Interested in coming up with a plot? Want to learn more about what makes a plot tick? You've come to the right source!
Version 1.0 copyright 1993, V. Briceland
This work may be freely copied and distributed, with the following proviso: No portion of the work may be altered, and my name must remain intact. You may quote the work, however, as long as the quote is properly attributed to this work. That's good practice for any writing you do, remember.
All opinions, opinionated declamations, and strange metaphors are the author's own. Comments and questions, as well as polite requests for copy of this material may be directed to:
Fascinating, TP-overinvolved address: Puddleglum@NarniaMUSH
Real-life, boring Internet address: email@example.com
A TinyPlot avoids the quest for points and goals. Think of a TinyPlot as a novel or short story unto itself: a set of inter- related occurrences involving several players, and often the entire MU*, that takes place over hours, days, or weeks. A TinyPlot can be as simple as a love triangle (ah, but these things are never simple, are they?), or as complex as a war between two nations. Both require an equal amount of care and attention.
Having your character pretend to wash his dishes is role-playing. Visiting a neighbor to congratulate them on their new fire-lizard or to admire their hazelnut collection is role-playing. Role- playing can range from mundane activities such as these to having your character fall in love, spirit away on a quest, or prove his or her prowess against Calormenes/orcs/omniscient computers/Thread/nasty little Tribbles. If the action is consistent with your character, that action is role-playing.
The Zen of Role-Playing or, The TinyMU* as Improv
What would a TinyMU* be without TinyPlots? I think they'd be pretty darned boring. Coding and building can be dandy activities--both absorbing and satisfying to the people skilled in them. But a MU* with prettily described rooms and little player interaction has all the zip and excitement of a museum in which paintings are displayed at a distance behind glass, and the tourists numbly move from one exhibit to the next. Yawn.
Think of your MU* as a stage. Each room is a unique set. The character you've created is costumed, poised, equipped with props, and ready to act. But the real stage has a well-groomed and attired audience sitting on the other side of the proscenium, waiting to be entertained. The witnesses to _your_ performance, though, will be the other players. And every other player, just like you, sits at their computer terminal, assimilating and judging the messages and poses that scroll down their screen. And they want to be entertained, too.
MU* players are not interested, however, in watching two other characters act out scenes from _Death of a Salesman_, fine as the acting may be. MU* players want their character to become a living, vital part of the big improvisational troupe that uses as its stage the dozens or hundreds of sets available.
When players come together with the characters they've created for this shared experience, it can be sheer magic. I hope that at one time or another you've experienced the thrill of losing yourself to your character. There you are, sitting at your terminal, playing a game of make-believe. Suddenly the action begins...perhaps it's a conflict between two personalities that your character must stop. Perhaps it's a birth, or a wedding. Perhaps an evil sorceress, her lips brightly enamelled with poisoned lipstick, attempts to give her wayward daughter the Kiss of Death.
Your real-life self becomes absorbed with the proceedings, and Real Life fades out. You begin to think the way your character thinks. Your body responds physically the way your character's virtual body responds. You breathe more quickly. Your palms sweat. You laugh aloud, or bite your lip with tension. And then you crash back to reality to find the boss or lab attendant or your significant other giving you a quizzical look.
This feeling isn't unusual. It's the creative high. Fiction writers experience it when they're working on a story. The Stanislavski method of acting is based on submerging your personal, physical self to a character's responses and rhythms. Ask an artist you know who deals with creating characters what they experience during a really good performance or workday. They'll say, "It was wonderful...the character just kind of took over, and the real me just sat there, watching what happened." Honest, they will. They'll use those exact words, too. Money-back guarantee. (Now, exactly how much money did you pay for these observations?)
A MU* offers unlimited opportunities for players to experience this creative high. The larger MU*s often have scores of players online at a time, and every player has the potential to add a new element to any role-playing situation. Even with as few as a dozen players, imagine the possible combinations. When two players role-play in a room and a third character begins to participate, the dynamic of the situation changes. If the third player leaves and another enters, things change once again. And when _more_ characters begin to interact...well, I'm not about to calculate the number of different combinations possible with a dozen players. The words "a whole bunch" pop to mind.
Role-playing in a TinyMU* is acting. It's interactive fiction- writing. Uniquely exhilarating, it should be thought of as a creative, shared, utterly human experience.
Acting From Character or You've Got A Brain, Use It
You will make your biggest imaginative investment in a MU* as you create your character.
I'm not referring to the login process, in which you think up a name and a description, and what sex your character will be. That's just the beginning. As you continue to play a MU*, your character will evolve. The description might change. You might start to notice that the character has a rhythm of speech that differs from others, or that she chooses a certain vocabulary. The character's background will accumulate depth. She'll have parents, perhaps, and brothers and sisters to which she refers, or past experiences that, while they were never role-played online, influence the way she thinks.
I hope you don't want to play a shallow, two-dimensional being. I don't think you'll have much fun. Like any living, breathing person, a fictional character (and remember, that's what you're playing on a MU*) has quirks. Characters have good points, and characters have flaws, too. All of these accumulate into increasing layers of depth.
If you're playing on a themed MU*, respect its theme above all. Players on NarniaMUSH don't take kindly to a cowboy from the Wild West in their midst. Pern MUSH players will resent characters beaming in from the Starship Enterprise. Be clueful: a lot of people have gone to a lot of trouble to keep their themed universe consistent. If you choose a character that ignores the milieu of a MU*, however interesting you may think he or she is, the chances are good that no one will play with you. You will be ignored. Point blank. It's the Law of the Sandbox (see chapter one, definitions).
If you want to join in TinyPlots on a particular MU*, test the waters with one toe before you plunge in. Contact your TP Coordinator and see if he or she knows of any TinyPlots that need participants. Observe other players involved in TinyPlots. Don't go diving into all the plots that interest you; just as you, in Real Life, don't run around the world interfering in dozens of people's lives (if you did, you wouldn't have time to play TinyMU*s), don't let your character zip around the MU* trying to do everything. Involve your character only in those TinyPlots that would appeal to his or her motivations--and don't expect just to 'jump in' to an ongoing TP. Let your character work his or her way in, naturally.
Try to keep in mind that many TinyPlot originators have gone to considerable trouble to keep their plot interesting and exciting for other players. If you're involved in a mystery plot and on your own find the all-important clue that solves the case, or if you're on a solitary quest and find the magic axe that will relieve your nation of all ills, resist being a plot-hog. Don't arrest the villain yourself, or chop down all the evil Rassafras Trees on your own...get some other people involved! They'll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and more people will get to enjoy the fun. And you'll still get credit in the end.
And above all, observe the rules of common courtesy. Don't expect other characters to behave the way _you_ want. They have their own agendas. Don't harass other players, in-character or out, to play with you. If your character plays nicely--that is, behaves consistently and doesn't attempt to harass or intimidate anyone else--you'll have plenty of opportunities to contribute to TinyPlots and start your own.
What Makes a Good Plot? The MU* Principle of Democracy
As a TinyPlot Coordinator on a MUSH, I get asked this question frequently. It's often easier to illustrate with negative examples. The following's taken from a real MU* experience, heavily disguised to protect the offenders (but I hope they feel really, really guilty).
What's wrong here? Simple. Abby wanted to participate in a TinyPlot, and proceeded to do so, in character. The two other players, however, pounced on her for expressing herself. I see this as a serious offense--it's the squelching of another's creative impulse. No one signs onto a MUSH to watch two characters, however well they may role-play, enact a drama of the day while they ignore everyone else.
The key concept to a TinyPlot is participation. Not the participation of two select players, three players, or even ten players to the exclusion of all others--but the participation and contribution of potentially _everyone_ who plays on the MUSH.
An argument performed in public between two people may be good role-playing. So might an assassination attempt of a popular character. A tender personal soliloquy of love might be an exquisite performance. But unless other players feel welcomed to join in an argument, their creative contribution remains only a potential. If players are discouraged from tracking down an assassin, they're not likely to want to return to the MUSH. And a declaration of love isn't a TinyPlot until other characters can gossip about it, laugh at it, or attempt to thwart or advance it.
Let me admit right now that my opinion isn't universal. Many people, good role-players among them, see nothing wrong with plotting and acting a TinyPlot that involves no more than a select group of people. They don't necessarily welcome outside participation, though they _will_ accept kudos for a fine performance. But in my experience, the finest moments of role- playing have often come from the most unexpected contributors. Real life's not pat and neat. And a fantasy world gets boring when events are too predictable.
Good TinyPlots are distinguished from and elevated above random moments of roleplaying by a sometimes difficult-to-maintain balance between careful direction and spontaneous, unpredictable participation. Anyone should be able to join in, if the plot strikes their fancy and it's logical for their character to do so.
Someone has to run the thing, of course. There's always janitorial work to do with a TinyPlot--rooms to create, objects and puppets to manipulate. And sometimes TinyPlots _must_ result in a certain outcome. But there's no plotline so perfect and inflexible that it can't bend to accommodate spontaneity. And there's no greater satisfaction on a MU* than in knowing you helped someone else enjoy themselves. Remember the stage metaphor I used earlier? Everyone on a MU* wants to be entertained and to entertain others. The more you work to ensure that others players enjoy themselves, the more you will enjoy the TinyPlot. It's a positive feedback loop!
The Forces of Evil
You've probably experienced it yourself, by now. TinyMU*s are populated by nice people. Lots of nice people. Everywhere you turn, there's another friendly, smiling, waving character, being nice to you. Blecch.
I'm exaggerating slightly, of course. TinyMU*s admit to being primarily social, and most people have the sense and decorum to function politely and pleasantly in social situations. Niceness eases communication. And besides, Miss Manners tells us to behave well.
Continual niceness doesn't create conflict, though, and conflict is the meat of a juicy TinyPlot. A perverse side of human nature is its craving for something to struggle against--the result of our evolution, perhaps? Millennia of battling to triumph over nature? Just a theory, mind you. Triumphing over nature isn't something I particularly endorse.
While most people are content to play pleasant, sensible people as their characters, some of you will want to create characters that are wicked, evil, and just downright nasty. Great! Evil characters can be a blast to play, as long as you don't mind being universally reviled.
Evil characters, however, only work if they're _really, really_ bad. Trust me on this. I've seen many people on MU*s aspire to badness, and most of them never get beyond being mere butt pimples on the great carcass of Evil. Within the theme of the MU*, you _must_ make your evil character unique. Trust me, you don't want to see people yawn and say, as you enter the room, "Ho-hum, here comes another of those terrible Lord of Chaos thingummies again, dear. Run. Run I say."
An evil character eventually has to DO something pretty awful. If you aspire to being mad, bad, and dangerous to know, no one's going to take you seriously if you confine your role-playing to sneering in public and occasionally drawing your sword/dagger/claws and glaring at other players. On most MU*s you're discouraged from that ultimate bad thing--that is, killing someone. So you'll have to use your imagination, network with other players, and come up with something _really_ awful for your character to do.
What happens if you don't take my all-wise advice? All hell and havoc breaks loose. No, not really. Seriously, it's difficult to maintain a proper balance with a bad character. The character needs to appear online often enough that other players are aware of her, but not so frequently that the character becomes overexposed. The character needs to mistreat other players, but not so offensively that she invokes upon herself the Law of the Sandbox so that no one will play with her.
Make certain other players are aware of what motivates your character. You must consistently drop the hint that your character Fallana the Orange Witch has come to Beaversdam to find the miscreant who stole the Gem of the Witch Goddess from her temple; if you don't, other players will avoid you and your bad attitude rather than play along with you.
Remember that some of the most evil characters are those you commonly see in Real Life. Evil doesn't have to come in supernatural garb. Evil characters can be book-burners, prudes, spouse-abusers, and people who hate to see others have fun.
A final hint: Don't drop out of character while online with your evil persona. If you have an alternate, considerably nicer character, use it for the personal chat. Believe me...no one is going to take Phlegmistico the Demon of the Deepest Reaches seriously ever again, once they spy him having an out-of-character confabulation about his favorite _Facts of Life_ episodes.
People Will Talk: Keeping Track of Everything When Too Much is Happening
Remember _Dynasty_? _Desperate Housewives_? Ever watch _EastEnders_ or _All My Children_? Don't sneer... shows like these last for years. They're long-lived because they cleverly blend drama with intrigue, mystery, and comedy. They're not afraid to be outrageous. They're not afraid to recycle stories and use them. And they know how to balance all the ongoing plot lines so that from episode to episode the audience isn't overwhelmed.
So am I saying that your MU* should resemble the goings-on of the Carringtons? Yes, in a way. At any given point, your MU* can have multiple TinyPlots involving threats to collective happiness, threats to individual happiness, romance, and comedy. Let's look at each.
Once you have several TinyPlots underway, your MUSH will need a way to keep people aware of them. NarniaMUSH, where I coordinate TinyPlots, has several mechanisms to keep players apprised. Three of these are administratively controlled: we alter the login message of the day to reflect any major upcoming opportunities for role-playing, such as balls, gathers, baked bean-offs, and mudfish festivals. We have a global command, +rumor, to provide players with the latest gossip from Narnia's answer to Hedda Hopper, Mrs. Edna Cotterly. And finally, once a TinyPlot is played out and done, we write up a summary and put it in the online news. If you're considering a way to distribute TinyPlot information to your MU*, think of something that fits its mood or theme. A 'newspaper' that people could buy for a daily update might work on some MU*s, for example.
As in Real Life, however, news spreads fastest by word of mouth. I know that many people shake their heads at the word 'gossip'. On a MUSH, however, in-character gossip is practically a necessity. It's easier to avoid gossiping in Real Life than on a MUSH.
Here's an example: Let's say you're out with friends. Among them is a couple who've been dating for years, and they argue violently in a restaurant in front of a score of people. He retires to the bar and drinks too much; she shoots him nasty looks now and again as she sucks down cigarette after cigarette. Ugly, eh?
Now, in Real Life I don't think you'd immediately turn to the person sitting next to you and say, "Now, is it true that _he_ is a recovered alcoholic, and _she's_ never smoked before in her life?" I hope you wouldn't. Most people want to appear to best advantage, and that kind of behavior wouldn't be appropriate, or kind. Even if you whispered it, the chances are that one of the subjects would put two and two together and realize you're talking about them. And as for talking about it later...well, you need to be pretty sure of the person you're with before you ask them to dish some dirt.
In a MUSH, however, remember that the object of a TinyPlot is to encourage other players to have fun. When a couple argues in the local tavern, they _want_ players to react to it. The pair putting on the show realize that some of the newer players might not know that Kassiopia has been wooing Schlomo the Dog Boy while Dirk the Decent was out of town fighting sea serpents. They might not want anyone to break up their little love spat, but you can just bet they'll be mighty disappointed if the entire MUSH isn't talking about it in ten minutes.
If not sooner, that is; at the time of this writing NarniaMUSH supports a wonderful global called +mutter designed just for gossiping about people to their faces. If Hedda mutters "That Dirk! Every time he goes to the bar with Kassy, he turns into a potty mouth and boozes all over the place!" to Ariel, Ariel hears the entire sentence as a whisper, but the rest of the players in the room merely hear "...Dirk!...he goes...potty...all over...!" or some other tantalizing combination of words randomly chosen from the sentence. As the ads say, imagine the possibilities!
Of course, not every player will be online during role-playing developments. That's why you should have player-generated mechanisms, in addition to the administrative devices, to keep people apprised of TinyPlot happenings. Provide a bulletin board in a public place so that characters can note their responses to recent happenings. Encourage people to post their gossip there. I'll bet that the board will be more current (and substantially less accurate, though that's fun, too!) than any of the administrative news outlets.
In-character gossip spreads news. In-character gossip keeps people feeling up to date on the latest developments on the MU*. It's a powerful socializing factor--newbies, by listening to the gossip, can learn what is and isn't acceptable role-playing behavior on an individual MU*. And players who have established characters will only get more involved with the MUSH as the TinyPlots get increasingly complex. Because, as you know, characters acquire depth as their history grows, and the more depth they have, the more interesting they become.
For, as anyone who has become addicted to _All My Children_ or _EastEnders_ can tell you, there's immense satisfaction in the accumulative effect of a character's history. Someone watching a scene in which Angie the pub owner drinks an ale, gathers her courage, and sits down to chat with a surly-looking stranger, might find it interesting, but unimportant. Longer-term watchers might understand that recovering alcoholic Angie survived a suicide attempt and clawed her way to gain control of the pub, and have more interest in the scene. And those of us who remember _way_ back to the time that Angie was actually _engaged_ to the surly chap before she discovered he had multiple personality disorder....well, we've got our faces pressed against the TV screen, egging her on.
MUSHes are much the same. The more you learn about other characters through role-playing, the more you appreciate and enjoy them. The more you enjoy the other characters, the more vivid and imaginative the TinyPlots become. Hey, it's that positive feedback loop again!
Murphy's Law or Thinking on Your Feet
You've gone to a lot of trouble to set up the Wyttercom Ladies' Temperance League Progressive Bridge Tournament on PetteryMUSH. All of Wyttercom's creme de la creme have shown up (told of the event in advance, of course, via news, the Wyttercom Bulletin Board, and engraved invitations), bringing with them deftly coded chafing dishes filled with delectable goodies. Dimity Lingerbop wins the first round. How COULD she have gotten seven no-trump, doubled even, that last hand? Well, you know she once was caught purloining a purse at the milliners, so who _knows_ what tricks she could have up her sleeve, literally!
All is going swimmingly. Right on cue, Jezebelle LaFlooz, she who openly flaunts the petty conventions of Wyttercom, undulates in. Every lascivious step seethes with contempt for the Ladies' Temperance League. Dimity is furious! She leaps to her feet. "Who here knows the meaning of the word HUZZY?" she calls, much to everyone's delight. Tiny Amelie Jones--yes, the mouse who wouldn't say boo to a flea!--leaps to her feet to defend the beleaguered Jezebelle. Everyone is scandalized! Does this mean Amelie has a _past_?
As you planned, just as the fighting and the whispers and the mutterings boil to a head, Arknod the Gryphon shrieks overhead. Oh, he's been trouble before, but this time he means business! In his two front paws he swoops down on the party, rips the roof off the house, and snatches two victims. They happen to be the ones brawling among the tea cakes--Dimity Lingerbop and Jezebelle LaFlooz. Everyone is shocked at the twist in events as the Gryphon flies off, carrying the two women to their presumed demise. You've pulled off the TinyPlot coup of the year!
Well, not quite. Because there stands Mrs. Harrison-Crump, interrupting the proceedings with an out-of-character complaint. "I _have_ a bottle of Acme Guaranteed Gryphon Repellant in my purse!" she cries. "Don't you _remember_? It's the one I found when I was kidnapped by the Orknies on the trip to my sister-in- law's! I could have saved them! Why did the gryphon just fly off like that without give me a chance to save them?"
Uh-oh. She's right. You knew she had that bottle of repellant, and yet she didn't get a chance to use it. What's worse, even if you'd remembered in time, before you made Arknod the Gryphon fly off, there's no way you would have _wanted_ her to save the pair, because all of PetteryMUSH is supposed to discover that Jezebelle is hypocritical Dimity's secret love-child during their absence.
Face it: something's bound to go wrong even during the most deftly-plotted TinyPlot. Someone will get caught on an iceberg and though you've coded up a really cool set of ice floes for people to hop on (they even sink if too many people are on them at once!), you've forgotten that you invited Raup the Auk along, who smugly invites everyone to climb aboard his back for a safe 'n' easy flight to the iceberg. Or else, as you're exploring the dread Coal Mines of Cocorama and half the party gets caught in a cave- in, some overly helpful dwarf will cheerfully ask you, "Why can't I dig them out? We dwarfs are great diggers, you know!"
Of course your first impulse will be to whip up a nasty giant ice pirhana to gnaw off the helpful auk's wings, or just to smack the dwarf around a little. But resist, please. The beauty of a MUSH-- that is, the fertility of its pooled imaginations--can also prove your personal downfall. You're going to think up several possible solutions to a particular TinyPlot dilemma, but there's no way you can think of them all. Others will think of other solutions, and the chances are slim of them keeping their thoughts to themselves. These ideas will seem perfectly reasonable, perhaps even more reasonable than yours, but they're not what you've planned.
It's easy to feel resentful when these things happen. But try to keep everyone happy. Keep alert...if you're running the Progressive Bridge Tournament and you see Mrs. Harrison-Crump fumbling for the Gryphon Repellant, let her have a moment of heroism. Let her spray the repellant, and then provide a perfectly natural in-character reason it doesn't work--emit something such as "A gale wind pours through the open roof, dispelling the Gryphon Repellant." If you know Mrs. Harrison-Crump's player to be a good sort, and the mood warrants it, you could probably get away with: "Hetty deLang coughs. 'Mrs. Harrison-Crump!' she cries. 'That's not your repellant! That's _Fruits de la Nuit_ cologne!'"
If Mrs. Harrison-Crump is a little more unforgiving, page her with an out-of-character comment assuring her that while you appreciate her efforts, she might want to know that it's _important_ for the two characters to be snatched and hidden for a couple of weeks. Most sensible people understand.
Rule of thumb: If a character is being deliberatively obstructive, obtuse, and making trouble for a TinyPlot, you have every right not to play with him or her. Contact a wizard or staff member your MU* to see what can be done; chances are good that if everyone ignores the character, or lets him or her know which behaviors are unacceptable, they'll stop.
But if characters are making a genuine in-character attempt to role-play a situation, even if it's not what you envisioned, be nice to them and try to play along. They just want to join in the fun! Their efforts should be recognized, after all's said and done. Make sure Mrs. Harrison-Crump's valiant attempts at gryphon-shooing get put into the TinyPlot write-up for your MU*'s news. If it can be helped, you don't want a player to think his or her contribution isn't welcomed.
I like to believe that people, and TinyMU* players in particular, have a modicum of common sense. It's pretty to think so, at least. Of course I've run across some players who have to be warned about _everything_ or they'll cry foul. You know the type...they whine, "But you didn't tell me I couldn't _______!" (You fill in the blank: a) "name puppets after other players and make them do unspeakable things!"; b) "@kill that newbie!"; c) "pick up every object that wasn't nailed to the ground and hide it in my hut!"; d) "follow around female players and beg them for TinySex!")
In all the advice I've given in this manual, I've made some assumptions. I can't list them all, but here are a few.
I know I've dished up a lot in these pages, but it's this last point that I hope you'll remember once the manual's out of your hands. A Tiny MU* is a community project. You're free to explore your creativity on the MU*--free to contribute as much or as little as you want. Always keep in mind, however, that although your neighbors in this community are perhaps thousands of miles away and you may never see their Real Life faces, you are all counting upon and relying on each other for support and encouragement. It's just like a Real Life family, though the only lines connecting you are those of the Internet. The community begins to overcome the barriers of electronic communication the instant it works as a unit for everyone's mutual enjoyment. The result--the creative, kaleidoscopic, imaginative group project that is the Tiny MU*--can be enchantingly beautiful.
That's it. I'm done. Now go online and work out the fruits of your own imagination. Use my ideas, or refute them and devise your own. That's what the creative process is all about. And have fun!