I could tell you that I'm going to spend tonight, all day Friday, and a good part of Saturday intensively planning and outlining a book, and I would sound totally hardcore, or I could tell you that I'm playing a tabletop role-playing game. (For the record, I'm still hardcore.)
At first it was just myself, my husband Matt, and a friend of ours getting together for an especially geeky weekend. Matt, a veteran Game Master, had had a campaign idea percolating in his mind for about 6 years, and life circumstances had finally given us the opportunity to finally see how the idea played out "live". About two hours into the first session, I thought, "Holy crap, you guys! We're telling a story!" (For long-time tabletop players that are thinking, "Like, duh", please understand that I was pretty fresh off the bus.)
Thing is, this was a GOOD story - the kind of story that I'd love to read. And the more we played, the better it got. At this point, I had also made a few false starts on my First Real Novel. I couldn't get anything to stick. Five, maybe six months later, and a few weeks before the second geek weekend, I decided that this was the story I wanted to tell.
I didn't know then that novelizing your tabletop stuff was a sort of hallmark of amateurism that almost 100% of the time resulted in a shallow Tolkien or Dragonlance pastiche. When I did make that discovery, I was embarrassed by my story's origins. I knew that the setting my husband created, and the cultures, characters and conflicts within it were as inspired as any other good fantasy I'd encountered, but as an amateur writer, the last thing I wanted was to be accused of being an amateur.
As my present efforts can attest, I got over it. That said, I'm trying to be smart about it. A straight-up transcription of the campaign would be a wandering, schizophrenic mess. The pacing and structure of a game, even if it is story and character focused, is quite different from that of a series of novels. There are things that I will have to take out because they veer too far from both the main plot and the various subplots in content and tone. Other things, like minor characters and the aesthetics of the world will have to be fleshed out further. ("Matt, how do Mequisians dress?" "...Lots of colors? I dunno, but it's probably very impractical.") The way the magic works has to be tweaked, because certain spell mechanics are great for game balance but kind of horrible in a narrative setting.
It could take as long as three years before the things that happen this weekend are transformed into the first draft of a book, and I can't even say with certainty if this will be Book 3 or Book 5. I think this is to my advantage, in the end. I'll be able to write the earlier stuff with the newer stuff in mind, so I can make sure everything matches up. Matt and I will have a lot of time to think back on past events and, if necessary, say, "You know, it would fit the story and the characters better if X happened instead of Y."
It's not the system I had in mind when I pictured being a novelist, but as a gamer this enriches the experience for me tenfold. I love that both mediums are starting to influence each other as they gain shape, making both stronger. And most of all, I love working together with my husband to create something. We've been a right good dragon slaying duo over the years, and to me this is the natural meeting place of our respective hobbies and passions. That, and it's way cheaper than swing dance lessons. (Someday, someday...)
Whether I'm typing away in my word processor or sitting around a table rolling dice and eating pizza by candlelight, I'm doing what I love and trying my best to tell a story worth hearing.