Using FATE Aspects for Writing

FATE is a narrative-style table-top role-playing game. Even for narrative style games, it uses an unusual approach for playing. It’s a handy system from a writing perspective because FATE uses short descriptions called aspects to describe everything. (A note for those familiar with FATE, I’m keeping my explanations of the game system to a minimum, since I’m presenting aspects for writing and not playing.)

Aspects describe characters, scenes, equipment, organizations, cultures, climate, weather, etc… anything of note in the game world.

You can download FATE for free at: evilhat.com’s fate-core-downloads page (They will happily take monies, though, see the ’pay what you want’ link.)

A version of the System Reference Document which may be easier to use is at fate-srd.com

FATE has two versions, the regular Core rules and the Accelerated rules. The former is a massive tome with all sorts of information and ideas. The latter is a quick-seat of the pants version. Both use aspects (Core has more description and examples) and the same system. The major difference is that Core uses skills while Accelerated uses approaches.
For my purpose here, aspects are the most important element. Fate splits aspects into 3 basic types:

  • High Concept: The most important element of a character or thing, how it defines itself, the driving purpose. The High Concept should have positive and negative meanings, two sides of a coin. At the same time, the High Concept is a general statement. It is the character’s Elevator Pitch.
    • Gwenledyr Trelstad is an Open-hearted Spy Girl.
    • Iona Neumeier is More than a Cop’s Daughter.
  • Trouble: The personal conflict generator. Trouble isn’t necessarily negative, but it should represent difficulty—it should drive the character forward, back, sideways. A fuel for interaction. An obstacle.
    • Gwen is Lost in a world of emotions.
    • Iona is a Magnet for trouble
  • Other Aspects: Tertiary things dealing with the character. Important elements, but not worthy of high concept status. They round out a character, describing their important traits. 2-4 is plenty for main characters. These types of aspects aren’t as important for secondary characters, one or two are plenty. Even zero is enough with a High Concept and Trouble that explain the character.
    • Gwen has Stronger than she looks, hides in obscurity, lots of book knowledge, good with gadgets
    • Iona has Smarter than her own good, full of energy, adorkable

I’m skipping a few important elements in the character creation, but they aren’t as useful while writing (they use input from other players). Aspects don’t need lengthy descriptions, just a word or two is enough. For writing, they’re reminders of what makes a character special. Hooks to jog creative juices.

When creating aspects, think of how the aspect can help the character and how it can hinder them. A great aspect does both. Aspects provide conflict as well as resolution. From a writing perspective, the High Concept should show a character’s major purpose in the story. The Other Concepts are the tools the character uses to accomplish that purpose.

How does that help with writing? It gives an author a set of phrases that succinctly describe a character in an interesting and dynamic way.
As a game, FATE is loads more interesting than what I’ve outlined here. As a tool for writing, Aspects can be a great way to keep track of characters or even provide insight into characters. A few words can provide motivation, goals, and resolution.

 

 

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