Everything, Everything

Originally posted in the 7RQ newsletter, 2018–02–11

I am a member of the UK Writers Guild videogames committee, and chair Luke Openshaw recently began compiling ‘words of wisdom’ from working game writers — both on and off the committee — to disseminate to novice and aspiring writers. the first instalment is now online at

https://lukeopenshawwriter.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/advice-for-aspiring-video-game-writers-part-1/

and that page contains a lot of wisdom from some excellent game writers. I am also present, though my advice was uncharacteristically short-winded:

Love games.
Read/watch/play everything with a good story.
And everything with a bad story.
Write every day.
Fight for your vision, but recognise when someone else’s idea is better.
Don’t let yourself be underpaid. 
Get lots of sleep. You’ll need it.

So let’s revert to type and expand on those points a little.

Love games.

Kind of obvious. Trying to write in any medium for which you have no love is, well, loveless — and your contempt will show through in your work. If you don’t love games, don’t try to write games.

(Genre can be a different matter; perhaps the best example being Michael Moorcock’s disdain of Howard and Tolkien, which led to his sublime creation Elric of Melniboné, the ultimate anti-Conan. But nobody would question that Moorcock loves books per se.)

Read/watch/play everything with a good [and bad] story.

In other words, yes, you should seek out good stories to experience, and not only within games. That’s self-evident; experiencing good stories will show you what can be achieved, in any medium.

But you should also seek out stories you have no expectations of, or even ones you’re pretty sure will be bad. Why? Two reasons.

First, it’s almost certainly outside your comfort zone. By definition, if you expect a story to be bad then you wouldn’t normally experience it by choice — but that in itself can make such pieces worthwhile, because they’ll expand your storytelling horizons. This goes doubly so for things that are popular; you may think the TWILIGHT books are twaddle (although, if you haven’t read them, how do you know? How do you know?) but consider that, as a writer, it might be worth your while to read one and consider what’s in them that literally millions of people connect with so strongly.

Second, bad stories can be educational. True, when you get bored in a game, it’s possible it may be a design flaw rather than a problem with the narrative. But when you’re bored by a movie, book, TV show, etc, chances are it’s the writing that’s at fault. Nobody ever dinged a production of WAITING FOR GODOT because it lacked flashy special effects, but all the whiz-bang in California couldn’t prevent ATTACK OF THE CLONES from sending legions of us to sleep. So bad experiences like that are worth examining. Ask yourself why this game, this movie, this novel, whatever, is losing your attention — or simply making you laugh in all the wrong places. Pick things apart, and figure out how to put them back together in a way that would make more sense to you; congratulations, now you can put those thoughts to use next time you write a story.

Write every day.

This goes for all writers, everywhere. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances from time to time. But all other things being equal, write every day. Writers write.

Fight for your vision, but recognise when someone else’s idea is better.

Look, I have something of a reputation as a back-talker; I’ll listen to anyone’s notes, but I won’t accept them blindly. And if I think they’re garbage, I’ll say so. Too many writers are easy pushovers, often because we’re simply grateful someone is actually paying us to do this. It’s understandable, but it’s also one of the worst qualities a creator can have. Stand up for your ideas and work…

…Unless someone else genuinely has a better idea. When that happens, you should listen to it; act upon it with relish; and when it works out, happily give credit to its originator. None of us has all the answers, and recognising that is an important part of a writer’s development. Sometimes, the men in suits really do have a good idea. It’s your job to spot them amongst the, um, less good ideas.

Don’t let yourself be underpaid.

A perennial bugbear of mine, and one that could take up an entire essay by itself. But, just like being a pushover when it comes to notes, too many writers undercharge for their work — and especially in videogames, where developers often view writing’s importance as somewhere below the night security guard. The Writers Guild’s resources include guidance on rates for videogame writers, and you don’t have to be a member to use them.

https://writersguild.org.uk/resources/

Get lots of sleep. You’ll need it.

You won’t be 25 forever — as many of us have found to our surprise over the years.