I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

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Ikuze
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I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#1 Post by Ikuze » Wed Oct 07, 2015 2:30 pm

So, for my first VN, I know what I want to make. A small, short game with a school setting, maybe with two or three endings to unlock. The play time will be under or around an hour at best. I have a nice set of assets ready that I spent all of yesterday afternoon gathering, but my problem is this: I can't even design a simple slice-of-life story.

I don't care about it being cliché; this is just a simple little project to get me used to Ren'Py. However, I do want to make it slightly interesting, so people at least give it a go and give me some feedback. But there's the thing, I just can't think of what to add besides get the girl/don't get the girl routes.

Does anyone have any tips for creating stories? I've tried making flowcharts but they're pretty much a straight line from beginning to end. I have no idea what to add in between to add some meat to the plot, especially considering that I want to keep this short.

Thanks for reading, and I apologise if I was kind of all over the place, I'm a little busy trying to sift through 20+ tabs for free assets and motivational rubbish. :lol:

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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#2 Post by firecat » Wed Oct 07, 2015 3:17 pm

create the characters background, their history, and relationship to others. story plot alone wont help make the game interesting, characters have to have reasons to live in that story. school has a lots to offer to make the story even longer, a event, sports, teachers, and outside the school zone. dont make it into one scene, sometimes having characters into other parts of town will give you an even greater understanding of what makes them live in that world.
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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#3 Post by Parataxis » Wed Oct 07, 2015 3:56 pm

What is the conflict in your story? Even if it's slice of life SOMETHING needs to happen. When designing a story conflict is key, whether it's a character trying to figure out what club to join or if it's a character coming back to school after being in the hospital, every situation causes conflict, either between characters or within a character.

Who is your character? What do they want? How do they plan on getting it? If it's something they've wanted for a long time, then why is your story happening now? What is stopping them from having what they want? Try to answer these questions. (And don't necessarily stick to the first thing you think of if something better comes along.) Once you do you'll have a pretty good idea about the core of your story.

So for instance--character whose conflict is trying to decide which club to join. I could come to this idea like this:
Who? Character is a new student in school.
What? They want to find a place to fit in.
How? They decide to join a club.
Why now? They just moved to a new school.
What's in their way? Here is where the story happens. I immediately come up with the idea that maybe they don't fit in in any of the clubs they try, and so are thwarted and have to find some other way to fit in. But what if it's the opposite? They fit in in Every club they try and can't pick between them? Both of these set ups lead to interesting conflict for our character. And either one could be the basis for an interesting story. A clear story is a good foundation to work from when making a VN.

Once you have the initial conflict, you can think about what other conflicts it could cause. If the main character gets along with everyone in all the clubs, what happens when they have to chose a club. Do some one's feeling get hurt? What if once they pick a club they realize it's the wrong one, and they aren't any good at the activity. Maybe some one in the club holds a grudge against them for some reason. All sorts of things can go wrong when you pack high schoolers in small spaces. So try to find your strong foundation for the story and then build up from there. By giving the character opinions and making them clash, you can generate all sorts of interesting meat for your story.

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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#4 Post by Jae » Wed Oct 07, 2015 4:39 pm

As others have already said...

1. Create Character A:
  1. Who is this character? What's his personality? What are his hobbies?
  2. What was he doing this morning? Last night? The week before? (just examples, you don't actually have to answer these, but it can help)
  3. How tall is he? How much does he weigh? Other physical appearances?
  4. What does this character want to do?
  5. Describe this character in one sentence.
2. Do the same for Character B.
3. Create the all-too-important setting:
  1. Where is this story taking place?
  2. What makes this place special? Its history? Its sights?
  3. Describe this place in one sentence.
4. What happens when Character A meets Character B?
  1. How did they meet?
  2. Where did they meet?
  3. Who initiated the conversation? How?
  4. What happened during the conversation? What did they do? What did they talk about?
  5. What resulted from the conversation? What is this scene leading to?
5. Is there a problem? How do Characters A & B solve it?

Now rinse and repeat the last step. Make more characters if you wish. Change the setting.

The way I do things sometimes is I just put a character or a few characters together in a random setting... like in the corner of a coffee shop, and just have them talk. They'll just talk and talk and talk and by constantly writing their lines, I can imagine them in different scenarios (and it really helps to try to really imagine and get into these characters' personalities, kind of like acting), which in turn allows me to outline different situations where I can place these characters.

I'll do one for practice right now.

Setting:
Northport High School for Arts & Sciences; the surrounding town and neighborhoods
(I'm not going to describe the setting here. Let's just keep it as a generic, semi-quiet town with a medium sized population and household income. Everyone's pretty much chill.)

Character A:
His name is Mikey. He was an all-county shortstop his previous year (sophomore). Due to family circumstances, he had to switch schools and he's feeling pretty crappy about that. He's even lost interest in his favorite activity (baseball). Solidly built, but not a total musclehead, he's got the looks and the personality to be successful. However, this situation is just rough on him so he doesn't really present himself the most positive light. After all, he doesn't want to be here.

Character B:
Her name is Jane. She's the captain of the girls' softball team and Mikey's classmate. She's stoked because she's always wanted to befriend a new student at the start of a new semester. She also technically transferred schools, but she was fortunate enough to do so her freshman year. Mikey doesn't seem particularly interested in anything and just goes about his daily student routine and Jane finds this odd. She's rather intuitive so she asks if Mikey would like to come watch the next softball game. This strikes a nerve and Mikey is reminded of all the things that didn't go his way recently.

And now I can write a massive script between these two characters and perhaps mutual friends between the two. They can argue, they can be stubborn, they can act out of goodwill, they can get hurt, they can cry, they can laugh, etc.

And now my brain's flying through scenarios as I'm typing this. Now the story can be Mikey accepting that he has a new life now and can't dwell on the past. Jane convinces him that the future is bright. Mikey tries out for the school's baseball team and nails down the shortstop position. Jane continues to support him. Mikey gradually starts to really like the new town he lives in. In a league match, he loses to his old team (oh, no!). He feels down for a while, but he's reminded that he has Jane and his new friends supporting him. He works hard to not betray their kindness. For the climax, at some point Mikey faces off against his old school's team again and wins. Happy ending.

Ta-da. Insert mucho descriptions and details in between. Add more scenarios since we're talking slice of life. After school activities. Going out on a stroll in the park. Running your bike into someone, bam, new character intro. Getting locked in the bathroom. Getting called to the principal's office for unknown reasons, starting an arc of silly mystery and face-palming gags. Mikey meeting an old classmate from his previous school that took his old shortstop position, oh snap! Another student from his old school transferring to Northport, what's going to happen? I dunno, just making stuff up here.

All sorts of unanswered questions based on the random descriptions I made for the characters can also be fleshed out extensively:
- What were the family circumstances that led to Mikey's transfer?
- How was Mikey's life back at his old school? Was he truly happy?
- What did he do when he first transferred that negatively affected his image?
- How great is Jane as a softball player? How did she become the captain (or is this even important)?
- What's Jane's story when she first transferred during her freshman year?

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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#5 Post by Zylinder » Wed Oct 07, 2015 5:57 pm

How about you borrow a film term - the log line - and try it out on your game? It's basically simplifying your entire game summary into a hook, and that hook is what must sell your game. Persona 3 and 4 could be summed up as 'A group of teenagers find an extra hour in a day', or 'a group of teens find a world hidden inside TVs'. Even slice-of-life can have a simple hook. 'A club secretary loses all the club's funds and must now convince a rich kid to donate' can suddenly spawn a GXB game.

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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#6 Post by Carassaurat » Wed Oct 07, 2015 6:58 pm

The writing process differs a lot from person to person, and what might work for others might not work for you. In the interest of gathering a bunch of diverse opinions, here's mine.

I had and still have the problem where I have great difficulty designing stories. Premises are easy, they're dime a dozen, but those aren't stories. I made a bunch of art assets for three different projects that never got further than 800 words of text before I finally managed to finish a very short visual novel. I think what made it work was that it was a parody of traditional dating sims, so the structure of it was already more or less predetermined by the clichés and the writing consisted of filling it with dumb jokes. A VN like that won't be a masterpiece, but it's a good way to get something done and practice the craft. I think comedy is a fairly easy genre to get into, because all you have to do is write some things that are ridiculous -- it can be as simple as mixing the high school setting with the story structure of an action movie, and that's already funny.

For me, the best writing advice that I've ever heard is from Andrew Stanton: "Build your joke around your punchline." In other words, know the ending you want to have first and work towards that, because that will be the message that you want to convey. Which is why I'm not very fond of writing advice that tells you to know more about your characters and see what happens when they interact. I don't think anybody really cares what the favourite brand of shoes of your main character is, or what he likes to watch on TV on lazy Saturday evenings. What they will care about is what your character desires most of all, what the hurdles are that she has to face, and how she overcomes them (or not).

If you'll allow me a short anecdote of my own processes, I once came up with the idea of applying the tropes of an overzealous wedding planner like you see on TV on a funeral planner. So I had this character who was designing funerals for the terminally ill and was really quite insensitive about it -- like desperately trying to get people to like Chopin in their final days so that they'd have properly sad music to play at the funeral. So, all right, interesting character (at least I thought so), but then what? The traditional answer was to put him in the situation he'd fear most. So organising the funeral of a loved one? But that doesn't work, because I wanted to write it as a comedy; if the fun is in irreverence, then changing the lead into a better person would make the thing gradually less fun. I struggled with this for two months before finally giving up. The character was good, but there wasn't a story in there that I wanted to write.
On another project, the approach was different. I had become a bit embittered about the simple nature of romance stories in visual novels and elsewhere and wanted to convey the message that getting together and living happily ever after isn't all that happens. Breaking up is part of life too. So that leads to a simple plot structure: the final resolution in act three had to be the girl accepting that breaking up is a thing that happens and that live goes on; act 2 then had to be a period of difficulty for her in which she didn't realise this yet; she and her boyfriend thus had to have a breakup between act 2 and act 1; and act 1 would have to be the ideal life of ignorance. Once you've got this framework, it's obvious that in the beginning her favourite novel shouldn't be Anna Karenina or Thérèse Raquin, but Pride and Prejudice or fairy tales . I'll be honest, I think the character wasn't perhaps as memorable as the funeral chap, but this was a story that I managed to actually write. So yeah, what works best for me is to find a message that I want to tell, and then use that to reason backwards and create a skeleton. What I'm writing now still has gaps in all three acts, but the key scenes are in place.

Anyway, that's what has worked best for me, but as you can tell, it's very different from what works for other people here.

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Making a SHORT story Game

#7 Post by OokamiKasumi » Sun Oct 11, 2015 2:17 pm

Ikuze wrote:...But there's the thing, I just can't think of what to add besides get the girl/don't get the girl routes.

Does anyone have any tips for creating stories? I've tried making flowcharts but they're pretty much a straight line from beginning to end. I have no idea what to add in between to add some meat to the plot, especially considering that I want to keep this short.
When I want to make a story-game quickly, I prefer to set up a Story Idea first then create the characters needed to tell that story. In other words; I PLOT first then create the characters to make that Plot happen.

To create a Story for your game this way, first you need a PROBLEM; also known as a CONFLICT.

The easiest way to create a story-game Problem/Conflict is by using: "What if...?"
-- What if the school your completely oblivious main character was attending was actually for training professional assassins?

However, to keep the story SHORT, you'll need a far simpler "What if...?"
-- What if one of the characters was a Werewolf in hiding?

Once you decide on a Problem/Conflict, you then decide on your ENDINGS. Three is a good round number of Endings, but don't be surprised if you come up with more.

The rest of work is merely figuring out how to get the player to each of the Endings, and to do that...

For a SHORT game-story you only need THREE major scenes to be your Turning Points where the player has the opportunity to Make a CHOICE to change the story and/or select an Ending. You can have more Turning Points if you like, but the more Turning Points you have in your game-story, the longer the game-story will be.

Turning point ONE: BEGINNING
-- This is where your main (player) character is introduced to your Main Story Problem (preferably within the first 60 seconds of your game.) Keep in mind that you can Hide the actual game-story problem by making the player (character) think that the problem is something else entirely. Also known as; The Unreliable Narrator.

The CHOICES they should be offered are HOW or With WHOM they want to get involved to deal with said problem. Needless to say, if the player-character chooses to Not get involved at all, the game ends pretty quickly.

Turning Point TWO: CRISES
-- This is where your main (player) character encounters a Major Setback in the story-game. In other words; the worst possible thing that could happen, does happen. It could be that what they thought was going on around them was completely wrong, or they discover that someone they thought was trustworthy was really out to get them, or someone threatens them, or even more simply; they piss off the one person they want to like them.

The CHOICES offered should be of the "Keep Trying" or "Quit" variety. (Naturally, choosing "Quit" should End the game, preferably messily.)

Turning Point THREE: REVEAL
-- This is where the Results of the Choice Selection of Turning Point Two happens. This is where the player-character learns what's really going on --or doesn't-- depending on their selection.

This is where the FINAL CHOICE happens to decide how they want to deal with what they have learned and leads directly to an ENDING.

Also...
-- If you want to make a really Short game, use only the CRISES Turning Point.

The rest of it is simply writing to get to each Ending.

To sum up...
  • Decide on a Story Problem.
  • Decided on 3 possible ENDINGS.
  • Create 3 Crises Scenes to offer the player Choices to get to each Ending.
  • Decide how many and what kind of characters are needed.
It's a simple as that.
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"No amount of great animation will save a bad story." -- John Lasseter of Pixar

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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#8 Post by mjshi » Sun Oct 11, 2015 8:36 pm

I disagree, somewhat, with Carassaurat, though not completely. Small things like favorite drinks of characters are irrelevant, but what is of great importance is character motive. You can 'drop' developed characters into settings not because you know what kind of pet they prefer, but because you've thought out why they act the way they do, and you have a good grasp on how they would act in a particular setting.

Though this may sound obvious, drawing out motive diagrams or writing out bios can really help you with developing characters.

example:
Character A
Is <trait> because of <event>
Likes <trait> people because <event>
Dislikes <trait> people because <event>

Relationship with others:
Character B - Likes because <event/reason>
Character C - Dislikes because <event/reason>

As for me, I like to have a mind map or a drawn out diagram of some sort to really see on one page all the things that coalesce into Character A's behavior, choices, personality, manner of speech, etc.

Then drop these characters into some kind of setting and apply the conflict model as explained by previous replies.

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Re: Making a SHORT story Game

#9 Post by Lesleigh63 » Sun Oct 11, 2015 11:24 pm

OokamiKasumi wrote:
To sum up...
  • Decide on a Story Problem.
  • Decided on 3 possible ENDINGS.
  • Create 3 Crises Scenes to offer the player Choices to get to each Ending.
  • Decide how many and what kind of characters are needed.
It's a simple as that.
OokamiKasumi, do you just branch of after the 3rd crisis scene into the three endings or do you need to have elements relating to each ending written into all the crises scenes (or possibly the last two)?

(asking because I've read quite a few how-to scenarios for plotting out a linear story but I haven't found much how-to info for branching stories).
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Re: Making a SHORT story Game

#10 Post by OokamiKasumi » Sun Oct 11, 2015 11:44 pm

Lesleigh63 wrote: To sum up...
  • Decide on a Story Problem.
  • Decided on 3 possible ENDINGS.
  • Create 3 Crises Scenes to offer the player Choices to get to each Ending.
  • Decide how many and what kind of characters are needed.
OokamiKasumi, do you just branch off after the 3rd crisis scene into the three endings or do you need to have elements relating to each ending written into all the crises scenes (or possibly the last two)?

(asking because I've read quite a few how-to scenarios for plotting out a linear story but I haven't found much how-to info for branching stories).
Unfortunately, there's practically nothing on how to design branching stories. I had to go to other story-game sites (such as StoryChoices Wiki) to learn what little I know.

To answer your question though, what I do is link each Choice in all three Crisis Scenes to a specific ending through Flags. This way each Choice the Player selects add up toward one Ending or another. In short; The Ending with the most Votes wins. Keep in mind that you can have multiple flags on each choice, so one selection can do all kinds of things in addition to adding up toward an Ending.

Example:
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Turning Point One: Beginning
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Choice 1: +=2 Ending One
Choice 2: +=2 Ending Two
Choice 3: +=2 Ending Three

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Turning Point Two: Crisis
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Choice 1: +=2 Ending One
Choice 2: +=2 Ending Two
Choice 3: +=2 Ending Three

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Turning Point Three: Reveal
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Choice 1: +=3 Ending One
Choice 2: +=3 Ending Two
Choice 3: +=3 Ending Three

This allows the Player a lot more freedom to change their mind -- and change their Ending. It also makes the story less predictable toward one ending or another.

To keep a Tie-score (for the Endings) from mucking things up, I usually have one extra Scene with Choices. If there isn't a tie then that Scene/Choice never shows up.

I hope that helps clarifies things a bit?
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Re: Making a SHORT story Game

#11 Post by Lesleigh63 » Sun Oct 11, 2015 11:54 pm

OokamiKasumi wrote: Unfortunately, there's practically nothing on how to design branching stories. I had to go to other story-game sites (such as StoryChoices Wiki) to learn what little I know.

To answer your question though, what I do is link each Choice in all three Crisis Scenes to a specific ending through Flags. This way each Choice the Player selects add up toward one Ending or another. In short; The Ending with the most Votes wins. Keep in mind that you can have multiple flags on each choice, so one selection can do all kinds of things in addition to adding up toward an Ending.

I hope that helps clarifies things a bit?
Yes, thanks for that, Ookami.
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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#12 Post by Katy133 » Wed Jan 13, 2016 10:12 pm

Studying different archetypal plots may be a good way to give you ideas.

Here is a post containing various links to the following:
Different plots
• Booker’s Seven Basic Plots: A modern perspective.
• Friedman’s Story Plots: 14 plots (and discussion of each).
• Georges Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations: Common plot elements.
• Reich’s American Narratives: Four real themes.
• Tobias’ 20 Plots: From his popular book.
• Parker’s Story Types: Ten types of story.
• Classic Story Conflicts: Tension conflicts that appear in many stories.
• Classic Story Types: Many common types of story.

The story structure
• The Five-Stage Story Structure: Common to many stories.
• Three Stage Story: Three stages that appear in more than stories.
• A Classic Story Structure: A simplified epic structure.
•Heroic structures:
• Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’: A classic decomposition of the epic tale.
• Vogler’s Story Structure: A simplification of Campbell’s structure.
• Propp’s 31 Narratemes: From his ‘Morphology of the Folk Tale’.
• The Eight Point Story Arc: May and Watts’ variant.
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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#13 Post by dueceladouce » Tue Feb 16, 2016 8:22 pm

One thing I've noticed from a few people I've met is that they are having trouble because they are over thinking it. As vague as that sounds, and I might be completely off target in your case, but sometimes I've heard this same question because they don't think that their idea is in-depth enough or impactful enough.

Will work in exchange for fight game buddies.

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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#14 Post by OokamiKasumi » Tue Feb 16, 2016 8:43 pm

dueceladouce wrote:One thing I've noticed from a few people I've met is that they are having trouble because they are over thinking it. As vague as that sounds, and I might be completely off target in your case, but sometimes I've heard this same question because they don't think that their idea is in-depth enough or impactful enough.
I agree.
-- Over-thinking is a very common trait, especially among new game-makers.

Just because a game is small or even simple doesn't give it any less impact or make it less entertaining. Case in point; the VN that inspired me to even try game creation only had three menus, maybe four. The genre was Horror and the writing wasn't actually all that great, mainly because it was translated from Japanese. It was practically a Kinetic Novel and only took maybe an hour to play. Even so, that one game; Ballad of an Evening Butterfly, inspired me to create --and complete-- over a dozen games.

One day, I hope one of my games inspires someone else the same way I was.
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Re: I can't even design the most simple of stories. Help?

#15 Post by Writer16 » Wed Feb 17, 2016 10:03 am

There are a lot of insightful advice here.

You need to find what works best for you. A detailed plan works for some writers. If you are like me, a detailed sketch of your game doesn't work; it's easier to have some sort of plan with how your games goes. It's also important to get to know your characters; how they interact with different characters; and how they behave in certain situations.

But you have to try not to overthink your game.
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