Perhaps you’re familiar with the sub genre of fantasy called LitRPG. A friend of mine – Andrew Seiple – turned me on to it. He’s a fellow writer, gamer, and all-around good guy so I knew he wouldn’t steer me wrong. He’d begun to dabble in this genre, and since I am fortunate enough to edit his writing, he wanted to make sure I was up for editing his latest effort, a LitRPG story called Threadbare.
As with all his work, I was hooked by page 2. He wrote 3 books in the Threadbare saga, and he published them first on a popular LitRPG website called Royal Road Legends. That’s the interesting thing here – he wrote and published the books before he ever let me get my grubby editorial hands on them.
That’s part of the attraction of LitRPG in general and Royal Road in particular, the stories are fast-paced, serialized, continuous narratives. The readers are reading work that is, in some cases, hours old. There’s no “write your novel and wait three months before editing” vibe here. In other words, writing in this genre violates my own writing advice.
Andrew is a fast writer anyway. He writes approximately 2.5 * novels to my 1. And I think the joy of writing to an ever-growing audience of readers and fans just spurred him on. In about three months he’d cranked out the Threadbare trilogy. So even a fast writer like Andrew was blowing past normal writing protocols.
I’ve long enjoyed turning my real-life Dungeons & Dragons game sessions into narrative form. I’ve talked about how writing up those sessions helped unlock my creativity. It’s something I still do – you can check out my current campaign here. And so I wanted to try out this genre for myself. The sequel to The Girl in Gold was sputtering along in fits and starts, and I thought a break would do wonders for me.
But here’s the thing: readers are a hungry bunch. They want chapters and they want them fast and frequent. Did I say fast? They want them faster than that. So I tried to be prudent. I dashed off about 5 chapters over a long weekend, got a start on my story – basic characters, basic premise. And I published the first chapter. And then a few days later, the next chapter, and so on. But then I realized that I wanted to stay at least 2 chapters ahead of the readers. At least 2, but maybe 3 or 4. Why not 3 or 4?
So I started writing not just every day but for serious amounts of time every day. Work? Dinner? Exercise? Hygiene? So what? Gotta get those chapters done. My wonderful wife put up with it. She’d been through two NANOWRIMOs with me, so she knew the drill. It took me a little longer than a NANOWRIMO to finish the novel, Late Night at Lund’s. I think I spent almost two months writing it, but to my credit, the novel is about 112,000 words. Not quite double a NANO book, which is 60,000 words, but pretty good for a sustained effort.
So I had to write not like a marathoner, but like a sprinter. I made mistakes along the way, mistakes that my readers thankfully caught so I could correct. Most were minor. The worst was giving one of the characters two separate backstories. Early on he’s a former architect. Later he was a manager at a hotel. Easy enough to fix that, and the old me would have taken the time to dig through the draft to find Joth’s info, but the LitRPG writer in me, well honestly I didn’t remember that I’d given him a backstory yet – not one that included an old job.
But because of its game-like structure, LitRPG stories tend to work. Main quest, side quests, looting, wandering, fighting….. the characters do a lot of those things. Random encounters, unexpected allies, secret identities, magic items that move the story forward…. LitRPG has ’em all!
If you want to stretch yourself as a writer, if you want to write as if your words were beaming directly to the reader, with all the joy and terror that implies, take a stab at LitRPG. It is so worth it.