Are You Interested Enough?

Yesterday I made an announcement, and there's no point in announcing something if we're not making it come true...
Today we're gonna talk about one of the most important emotions we need to evoke as storytellers: Interest. Interest is the most important emotion to evoke, mainly because it includes the rest of the emotions, whether it by itself or by its related ones: fascination, insight, and awe.
In a story, we should catch the interest of the audience (players) in our storytelling. I don't mean that they are only the audience and nothing more, but they surely are, to a certain extent, the audience. If we'll catch their interest from the very beginning, they'll participate more, and both the story and the game will be much better.
We should catch the interest from the first scene, and we should keep the interest candle burning for long, making the light brighter and brighter till the climax and preferably beyond that. The interest should ideally continue till the resolution of the story.
So how can we do that? There are a few ways that we can use to plainly increase the level of interest. Take into account, though, that the next posts' techniques can raise the interest also, but they don't raise only the interest level.
The first technique is by using cause and effect. It may sound banal, but we strive for this cause and effect logic, it helps us to understand things, but it also makes things more satisfying and interesting for us. We look for these things, and giving the players just that will surely help them be more interested in the plot. Take for example the horse's head scene in The Godfather: If we would have taken the preceding scene, of the refusal, away, was the horse's head scene so powerful and interesting? Because we knew the reason for it, and we knew the importance of the horse, the effect of these 2 things made the outcome more interesting and satisfying.
The Second technique is by being original. IF we'll tell the same story again and again, it will stop to be interesting and will become dull and boring, and of course predictable. Avoiding these things, and trying something new every time (or almost, at the least) will surely bump up the interest. "What will our GM come with next?" That's also why the most interesting stories from our gaming experience are from when the players did the unexpected.
Another technique is by using a hidden layer in our storytelling. If everything is laid out for us, there's no discovery and no interest. Something must be hidden, like a hidden personal conflict or a sickness of a beloved NPC. Hitchcock was an expert in conveying dark secrets through normal everyday talking, so try to learn from the master.
Another way is through changes. Everything in the stories we strive to tell should be about changes. Every beat, scene or even the entire story should revolve around changes, whether it's a change to the characters or of another kind. The situations should change one to another, rising in conflict and in stakes, or changing completely (from one place to the other, for example). If the stakes didn't rose from minute 30 of Star wars to the 110th, what use and importance was to the 90 minutes in the middle? The 2 most important kinds of changes are discoveries (changes in knowledge, like discovering clues) and decisions (changes in and by actions, like deciding to commit a crime).
Another technique is by the exposition. Think for example about the exposition of American Beauty:
"LESTER (V.O.) My name is Lester Burnham. This is
my neighbourhood. This is my street.
This... is my life. I'm forty-two
years old. In less than a year, I'll
be dead.
Right from the start, we're fascinated by what is gonna happen, what does he mean, and many more questions arouse...
A fifth way is through the context of the story. Stories don't take place in a void, so use the context. The Silence of the Lambs starts after a few women have been murdered, and Jurassic Park starts after they successfully cloned dinosaurs. If the context is interesting, the story will surely get better.
The last technique is the most common one: Conflicts. Conflicts are by no means the only ways to interest the players, but they are ones of the best tools that have been created to do just that. Because most (at the very least) of us know what conflict is, let's move to a few tips about making them better.

  1. You should always think about the outcome of the conflict. The most interesting resolution of a conflict is not by winning or losing and certainly not by compromising, but through aggravating it. If the conflict raises the stakes, it will glue the players to the stories. Yes, glue.
  2. It's preferred to come with a new conflict each time. It doesn't mean that battle after battle is bad, but if there is no difference, it won't be interesting. More than that, battle after battle after battle does come tedious, so try something new once in a while, won't you?
  3. Make the conflicts meaningful. Conflicts should never be too easy, comfortable and small. They should be big, grandiose, with many things at stakes. It creates a greater drama, which equals if done right to more interest in the stories.
  4. Conflicts are between desires and obstacles and not between people, so forget this wondering monster as it creates only a shallow one. Instead, try for deeper things, deeper desires and deeper goals.
So, that's it for today. How about you? How do you catch the interest of your players?

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