Q&A with… Sam Richards

Sam RichardsSam Richards is a writer from England with a degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University. He currently runs the Tweet RPG online role-playing system – soon to become StoryMechs!

 

 

Hi Sam! First of all, what would you say are your main interests and activities? What would you describe your creative “background” as?

Hello Richard! My main interests are reading, gaming, music, movies, and of course, writing. More specifically, I’m a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy, videogame RPGs, and electronic and metal music. I also enjoy playing electric and bass guitar.

My creative background is a mix of self-teaching and academic study. I began writing as a hobby in secondary school, starting various sprawling novel ideas which didn’t go anywhere. After heading to Portsmouth for uni, I found myself hating my course and spotted the creative writing degree – it was exactly what I wanted. I was challenged to try my hand at a range of different writing styles, and learnt a lot about what I enjoyed to write.

What sort of games do you like to play in your spare time? Do you find yourself inspired or affected by them at all?

I don’t play games nearly as much as I’d like to! I often find myself in a quandary as I really enjoy immersive videogames but don’t have the time to invest myself in them. Recently I’ve been playing Ni no Kuni, which is a JRPG created by Studio Ghibli – sickly sweet but beautiful to play. I’ve also been replaying Infamous, which is a great open-world action platformer. I also enjoy playing board games with friends – recently we’ve all been hooked on the DC Deck Building Game.

My writing has definitely been inspired by my passion for videogames. I love narrative twists, and the games from my fairly recent youth, such as Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII, gave me a thirst for big reveals and shocks. These games also instilled me with a desire to create worlds in which a reader can lose themselves. It may seem like a strange example, but the open-world format of Spyro the Dragon really showed me that how effective it can be to let the player/reader go where they want to go.

How did the idea for Tweet RPG develop? What would you describe the “core” aspects of it as? What’s your goal been with it?

Tweet RPG was actually born from a mix of heatstroke and insomnia! I was using the self-imposed thinking time in the middle of the night to ponder how I could promote my writing, and the idea of a social ‘create-your-own-adventure’ RPG popped into my head.

The core aspects of Tweet RPG are simply to provide interactive adventure stories, spanning various genres and styles, which can be enjoyed alongside other people via social media. The original goal was for the project to a generate interest in my writing whilst providing an impetus for me to write on a regular basis. Although these goals are still present, the project has grown into something that requires a lot more attention. At present, it is the only major writing project I have on the go.

Tweet RPG

What sort of stories has Tweet RPG played a part in telling? Are there any personal favourites?

I’ve tried to use a variety of genres for the narratives featured in Tweet RPG, pushing myself to write in styles that provide a new challenge. I specifically chose medieval fantasy for the first adventure, King Slayer, because I wanted the story to accessible even if was a little derivative. It’s difficult to pick a favourite, as each story has appealed to different interests I have. I found Time To Die and Kontamination both presented new challenges, as I hadn’t written in either murder mystery or historical fiction before. I do like to indulge my love science fiction, so I have a soft spot for Starfall, my anime-inspired space opera.

Is Tweet RPG as flexible in terms of storytelling (story types and genre) as you’d like it to be? What aspects work for you and which do you feel could be improved?

I think there are always more stories to tell, and many different styles and subjects to utilise. However, with a project like Tweet RPG that should appeal to a wide group of people, it’s important not to alienate users by using niche genres. That said, I do like to push the envelope, especially with metanarrative elements which draw attention to the overall experience and blur the lines between the story and reality.

Key things that I would like to improve are the process of planning/administering adventures, and the interface for players to keep up with the story. These are some of our main focuses in preparing to relaunch as StoryMechs. The biggest thing that works for me is the core voting mechanism – it’s brilliant to see people getting caught up in the choices, and connecting with each other though the adventure.

How do you develop an idea for a story into a feasible Tweet RPG adventure? Are there any special considerations or format limitations you find yourself taking into account?

I find my ideas for adventures spring up from a lot of different sources of inspiration, & I try to record the core basis of these ideas written down for future reference, even if it’s just a sentence. Then I tend to play around with how an idea could be expanded into a narrative. What would be the key plot points? Who are the integral characters? What ‘window-dressing’ can be added i.e. the world of the story? The next step is to get the structure planned and write the supporting articles – the prologue etc.

The only real format limitation with writing for Tweet RPG is the 140 character limit on Twitter when writing story updates. However, this restriction is actually a very positive thing. It forces you to self-edit down to bare bones of what you want to say – anything extraneous gets thrown on the bonfire. One thing I do avoid are lengthy names which can’t be abbreviated – can’t have them eating up my character limit!

How, as a writer, has the Tweet RPG project helped you advance? Has it made storytelling easier for you than more “traditional” forms of writing? Have any particular authors or work inspired or influenced you in the course of your own work, whether that be Tweet RPG or not?

My writing has been heavily defined by falling in love with the short stories of Philip K Dick after watching the film adaptation of Minority Report. I loved Dick’s surreal blend of the futuristic and psychological, and wanted to build stories like his – stories that make you think, concluding with shocking twists. There are so many other authors who have inspired me, but the ones who come to mind in this instance are JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin, Margaret Atwood, Patrick Ness, and more recently Ernest Cline.

Although I’ve had a couple of stabs at novel writing, and managed to get 26,000 words down on the page for one particular story, my early efforts always ran out of steam. My short stories on the other hand, often felt like they crystallised into a full product very naturally. My writing for Tweet RPG fits well into this medium, but I think it’s also helping me to develop some skills for effectively attempting novel writing. The planning process required for my adventures will aid me in mapping out longer stories – I just need to find the time to work on them!

Tweet RPG is soon to become StoryMechs – what do you aim for this evolution to achieve?

Alex (my partner on the Tweet RPG/StoryMechs project, also known as Mister Mook) and myself are aiming to achieve a couple of things with the upcoming rebrand. A simple aim is to avoid potential litigation, as the name ‘Tweet RPG’ has a short shelf life if we manage to develop further. More complex is the need to demonstrate that our project has a wide appeal. The current brand, and by that I mean more than just the name, is too focused on roleplaying and the use of a single platform for engagement, so we need to reestablish exactly what we’re providing – awesome stories to be shaped by people together online.

We’ve been quite quiet recently because we’ve been doing a lot of analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Tweet RPG in it’s current form. Our recent follower survey has highlighted some improvements to be made, and we’ve taken things back to the bear bones to cut any concepts and assumptions which are holding us back.

Did you ever imagine for your project to have gained the dedicated following it has done? What’s been the most rewarding experience that has come from running Tweet RPG?

It was a strange thing to see those first few people start joining in with my first adventure – people who I hadn’t asked or persuaded to play! I like to think that the 20-30 people who actively engaged with the project on a regular basis are the early adopters who’ll be able to say, ‘I played Tweet RPG before anyone else!’

The most rewarding part of Tweet RPG is connecting with other people through my writing. I may not ever write a best-selling novel, or earn a living as a writer, but through Tweet RPG I’ve been able to share my creativity with others. The fact that they’ve engaged with and enjoyed my writing is a great encouragement and an important personal achievement.

What’s your ultimate goal for Tweet RPG? What do you want to achieve with it in time, and what would you like it to become?

As long as Tweet RPG/StoryMechs continues to be a fun way for me to regularly practice my craft and provide fans with enjoyable adventures, I know I’ll have achieved enough. However, my ambition is that the project will one day generate an financial profit. I don’t feel ashamed of this – who wouldn’t want to get paid for doing what they love? However, we would have to be creative to find way to monetise the project, as the main service is free to enjoy, and always will be.

A short answer to this question would be, more players, more adventures, more fun!

Aside from Tweet RPG and its upcoming re-invention, are you working on any other projects you’d care to mention?

I’ve got a science fiction short story collection on the back burner at the moment, which needs editing and proofing before I attempt to self publish it as an ebook. On a grander scale, I’ve been reworking the Kontamination scenario to be published as part of the Achtung! Cthulhu line by Modiphius Entertainment, which will soon be available as a PDF supplement. Writing for roleplaying games has been a completely new challenge for me, and I’m really excited to see how people respond to this first attempt at producing an effective tabletop experience.

Many thanks to Sam Richards for participating! If you want to learn more about Sam and his work on Tweet RPG/StoryMechs, check out his personal Twitter and the Tweet RPG Twitter feed and website!

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