Alright, I did a reflection post after the contest, but almost forgot to post this here. Ctrl+F ‘tip’ to quickly read about some things that helped me in my writing journey; who knows, they might work for you too!
To Join or Not To Join?
Due to time zone differences and my initial indecisiveness, by the time I thought about joining this contest, there were already 24 contestants. It was time to decide for once and all — do I seize a prompt before it’s too late, or should I let this opportunity pass me by?
Day 1: Nothing really happened. I just ‘watched’ the thread and caught up on some irl stuff.
Day 2: I gave myself an ultimatum — If I am able to come up with an intriguing idea for any of the prompts, I will take part in the contest. I researched tidally-locked planets and did some worldbuilding! Then I created a fantasy planet with mostly humans and a cool magic system, and fixed the issue of characters’ survival despite the environmental hostility by adding cool plot-related kingdoms that survive in their environments in a number of different ways.
However… Even in the outline, there were too many plot holes in the story. The storygame required a completely new idea if I wanted to use this prompt. Therefore, I decided to sleep over it. Lo and behold, the next day, this prompt was replaced and someone else took the new one.
But this ended up working for the best.
Decision: To Join
IIrc, it was the third day when I finally joined the contest. I saw the prompt in the morning, got inspired to write up a quick outline, and tried to write.
Unfortunately, life got in the way of this. It was late at night when, encouraged by the legendary CYS discord (for those of you noobs: it doesn’t exist, it’s a figment of my imagination, so don’t bother looking for it), I decided to announce my intent to enter.
Of all the contests I’ve joined, this was the one I was most concerned about. I have this (probably anxiety-influenced) rule where I do not permit myself to join contests until I’ve written a good amount. That’s why you’ll probably have noticed my joining posts at least a week or so into the contest. However, this time, I only had an outline and a rough draft of the first page when I signed up; a large departure from my usual habits.
My past storygames had their own various goals (e.g. write my first ever storygame, write 100k words in a month, finish a storygame in a new genre I’ve never attempted, prove to myself I can still write long pieces, etc). Here are some goals I set for this contest.
1. Rank highly in this contest
When I first wrote down these goals, I was stuck in a writing rut and the thought of getting top 5 sounded like an attainable buta challenging aim. But now, maybe for the first time, I think I may actually have a chance of winning! Although it’ll certainly be tough; there are some really strong storygames from what I’ve seen.
Under this category would be writing a storygame worthy of being commended and featured. That’s my goal for all storygames, although it goes without saying that if I rank highly enough, the game would probably be commended too! I usually feel bad about knocking other games off the featured category list, but that’s replaced with a grand feeling of accomplishment so the positive benefits of this are much higher.
Goal Status: In progress. I’m still waiting for the results, but I’m slightly more optimistic than I was when I drafted out these goals. But either way, I'm glad I finished the storygame after the chaotic last day haha.
2. Fix all the mistakes in my past storygames
My previous storygames had typos and grammatical errors due to careless proofreading. There were also a number of unrealistic details or awkward phrases. Last but not least, another somewhat common comment was that I fell prey to the middle-sagging syndrome, which is where the story starts to lose momentum near the middle.
To combat the first two issues, I created a completely new writing process:
Step 1: Draft scenes into the freewrite document
Step 2: Edit out the most glaring errors
Step 3: Refining or rewriting (depending on how I am satisfied with what I’ve written)
Step 4: Moving scenes to a finalized document where there’ll be a final proofreading check
Step 5: Transferring them to the CYS editor
Tip: I recommend this to anyone who constantly makes lots of typos and would like to take writing more seriously. Feel free to experiment and find what process works best for you.
This new method was much more time-consuming than my previous practice of writing directly in the CYS editor, yet I believe that the final result was worth the effort. Unfortunately, due to the chaos of the last day, I wasn’t able to utilize this method for some ending scenes, but depending on the feedback I receive, I might end up taking my storygame down and improving the last pages after the contest.
I’ve learnt a lot more about writing over the past few months too. This time, I tried to continuously raise the stakes throughout the story instead of keeping them exactly the same throughout. Hopefully this kept readers invested in the 90k word storygame.
And I tried out the 3 act story structure for the first time! Not sure if this was wise, considering I nearly didn’t finish my storygame on time, but it certainly helped me improve significantly as a writer. (Tip: If you aspire to write novels, I’ll say this 3 act structure certainly helps).
Goal Status: Almost accomplished
I received a nice message recently from a reader who pointed out a typo in Chapter 4 of my storygame. I’m taking this to mean there were no other mistakes as far as the Prologue to Chapter 4 are concerned! And my ratings seem to be higher than my other storygames, which is good too.
Edit: Just received a comment and it turns out I’ve got a new mistake to fix in my next storygame, whenever that would be. Thanks for all the feedback, Ugilick, it's appreciated!
I hope I’ll be able to keep improving and even though I’m still very far from being a good writer, I’ll get there one day.
3. Rediscover the joy of writing
At some point close to the start of this year, I felt like writing became a chore. Maybe my past success meant that I felt obligated to do better — to take writing more seriously — rather than just writing for the sake of it. Writing used to be easy when I expected nothing out of it, but unfortunately, it seems putting unnecessary pressure on myself to succeed has become my new pastime.
I’ve found myself enjoying the writing process a lot more recently, so that’s good. There were some horrible days where I wanted to scrap everything I’ve written and start from scratch, because this overly ambitious goal made me constantly question if I’d finish it on time. But there were some great days like when I hit 50k words, or when I surpassed all the other competitors’ word counts (yes, I had been spying on some unpublished storygames and keeping tabs on some competitors lol).
Tip: I’ve found that having small milestones to reach would help with motivation. Whether this means finishing Chapter 1 or setting a new ‘high score’ in terms of words written in a day, recording those moments where you feel undefeatable can help you overcome those writer block days.
Another tip: Whenever I felt uninspired, I would re-read my favorite scenes I’ve written or mess around with the font and pictures, until the aesthetic of “In Moonlit Waters” compelled me to keep writing. Making a writing playlist or keeping pictures of settings can be helpful too.
Goal Status: Accomplished!
It honestly felt so good to have this overarching goal to work towards. This gave me a reason to wake up each morning. Now, I almost want to write a whole new storygame, but I’m definitely going to take a long break first because I’m slightly burnt out.
Test Run Week
Before June began, I eased myself into writing. Rather than instantly forcing myself to write 3k words each day (which would definitely kill my motivation considering I went through this horrible rut), I watched writing videos, read book passages, and played around with Pinterest pictures for a bit. Then I got to writing.
Since I was utilizing a new writing process, this week was to decide whether it would be more helpful or harmful. Turns out it worked! And another thing I tried to do — record my word count and freewrite daily — ended up becoming more of a chore instead. So while I still recorded my word count every now and then when I needed inspiration, I only wrote ‘writing diary entries’ when I needed to relax or get myself in the writing mood.
I managed to finish the Prologue and half of Chapter 1 before June began.
Tip: I mentioned this in the Perfectionist thread, but having vomit drafts (that is, horrible first drafts) definitely helps. If you can’t stop judging your work and it’s interfering with your ability to start writing, throw down random words on the page and return to them when you’re in a better headspace. Worst case scenario — you’ll scrap the whole thing and rewrite it, but at least your rewrite would be much better than if you were to have started from scratch. Best case scenario — you’ll find out it isn’t as bad as you thought and a simple round of edits would lead to a finalized scene. Or you might run out of time and turn a blind eye to the less-than-perfect scenes, but hey, I suppose that’s better than submitting an incomplete storygame.
I don't think the structure falls under any established category because for the first 10% of the game, the choices you make may only seem to trigger flavor text; however, delayed consequences make up a big portion of the narrative.
Almost every choice so far (except 1 or 2) would lead to consequences in the future. Some things are obviously better if you choose them, but there are other options that would provide an advantage in one situation and a disadvantage in another. Remember: if a choice grants you a disadvantage, that doesn’t necessarily mean it wouldn’t help you out later. That’s all I’m going to say about that matter for now.
At the moment of planning the structure, I was not yet comfortable doing a full cave-of-time storygame. The last time I tried, I accidentally created a storygame where I wrote around 40k words but was still barely close to finishing since I’ll probably need 2ook words to finish telling that tale. To practice using the cave-of-time structure, within each of the ‘competition’ stages in this storygame, I tried to adopt a mini-cave-of-time structure with life or death outcomes.
The results turned out slightly different from the plan. Chapter 2 had the best branching imo (3 different main branches; almost like a mini-storygame in itself). Then Chapter 3 was also pretty cave-of-time, but Chapter 4 and 5 made use of delayed consequences instead because by then, I was running out of time. Chapter 6 suffered most from the deadline. I wouldn’t consider it a chapter — it is only 1 page long lol — but it determines which epilogue you get.
I didn’t anticipate there’ll be a secret judge, or two, at that, but based on my observations, I tried to ensure my storygame would be what all 3 judges were looking for. Here’s some slightly questionable notes I’ve written (tip: it might help you in future contests, no guarantees though).
It’s no secret he likes darker, edgier stories. While this isn’t a strength of mine, I’ll consider “In Moonlit Waters” the darkest storygame I’ve written thus far, even if it isn’t obvious at first. I tried to add some descriptive violent scenes and mild references to mature content, but all in all, my entry definitely isn’t the best in that department.
While End may not read the storygame, of all the chapters, I like to think he’ll best enjoy the one starting with: “This darned soldier bleeds too much.”
He prefers story-oriented games too. That’s why I decided to add an option to turn the puzzle-mode off this time, and also used the 3-act story structure. Instead of focusing on the challenges, I put emphasis on the narrative and character arc, which I hoped would score points with him.
Based on this thread, I attempted to keep his preferences in mind too. And I also added a choice which was rather loosely based on an iconic scene in Eternal which scarred me when I was younger lol. That storygame is truly legendary.
While it might be a pity he isn’t a judge, I noticed someone who may be secret judge rated my storygame a 7, which is great! Thank you, potential secret judge :)
From the aforementioned thread, he likes narrative and discovery storygames. Reading that thread made me feel like I was on the right trajectory, having written a narrative-based storygame, with lots of little ‘mysteries’ to uncover. Since he seemed to enjoy the challenges and puzzles in Dreamtruder, I decided to add that aspect in my storygame too.
One thing I liked was that I could discover his ‘grading criteria’ based on his reviews (I feel like a student trying to assess the teachers’ rubrics all over again lol). There are the usual things like grammar, mastery of language, and branching (the new writing process helped with the former two, and the attention to choices in the drafting stage improved the latter).
Thanks to Abbie Emmons (a writing youtube channel I’ve been binge-watching lately), I learnt to write character-driven stories and hopefully met the criteria of character development. And I hope the plotline made sense too; afaik, I don’t think I caught any major plot-holes, but then again, I was rushing quite a bit.
Sadly, he didn’t post in that thread. But when I heard he was one of the judges, I knew I had to improve my prose and proofreading, so I read a few articles and completely changed up my writing process (which honestly, I should have changed long ago ever since the reviews about ‘typos’ and ‘lack of polish’ started flooding in).
I decided to channel my inner A+ student mentality for this. There are a number of metaphors and symbols in the storygame and at one point, I really wanted to announce how the [redacted] is a symbol for the protagonist’s innocence and childhood, and when it became tainted, this symbolizes the death of her childlike ignorance! I’d be getting extra marks if it were an assignment! And there’s more — theme, parallels, foreshadowing, alliteration, character foils… alright, fine, I might have gone a little overboard.
One thing I could have done better would be to capture a slightly unsettling tone in certain parts of my storygame. This is something Gower manages to perfect in his storygames, but I think it’s better for me to practice that skill on a different piece instead. It probably would have clashed with the themes and overall atmosphere of my story.
The Last Day
I wanted to cover so many more things in this reflection, but I’ll refrain. This would already be too long of a text wall as it is. Now, I’m going to tell you the story of the very chaotic last day of the contest, and hopefully you’ll find it entertaining and subscribe for Mystflix Plus (name tbc).
Things I needed to complete by that day:
- Proofread, potentially rewrite, and finalize 4 pages from yesterday
- Start 6 pages from scratch (Chapter 6, Epilogue 1, Epilogue 2, main Epilogue choice, main Epilogue better option, main Epilogue death end) and go through all the steps in the aforementioned writing process
- The author’s note section (proofread)
- Write a storygame summary/ description and format it
From the moment I woke up, I was terrified.
The last time I had a holiday, I ended up not writing, and due to sheer panic, I wrote 8k words the day after I returned home. Today was the beginning of a new holiday. My family doesn't know about CYS — for many reasons, most of which being they simply would not approve of the ‘jokes’ made here — which means they’d be an obstacle to my quest.
I woke up too early. Everyone was asleep, so I crept downstairs to my ‘study room’, turned on the light, and started reading the past day’s work. To my jubilation, it didn’t require any more than minor edits and I logged onto CYS, transferring these pages to the site.
One task done! But I was far from complete. If the previous holiday taught me anything, it was that writing sessions weren’t guaranteed as soon as we left the house.
So I wrote. Some words were soul-crushingly horrendous; others were threads of inspiration, and upon unraveling them, they led to astoundingly beautiful parallels and scenes of closure. Bad writing wasn’t going to stop me now; not when the alternative of no writing was much worse.
My family emerged from their slumber, stumbling down the stairs, casually conversing as they had their breakfast. I wrote. And wrote some more. It was around 10am or 11am when three pages were complete!
Once I finished getting ready for the trip, I set my luggage by the door. Guess what I did next? I proofread some scenes! Unfortunately, the inevitable occurred, and we needed to leave when I was halfway through editing the first new scene I wrote today.
The car trip to the resort was long. And my family frowned upon using devices in the car — in the same way we often frown upon people coughing without distancing themselves from others in public — so I spent the first many minutes staring out of the window, brainstorming the climax of the storygame.
What would it be? Should I relentlessly cut out more scenes due to a lack of time, and end the storygame with ‘the author ran out of time, so if you honor CYStian traditions, pretend this is the best-written ending of all time, and no one would be any wiser’? Or maybe I should just fake a ‘link problem’, whereby I totally had an awesome and brilliant ending planned, but due to some variable issue or something, you can’t access it! But you have to take my word for it, the ending is definitely amazing and cool and everything that’s needed to tie together the plot and satisfy you narratively.
Alright, I was getting a little desperate. Some family members started listening to music. Unsure of how to end my storygame, I plugged in earphones and listened to some writing advice on Youtube. It wasn’t writing, but it was close.
A wave of drowsiness descended upon the passengers in the car, and one by one, they fell asleep (thankfully with the exception of my dad, who was driving). I slipped out my phone. Desperate times called for desperate measures. After using the downloaded version of google docs to edit my storygame, I could no longer stand how slowly the words I typed appeared, courtesy of my unstable mobile data. I would replace one word with a stronger version, and be required to wait 5-10 seconds for the change to be registered. The document was acting like a corporation, only responding in 5-10 business seconds.
So I switched to the notes app on my phone. Fortunately — though not for all the impatient drivers who were adversely affected by what was a stroke of luck for me — there was a traffic jam. I have horrible car-sickness when reading on long journeys, so this allowed me to halfway-finish one of the scenes before we began speeding down the road again.
When we arrived, I was stressed despite the spectacular resort. There were some truly picturesque sceneries which, like a CYS author rushed for time, I wouldn’t detail here so you’ll just have to believe are splendidly stunning. For immersion, use your imagination (or search up ‘nice scenery’ images if your imagination is blind).
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the resort and taking numerous pictures. I felt like a thief, stealing time in small quantities, penning down sentences and phrases every time we waited for anything, as if every second I stole would add up to a grand reward of sorts. But as the day crept on, the forces of agitation grew stronger and merged with that of despair.
I nearly gave up. Numerous times. And I wanted to disappear from CYS, enjoy my holiday to the fullest, and never join another contest ever again.
But then I thought of all those odd hours, writing words down onto a google document, searching up pretty pictures as a less-unproductive form of procrastinating, hoping the words I write would resonate with someone out there. I had to complete this. Even if it was just for the girl who stayed up late and woke up early, believing something great could come out of her efforts.
Fine, that sounded cheesy but I don’t care. Who knows, the sunken cost fallacy may help some of you in the future, and lead to great works on CYS!
I knew that at the very least, I would have one last writing session: tonight, in the hotel room, right before we slept. If I tried hard enough, I could probably turn a blind eye to the mistakes of the past written scenes and knock out the last 3 remaining ones. They could be short. I could write a poem if prose proves to be too pernicious. And who knows, I might actually have a chance of completing this!
Armed with new hope, I did my best to enjoy the holiday. Then we had a buffet dinner; platters of appetizing meals were laid out in front of us, daring us to devour the delicacies if our appetites allowed it.
Here’s a riddle: What’s the worst thing to have at a buffet dinner?
The answer wasn’t cheap-but-filling rice, nor was it glasses of water; it was something that threw all my plans down the drain, a disastrous moment which led me to teeter on the edge between life and death.
An allergic reaction.
To say it was bad would be an understatement. An allergy reaction nearly ended my life when I was younger. I downed glasses of water, felt my throat swell and my airways constrict, as I struggled to pull oxygen into my lungs. My skin broke out into a rash. And I brought out my bag, fumbled around for the medicine, and breathed a sigh of relief (well, a rather restricted one).
But I had brought the wrong medication.
This was a milder version, which my dad (a doctor) claimed wouldn’t be enough to ward off the reaction. I could hardly think. What if I needed to be sent to the hospital without my laptop? Fine, the storygame wasn’t the worst of my worries, but in the moment, I thought about all the things that could go wrong.
It was irony that one of my last posts on CYS would be: “But regardless of whether that happens, I'll finish this storygame or die trying.”
We rushed to the front desk, asking for the infirmary, waited for a bit, and entered the cold, white room where I awaited my fate. They had the medicine. Not exactly the one we needed, but we could only pray it was enough. I took a few tablets, drank many glasses of water, felt the knot in my throat move down to my stomach, and tried to stop panicking as time ticked on.
After 5 minutes, I could breathe more easily. At 10, I started attempting to eat some solid food, ensuring they didn’t contain my allergen. And in 20 minutes, it seemed everything would be fine again, except that I was the object of scrutiny around the dinner table.
How was I ever going to finish this storygame now?
There was an after-dinner show. We headed into the dark theater, and I tried to write while waiting, but focus shunned me while distractions ran rampant. Not only was the rash on my skin an awful menace, but my siblings wanted me to explore the area with them, and seeing how I didn’t spend much time with them in the former weeks (during which I wrote this contest storygame in the hopes I’d finish it before the holiday), I felt obliged to agree.
No words were written. I was pretty unmotivated and exhausted by then, certain that the shame pit wouldn’t be the worst place I could end up in. Besides, how much more agony did I have to go through before the first words of my storygame — some stories aren’t meant to be told — would be applicable to the entire story itself?
Call it a stroke of luck, but one of the performances included a deep sea dive, where the diver nearly drowned but made his way back up to — you guessed it — moonlit waters (well, technically there was a moon in the background but that counts for me). This was the atmosphere I wanted to embody with my storygame. In fact, here’s a pre-written passage from before which might rationalize why I chose the title despite it not following some of the well-established title rules Gryphon pointed out:
This storygame is like diving in moonlit waters; at first, under the moon’s glow, the waters are calming and serene. Then you dive deeper. Everything becomes darker, obscured, more dangerous. You start to sink away from the moonlight, losing trace of the trajectory you were on. Inevitably, you know you’ll run out of oxygen or be transformed into something hideous and unrecognizable. That’s when you must decide: lose yourself in the darkest depths of the ocean, or rise to the surface of the sea, returning to moonlit waters.
Call it fate, or destiny, or a blessing in disguise. (Or maybe ‘deus ex machina’; but that might only work if my storygame somehow wrote itself). Once the performances were over, there was dancing and flashing lights and booming music. They overwhelmed my senses. I couldn’t think. But let’s say the subplot of that allergy reaction worked out for the best.
Half my family wanted to stay and soak in the sights, while the other half couldn’t stand the noise and bright lights. I was in the latter. Seeing my discomfort, and possibly taking my recent allergy reaction into account, some of us returned to our rooms and took warm showers while lounging in the peaceful rooms with clear views of the crashing waves.
But this wasn’t the end. I shared a room with my brother, and he sleeps earlier than me. He’s rather cool though, and allowed me to write without interruptions (probably because he was too preoccupied playing a game on his phone). I read through the past passages with as much attention as my fatigued and addled mind could muster. Satisfied enough, I moved those pages to CYS, nearly forgetting to add in the formatting html code.
Down with 3 pages. Luckily, I managed to complete 1 page on my phone, and as I typed it out to my laptop, tried to proofread to the best of my ability (which wasn’t much considering my deteriorating attention span and energy levels). Good enough. I was running out of time — my brother wanted to sleep at 12pm, which meant I had less than 30 minutes — so I sacrificed the death ending and did the somewhat shameful thing of copy-pasting one of the other endings I was proud of to that page.
One last page. My eyelids could barely stay open by now; I had woken up too early and ate too little for dinner. Every moment, I feared I’d give way to the siren call of sleep, abandoning my storygame entirely. Still, I wrote. I choked out a few passable paragraphs of prose before nearly caving into the normal spiral of despair and self-loathing, so I changed tactics completely.
What if the last part could be a poem?
And that’s what happened. The dynamic activity of switching tabs, googling synonyms and rhymes, and counting stressed and unstressed syllables in my head kept me awake. Then I finished it! In my google document, I had the completed, 92k version of “In Moonlit Waters”.
It was exactly 12pm. Our parents wanted us to sleep, and knowing my brother needed it too, I locked myself in the bathroom, pretending I needed to use it, and sat by the bathtub, transferring scenes to the CYS editor. If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable chair, I’d have probably been swept away by slumber.
Then it was done. This was almost an hour later; for I forgot to format the epilogues, nearly lost the document where I wrote out the author’s notes, and everytime I edited a page with a centered page break and reloaded it, I’d have to reset the formatting because I made the noob mistake of starting the storygame in the RTE once again. And I also had to add formatting tags for the links because past me decided a storygame with different fonts and aesthetic chapter titles would be cool. I could only trust her judgment and hope it paid off.
The synopsis was killing me. I’d left it for last, as a method of procrastination, and didn’t remember half the things I planned to add to it. To make matters worse, my brother was starting to get concerned about why I wasn’t asleep yet. So I soothed him with a few lies — not something I’d usually do, but I was too tired to make good decisions by now — and combed through documents, trying to find out my notes amidst the pages of words.
I couldn’t feel my legs anymore; they’d become frozen in place. So I looked at my old storygames, felt another pang of stress seeing all the other entries that had trickled in, and finally, decided to just write it. Maybe it won't be perfect, but it’ll be enough.
It was too late to check the time when I finally clicked the ‘publish’ button. With a wave of euphoria, I went to bed, drifting off to the view of moonlit waters.