Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deal a Story

A few months back, I received a package in the mail from Robert D. Reed Publishers. The package contained a card game for writers called "Deal a Story." It also included various press materials. The release states that the "innovative new card game helps writers overcome creative downtime and the discomfort of facing a blank page." The game was created by Sue Viders ("a highly-acclaimed author and writing teacher").

Okay, I thought, I've certainly had moments like that before. I put the game on my "to review" list. I had three people in mind to play the game with, and two of them were pretty busy planning their wedding.

This past weekend, finally, just as Art and Tara got back from their honeymoon in Ireland, I decided it was time to break this game out and give it a shot.

How it works:

"The game is divided into six categories of 16 cards apiece: hero, heroine, villain, genre, plot, and flaw. (Each card has examples from the category.) In each round, a player chooses a card from each group and is automatically presented with the start of a story. What if you get stuck?" the release asks. "Don't worry. The deck also includes five wild cards full of suggstions on what to do next or how to spur your story along."

"Deal a story," the release concludes, "was created to assist writers to think outside-the-box and to encourage creative story development."

However, we found the categories of heroine, villain, and hero seemed filled more with stereotypes of characters than with "outside-the-box" characters. A random example:


A tyrant could be a crime lord (the mafia), a ruthless tycoon, a CEO of a large corporation, a dictator of a country, or an ordinary individual, such as a husband or wife who ruthlessly controls the family or clan and is convinced that only his/her way is right. A tyrant uses a variety of tactics including anger, intimidation, and threats. Examples: Gordon Gekko (Wall Street), Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada). Earlier on this blog, right here in fact, I posted a praise for villainy piece that explains the difference between good bad and bad bad.


Hero/ The Absent-minded Professor

The Absent-minded professor is a lovable klutz. But those who work with him recognize and appreciate his genius. The unitiated discount him. When this hero makes a commitment, he follows through, but only when he has all the facts as he first needs to analyze the problem.

Examples: Lt. Columbo-TV series; David Levinson, (Independence Day)

As much as I appreciate what this game's trying to do, the stock quality of the characters really gets in the way if you've been at writing stories long enough. We are fairly accomplished writers, everyone who participated in the game last weekend, so we had fun making up funny stories to go along with the cards. The stories were also ludicrous, but after three rounds we pretty much decided it wasn't worth playing anymore. The game's potential wasn't entirely met by its reality. I'm not even sure you could call it a game per se, as there was nothing to win; it was more to break out of a writing slump, apparently by thinking up outlandish stories filled with stock characters. Perhaps it's a good thing there's nothing to win, since what's there to win when writing a story?

The game was meant, we finally agreed, for high school or beginning level writing classes. And that seems to be the game's true value. It does have something to offer players--it's sort of like a role-playing game for writers--but you have to come at it at the right time of your writing life. According to the Web site, you can get over a million combinations of stories out of these cards. Fine, fine.

I'm not going to give this game a rating. But if you're interested in the game, either for yourself, your writing group, or your workshop participants, you can learn more at the Robert Reed Web site.

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