Today, I'd like to talk about a phenomenon that touches on writing and roleplaying, something the Abigail introduced me to: the letter game.
Wikipedia defines a letter game as:
the exchange of written letters, or e-mails, between two or more participants. The first player writes a letter in the voice of a newly created character; in this first letter, the writer should establish her own identity and that of her correspondent, should set the scene, and should explain why she and her correspondent must communicate in written fashion. In subsequent letters, plot and character can be developed, but the writers should not talk about plot outside of the letters and the characters should never meet. Letter games can be a writing exercise or a form of collaborative fictionWikipedia lists Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (I'm back to Amazon links because it looks like Amazonfail was accidental) by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer as an example of a novel produced by a letter game (Wikipedia also lists the sequel, The Grand Tour, but I don't believe it counts, as The Grand Tour is written in the form of diary entries, not letters). Those books I've read and can vouch for enthusiastically. Wikipedia also lists P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail, No More by Ann Martin and Paula Danziger. I haven't read those books, so you're on your own. Another novelized letter game, this one also unread, but sitting on my shelf and eagerly awaiting me, is Freedom and Necessity by Emma Bull and Stephen Brust.
Before I start gushing about how awesome letter games are, let me come clean: I have never successfuly completed a letter game, if by "completed" you mean "finished telling the story" and assume that a thing like a letter game really needs an ending. My every effort so far has either bombed abominably in the first letter or eventually petered off into nothing. Sometimes it was my fault, sometimes it was someone else's fault, and sometimes it was nobody's fault. However, perhaps the greatest testament to this form of writing is that no matter how many times I fail, I keep on trying.
The rules of a letter game are fairly simple and the Wikipedia article does a good job of summarizing them.
So, what is so cool about a letter game?
As a form of roleplaying and interactive storytelling, letter games are extremely low rent. It doesn't take much energy to read a letter and reply, and once or twice a month is all it takes to keep a letter game going.
As a writing discipline I find the structure of a letter game fascinating. The fact that I can't write whatever I want, but instead have to adapt my ideas to the form of letters and make sure the characters can't and don't ever meet, is invigorating. I love having to stay fast on my feet, reacting to my partner's letters instead of just to myself and my own ideas.
Letter games are awesome, and you should all be playing them all the time.
And if any of you want to start one... you know where to find me.