This one’s for you, HeRoBlowe!
KungFuSpaceBarbarian’s Super Secret Scientific Steps for Scribes
Not the best alliteration and the title could use a bit of work, but let’s just go with it.
My process isn’t actually secret or scientific. I also don’t really have a “formula,” even though I’m constantly looking for one. But, I do tend to follow a pattern in creating new adventures, so I’ll try my best to lay that out here.
Step 1: Come up with an idea (or a bunch of ideas)
This step is typically the easiest. Ideas are a dime a dozen. I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Picking which one I want to focus on is the challenging part.
I get ideas from literally anything; movies, TV shows, books, and video games are obvious, but I’ll also generate ideas by just paying attention to life as it goes on around me. I try to take 40-60 minute walks on my lunch breaks every day, and sometimes I’ll see something or overhear snippets of conversation that spark an idea.
Other times ideas will come in the shower, or while I’m sitting on the train staring out the window. Sometimes I’ll get ideas when watching TED Talks or reading biographies about famous people like Stan Lee or Steve Jobs.
The best ideas are usually the ones that come to me when I connect one idea I had for an unfinished story 4 years ago with a new one I’ve been working on more recently and mix the two together!
Most of my ideas aren’t really unique (at least I don’t think they are). I think most of the uniqueness (if any) comes from me writing about them in my own way. Most of the Crypt Shyfter games are clearly hacks of generic fantasy repackaged with my own odd flavor.
For example, I like pizza and video games and aliens. Mash them all together and you’ve got Fuzonia!
Step 2: Mix ideas together and plot out a story
Once I’ve settled on an idea (like pirates who are searching for the captain’s brother), I’ll start throwing in some conflicts. Coming up with a villain is always a good start.
I love creating wacky villains, so every adventure gets a colorful, flamboyant villain with a super dramatic name: Lord Hawk, Vortex, Snaggletooth, The Star King, The Atomic Angel, etc.
Then I need to come up with a dramatic entrance for the hero: maybe you’re well-known and people are constantly begging you for aid, or maybe you’re locked in a prison, or maybe you’ve lost your memory.
None of these intros are particularly unique; Skyrim starts off with a prisoner and KOTOR starts off with a hero who can’t remember who they are. But again, throw your own spin on it and viola! You made it your own.
At this point I usually write out some character backgrounds and any scenes that I think will be crucial to the story. These are usually big moments in games, like the revelation of you being Silver Wolf in Dreadnaughts, the fight with Dreadmir in Frostfall, or meeting the girls at the farmhouse in Moonbright.
Step 3: Graph out the story
As far as formulas go, the only ‘formula’ I really follow is story structure, and even that is sorta loose due to the branching narrative aspects of the games.
I plot all of my games using the classic 3-act structure or mythic structure. The Hero’s Journey is the perfect template for my games since… well… you’re a hero on a journey!
Most Hollywood films and popular novels follow this structure because it works REALLY WELL. Think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, Disney, Narnia, Star Wars… the list goes on.
Following this structure makes it easy for me to know when to hit certain story beats so the adventures don’t meander all over the place without purpose. It also helps the reader feel like they personally went through a journey and gives them that sense of satisfaction for having overcome all their struggles at the end.
I know not everybody like the “predictable” happy ending type of story, but there’s a reason every multi-billion dollar franchise follows that structure- because it works!!
Step 4: Start writing
Now that I’ve got the outline, writing is much easier! I can see what points I need to make in the intro so the reader knows who they are, where they are, and what the point of the adventure is. It also shows me where I need to get them so they can start making choices with enough context to know what’s going on.
Then I follow my chart, writing and filling in the details as I go. It’s sorta like having a skeleton, and I’m putting muscles and skin on it as I write.
Step 5: Throw away the chart
Usually about halfway through the adventure, once I’ve gotten used to the characters and how they talk and react to one another, I ditch the chart and let the characters decide where things go.
I’ve done this with just about every adventure to date. Colossus changed so much that I ended up changing the title to Starwisp!
Step 6: Finish and post!
Once everything is written, I do some edits, share the games with you guys for initial feedback, make more edits, and then post it!
I don’t get everything perfect every time, but that’s okay. Newgrounds readers don’t hold back, so if I made a goof somewhere they’ll give me 1 star and tell me I’m a worthless idiot and point out my unforgivable mistakes.
Then, I thank them, fix the error, and get all 5 stars from everyone who plays after that because they think I made a perfect game from the beginning!
Bonus stuff – how to make people blaze through your adventures and crave more
That’s pretty much it for my process. Ideas, characters, outline, graph, mythic structure, fill everything in, edit, post, more edits when issues are pointed out.
Repeat with the next game.
I get lots of comments saying my games are easy to read, or that someone never liked text adventures before but now they want to play more. I can’t say exactly why this is, but I have my suspicions. Here’s what I think are the keys to making games fun and easy to read:
1. Short, sweet, and to the point
I tend to write in short, simple sentences. Long sentences, compound sentences, and run-on sentences make reading harder. You have to think more.
I try to keep each sentence down to ONE thought: the sand is purple; the alien shoots at you with a ray gun; you enter a massive stone chamber.
2. Small blocks of text
You ever read a textbook? The text is tiny and the paragraphs form these huge, sprawling blocks of text. It’s like a page and a half of text with NO paragraph breaks. You get exhausted just looking at the pages!
Scroll back up through this post really quick. Even though the post itself is long, you’ll notice most of my paragraphs aren’t more than 4-5 lines each.
I do this in my games as well. Short paragraphs make reading easy! With the games, I try to show only one paragraph on each screen. Sometimes the paragraphs are meaty, but usually they’re pretty short. I want you to click links quickly!
If you’re stuck on a page for more than 30 seconds reading my brilliant prose and you take your hand off the mouse, I fucked up.
3. Kill someone, blow something up, have someone get naked, or throw in monsters
Another trick to keep games moving is to get rid of the boring parts. Sometimes it’s just necessary to include backstory or extra information so the reader understands what’s going on, but at a certain point that boring shit just gets too boring!
That’s when you use one of my tried and true methods: Kill someone, blow something up, have someone get naked, or throw in monsters. INSTANT ATTENTION GRABBER!
Gotta give some super boring exposition? Have a naked chick give the hero the details he needs… then have her try to kill him! Two-fer-one!
Seriously though, when things get boring, throw in some ogres out of nowhere. Have a bloody peasant stumble into the bar. Describe the shrieks of people outside as a dragon swoops down and burns the city.
It doesn’t matter if you had these things plotted out or not- if you find yourself getting bored by what you’re writing, throw something unexpected in and let the hero deal with it!
Remember that your world is alive outside of your main character. Just because your hero is talking to a bartender doesn’t mean the world is safe. There are still people getting killed in the streets- why not have someone stumble in at that moment and confuse the hero for the killer?
4. Use the fewest number of words possible
Why use 100 words when 10 will do just fine? It’s hard to write short paragraphs if you like describing everything in the most poetic way possible.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using flowery language or showcasing your mastery with words- just try to realize the impact that has on the reader.
Will the reader’s experience be better if you go into super detail on everything? Will the story be ruined if you don’t describe the villain’s piercing green eyes, his slicked-back dark hair mixed with strands of silver at the temples, the golden brooch on his chest that signifies the power and dignity of his family, his knee-length red tunic embroidered with silver trimmings, and his polished black shoes that click on the cobblestones?
Or do you think your reader will get the picture if you say the villain is a slimy douche with a shit-eating grin?
I mean… I don’t know. It totally depends on what you’re going for but I like to leave a lot up to the reader’s imagination.
You all know slimy douches with shit-eating grins without me needing to describe them. You may be picturing your co-worker, or your rich next-door neighbor who crashed his dirt-bike one day and had a brand new one the next.
But let’s be real. Most likely you’re picturing Ajit Pai.
I can go into detail about how General Rawhide has leathery skin and 2-day old stubble and walks with a slight limp thanks to an injury from a dragon attack during a campaign he fought in 16 years ago or I can say: he’s a grizzled old badass.
I like to use the least amount of words possible so that you still get the picture but don’t have to spend extra time memorizing unnecessary details when you should be focusing on the story and choices you’re about to make.
That’s all I got, HeRo. That’s my creative process and some tricks I use when I get stuck. Hope that helps!