Help Support Game Development!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

On Writing

Writing, like art, is a skill that takes time and effort to cultivate. A lot of people think they are writers because they can put text on a page, but doing it well is a world apart.

My post can't make you a writer. I'm not secretly a world-famous published author. The subject is one that takes years to get good at. Hopefully it will help you get a start, however.

First off. What is a story? Believe it or not writers who are either college professors (where people are required to read their books) and unemployed coffee house writers (who don't actually write books) have a lot of arguments about this subject.

For the purpose of this post, I'm going to define it as a sequence of events with a clear beginning and end.

Thus, "A man walks" is not a story. "A man walks across a room and gets to the other side." Is a story. Any sequence of events with a clear beginning and end is a story.

Of course, "A man walks across a room and gets to the other side" is boring. That's why you have goals, and conflict.

A goal is something the hero wants, and conflict is what stands in his or her way. Conflict is the fuel of a story. A goal is the end of a story.

The type of goal and conflicts you choose are what define your genre. For instance, "Indiana Jones walks into the temple and evades the traps (conflict) to get the golden idol (goal) and acquires it" makes it an action/adventure story. If the place is filled with traps that require gruesome sacrifice and his goal is just to survive, that's the plot of SAW. A man walks into a ballroom and sees a girl he's desperately in love with, but the dastardly bad boy is already seducing her. He manages to kick him off a balcony and ravage her flower of passion in a back room. That's essentially a harlequin romance. If he walked into the same room with a swingy pendant and fucked her pussy hard, that's an Erotic Mind Control story. (The main difference between porn and a harlequin romance novel is that one is slightly more flowery with the prose)

On the other hand, if you want to do Lovecraftian Horror:

This is the basic story structure of any story. You don't have to have a man or a room, just some sort of clear beginning and ending, and a person pursuing a goal and either accomplishing or failing at it.

The key to a novel or any longer story that often confuses people is that it doesn't feel like it's that clear. It is.

The trick is that they don't just use ONE story, they use several. They use one big goal and conflict, and along the way they use several smaller ones as stumbling blocks.

For instance, Indiana Jones goes into the idol and gets it, only to have it taken by that dastardly Nazi, whom he must pursue. That sets up the big plot arc, which is resolved when the Nazi Archaeologist dies at the arc. There's also a romance subplot.


This is where outlining comes in. You don't need a big backstory when you start (and you might not need one at all). Instead, you need a few 'a man walks into a room and gets to the other side' simple plots.

You lay down the primary one.

Conflict: Indiana Jones wants to into Archaeology but those Nazis won't let him
Goal: Nazis want that sweet ass blingy arc but Indy says no way
Resolution: Nazis melt

Then along the way, you nest several smaller ones in as obstacles that impede that primary goal. For instance, the sequence where Indy has to get past the snakes and figure out the sunlight puzzle, the romance subplot, and so on.

The hero doesn't HAVE to succeed, and in fact can try and fail at their primary goal more than once, because as long as they survive the next time they'll try harder. (This is actually written into the three act structure of most movies.) So you can even reuse the same goal, provided that instead of raiding a tomb in Egypt and getting shot at he's fistfighting Nazis on a landing strip.

If you want to get a feel for how this works, look at at any book or movie and pay attention and you can actually see the "man walks across a room and gets to the other side" level plots.

The process of writing a longer story is literally just nesting a bunch of simple stories into one another like a Russian Doll.

Writing is a lot more complex than this. If you want to write, that's your first goal. See if you can watch a movie or read a book (or several, have a movie day!) and pick out the simple plots from it. Take a notepad and a pen, and mark them down as you see them, as well as their resolution.

Being able to see the plots is where you start if you want to write them.

And yes, this is work. I read a novel every single day. It only takes me about an hour or two if it's a normal book, but I do read a book a day, and I have a rather large movie collection.

So read. Watch. Study.

My next post will tackle how you add in detail, discuss how I use this process with Overwhored and in games, as well as some more complex story discussion.

Further Reading:

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: This book explains how ancient myths tended to follow the same structures and breaks them all down. Do NOT take this as a writing manual. It is not a step by step guide to making a story. It simply helps you see and understand the plots. If you are curious how a story would look if you had it play out in a movie, watch the original trilogy of Star Wars. It's basically a literal step by step copy of the structure described in the book. Note that it might help to just read a thorough summary, because the author tends to get rather pseudophilosophical and uses some annoying prose. It's still an important book you should read, though.

This entire website:
Three highly skilled published authors discuss writing on their podcast. Listen to ALL of it. It's good.


  1. Yup, being devoured by chaos is the best plot so far, hahaha!
    Still, you read a book everyday!? That's amazing! And expensive (Unless you do it on the computer).

    By the way, the website looks very interesing, I'm checking some of it and learning a good ammount of things, so thanks!

    Keep pushing foward man!

    1. He probably has read the same books a good number of times.

    2. I do. In the days before digital piracy (and even now) I used libraries a lot. Those things exist, remember? Of course, I also buy a lot of books too, especially if I like something I've nabbed off the net. I like the feel of paper. I also don't necessarily stick to various genres. I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, but I'll read anything, like history books, random college textbooks, technical manuals, and so on. Even if I don't really understand them. A few days ago I read a book on cryptography. Why? Because it was fun!

      Reading is awesome.

      Note that I don't JUST read a book a day. If I get a quiet day with nothing to do, I'll read five or six. Haven't had time to do that for a while, but that's how it goes.

    3. Oh, and if you want legal free books, I'd suggest the Baen Free Library, because you don't need to sign up for anything. It's totally legal and totally free.

      For me, the invention of the internet was like someone announced an infinite orgy that never ends. Of books. I fucking love the internet. Infinity-minity books and things to read.

  2. I'd actually avoid hero with a thousand faces. The mono myth is an appealing but dubious concept, supported by vague ideas and sweeping generalities. It's not particularly helpful and can be downright harmfull if taken internally.

  3. I had an idea for a quest and it's a bit different what if at one point something happens where the Overmind can't get into a place but something must be done there like a Great leader of his grand children is captured somewhere but he can't get there because he's being expected but me could capture someone and then get some of his most smartest and probably independent slaves to go into that area to free her.

    Like have a mission where the slaves are going on a mission without the overlord.

    I also had a thought to have the adviser actually voice to go alone to make sure they doesn't do anything stupid. But how is the idea to have a quest to have a mission where only the slaves are on a mission and see what trouble they either get into or what passes through their conversations as they "TRY" to blend in.

  4. "A man walks..." is World of Warcraft. xD

    Good advice here. Thanks.