cares, but any Originality increases Persuasive reward (gain) if the story sells. A few points of Originality actually increase the chances of its acceptance, but higher than that, and editors begin to turn away. If you do manage to sell a really original story, however, your fame, represented by Persuasive, will benefit greatly. Originality also reduces aversion from Length. A story’s chances of acceptance with publishers are inversely proportionate to its Length, but Originality can blunt this effect for long stories.
Quality, raised by introducing logical Twists. It may drop if you add unexpected Twists. Basic chance of acceptance is Quality divided by Length. Unlike Originality, Quality doesn’t help make long stories more acceptable.
Length, working against both Originality and Quality. Length directly governs material rewards – royalties in money, but not Persuasive gains. To repeat, although chance of acceptance is inversely proportional to Length, material reward is directly proportionate to Length if the story succeeds (if they like it, they’ll want more of it). Length is measured in finished Scenes, with at least one required.
To sum up: Inspiration determines choices, Originality determines Persuasive gain, Quality determines chance of acceptance, Length determines money gain.
You compose a story of Scenes. Scenes represent distinct developments in the story. There can be a large number of Scenes strung along, seeing how they pay you per word, but try selling that huge monster…
You start the first Scene by choosing one of several Settings, for example:
- Ancient castle
- Corsair schooner
- Battlefield in Hell
- Squalid flat
- Henry VI’s court
(a sufficient somewhat randomized list, with some choices available only with Tales of Terror!! or Distant Shores or Hard-Earned Lessons or Connected or special circumstances like being an Agent of the Cheesemonger – heck, Ian Fleming had been a spy)
These are all Persuasive challenges naturally, and failure may sometimes cost Inspiration, but has no other penalties.
After this succeeds, you can begin to add Twists, which represent events within the Scene:
- Nomads invade on horseback
- A mutiny breaks out
- The landlord’s wife is murdered
- The King announces his heirs
- A mysterious nobleman makes introductions
And so on, again with some choices special, somewhat random and the list appropriate for the chosen Setting… But not completely appropriate. There need to be some Twists that make no obvious sense. So for Ancient castle the list might be:
- The King announces his heirs
- There is a grand ball
- A fleet approaches
- Nomads invade on horseback (hmm?)
- The landlord’s wife is murdered (hmm!)
Twists are not labeled as logical or unexpected, the player needs to figure it out. However, repeated nouns in Twists always give Qualities. For example, choosing „The King announces his heirs” gives you „Element: King - 1” and „Element: Heir(s) – 1.” Increase these values by choosing Twists with the same actors or places (keeping the story logical), and your Quality will go up. Originality works the opposite way: gather the largest variety of Elements and try not to mention anything twice. This part of the system would probably be the most difficult to code, but it’s the most interesting part too. Alternatively, unexpected and logical Twists can bring up and down Quality and Originality mechanically, but this is a lot more dull.
Several Twists can be added within a Scene, and the player always sees the result in a „The story so far” section. After the Scene is confirmed complete, the player receives some in-game benefits on the spot. I suggest a reduction of Nightmares and Scandal, maybe more. This is important to make the process of writing rewarding.
If the player chooses to add another Scene, he can keep the Setting (this costs no Inspiration) or select a new one.
With at least one finished Scene the player can proceed to editing. Finished Scenes with their scores are all here. Here choices include, besides publishing:
- Read the manuscript to another player – a social action that might improve Originality, Quality or both; the accepting player will get to read „The story so far” in all its glory :D
- Trim it to make the story more likeable but less lucrative; this leaves Quality intact, reduces Length and keeps the structure
- Throw out a Scene if you have more than one and you think it brings excessive Originality to the whole or its Quality is too low for the Length it adds;
- Make it verbose for a better paycheck, sacrificing Quality for Length
- Convert the work to special genre. Without rewriting anything, you can use your Connected qualities to give the story a particular slant, turning it into a Children’s Book with Urchins, a Pamphlet with Revolutionaries, a Parable with Church, a Cry to Reason with Rubbery Men, a Libertine Treatise with Hell, a Smutty Page-Turner with Docks and so on. This somewhat increases Length, but if the piece goes through, you’ll get a bonus to Connected and perhaps some payment from the group.
- Chop it up for ideas – this destroys the manuscript but the next story will have half its Quality and Originality as a bonus
- Burn it
- Offer it to the Museum of Mistakes (the odds are strongly against you here)
If all this ends in a refusal, the story is destroyed as though you’ve chopped it up for ideas – you get a bonus to Quality and Originality next time. This is so you don’t feel like you’ve wasted a long long time. Triumph gets you a small standing bonus reflecting your reputation as an author. With this bonus high enough – after you’ve turned in a few tales – you can proceed to work on a Novel, assuming that feature makes it in.
Now for a real challenge: how about a Poem?
edited by Von Prabik on 6/25/2015