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Hamlet’s Hit Points

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The official announcement (and solicitation) will come down in April, but before I kick off a new series here on the blog I need to blow the lid off something I hinted at earlier.

I’m teaming up with the fine folks at Gameplaywright to produce Hamlet’s Hit Points, a book of practical story analysis aimed at gamers. Timed for a Gen Con release, the book crystallizes the beat analysis system developed during my Hamlet series last year. It presents a version of the Hamlet story map, revised to reflect the insights gained while putting it together over the course of late ‘08 and most of ‘09. It further expands the analysis to two more classic narratives — Casablanca, and the film version of Dr. No. These serve to bracket Hamlet, which mixes of procedural and dramatic plotting. Casablanca is a drama that nods toward the procedural in a sub-plot, while Dr. No is as pure a procedural as you’re likely to get.

(As you may recall from the Hamlet series, procedural plots follow the protagonist in search of external, practical goals, while drama concerns itself with the pursuit of inner, emotional goals.)

I figured out the real point of the Hamlet analysis only by doing it. At first I thought I was interested in the possible turning points faced by the protagonist(s) and to what extent they either generated suspense or were quickly resolved, without extended opposition. As I went through it, I found out what I was actually doing: looking at the basic building blocks of narrative, to see the internal rhythms of engaging storytelling at work.

I used to think that we all as gamers had an intuitive sense of story rhythm, gained simply from consuming metric oodles of narrative entertainment. Over my years in game design I’ve come to revise that view. The object of the book is to help its readers to break down narratives on their own, to see the moving parts at work and see why they were put together that way. This in turn helps us to internalize a sense of narrative rhythm and use it when making story decisions in-game, whether as a GM or player.

In returning to Hamlet to make the analysis at the end fit what I was doing at the outset, and also in breaking down these other two narratives, I found a number of other beat types I hadn’t considered at first. I’ll talk a bit more about these, starting next week.

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