Author and alumnus R.A. Salvatore talks the future of storytelling

September 27, 2022
RA Salvatore headshot
RA Salvatore speaks with students and faculty Sept 2022
R.A. Salvatore took questions from faculty members Frank Mabee and J.J. Sylvia IV. At far right is a statue of Drizzt Do'Urden, Salvatore's famed "dark elf" character.

Best-selling author and two-time Fitchburg State University alumnus R.A. Salvatore returned to campus in September for a day-long residency that included addresses to student groups and a public audience on the topic of “The Future of Storytelling.”

Salvatore, who completed degrees from Fitchburg State in 1981 and 1991, and who delivered the commencement address at the university’s graduation ceremony in 2011, talked about the expanding media footprint of storytelling. With 20 million books sold since he was first published in the 1980s, Salvatore now plies his trade across media platforms, including graphic novels and games.

His newest book, The Dao of Drizzt, is a collection of journal entries written in the character of Salvatore’s most popular creation, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.

During Salvatore’s visit to his alma mater in September, he spoke about the evolution of storytelling as media has evolved, including his own work in new platforms like videogames. He compared his role to that of a dungeon master leading a game of Dungeons & Dragons. 

“A good dungeon master lets the players tell them where they’re going next; a bad dungeon master hooks his fingers up their nose and drags them where he needs them to go,” Salvatore said. “When I’m writing books, I am giving you characters through whom you can live vicariously. You will see the world through (their) eyes. When you’re writing for videogames, the most important character to the player is the player’s character. Your job is to try to give that player a world to explore that makes sense, that will allow them to go on grand adventures, and improve their character.”

Salvatore also took questions from the audience. One student asked for guidance on how to present backstory and “lore” into their creation. Salvatore replied that creating characters to whom readers could relate was the key to successful storytelling, a lesson he learned from the late Robert Cormier, another celebrated writer who hailed from Salvatore’s hometown of Leominster.

"He said, 'Character is more important than plot,'" Salvatore said, quoting Cormier. "You can have the greatest story ever, but if people don't care about your characters, you'll never put any tension in that story. But if you have a character that people have come to love, give them a hangnail and the reader will say, 'Ouch.' And I've lived by that in my writing. That's how I show people my world."

Salvatore’s visit to campus included meeting with students in several classes, including courses in the university’s newly-launched major in digital media innovation. The courses in this major allow students to develop a range of new digital skills that span social media, multimedia storytelling, information design, data studies, coding, and more. 

Watch Salvatore’s talk on the university’s YouTube channel.