Current Game: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (3DS)
When Travis asked me to write a blog post about what I do here at Moonlight Games, I just laughed. "Why would anyone want read about the "creative process" of an unpublished, Indie video game writer?" I asked. Bless his heart, Travis genuinely believes that someone out there (Hi Mom!) is actually interested in reading such a post, maybe even enough to comment on it *Hint Hint* Such an optimist. Unfortunately for all of you, he's also the boss, so here we are...
First, I put on my headphones and stare at a blank screen/the wall until inspiration strikes. Often, I look up random stuff on Wikipedia. Once I finally have an idea, I type. A lot. Then comes the best part: I delete everything I've spent the past hour working on because it's garbage. Repeat as necessary. This cycle often continues for a several hours. On a good day, I manage to write a few pages that I'm not completely ashamed of. Then I pour myself a drink and lament my life choices. The End.
All jokes aside, writing is really, really hard, but if you're going to give it a shot, working on a project with your 2 best friends is a pretty solid way to go about it. Writing is usually a solitary exercise, but with a team this small, everything becomes a collaborative effort. The vast majority of what I write for Runelands is stuff that no one else may ever read, world-building content that's important, but not directly related to the story. And if that was all I did I'd be burned out in no time, but this is a video game, not a novel. If I write a new scenario or some dialogue, I can see it in action almost immediately. Even with something as complex as creating a new character or Valtir, I usually have a sketch waiting in my inbox within a few days. I can't overstate how rewarding it is to see something that used to exist only in your mind come to life. Without a doubt, the best part of working on Runelands is how quickly my words can make it into the actual game.
For any aspiring writers out there, here are a few tips from other (professional) writers I've taken to heart. Because good artists copy, but great artists steal. Which is a quote I totally just made up.
1) Writing is a skill, just like anything else. The only way to improve is to keep writing. Brian Michael Bendis said this in an interview back on the old Wizard Magazine website like 15 years ago. Neither the magazine or website still exist, so I'm paraphrasing, but that quote has always stuck with me. I can't think of a single one of my favorite authors whose first book is their best. It might be a great idea and very popular, but you can always see them grow with each new story. I played football for half my life, which on the surface has very little to do with writing, but the discipline and stubbornness I learned there has really helped me. I know I still have a long way to go, and reading stuff I wrote even 2 years ago makes me want to claw my eyes out, but the improvement is impossible to deny.
2) Read your dialogue out loud. I read this in an interview with Jonathan Hickman somewhere. I'm sure he's not the first to suggest this, but he's the first one I ever heard so he's getting the credit. It's such a simple and effective technique. You might feel like an idiot at first, but you'll get over it when you realize how much it helps. I still hate writing dialogue, but I don't run away from it like I used to.
3) "In writing, you must kill your darlings" - William Faulkner - This one is pretty self-explanatory, but probably the hardest advice to follow. I've stuck with a clever sentence that doesn't fit with everything else more times than I can count. Hell, I probably did it somewhere in this post. Runelands is constantly changing; If I come up with a cool new idea, but it contradicts something I wrote a year ago, I'm keeping the better idea, even if it's more work. The game, or whatever you're working on, will be better, and putting out the best product you can is the whole point. Save that clever sentence and use it somewhere else.
4) Read everything you can get your hands on. I can't find the exact quote, but Stephen King is on record saying this over and over. I've been reading everything I could get my hands on since I was 8 years old. If nothing else, it's significantly improved my vocabulary and spelling. Anything I write is just an amalgamation of my life experiences; the things I've read are a huge part of that. Often, you can learn just as much from reading a bad book as a good one. If you really want to create, you need to read creative people, and if you want to learn what not to do, you need to read Twilight (Full disclosure: I've never read Twilight)
5) Being good is more important than being original. I'm paraphrasing John Scalzi here; he wrote this in the foreword to the edition of Forever War I picked up like 10 years ago. Basically, he was asked to write the intro because his book Old Man's War has a lot in common with the Forever War, despite John never having read the book. He said that if he had read it, he would have been compelled to change his book to be more original even though it definitely wouldn't have been as good. Look, these are two of the best military science-fiction books ever written. I'm not trying to compare Runelands to them, but I do think it's important to accept that nothing you write is going to be totally original. There are only so many stories; the best any writer can do is come up with an interesting variation, or try look at the story from a new angle. I could, and probably will, write several posts about the stories that have influenced me on Runelands. I believe we've come up with an interesting take on a medieval fantasy world, but we're not re-inventing the wheel here. We're just trying to create something we can be proud of.
That's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading!