Storytelling in Gaming


I’d like to begin this post with a disclaimer. This is not an in-depth analysis of game storytelling, nor will it discuss rpgs or any game with a clear and predefined plot. Rather, I will talk about games that may not seem to have a story to them, or may not even have intended to have a story to them. I will look at what exactly makes up those games, and then show how we can all take a page of that book to use in our own writing.

There are many different kinds of games. Action games, shoot ’em ups, rpgs, strategy games, etc. Among these, there are games that have been built around a story, games that have had a story cheesily tacked on, and games that seem to have no story at all. The latter category of games are those that revolve around a game concept or idea rather than a plot.

For my examples, I will use two games, one that I have played for quite a while, and one that I just recently started playing.

The first is a game called Timber and Stone. Now, have no fear. You do not need to know anything about the game to understand what I’m going to talk about. Timber and Stone is a settlement strategy game. You manage a group of settlers who are doing their best to create a city, all the while fending off attacks from wolves, skeletons, and goblins that get increasingly worse. You can lose settlers, and have migrants come in, but the game ends either when you decide to quit, or when you have lost all your settlers.

This game has no story.

So how was it that when I was playing, I knew each of the settlers in my civilization by name (there were thirteen of them)? Why did I feel genuine distress when one of them couldn’t make it to shelter in time and was devoured by wolves (this is a voxel-based game by the way, meaning it has a pixelated style, like minecraft)? Why did I make graves for each of the settlers whom I lost (graves have no benefit)? And why did I create imaginary  romances between settlers who happened to work beside each other at their professions, and then set to work building a church for them to marry in along with cottages for them to live in?

All that took place in a game with absolutely no deliberate story elements.

The power behind Timber and Stone? Its characters. Now, in Timber and Stone, the settlers are very simple. You can give them a name (or play with randomly generated ones), choose their profession, and beyond that they have some passive characteristics that are beyond your control (such as good eyesight or cowardice). So how can such simplistic characters draw the player in? It’s because, as a game, Timber and Stone was able to make you feel responsible for the characters. You had a genuine sense of care for them because you knew that if you made one mistake, someone could die, and they would never come back.

From this, I think we can take several things for writing our stories. The obvious one is characterization. Build up personality and backstory for the people in your stories. If the character shows up on at least two pages, it needs depth. Beyond that, character development. People are already naturally inclined to want the characters in your story to become better, so never begin your novel with your protagonist as a paragon, unless you want him to become corrupt.

Beyond this, and here is a point more subtle, show your reader the mortality of your characters. There is no better way to relate to a person than with death. Why? Because it is the one common thing that unites everybody. We all die someday, and by showing that people (important people) can and will die permanently, will draw your reader in. Unfortunately, there is a strong stereotype these days that the main character never dies, or if he/she does, it’s at the end of the book in some over-dramatized fashion, and I feel like there’s a need to combat that. I believe we need more stories with no main character.

That’s right, I said it. No main character. Don’t force the reader to accept the perspective of and follow around somebody they may not even like. Give the reader an option, allow the reader to choose sides. Sure, there’s no way you’re going to be able to give the reader an actual way to influence what is happening in the story (unless you’re writing a gamebook), but by not having a “good guy” and a “bad guy” and a “main character” and “sub-characters,” you’ll give the reader a lot more freedom.

The second game I mentioned was 7 Days to Die. This is a zombie survival game where very move you make my cost you your life. Think the Walking Dead, but super epic game version. This too, has no story to it. Sure, at the beginning you customize your character’s appearance, gender, and name, and occasionally you may find a few quests, but there’s nobody telling you do this first, or do that next. In gaming terms, it’s an open world game.

What do I feel that we can draw from this game? Well, I’ve felt very often with many books that there was no true suspension to the story. In other words, the plot was predictable. I knew what would happen at the end, I had a fairly good idea of who would live and who would die, who was the bad guy and who was not, etc. In other words, stories have become cookie-cutter penny novels which seem to no longer have any originality.

My solution? Shock the reader. Do whatever you can to shock the reader. If that means having a character crossing the road to buy milk from the grocery store and then getting smashed by a container truck, do it. If it means that the serial killer who is on the loose and rampant in the streets saves the life of the child, do it.

Now, obviously I am not advocating for randomness or just writing things for sheer shock value, because that gets old quickly. But I do believe that stories these days need at least one or two of these slaps to the face to really wake up the person reading saying, “Hey, pay attention. This isn’t what you were expecting was it?”

Alright, that’s it. I know this post was late, but hey, it’s still Tuesday, so there.

Tours yruly

Good Books

Hey guys, this is a post featuring a video I made on the qualities I believe make a story good. It’s inspired mainly by all the book reviews I’ve done and the book, Invisible Ink, that I’ve been reading. Enjoy! (Also, kinda spoilers for Zero Day and The Hunger Games…?)

Hope you enjoyed!

Tours yruly

Not Friends – Beautiful People #12


So, since we’ve set the mood for the day with frenemies with my last post (completely coincidental, I promise), let’s continue more along that line. This is a post in response to the Beautiful People link-up hosted at Paper Fury and Further Up and Further In. I am, of course, doing the August edition which happens to be the twelfth one in their series. This month the theme is on friendship, but because I wanted to focus on a relationship between my characters that the story actually focuses on, and since it’s always good to mix things up a little bit, I’ve decided to talk about the (not)-friendship that M and Anna have from Cold HandsEnjoy. =P

1. How long have they known each other, and how close are they?

Blast. This is one I have to go back and look at the story for. *humming* Two months and sixteen days. That took forever to find. XP They are close in a mono-directional kind of way. M knows a whole ton about Anna, but she knows barely anything about him. Apart from that, there is no closeness between them.

2. What’s their earliest memory of being best friends?

lol. Here’s where going the route I chose is not the best idea. They were never best friends, but their earliest memory of being worst enemies would be when M killed Foster probably. That’s when Anna saw him for who he truly is

3. Do they fight? How long do they typically fight for?

Yes. They fight. A lot. And it’s not just arguing too. I’m talking about actual physical altercations that usually end up with Anna getting beaten up. The fights never really last that long though. Morpheus has a way of dissembling both attacks and defenses in a matter of moments.

4. Are their personalities similar or do they compliment each other?

They complEment each other. Sorry. Just had to correct that. XP No way their personalities are similar. Anna is compassionate and fiery. She’s very impulsive and disinclined to take someone’s opinion over her own. Morpheus is calm and collected, cold and impossible to read. Then again, both characters are extremely determined, and they are similar in the ruthlessness they will go to to gain their ends, though Anna does prefer the ethical route.

5. Who is the leader of their friendship (if anyone)?

There is no leader to their “friendship” and never will be. =P Morpheus is not cut out to be a leader, but he is also insubordinate, and works best on his own. On the other hand, while Anna does have the quality to be a leader, she needs to control her impulses before she’ll be a good one. And she is the last person M would submit to.

6. Do have any secrets from each other?

Yes and no. Anna doesn’t really have any secret that M doesn’t know. On the other hand, Morpheus has a million and one secrets which Anna still is trying to figure out.

7. How well do they know each other’s quirks and habits?

In the beginning Morpheus was the one imbued with knowledge. However, after their experiences with other, Anna has gotten a fairly strong read on M. Despite this, she can never truly make up her mind about him.

8. What kind of things do they like to do together?

They don’t particularly “like” to do anything together, but they have done a lot of things together. Mostly this involves looking out for the group, though after most of the group disappeared, that dissolved too.

9. Describe each character’s fashion style (use pictures if you’d like!) How are their styles different/similar?

Fashion style?? Oh my word. XP It is an apocalyptic novel, so I won’t go with their current state of dress, which for Anna would be a tattered shirt with torn up pants, and for M would be sans shirt with similar pants. In times of peace and such, Anna, while not hyper-stylish, being a bit of a tomboy, prefers tighter clothing, loathes skirts and dresses of any kind, and would just as much romp around in jeans and a light blouse as she would in cargo shorts and a tank top. Morpheus on the other hand, while of a military cut, was always involved in a special section of the military, and thus dresses with a cross between casual and utilitarian.

10. How would their lives be different without each other?

Anna would know a lot less, and would probably be a slave to the UDA. Morpheus would not be as introspective as he has been. And as will be seen later on in the story, will– Gah. There’s just so many things it’s impossible to list. Basically M’s character would never have changed the way it has and Anna’s situation would be a lot worse than it is. Despite being enemies, they really do affect each other for good.

And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed. (Also, I spent forever getting that button to work, so make good use of it. XP)

Tours yruly

The Pen is Stuck… – Seventh Journal Entry

Not exactly a stuck pen, but it gets the point across

Not exactly a stuck pen, but it gets the point across

Intriguing title, I know. Anyway, I wanted to spend this time here talking about a phenomena I’ve recognized a lot with myself, and I’m sure it’s something other writers have seen too. (This is also a journal post about writing, just to cool down from some of the seriousness of the last journal.) Basically this is similar to a case of writing block, and it’s what people would probably call writing block, but to me it is slightly different. Essentially what I am talking about here is when you have a perfectly good idea for a story. You know where it’s going, you know how you want to finish, you have a good beginning, and everything is going fine, but you just come to this point in the book, usually for me it’s a particular chapter, that just won’t write itself like the others did. What do you do?

I realize more and more that this is sounding like writer’s block, but whatever. XP I recently had a problem with it myself, when writing chapter eighteen (yes, it is coming out people. =P) of Cold Hands. Anyway, what do you do? Well, for me, there are three solutions, and they vary based on the case. And now, since I may as well treat this like an essay for school, I’ll go ahead and list them: waiting, cutting down, and turning the wheel. (Those were deliberately as abstract as I could get them =P) Oh, and there is also a secret fourth solution I’ll mention but which I’ll never use personally.

Waiting. Sometimes when I’m hit by this, it’s because I’ve burnt myself out. This happens when I go to my story to try and write, and I just get along to an awfully slow start. Usually I don’t really get any kind of start at all. Nothing I’m proud of. People who know me know that I’m a very instinctual writer. I write based on the feel of the story, how I want it to go, but how I feel the story should go. Thus I have experienced major changes to my planned storyline. All waiting does is allow the creativity to come back into my head and build up there, where it can once again burst forth onto the paper. (Is it fair to call digital paper paper?)

Cutting down simply means to get rid of the part you had in mind. Occasionally I will know what’s supposed to happen in the chapter, I will write what’s supposed to happen in the chapter, but it just does not flow right. Something about it doesn’t sit well with me, and that is because, as I realize after a while, it does not belong. Hopefully you other people will realize, as I occasionally do, before you actually take the pains to write the chapter/scene, so that deleting it is merely getting rid of it in your head and moving on. But if you do write it down, like I sometimes do, don’t be afraid to press the delete button. Your readers will thank you for it, and you’ll feel all the better for having removed that load.

And finally turning the wheel. This is probably the most abstract of the three but I’m certain my smarter readers have caught on as to what it might mean. Essentially, this is similar to the last one in the fact that it is modifying your original plan, but possibly in a less destructive way. Turning the wheel is when you have to change the direction of the story to keep it flowing. Sometimes, based on what you have written, continuing with your original idea just won’t roll correctly with the story. This is when you have to be decisive and determine where you now have to point your story. This has happened in small ways with me all over Cold Hands. The death of Alex for example.

And so, that’s it. I will briefly mention the secret fourth solution: making an outline beforehand. That’s it. No more words said about it, since you guys All know how much I hate outlines. So yeah, that’s it. This post is done and over with now. I hope you guys enjoyed reading it. Maybe you gleaned a few tips, I don’t know. Just, whatever you do, don’t let a silly case of writer’s block, yes, I’ve finally called it that, stop you from finishing up your beautiful novel. All right, see ya!

Tours yruly

Writer’s Instincts

Why is it always those yellow pencils that you see everywhere?

Why is it always those yellow pencils that you see everywhere?

So, this is a post I am writing based on what happened to me when I was penning the latest chapter of Unseen: Right Behind You. I was writing that and I came to a point where I started writing a paragraph, failed, because the sentences just wouldn’t flow, and had to take a break. I started cooking lunch, all the while dwelling on that one part that just would not work. Finally, when I was done with lunch I sat down again, got rid of the paragraph, rewrote it into something else entirely, something completely different from what I had first imagined, and it turned out to lead into the perfect opportunity for me to use flashbacks. I call what happened there writer’s instincts. Enjoy. 🙂

As writers/authors (every author is a writer, not every writer is an author, so I guess I could’ve said every writer) we all have instincts. It’s where the mysterious thing known as inspiration comes from. These instincts, these gut feelings, are what allow us as writers to guide the story rather than follow some formula for writing a good piece. They tell us what to put down on the paper, how we should do it, and what makes it good. But, while sometimes they are very helpful (like in my case), they are also the source of the dreaded writer’s block, and sometimes they’re just plain wrong. So how do we tame these instincts?

Well, some of you might hate me for this, though considering you’re all probably writers, maybe not. Reading. Reading is the answer. But you can’t just read any old junk. You could read the labels off milk cartons for ten years and not get anywhere. No, what is important is that you read high-quality writing. As cliché or repetitive as this might sound, read good literature, both old and new. For me, some of my favorites would be Shakespeare, Baldacci, Henty, Horn, and Ballantyne. There are others of course, but those are just some of my personal favorites. (I haven’t actually read that much Shakespeare. I know right? Shame on me. XP)

What is the point of this reading? Well, we’re talking about instincts here, gut feelings. These cannot be “taught” traditionally by rote. Rather you need to allow your subconscious to subtly pick up on what makes a story good. This will allow your writers instincts to grow and nurture, preparing them for you to write with excellence. It is very important that you don’t read bad literature, however. Because if all you read are trashy adventure novels and sappy love stories, all you’ll be able to write are trashy love stories and sappy adventure novels. Yes, I did swap those around. That’s because unless we’re plagiarizing, we always mix around what we read, and so that’s what would happen.

Ok, so say you take my advice and read good literature, and your writers instincts are nourished and flourishing vibrantly. What then? Here is where you take the leap of faith and trust your instincts. Let your story lead the way while you guide it. Sure, you might have an outline and everything planned out, but don’t lock it to that. Allow your instincts to write for you. If you’ve read enough and read properly, you should find that the only kind of writer’s block you’ll get will be your instincts telling you to take a break, rethink things, and then rewrite what you just wrote down. Your stories will sound a lot more natural, and you will be more pleased with them yourself.

Note that this does not replace technical knowledge. People still will not appreciate your writing if you mis, punctuate- every. sentence: and forget howe two spel. Make sure you have a good grounding in vocabulary and grammar. Guess what the nice thing is. Well, reading helps with that too. Mhm. Reading helps with all kinds of things. Not only does it improve your writer’s instincts, but it will also improve your grammar and spelling and vocabulary too, all without much conscious effort at all. Now head out, and find, nurture, and use those instincts. Good writing to you all! 🙂

Tours yruly

Wasted Words

Read the post. You'll find I put a spin on it. XD

Read the post. You’ll find I put a spin on it. 😄

So, as perfect as that title would be for another poem, it’s not. XP This is really just a random post about me rambling on about writing. I have, on my about page, two counters. One is stagnant stories, with a value of thirty-four, and the other is wasted words, with a value of seventy-six thousand six hundred and ninety-eight. What do these two counters mean? Well, I’ll get to that in a second.

As a writer, especially when you are first beginning, a lot of things can make it difficult to continue. Lack of inspiration, no encouragement, comparison, too many distractions, and the dreaded writer’s block among other things can all be extremely discouraging. As a writer myself, when I first started writing seriously, I ended up giving it up for over half a year, because of a combination of the above situations. This shouldn’t be the case. Believe it or not, there are fixes for each one of those cases. In this post, I’ll be covering lack of inspiration.

If you haven’t already guessed it, my stagnant story counter is the number of full-fledged novels (at least they were intended to be full-fledged novels) that I’ve started and quit. That’s a lot. In every novel that I started I had devoted time and effort into thinking different elements out. But I just ended up not writing them. Why? Lack of inspiration. And it’s no small amount of words I’ve wasted on them either. 76,698 comes from the novels that I found. I probably missed at least half of that thirty-four. That’s a lot of discarded time and effort if you ask me. In fact, it is extremely hard hitting when, as a writer, you’re sitting there, staring at the blinking cursor, groaning internally because you can’t write, and someone else announces the successful completion of his/her novel. All this pain for lack of inspiration, is it really worth it?

Now, before I continue, I probably have to clear something up. Half of you, by now, I’m sure, are yelling at me that it’s not always “lack of inspiration” that brings a story to a grounding halt. In fact, it could be any of the reasons I mentioned above. What I’m doing is I’m generalizing lack of inspiration to not mean lacking inspiration, but motivation. So really, I should probably use unmotivated. It’s less words anyway. XP

What happens when you’re unmotivated? Does the story just go straight into the trash with the rest of the failures? Firstly, nothing should ever go into the trash. I have stagnant stories, not trashed stories. This means that I can pick them up again at any time. I’m not likely to, but I have that option. Secondly, no one likes to broadcast their failures. But just because someone is announcing the completion of their one hundred thousand word novel does not mean that he/she did not have twenty failures before it. In fact, more than likely, anyone who has finished writing a complete novel has multiple stories in stasis. Comparing yourself to other writers is never a good idea anyway.

So we’ve got over being depressed about lack of motivation, but how do you tell when to put a story on the stagnant shelf? Because surely all stories at one point or another were put on hold. And in that, you would be completely true. At any point a writer is prone to a conglomeration of multiple incidents that halt his/her writing temporarily. That is the key. There is a difference being tired of writing a story and being tired of writing in general. Believe it or not, it is possible to get tired of the characters and world that you’ve so specially crafted. Sometimes you need a break, a change of atmosphere. But you’ll find that if the story isn’t stagnant, the desire to return to writing it will slowly build up until you have to sit down and add another four thousand words or so.

The final point I have to make is this, and it’s a secret, so listen closely.

The words aren’t actually wasted.

Gasp! What? Impossible. Not even the slight chance that a stagnant novel might be picked up again could allow me to say that. And you’re perfectly right, but I still stand by my statement. Wanna know why? The reason is simple. Whether or not the novel turned out, the idea that spawned it still stands. Not only that, but it’s experience. As much as I hate to say it (since I hate grindy work), just writing stuff, whether it’s good, gives you experience. Somewhere in there you’ll do something you like, and you can carry that over to your final project so that it’s a culmination of your different efforts and learned lessons. So, wasted words? Hardly. In fact, not at all.

Tours yruly