Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An experiment in coming up with plot elements

Sometimes, the story elements are the hardest thing to come up with. Which 'Mech, what type of character, or even what’s the plot is make things difficult sometimes. But it’s not impossible. All it takes is an active imagination and a “Story Elements Deck.”

In this case, a “Story Elements Deck” is a large deck of Battletech CCG cards. I will take the deck and randomly draw six cards and see if my imagination can assemble the elements into a plot. To show you what I mean, I’m going to do a story element draw and see if there’s a story I can construct from those elements. I have no idea what the cards are, and I’m going to do this as I write this post....

Okay cards are shuffled and here we go:

First Card: Ferro-Fibrous Armor.

Hmmm. Not much from this card alone, but maybe it can be combined with another card.

Second Card: Vehicle Repair Barn.

Maybe something to do with a technician?

Third Card: Vulcan VT-5M.

Nothing clear comes to mind....Maybe an attack on a repair facility?

Fourth Card: Linebacker C.

Now we can see something brewing. A Wolf Linebacker attacking a Marik repair facility, defended by a MarikVulcan.

Fifth Card: Chaparral Missile Tank.

Again suggestive. Maybe the Tank is being repaired at the vehicle repair barn and is pressed into service by the defenders.

Sixth Card: Navigation Computer.

Okay, this could mean that in this story The Linebacker uses a hidden route to strike deep behind the enemy lines and the only things between him and that goal is a Vulcan and a Chaparral Missile Tank.

So, there you go, the elements of a story. It’s not complete, and I’m lucky that I can use almost all the elements together first time out. If there was an element that I couldn't connect with the others, I can discard it and draw another card. If I was to discard Ferro-Fibrous Armor and replace it with another card:

Grendel D.

Now, it’s looking pretty bad for the poor Vulcan pilot....

Do I have a complete story? No, but there's enough elements here that I can build a story around them. I need to think things through, decide on the details, but I have the basics of a story.

I don't do this with every story, but sometimes, when I'm brainstorming story ideas, I'll pull the deck out and make a few passes through it. If I see a plot beginning to form, I note which cards are plot elements on an index card, and write a one sentence about the plot that comes to mind. I put the index card aside for later.

I used six cards here as an example, but you could use seven, a dozen, or four --- Whatever you feel comfortable with. I don't have all the CCG cards, but I do have in excess of 150 cards in my deck. Maybe one day I'll have some money and can go hunt the rest I don't have and add them to the deck.These are extras I have -- I have a few solos that are staying in my card binder.

I’ll add this to my story idea list and see if anything comes from it.

(Images are from Sarna.net Battletech wiki. Used for illustration purposes only.)



  1. Mind if I try these symbolically instead of literally? Gimme a sec to google 6-card tarot spreads...

    1st card represents the protagonist's initial condition/direction/energy. The "Ferro-Fibrous Armor" card could mean the hero is well-protected, or undergoing refit & refurbishment, or doing endurance training.

    2nd card represents the central conflict or opposition. "Vehicle Repair Barn" could indicate a lack of proper facilities, that the antagonists receive ubiquitous support from the natives, or that the antagonists are militia.

    3rd card represents unexpected obstacles. "Vulcan" BattleMechs are associated with the Amaris Civil War, which suggests internal strife and brutal civilian casualties. It might represent a small force harrying the protagonist from just out of reach, or a force suppressing the protagonist's supporting assets.

    4th card represents factors under the protagonist's control. The "Linebacker" could represent a mobile defense, or an opportunity to sacrifice firepower for mobility. As an OmniMech it suggests the ability to repurpose assets.

    5th card represent recent situations or conditions which motivate the conflict. The "Chaparral Missile Tank" could represent the Battle of Tukayyid, the unveiling of power long thought lost, or heavy damage against which the target could not retaliate.

    6th card represents events looming in the near future, which may or may not happen depending on how the protagonist handles the conflict. The "Navigation Computer" could represent the finding of a key asset, the ability to evade comparable enemy forces, a new moral or strategic direction, or a better understanding of a confusing situation.

    (...And of course, drawing a card upside down represents the opposite of whatever the card usually is.)

    Interesting! I've been wanting to write some notable battles, and this may help break my writer's block. Thanks!

    1. You're welcome! It's not designed to replace plotting, but just to nudge the old thought process a bit. Your approach is not one I had considered....

  2. Any chance you have cards for sale or trade?