A primer on writing your first Storygame

by StrykerL

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  1. How should I start writing a storygame?
    • Figure out what you want to explore - a character (Sherlock), a setting (turn of the 20th Century London), a problem (a robbery), a government (monarchy), an emotion (grief) 
    • Alternatively, figure out what you don't want to explore, and do everything except that (say you don't want to spend time exploring modern technology, then set your story in the past)
    • Either way, the more specific you are in what you're trying to write, the easier it will be to write the story (amongst other things, research will be easier as you narrow the scope down)
    • From here, you have two options: Emergent writing, or Purposeful writing
  2. Emergent writing? Purposeful writing? HELP!
    • Emergent writing is what every kid knows how to do, you just start writing. Ideas come to your head (there needs to be a flamingo in here! cars that can fly! free cupcakes for everyone!), and you write them down.
      • The problem with emergent writing is that it can get out of control very fast, and you can end up accidentally writing the opposite of something you wrote earlier. (e.g. 'It was a quiet night' > five paragraphs later > 'The sun blinded his eyes')
      • The advantage is that it allows for rich and original thought. There will be personality and character in your work.
    • Purposeful writing is where everything in your story is planned out in advance. Before you begin, you know exactly what challenges the character will face (Revolution in Russia! The Plague! Piled up laundry that needs to be ironed!). Usually you first build a skeleton of a story- outlining the characters, the setting, the plot twists, the highs and lows, and the ending (you can add more or less to the skeleton based on what you're comfortable with).
      • The advantage here is that the story is consistent, and since you have the ending roughly planned in advance, you can build the story towards it in a meaningful way. (Read up on foreshadowing for more details about this)
      • The disadvantage is that your writing can become soulless (Watson walked into the street. He found a clue. He showed Holmes the clue, it was a false lead. He found another clue. It was useful. Case solved)
  3. What do you recommend - between Emergent and Purposeful?
    • A bit of both. Start with an outline, planning out what the challenges and major decisions are (and how they branch the storygame). Then start writing from the beginning (throwing in references to the eventual ending). If the story is about how Revolution in Russia sparks a revolt in Greece, foreshadow people talking on the streets of Greece about how they aren't happy early on. (For more, read up on Chekhov's gun)
    • As you go on writing, your mind will throw up dozens of ideas which you can add in. Write all of them down in your notes, but be sure that whatever new thing you imagine doesn't derail the overall story. These ideas are what gives your story richness and life, and will often lead to changing your original ending or endings. Let it happen, you'll often have a far better story, but make sure it's all cohesive.
  4. Alright, I've got a story on my mind, a rough template of what happens, now what?
    • Make sure you have the following ready in your mind: background research > the setting > the main theme > interesting interactions > Possible endings
      • It is possible to slightly cheat here by making your first work a fan fiction (the setting, theme, and characters are already developed), however for the same reason it's easier to write, it's harder to write well and be appreciated. You'll also learn a lot more if you make your own world.
    • Now be sure you really want to write this story. As in you're willing to wait for days in which you're writing and no one can see your output, and you don't give up. As in you'd be willing to let someone punch you each day you aren't writing your story. Be really, really sure you intend to go through with this.
    • Aim small for your first few storygames, atleast 20 pages and 5,000 words. You'll learn so much during this that you'll make much better longer stories with what you learn from your shorter ones.
    • Most importantly, DO NOT DITCH THIS STORY. Do not switch to another idea after three hours. Do not be the guy/gal with ten (or more *shudder*) unfinished stories, be the one with ONE complete one. Again, you can take your time to decide what to write. Once decided, no turning back.
  5. I'm doing this! I'm writing a story! Whoooooooooooo Yeah!
    • Great! Remember to start small, an island, a house, or a room are all great settings for the first game (you'll have less things to keep track of while writing)
    • Manage your time well, avoid jumping to social media (including memes) every time you get distracted. Consider listening to instrumental music while working, it really helps you focus!
    • Put all your thoughts in a notebook, or better on a whiteboard if you can get your hands on one. Ideas become a lot clearer when you're out of your head.
  6. Should I make my first game a demo?
    • No, no, no. Make it short, but make sure it's self-contained (as in there's a start, a conflict, and a resolution). If you want to write a story about superheroes saving New York (again...), then for your first story just talk about ONE day in the life of ONE superhero. Focus will help you finish it, and readers will like reading it. Keep all the wonderful ideas about crossovers and tie-ups written down somewhere for your NEXT work, which can be larger. (After you've launched your first story, you'll realize how naive you were when you started). If there's a small writeup you want to share with everyone else, put it in the Writing Workshop
  7. I don't think I'm ready to write a full story yet
    • That's fine, participate in the Creative Corner in the meanwhile, you'll be able to get feedback on your writing and confidence in yourself, the community is really supportive, so you're in good hands if you're sincere. 
    • Read good stories. It's the best way to get new ideas, and to see how great authors build stories, take notes while reading for best effect
    • There should several collaborative stories running in the forums at any point of time, join one of them, you'll be able to contribute to a ready made world and add your own touch to it. You'll also get rapid feedback on how your content fits into the larger world (but be ready to tweak your work if it just isn't fitting well with everything else). Right now, BerkaZerka's Dark City is running, you're welcome to join in
  8. Co-author?
    • I'd avoid this for your first work, unless you have a supportive and committed co-author who you know will keep you (and themselves) motivated to finish the story.
  9. I know all this, but I can't seem to start or finish! HELP!
    • Alright, you have two options, both are fun
      1. Take part in a competition, the peer pressure should get you through. If not that, then the fear of eternal damnation and SHAME at the hands of the community.
      2. Make a post in the Writing Workshop declaring what your story will be, and when you plan to finish it. Tag as many people as you know will be able to pay attention, they'll keep prodding you till you get it done.
    • Let go of your inner critic while writing. Bring them back after you've written. If your critic is particularly annoying, ask for a friend's help instead.
  10. Is there any software you'd recommend for this?
    1. Yes, Notepad for storing most of your whimsical thoughts as and when they strike your fancy
    2. XMind to structure your thoughts (partial substitute for a whiteboard, and it's free!)
    3. yWriter 5, again free, to get a feel of writing. Scrivener is a powerful tool, but is paid and better to use after you've got a hang of things with your first story. (Kudos to mizal for pointing out Scrivener)
    4. Microsoft Excel (or Google sheets) are more structured than XMind. I personally use XMind for the early stages of a project, and switch to Excel once the basic idea is working. Fun fact, you can export from XMind to Excel.
    5. Microsoft Word - run your writing through a spell check and grammar check before publishing it.
  11. Alright, any last points?
    • PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD. I CANNOT stress this point enough. Re read your work. Again. You'll find tons of grammatical and spelling errors. Re read once more. Ask your friends, colleagues, neighbor's dog, members of CYS, basically anyone who can help you (alright, maybe not the neighbor's dog) - for feedback.
      • If anyone tells you proofreading is overrated, you have my permission to mock them (and their hairstyle, if required) with extreme prejudice.
    • There will STILL be mistakes in the final product (and it'll kill you on the inside), make peace with the fact, and move on. Be ready to correct them when you have a chance.
    • Don't worry about the review score of your first game (unless it's below a three, in which case I doubt you've followed this article seriously). Instead of the score, focus on asking people for their feedback on the game, it'll help you realize your strengths and weaknesses.
    • After your story is published, write down what you did that was good, write down what was difficult, and what you would do differently next time. This will become an essential part of your growth as a storygame creator.
    • Also, backup often! There's no pain as avoidable as forgetting to save your work.
    • If your story has multiple paths, add a route map somewhere, your audience will thank you for it.
    • Have fun!
    • Nothing can match the joy of creating your own work, and in sharing it with others. You really don't know what you're missing till you've finished. 
      • Once you've finished, you'll also look down at people with 20 unfinished stories... you'll know better.

Happy writing, I look forward to seeing the wonderful worlds and stories you'll create!

P.S. If you saw how long this was and scrolled down to the end in disbelief or frustration without reading anything, well, now you know you don't want to write a storygame :p