At Last, A Use for Scapple

I’m not sure how I ended up with a license for Scapple: I think it was thrown in with my Scrivener license, though it may have been included in some bundle of Mac software. What I am sure of, though, is that I didn’t find a use for it until recently.

That’s on me, of course: I probably could have used it while plotting out the novel I redrafted last year, but it never really occurred to me. However, that’s changed with a project I just finished working on, a freelance RPG-writing project. It’s one of those deals where there’s a clue to Mystery A in locations C and F, but to access that clue you need to solve the puzzle in locale N and accessing locale N means uncovering the clue in locale Q, and so on. Scapple really helped me:

For reasons of space and sanity-preservation, I had to cut out a certain amount of the moving parts and linkety-links between X and Y and Q and M and R and Z unless W as well as C. Most of the hard work actually involved figureout out what and where to pare down, and I still ended up way over the originally suggested wordcount. Paring down, concentrating the clues, and minimizing the red herrings and “subplot” stuff can only achieve so much, after all.

(“Subplot? Did he say subplot?” Why yes, I did, but the adventure isn’t exactly plotty. I guess what I really mean is minor moving parts and interactive effects of the scenario that are linked to minor elements in the background story that shaped the scenario as it is, if that makes sense? There is a “plot” in the background—or, rather, a tragic and horrible story about how being a decent human being can get you destroyed if you’re not careful—but it emerges as something revealed by discoveries: its “plot” in the sense an archaeologist uncovers a story by digging up bone fragments and shards of pottery, not as in a railroady adventure plot. The adventure itself is pure locale, a tower filled with bells and whistles designed to let players do what they want and deal with the consequences. But figuring out how to ring the bells and blow the whistles also inadvertently reveals bits and pieces of how the bells and whistles and graffiti and blood and bone fragmnts and pottery all got there in the first place.) 

On the less-bright side, the new version of Scrivener is no better at handling tables than the previous version, and in  some ways it’s worse. When I exported to work, it inserted all kinds of weird tab space markers, and bullet-points where I’d put none in the text, so I had to waste a bunch of time just cleaning up the text after exporting it. That’s too bad, since I really like Scrivener for drafting stuff: being able to move around bits and pieces of text willy-nilly was a real life-saver when it came to reorganizing the text a few times. I guess I’ll just have to adopt some other kind of formatting cue to make things easier: adding bullet points is, after all, easier than removing them, discovering Word has removed more than I asked it to, and then having to re-add them. 

(Seriously, though, Scrivener ought to be better at this than it currently is. Maybe I need to try export to .rtf as an intermediate step, or something?) 

As for the adventure, it’s kind of a mashup of things that have interested me lately: I’ve been reading M.R. James, and “The Ash-Tree” is an incredible “witch-tree” story; I’ve been thinking about Guy de Maupassant’s way with monsters in “Le Horla,” too; I recently reread Terry Dowling’s  “One Thing About the Night” (in Ellen Datlow’s The Dark: New Ghost Stories, though it later appeared in Dowling’s own collection Basic Black: Stories of Appropriate Fear), and have been thinking a lot about traditional magic systems and how they disconnect from how magic works in a lot of RPGs, after reading (this past summer) Frances A. Yates’ wonderful book The Art of Memory and Jim Baker’s The Cunning Man’s Handbook: The Practice of English Folk Magic, 1550-1900 was in the mix a little, though not much of that survived. 

I won’t spoil it by saying anything more particular than that, but I will say I found Scapple pretty useful for coordinating those moving parts and interlocking bits: complex network of relationships are much easier to sort out when you have some kind of color-coded visualization to work with. I may not do another adventure where the moving parts are this complexly interwoven for a while, but I can still see the appeal of this kind of organizational tool, even if I already found some functions missing that I’d have preferred to have available. But hey, it was also my first time using it. Maybe I’ll discover more as I go. 

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