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Where Legends Gather

A Life Well Wasted: How and Why I Write

(Part Two can be found here.)

February 4, 2014


Entry Thirty-Three

     So for a couple of months now I’ve been meaning to write down a few key points detailing how and why I write. For the most part it’s a combination of styles I’ve gleaned from other writers as well as my own style that’s been heavily inspired by games in the very general sense. This’ll also be the first and probably only entry to be posted online because reasons.
     If I had to make a list of points that describes what I aim to achieve in my writing, and in what order I think are of importance, they’d probably be the following:

1) Make them laugh, make them wait, make them cry.
2) While social commentary is unnecessary in art, it can make any work stronger if used properly.
3) Approach writing as you would approach game design, look to create subtext (lots of it) and “balance.”
4) If you’re writing something that only you would write, or only you would think of, you’re on the right track.
5) Write down a complete first draft. Then revise and edit and condense the shit out of it until it’s as close to perfect as possible.

     Make them laugh… The original quote for this is “Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em wait – exactly in that order” by Wilkie Collins regarding cliffhangers in stories. In particular this what he (and other writers) kept in mind for stories released in serials, rather than books published all at once. This was incredibly important for serial releases because it ensured that readers who were interested and invested in the characters would return to find out the outcome of the “To Be Continued…” or “The End?” But since I’m me and I do things differently, I’ve rephrased it to fit my own needs. Seeing as how I don’t intend to use cliffhangers, it’s better for my purposes to change it to laugh, wait, cry, because that’s the order I want, and it’s also one that more closely resembles game story-telling, except maybe The Last of Us because Naughty Dog’s going to be Naughty Dog. Either way, this is generally the structure I am going to keep in mind whenever I write anything (of fiction, at least; not sure how I could make people cry from reading a review, but that would be a fun experiment). I can, however, break my own rules and just completely disregard this structure, or move the pieces around as I see fit. So while nothing’s set in stone, this will act as a basic template. A few examples of how this is done well: Invisible Man, Bastion, Journey, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, Muse’s The Resistance.

     Social commentary… I’ve always found that social commentary was far stronger in other forms of art aside from games. Sure, there are books and film and music that don’t tackle social commentary at all, but then again those aren’t the books, music, films that appeal to me, and it'd take a lot for me to even consider that work to have any real value. I generally prefer any work of art that can strike the balance between being fun and being serious, because ultimately I’ve decided that that’s what maturity is: knowing when to be immature. Music that’s all happy and giddy and shit but says absolutely nothing falls completely and utterly flat. At the same time, however, art that tries to be completely serious and political all the time without adding a touch of humor or immaturity is often times boring. There needs to be a lot of forethought regarding how and when to use social commentary, as well as how much. At the moment, I still need to experiment with it and try things out and get some feedback on how much is too much, or if some commentary doesn’t belong and is being forced. A few examples of how this is done well: The Grapes of Wrath, Ready Player One, Elfen Lied, Shadow of the Colossus, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

     Write as you would design a game… There are a number of creators who have influenced my desire to write in a style that’s pays homage to gaming. While I highly doubt these musicians and directors went through their compositions and their filming in a way they would consider “inspired by game design,” it’s more of a theory I’ve developed on my own just by looking at what’s missing. And since a lot of what I write will be either about or based off of games, I knew I could take it one step further and completely look at game design and story crafting, and try to merge the two into something of my own, and something only I could do. A lot what this point means is just stuff that I can put into practice, but not talk much about since it’s just stuff that goes on in my head. A few examples of how this is done well: Machinae Supremacy, Arby ‘n’ the Chief, Halo: The Fall of Reach, Ready Player One.

     Something only you would write… This one’s pretty self-explantory. I believe it was either Jonathan Blow or Ron Carmel (or some other indie game designer who I’ve forgotten =_=) who said that it’s important to always have something special in what you’re working on since it’s what’ll keep you distinct from everyone else. I’ve done that already, to some degree, in the topic(s) I choose to write about. What makes it far easier is the semi-interactive elements I use, and I highly doubt anyone else has thought of it or is currently using it since it’s not something a reader or writer would think of doing without putting years of thought and theory into it. No examples for this one since any work of art that’s actually worth its artistic merit and has just a dab of originality is an example.

     A complete first draft… This point is mainly to get over the hurdle of “writer’s block.” I tend to dislike the phrase “writer’s block” in general since it just seems like a cop out. If your brain isn’t dead, there’s something you can write about, even if it’s just random words or random memories that pop into your head. The best things you can write about are things you don’t think are appropriate to write about. Some of the best poets we know are the best poets because they were to first to write about topics we don’t think are suitable or appropriate. In the 2 Player Productions footage for the development process of Broken Age, we see that Tim Schafer has a notebook for every game he’s ever made, and that he just spills his brain onto the page as thoughts pop in. This does two, maybe three things. First, it clears the mind: writing down everything that pops into your mind in a stream of conscious generally means you’re eventually going to clear your mind of things not relating to the game you’re making or the music you’re composing or the story you’re writing. Second, amid all your brain’s stupidity, you might actually find a relevant note that might make it into your work. This is essentially a very active and lengthy process of elimination. Yay, math. The rest of this point is just condensing stuff down to try to make every word count and make every word have an impact from that initial first draft. Overall, this helps in writing stuff down that may come in useful later when you’re not inspired, and sort of makes this self-sufficient method of inspiring yourself which I think a lot of creators (writers, specifically) might lack.

     I could very easily write a bunch more and in greater detail about all of these things, but I want to keep this particular entry brief and to the point. Maybe I'll expand on it later.