Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Incomplete Story of Vincent Dashing

During my senior in college I participated in a role-playing game called Spycraft. It was much like D&D, but instead of the typical fantasy setting, dungeons and dragons, the scene was based in the near future, and our characters assumed the roles of various characters that might appear in a James Bond or Bourne film. My character, Vincent Dashing (codename: Hawk), fulfilled the driver (Wheelman) and social (Faceman) character roles.

Hawk’s primary responsibility was to be the most skilled character behind the wheel. As the charcter evolved, however, it became obvious that I was interested in the narrative aspects of role-playing, and my character took every opportunity to talk his way into or out of situations, manipulate people, and seduce the lady NPCs.

For a few months, this worked out well. I had a great time playing my character; I was an imaginary playboy, spending money I didn’t have and living large while I had but pennies to my name and no vitality to back up my words if it came to throwing punches. Eventually, I secured a job (in real life) that was to take me away from my role-playing companions, which means I would not be around to play my character. Suddenly, I was confronted with a conundrum: I didn’t want my character to simply disappear from the story, but how could I stay involved? Or, at least, how could my character exit in a blaze of glory? And then, the night that I walked into our final session, I realized what I must do. I must kill everyone in my party.

Alas, even the best last-minute plans don’t always go as intended. Despite his best efforts, my character was unable to kill any of the other party members. Fortunately, he escaped at the last minute, jettisoning his helicopter cockpit and disappearing into the African savannah. But, what happened to Vincent Dashing after that last session? Why did he try to kill the party? Where did he go and what did he do? Would any resolution ever be reached?

I didn’t think I would be given the opportunity to explore the answers to these questions until Colin, our game master, contacted me and asked me if I had any interest in reprising the role of Hawk in a new campaign. I still loved my character and jumped at the opportunity to dive once again into the immersive world I enjoyed so much the first time around, eager to continue writing the incomplete narrative of the first campaign. Now that I was given the opportunity to explore what happened to Hawk after the last session, I had to make some decisions…

Becoming a Writer

In my mind, I’ve never been much of a writer. In school, I was always told that I wrote well. But I wasn’t satisfied with my writing. Frankly, I didn’t see what my teachers liked about it. I never wanted to write for school assignments, and other than school, I had no reason to write. So, I didn’t.

In elementary school, I read books like Goosebumps. In intermediate school, I read Dragonlance. At the time I didn’t know it, but looking back, these were not very well-written books. I didn’t know what good writing was. I stopped reading books in high school, so I wasn’t exposed to better writing, except for the few assigned readings I was given in English classes.

It wasn’t until college that I realized that there is a difference between good and bad writing. I had this realization when I was presented with the need for good writing. Prior to college, none of the subjects I studied had any complexity in their explanation. However, in college I studied math, programming, and physics. These subjects are not easy to explain, even for experienced people. Communicating these ideas requires the precise use of language. This, I realized, was a skill that I did not possess.

The difference between good and bad writing is easy to see in non-technical writing, but I think it is even more easily deduced in technical writing. It is so easy to skip a necessary detail or phrase a sentence in such a way that the reader is lost entirely. The utmost care must be given to every line. When I am reading documentation or technical books and the writing is hard to follow, I know there is no way that I will understand the material. The writing should make the material easier to digest, not get in the way.

During college I didn’t have many writing courses. The realization that my expressive skills were lacking came when I had to write or talk about technical subjects. My experience as a teacher and as a programmer, both jobs requiring me to communicate with other people, showed me where my skills were lacking. These experiences made it clear that writing is very applicable, and to truly excel I would have to master it.

So, now I find myself embarking on this journey to become a writer. I don’t know where the end of this journey is. I don’t even know if the goal, to become a writer, is a measurable, achievable goal. What is the metric I will use to determine my success? I don’t know, but I assume that I’ll know when I get there. For now, my strategy is simply to write when a subject interests me. I will keep in mind the principles that I hope to practice (the discussion of which is reserved for later essays), and do my best.