A few weeks ago I headed over to the KW Poetry Slam. It’s been a while since I was there, and I didn’t slam, but I’m committed to it next time. I’ve got a D&D slam poem in me, I think. But watching poets describe spaces, emotions, and even works of literature, I learned some things. Things I wanted to do in my game, ways of speaking and moving that would have more of an impact on my players and make my descriptions and characters more vibrant. I’m not going to run a game as a slam poem any time soon, but here are three things I learned about GMing from slam poetry.
1. Take Up Space
Poets move around a lot, and all of that movement has intention. If they’re twisting and contorting, they’re doing it to create a certain feeling or perception in their audience. GMs can do the same thing. For a character, think about how they take up space. Do they sit, or do they sprawl? What do they do with their shoulders, their neck, their eyebrows, their hands. We often struggle to make every NPC different, and being aware of your body is a great way to do it. I love talking in funny voices as much as the next person (okay, probably more as you’ll see when the D&D LPs start going up), but a stance or gesture can be just as remarkable as a voice, and can be an excellent component of a complete character. This isn’t limited to characters, either. Talking with your hands can add some great emphasis, whether it’s spreading your hands while describing how big something is or bringing a finger to your lips when talking about silence. It gives you a new range of expression in a way, and will change how you say the words and deliver your descriptions.
2. Have a Good Rhythm
This is something I’m really interested in playing around with, especially for descriptions. Switching up your rhythm can cue your players that now is the time to listen, and can provide a clear border between “Listen” and “Feel free to jump in.” More importantly though, I think it can help descriptions resonate with players. You don’t have to talk in rhyme to have a rhythm. Use steady changes in intonation and pitch to draw your players in. Alliterate, and find some kind of structure to the description, like you might to a sonnet. This will also push you to really think about how you’re describing things, and the structure of the words. It’ll make descriptions more interesting and engaging, I think. I’ve focused on descriptions here and not characters, because you tend to have a rhythm when you play a character, in their voice. Changing up the voices makes the characters stand out, and they each have an intonation and rhythm, you’ll notice. When using it for descriptions, think about finding a voice for a space.
3. Emote Big
Exaggerate your emotions and articulations. Gesture wildly. This will make your characters seem larger than life, and make them way more memorable. Go over the top a bit on whatever mood you have for them, or whatever they’re feeling at the moment. This can mean loudness, but it doesn’t have to.If they’re sad, have them wring their hands and mumble and moan. If they’re happy, bounce a bit in your chair, and sit up extra straight. It might be tricky at first, but it’s theatre, so act out a bit! Everyone else is. If you’re like me, and you’re one of those GMs who incessantly paces (another great way to take up space), change the way you walk based on the character’s emotions. Shift from side to side if you’re nervous, walk slow, or fast, you get the idea. Find that emotion and let it fill your whole body.
And that’s some of the stuff you can learn from a poetry slam. I kind of want to have a GM slam, where we get together and deliver our best adventure hooks in some kind of mashup of description and character. Maybe. Anyway, how do you use space and emotion to bring life to spaces and characters? Leave your answers in the comments!