You might recall from Ted Chiang’s beautiful story “Story of your Life”, or from the movie Arrival that was based on it, that one of the ways of formulating the laws of optics is Fermat’s Principle of Least Time, which states that the a beam of light gets where-ever it is going in the least¹ possible time, taking into account the speed of light at the different places it might go through. The protagonist of the story took it as a profound insight that for a photon to travel in the direct direction from the beginning of its course, the end-point of the course must be determined at the outset. The story also featured the most extreme version of the Sapphir-Whorf Hypothesis ever seen in the wild.
However, you might also recall from high school physics the Huygens-Fresnel Principle, which shows you how to derive all the laws of optics—the law of reflection, the law of refraction, and even the law that light travels in a straight line—simply by treating every point on the wavefront as a source of spherically-propagating wavelets that interfere with each other. One way to consider that is as a demonstration of the wave-particle duality of light. That is not the bomb. In my opinion the bomb is that Fresnel’s Principle of Least Time and the Huygens-Fresnel Principle are provably equivalent. They can never produce discrepant predictions. Indeed, you can prove that the Huygens-Fresnel Principle implies Fermat’s Principle. They are equivalent descriptions of the same physics, though one requires a photon to know its destination and every possible course through space, whereas the other only requires the photon to know, at and for each instant, its energy and the speed of light in each direction in its immediate vicinity.
I think that plotting an RPG is like that.
It is fashionable now, though perhaps not new, to take lessons for RPGs from literary criticism. Literary critics are used to judging a work in its post facto entirety: planned, drafted, revised. They admire the gracefully structured plot, complete and elegant. They disparage the signs of a writer making it up as he or she writes, when they recognise them². They recommend planning to avoid them and revising to eliminate them. The problem in applying their advice to role-playing, the reason that I think that a lot of modern GMing advice and game design is misguided, is that I think that improvisation in the moment is the essential heart of role-playing, and that to cut it out (in an attempt to emulate products in a fundamentally different form of story-telling) risks ruin.
Back in, umm, 1992 one of my players (@gisborne, it was) lent me a copy of James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damned Good Novel, from which I (a) figured out what my English teachers had been supposed to teach me ten years and more before, and (2) learned an incomplete but useful collection of rules for good storytelling that can be applied locally, without having to know what the plot is and what the conclusion will be. You can see that those would be useful in improvising stories.
Agreeing with Our Roger that there are forms and techniques for roleplaying that are different from those most suitable to planned and revised forms, I call for the Huygens-Fresnel version of the laws of good writing.
¹ If you learned about Fermat’s Principle in first year (freshman) physics class, as I did, you would know that that is bit of a simplification; the principle is that the beam of light gets wherever it ends up at in stationary time, which means that there are other courses not taken, very close to the course taken, which would have taken only a very tiny bit longer. The differential of time taken with respect to course is zero exactly at the course taken: which is the condition for a local minimum or a local maximum (or an inflexion, for that matter).
² When my father was an inmate of an expensive institution for unwanted children (as he described it) his English teacher told his class that they must plan their essays and other compositions, that all great writers write to a plan. It being one of Those schools one of the boys wrote to every living great English writer then recognised, to ask whether he wrote to a plan. Only Somerset Maugham answered, and he said that writing to a plan is excellent advice that his correspondent would do well to follow, but that to be frank he didn’t do it himself.