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Week 5: In the end, we have a story

Nov 16, 2020 | 2 comments

Time has come to announce which of the four ideas I shared with you (The Campsite, The Lighthouse, The Desert and The Train) will inspire the story for this Point-and-Click Adventure Game. Before though, let’s see what week #5 has brought.

As expected, these days I’ve been fully submerged into the Interactive Storytelling program. Due to the pandemic, classes are conducted online -a pity considering the campus is placed at the unique scenario of Visby, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Scandinavia and a Unesco World Heritage. However, and in terms of logistics, I have to say it’s been a lucky twist as Visby is located in the island of Gotland, 4 hours away (both by train and ferry) from Stockholm -it can also be reached by plane though, but I always try to avoid them if there are other alternatives. Therefore, classes are held on the same screen that I’m typing these words, but I can’t complain. 

So, as planned for the sprint, I started working on the game’s plot simultaneously with the course assignments. Yet, this week hasn’t been as productive as I expected. The reason: a creative block.

I already had the overall idea in my mind (the chosen option), but for some reason it didn’t want to start up. After trying and trying during a couple of days, I began to doubt about the story and consider the option to go back to the previous step and choose one of the other three ideas. But this is equivalent to running away at the first setback -and this would had just delayed things. Fortunately, I have a set of tools to overcome these tiny crises of creativity -coming from my experience as music composer.

The first and most important thing to understand is that a creative block is just this, a blocker that must be unlocked. The way that works best for me is to simply do a temporary “switch-off”. I stop for a while and do something else. Anything that doesn’t require extra mental effort and makes me feel good (I went out to clean the leaf garden, for example) while being confident that inspiration will come sooner or later. I don’t get stressed. I just need to think outside the box for a while.

To open my mind a bit more and get some inspiration, I also watched this documentary. I don’t know how many times I’ve read about it… a lot! but I always learn something new (whether it’s a true fact or not). After this little break -and with a fresher mind- I came up with a different approach: start writing the story from the end.

For those not familiar with writing stories, it might sound like an advanced technique used by experienced writers but it’s actually the other way around. It requires a lot of expertise to write a story from the beginning. For an unexperienced writer like me, starting by the end should be the norm. Have you ever tried to explain something that you don’t know how it ends (e.g. trying to improvise an excuse)? It feels like walking backwards. In real life, we normally know what we want to say, then we make a story out of it. We do storytelling either to describe our visit at the nearby supermarket or while presenting the results of our latest research work.

I already knew this technique -that’s why it came to mind- but I just wasn’t aware of how important it is. I had the text blurb of The Campsite in front of me for hours, being unable to develop the story beyond the initial words. After this exercise, everything began to flow naturally.

I din’t have to go to Visby to get inspired.

Now I know how the story ends, but this is something you’ll have to discover by yourself. 

📋 This week: I already decided about the main characters, but I just don’t know how they are. This is something I’ll be working on during this sprint. I also need to keep working on the world map of the game but it will be pretty small. This is why I’ve finally decided to go for The Campsite story and not for any of the other scenarios, despite it wasn’t the favourite option. In any case, I think it provides a lot of scope for a short adventure, and I’ll do my best to get the most of it!

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2 Comments

  1. David

    When I was young I used to write stories without a plan. I just thought of an interesting character or scenario, and started writing about them with no bearings whatsoever (or very faint ones, at most). The outcome? I never managed to finish a story until I was 30 or so. From that point on, I started doing some pre-writing work, and of course things improved significantly.

    There are many ways to prepare your writing, but undoubtedly I’ve found out the most effective one is to set an end to your story (sort of, it doesn’t need to be precise) and then work your way backwards. If not, it is extremely difficult to make things connect, and your story is more than likely to be ridden with inconsistencies and useless stuff. I do not consider this technique to be for beginners, it is just the most solid and sound. Writing without a map is only for eccentric geniuses, strange guys whom nobody will understand anyway and adventurers… but well, we all know adventures in terms of work often end badly.

    As I said, you don’t need to be extremely precise, especially if you are attempting a short story, which is the case. My recommended steps, some of which you’ve already done or trying to do, would be the following:

    1. Define your objectives (globally and specifically – purpose of your work, target audience, technical appearance and styles, tone, etc.)
    2. Define a conflict
    3. Define the main characters (especially their personal interests and their part in the conflict)
    4. Write a short synopsis
    5. Decide on the narrative technicalities (voice, narrative structure and point of view)
    6. Define a number of differentiated chapters (or in your case, rooms) and go into some more detail as to what happens in each of them)
    7. Once you have this first basic frame, fill out as you go (let your imagination kick in and enrich your story; improvise the little details which are your personal signature; surprise yourself with new ideas that spark in your mind)

    Hope this helps!

    • Guillem

      Hi David, thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and advice here. Your opinions are a great contribution!

      I would like to add that some of the difficulties I’m facing while writing the story are intrinsic to interactive storytelling 🤯. As you know -despite Adventure Games are probably the closest video game genre to standard narrative- writing stories for games requires of a different approach due to the limited control the writer has over the narrative flow.

      For instance, while in traditional storytelling, conflict can be represented through a very specific event or situation, in a game it can also appear in the form of a puzzle (or another game mechanic), which makes the perception of that conflict more subjective as the resolution of that puzzle depends on the cognitive skills of the player. Therefore, the impact of this specific conflict has on the story can differ from one player to another considerably.

      Another thing to have in mind is the chronological order of the events. While the writer can set a series of plot “milestones” taking place in a specific order (e.g. when a part of the story is revelead only after the player has resolved a puzzle or group of puzzles) we cannot fully control the flow of the story at all times, as the player always has a certain degree of freedom in regards the order that puzzles are being solved or when chosing the right moment to have a conversation with a specific character, etc.

      Therefore, I completely agree about working first on a basic frame and leave scope to keep working on the story during the creation of the game. The plot can evolve in many ways depending on how the game is being designed, technical constraints that could arise and the overall gameplay experience. That’s why I think Interactive Storytelling’s a field that goes beyond the writer itself, involving other members of the team into the process of writing the story. As you well know, we experienced this issue many times while working together on The Secrets of Barcino, throwing away hours of preliminary writing work in order to adapt the story to the actual experience of playing the game.

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