Writing or Raiding – 5 Things World of Warcraft Raids can teach you about Writing

In my wild and misspent youth, I used to play an absurd number of video games.  I actually had aspirations of being a professional in the field, having won several tournaments in my game of choice (Starcraft).

If this is the first you’ve heard about the idea of making a living at video games, trust me.  It’s out there.

Anyways, one of the games I played extensively was World of Warcraft, and I had climbed through the content until I had achieved a moniker of “Raid Leader.”  If you aren’t familiar with World of Warcraft, or raids specifically, the rest of this article won’t make a whole lot of sense to you.  To summarize, a raid is when a group of 10-40 players get together to try and tackle some large objective, usually beating some difficult monster or “boss.”


I was reflecting on those days and realized there’s a startling number of similarities between Raiding and Writing.  Here are the surprising commonalities:

1) Have a schedule, and stick to it

It’s inevitable when you first get into raiding.  You’ll hear that the raid starts at 8:00 PM, so you’ll buy your potions, you’ll be as giddy as it gets, and get online, prepared to see the rest of your guild in the most awesome gear imaginable, ready to take down some heavy duty bosses.

Then you’ll see there’s only 1 other person on.  No problem, you’ll think.  I’m five minutes early. So you’ll wait.  A few people will log in, wait about 15 seconds, and then log off.  Somebody may even open in chat with a “We still doing this tonight?”  That person may hang out as much as a minute before they bail.  About half an hour later, you’re the only one on, and the raid hasn’t happened.  Saddened, you’ll head back off and continue working on your vanity pets.  But you get to repeat this entire experience in a few short days when the raid leader posts to the message of the day:  “Hey, couldn’t get on tonight, we’ll do it next week!”

As you move along in the process, you’ll eventually find a group that manages to actually go, but the people don’t get there until 15-30 minutes late, and have to spam chat looking for one more tank (defensive player), another healer or two, or a very specific kind of attacker (DPS).  You’ll start an hour later, but hey… You’ll have a whole raid group… Until you wipe out on the first boss.  Then you get to repeat the process.

An interesting thing happens as you continue on this path.  The best groups start on time.  The best groups actually finish ahead of schedule.  They are serious about what they are doing, and they let nothing stand in their way.  As it is with writing.  When you are writing a novel, you can’t “work it in here and there” around your life.  You need to pick a time, and stick to it… And guard that time zealously.  Authors don’t finish books when they don’t fight to make sure they get their time in, and then use that time to write.


2) Trash mobs really take away from the raid

Raids involve giant monsters that may take 5-10 minutes to actually kill, even with 40 people on the job.  They also can sometimes involve a 30 minute grind of killing lesser monsters along the path to the boss.  Some of these “trash pulls” can be just as likely to take down a party of heroes just as certainly as the boss…

People hate trash.  They don’t drop any useful gear.  All they do is slow down the actual reason the raid has gotten together.  Modern raids, you can even see something of a reduction of the number of trash pulls before you get to the boss.

In your novel, a trash mob is adding a scene or character that seems on the surface interesting, but realistically isn’t doing much for your overall story.  It needs to be cut.  You don’t have enough time in your novel to waste your reader’s time on something nifty, or a piece of backstory that you quite enjoy, but doesn’t move the story along in some meaningful way.  Cut it!

3) Know what you need for the raid

One of the interesting things about the bosses in these raids is that they all have a different set of mechanics that you follow in order to take them down.  Sometimes it can involve a lot of movement; sometimes you strategically stop your damage, or use different kinds of damage.  To make this work, a raid group needs to have a group of characters assembled that can help accommodate the varying needs of the raid. Ranged damage, melee damage, specific kinds of tanks to help handle group tanking or single target.  Maybe the raid encounter has a non-player that needs to be healed in addition to the normal healing.

The key thing raid leaders learn is to be prepared.  Bring people along that can serve in more than one way during the raid to ensure you don’t need to change players around.  On top of that, each player needs to have a specific purpose.

The same is true in writing.  The player needs some information in chapter two that you’ve added a kindly old sage to provide… Maybe you can use that scene to also illustrate the character’s bizarre irritation regarding the elderly.  Maybe the sage can resurface later as one of the murder victims.  Pack as much as you can into a character or scene so that you are achieving multiple goals at once.


4) One screwball can wipe the raid

Books are about conflict, but you don’t need a meteor crash every scene.  When raiding, it doesn’t take the whole party being out of focus for the whole thing to fail.  One person missing a cue, or surfing youtube while raiding can cause a wipe.  You can do this in your book as well.  Every failure that pushes more conflict doesn’t have to be something of an EPIC scale.  It could just be the car didn’t start, or putting the wrong amount of sand in the counter-balance.  These small mistakes or screw-ups can still yield the conflict you are looking for, and keep high tension.


5) Everybody wants loot

It is true that sometimes players go through a raid simply because they enjoy the act of raiding solely.  It is also true that readers may read to enjoy the entire story.  But I can tell you something else that is true:  Getting a piece of loot makes the raid a lot more enjoyable.  Enjoying the end of the book makes the rest of the read more enjoyable.  It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, and it doesn’t even have to be an ending that people expected… But it has to be complete the story in a meaningful way.

These are the comparisons I’ve thought of.  What about you?  Do you raid?  Do you know other ways raiding and writing are similar?


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