PLAY!

When I was in seventh grade and extremely into Legos I made a starship—really just the floorplan—and populated it with a crew of the newly-released mini figures. I then devised a monster with a tail that ended in the twirling propeller bit. The starship landed on an alien planet on a peaceful mission of exploration, coming to rest near the edge of my bed… I mean, the shore of an ocean. When the first team of explorers went out onto the beach, something emerged from the waves and tore one of them to shreds then pulled the other astronaut into the water. The rest of the crew rushed to his rescue in a little boat—because starships always carry little boats. The monster attacked, tearing them to pieces with its tail, which whirled like the blades of a helicopter. This went on in my bedroom—I mean, an alien world light years distant from Earth—for who knows how long before the surviving remnants of the valiant crew made it back to their ship and, with the monster outside trying to shred their hull, managed to blast off. But their ship was damaged and their navigation computer was destroyed. They went to light speed and ended up at an Earthlike planet where they landed to try to repair their ship. When they went outside—the same monster attacked. They had gone in a huge circle right back to where they started!

Then, some weeks later, we were assigned to write a short story for English class. And guess what… that was my story, following the made-it-up-as-I-went-along Lego adventure. The way I remember it, I got an A.

When was the last time you wrote like that?

When was the last time I wrote like that?

Play first, write later?

I’ve written before about how I carefully plotted out the huge wizard duel between Dyrr and Gromph in Annihilation, round by round, taking into strict account the casting time, area of effect, and other D&D mechanical specifics of each spell—essentially playing through it then reporting on what happened for the novel.

But honestly, I don’t do this anymore—not, of course, like I used to when I was mumble-decades younger than I am now. And why not?

As adults we seem to forget how to play—and play without rules or competition. D&D and other roleplaying games break through that barrier for a lot of us, and it’s why we see an awful lot of crossover between pencil and paper RPG players and genre authors. But even then, can you grab a bunch of Legos, miniatures, action figures, graph paper, and… hell, anything else, and play your way through a story? A scene at least?

Can you recapture the pure imagination of play, and translate it into your writing?

I know you can, because I know I have, and damn it—I’ll do it again!

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

Read my story “Morbid Dread of the Dawn” in

The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias from Lycan Valley!

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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