The other day I posted Hal Brex, Part 3 detailing the most recent scene in my solo SF adventure with my character Hal. I received a really generous comment from a reader and I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to it more fully than I could in a comment.
The comment reads:
I guess it’s all ur imagination that fills the gaps?
I can’t see how u get even a fraction of that stuff from the cards. Impressive tho.
Not having that kind of imagination is kinda killing my hope of running any solo stuff for myself…– Wolfchild
Thank you for this comment! The thing is that it’s easy to get the wrong impression when you only see the final output of the solo gaming session.
It’s quite possible that the ideas which spill out of my mind into my iPad as typed notes will seem like an amazing act of imagination from the perspective of someone who doesn’t live with my mind inside their head. It is equally true, however, that if you were to allow the ideas which arise in your mind to spill out onto the page, I’d find those just as imaginative and feel impressed.
The reason is simple: I don’t live with your mind inside my head. I live with my mind. (Actually, I am not sure it lives inside my head… but that’s a different post).
When I started that scene I drew some cards and I picked the three words – a verb, a noun, and an adjective – to inspire the scene. I’d already decided to follow the advice in the guide I was using to spin up a “Guardian” scene. But I didn’t actually know what the words meant. When I began I didn’t know what “Exchange Dormant Portal” meant at all.
What I did was begin to describe the scene:
They emerged into a basement filled with barrels of beer and shelves stocked with tinned and dried goods.
I drew the card for a location: Bar. I knew they were coming from a sewer (see the end of Part 2) so I decided they would come into the basement. I knew Hal was being led by Marlene. So I wrote the next few lines:
“This way,” said Marlene as she led Hal towards some steps leading upward. The faint beat of music could be hear from above and the hum of conversation.
“Is this a bar?”
“Yeah, it’s a safe place in the city. Folk here are sympathetic to the Cause.”
Where did the Cause idea come from? Probably the idea that these are Rebels and my memory of Northern Irish terrorists referring to their goals as a “Cause”. I don’t really know… it arrived. It popped out there.
One idea leads to another. Then another. A dialogue unfolded.
When I needed a name, I drew another card. When I got deep enough into the description of the unfolding scene, all of a sudden the words “Exchange Dormant Portal” suggested another idea:
“My guess is she wants to locate the Archive,” said Hal slowly.
I’d been watching the newly aired first few episodes of “Foundation” on Apple+. Maybe that’s where the word came from. The idea was forming in my mind so I had Hal describe it:
Hal continued, “It’s an obscure site filled with incomprehensible alien art and symbology. It’s also where the Althean Council discovered the darkest secret of recent history.
And so on.
Here’s my point: I didn’t think it all up and then write it down.
I started writing and I allowed it to flow out in a stream of consciousness in the same way that I allow my mouth to run off when I am slightly drunk at a party. When I needed a nudge, a name, an idea is when I drew a card. Or it’s when I use the rules to adjudicate the outcome.
There is no magic to imagination. The trick it to show up and play… and let the ideas flow.
Permission is the secret sauce: letting yourself express. You don’t have to show anyone else if it’s crap. If you’re like me, you only post the stuff that felt fun and good.
For every Hal Brex there are a dozen or more half-baked unfinished scenes that didn’t go anywhere. Even this one might not go further. And that’s ok.
Did I have fun playing it? Yes. But I only got to have fun because I showed up. You can too.