Training? Advice?

Questions, skill improvement, and respectful critique involving game writing.
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joakkar
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Training? Advice?

#1 Post by joakkar » Sat Mar 29, 2014 2:19 pm

Hi, I'm new to this site but not new to visual novels in general. I'm not a writer (and I don't think I'll ever make money out of being one either) but I've been obsessed with making video-games for a really long time so I've been thinking up plots for a bunch of them. I've already started a bunch of projects for RPGs but none of them have ever been completed because of lack of artistic resources (aka I can't draw good enough). Thus, I decided to try my luck with a visual novel format instead since it's easier to program and it doesn't require that much art (it's at least enough for me to be able to pay someone to do it unlike animated pixel art which is ridiculously expensive).

Now, my main problem in writing for a game is the narrative. I'm not a native speaker so while my grammar is good, I have a limited vocabulary. That means I can write believable dialogues but I can't make narrative look pretty. And the thing is I don't know how to practice to get that fixed. I'm already 22 so I can't enter a creative writing class as a complete beginner and expect to be taken seriously (not to mention I'd be learning to write in spanish and I need writing skills in english anyways).

So I was wondering if there's any way to practice fluid writing that doesn't involve relying on a capable editor 24/7. Like for example, I've been making a vocabulary sheet with words I've seen in other people's works that I liked and never thought of using in my writing before. Is there other things I can try? Any idea is appreciated.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#2 Post by Laniessa » Sat Mar 29, 2014 8:50 pm

I would say read stuff and just analyse how it's written. How did they avoid sounding repetitive? How do the sentences start / end, how was something described? What did they choose to describe and omit? What is the tone and what supports the tone? Things like that.

I'm not sure about you, but when I read something for technique compared to story, everything sounds different in my head. I tend to gloss over errors, skip over some details, don't pay attention to the constant 'he said' 'she said' when I read it for the story.

So that's one way, maybe? I wish you luck and I hope other people have better tips than I do.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#3 Post by gekiganwing » Sat Mar 29, 2014 9:00 pm

Consider writing in your native language first. That will limit your audience, and you might need to rely on translators.

Also, consider adult education classes. I took a few after getting my degree. Here are a few search results that appeared after I searched for "adult writing class":

* Online Writing Courses - Improve Your Writing Skills
* 10 Universities Offering Free Writing Courses Online
* Gotham Writers' workshop on creative writing
* 50 Free Resources That Will Improve Your Writing Skills -- From 2009, so some links might be outdated

I haven't tried any of these myself, so I can't endorse them. And if they are not feasible options, I understand.

As a sidebar, I remember being 22 and feeling old. That was a while back.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#4 Post by TheTraveler » Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:25 pm

If you can get hold of a copy of "Writing Fiction" by Jane Burroway, I'd highly recommend it. I know you're not a native English speaker, but I believe the book has been translated into a number of other languages.

The book is an excellent source of practical ideas, narratives, examples and exercises. I've had my copy for over 20 years now and I still refer to it time and again, especially when I hit my "writers block" on projects. It's not a "heavy" read, like slogging through a textbook.

I agree as well, write in your native language first, and consider English later on.

Cheers and good luck.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#5 Post by Asceai » Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:25 pm

This isn't a solution to your problem, but as a medium, VNs offer great scope for moving the focus away from narration and to dialogue, since those things pure text has to express with narration can be expressed in other ways (through visuals, audio...). The things that require the greatest vocabulary to express in traditional prose are generally descriptions of sensations. Feelings can often be expressed in simple terms and VNs allow you to cover 2 of the 5 traditional senses without text at all.

So while I don't have a solution, I can tell you that it's not that big a deal.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#6 Post by joakkar » Sun Mar 30, 2014 12:47 am

Thanks to gekiganwing for the links. They're really useful. And I'll look into the book The Traveler posted about as well.

And no, I have no trouble reading in english. If I don't write in spanish, it's simply because I know nobody who's willing to read it unlike the hundreds of people I've come to know through the internet who would read it in english. And translating the story afterwards would mean spending twice the time or even more for nothing.

As for Asceai, I'm aware of how narration is not as widely used in VNs compared to books, but one of the projects I'm working on needs to be written from a 3rd person POV and that requires narrating more actions than usual. While I never planned to focus on narrating from the beginning, I still want to make the narrating on it as good as possible.

Thanks everyone for the answers btw

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Re: Training? Advice?

#7 Post by Omniknight » Sun Mar 30, 2014 10:46 am

Hello! :D

I would love to help you......but I just don't have the time to teach someone on a regular basis.
However, if you have any questions, send me a PM so we can exchange emails, and I'll also be happy to edit, upgrade and critique your work. I have 4 yrs of experience under my belt writing fiction and have my own project running. I have also analyzed most major visual novels line by line and can cite them if needed, so I think I can help you quite a bit! :mrgreen:

Omni

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Re: Training? Advice?

#8 Post by Rozume » Sun Mar 30, 2014 10:11 pm

My absolute favorite books on writing are "How Not to Write a Novel" by Howard Mittlemark and Sarah Newman (very funny) and more recently, "The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller" by John Truby. One's by experienced novelists and the other's by a screenwriter, but they both have some great information on storytelling and writing that can translate to different mediums.

As for you narration problem, maybe look towards works with third person narration? It depends on what kind of third person narration you're using - limited, omniscient, or objective? There's another thread of POV narration here that touches a little bit on what's the "best" type of POV to use in a VN, which discusses third person.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#9 Post by Asceai » Sun Mar 30, 2014 10:17 pm

Omniknight wrote:I have also analyzed most major visual novels line by line and can cite them if needed
I think you'd better clarify that, because it's quite a claim! Without a really dubious and restrictive definition of 'major' there's just not enough hours =P

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Re: Training? Advice?

#10 Post by joakkar » Mon Mar 31, 2014 3:32 pm

PhoenixStardust wrote:My absolute favorite books on writing are "How Not to Write a Novel" by Howard Mittlemark and Sarah Newman (very funny) and more recently, "The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller" by John Truby. One's by experienced novelists and the other's by a screenwriter, but they both have some great information on storytelling and writing that can translate to different mediums.

As for you narration problem, maybe look towards works with third person narration? It depends on what kind of third person narration you're using - limited, omniscient, or objective? There's another thread of POV narration here that touches a little bit on what's the "best" type of POV to use in a VN, which discusses third person.
Oh, my decision on using a 3rd POV is simply because I don't want the scenes to be limited to only when the main character is present (I want to show interactions within other characters as well) so even though I prefer 1st person, I changed it to third person to adapt it to that.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#11 Post by Chocopyro » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:56 pm

Well, I don't exactly have as much experience at writing as a lot of professionals on this site, but when it comes to gaming and visual novels, I have a simple formula that consists of layered outlines. Though my style is mostly intended for episodic novels where each "Chapter" has its own beginning, middle, climax, and end (Which may still carry the overarching story). This makes it easier for me to break down the game in both a micro and a macro view. I personally like to work downward so that I know where I want the story to head in the long run, which makes it easier for me to define the scenes.

Therefore, I always start with the "Macro outline", when laying down the structure as a whole. Here, its easier to work on the cause and effect when you make a flow chart where each of the choices branch off to. Essentially, you list the "What" happens in each chapter, and how it gets there. If you aren't much of a writer, then this makes it easier to convey to the writer you decide to work with where you want the story to head, and all you need to do on you're part is to make it adaptable to changes, consistent with a story formula.

Sample outline
Prologue:
Synopsis:
The protagonist's comfortable life is shattered as (Blank) happens.
-Introduce setting
-Introduce protagonist
-Introduce heroine 1
-Introduce heroine 2
-Establish the main goal.

Chapter 1:
Synopsis:
In this chapter, I intend to have the protagonist's world view challenged with the introduction of "Heroine 3". His adventure begins.
What needs to happen:
-Introduce Heroine 3.
-Insert choice A and choice B
-Protagonist must leave home.

Chapter 2:
Synopsis:
The player's choice is weighed in this chapter as Heroine 1 and 2 catch up to him, blah blah blah.
What needs to happen:
-Story branches.
-If Choice A is true, trigger this scene. The protagonist decides to head west. Story continues on Route A.
-If Choice B is true, trigger that scene. The protagonist decides to head east. Story continues on Route B.

Ch. 3 Route A:
Synopsis:
Chapter explores budding feelings between protagonist and Heroine 1.

Ch. 3 Route B:
Synopsis:
Chapter explores Heroine 2's motives, and bridges the gap between their mistrust.
The "Micro outline" view is where you get down into the nitty-gritty details, and structure each chapter individually. Here you go beyond "What" happens, and you hammer down the "How it happens", "Why it happens", and "How does it effect, challenge, or change the characters". Like the main outline, I usually like to layer the chapter and work downward, starting with a more specified outline, then working down each layer until the individual dialogue and narration is polished, clean, and shiny. The best part is though that outlining characters can work just the same way, which can allow you to make very complicated characters, even if they originally stem from a very common archetype.

No doubt, different writers have vastly different techniques to teach you. There may undoubtedly be plenty published novelists who deem my method as flawed on some level since I've never taken a writing class in my life, but I've always just found the layered outline approach to be the most effective for me when writing for an adaptable "Player experience" in RPGs, D&D campaigns, online roleplays, and visual novels as opposed to writing a set story. Since you're only looking at parts at a time, it makes it easier to learn along the way what you're doing, or decide at what level of writing you want to hand it to someone else. (For me, I usually need help when it comes to writing the individual dialogue for certain characters, but narration is something I can do alright.)
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Re: Training? Advice?

#12 Post by joakkar » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:49 pm

Chocopyro wrote: The "Micro outline" view is where you get down into the nitty-gritty details, and structure each chapter individually. Here you go beyond "What" happens, and you hammer down the "How it happens", "Why it happens", and "How does it effect, challenge, or change the characters". Like the main outline, I usually like to layer the chapter and work downward, starting with a more specified outline, then working down each layer until the individual dialogue and narration is polished, clean, and shiny. The best part is though that outlining characters can work just the same way, which can allow you to make very complicated characters, even if they originally stem from a very common archetype.
I like your Macro outline, though I still think I have most of that on my head already. My problem is not really on the "where the story is going" but rather the "how can you express where it's going well enough". So the problem would be the micro outline here. Generally, when I'm reading my own narrative, I realize it sounds too simple or that everything's happening too fast which both kills the pacing and fails to make an emotional impression on the reader. What I need to learn is how to expand my ideas into something that sounds good enough.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#13 Post by Rozume » Tue Apr 01, 2014 12:02 am

joakkar wrote: Generally, when I'm reading my own narrative, I realize it sounds too simple or that everything's happening too fast which both kills the pacing and fails to make an emotional impression on the reader. What I need to learn is how to expand my ideas into something that sounds good enough.
Maybe have someone else read it and give you advice? It always helps me sometimes. All though "sounds good enough" is rather subjective, what doesn't sound good to you might sound good to someone else.

If you can, try poetry. Poetry focuses on language, words, and how they sound to the ear. Poetry doesn't necessarily have to rhyme, it just have to express a feeling.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#14 Post by Whimsical Conductor » Tue Apr 01, 2014 12:24 am

I realize it sounds too simple
Sometimes narrative can be simple. Who said it couldn't? I know a fair few people actually prefer a minimalistic writing style which focuses on telling a story. Too much and people don't like the feeling of the author 'intruding' upon the work. A lot of people also believe that good writing is writing in which you focus less on the beauty of it and more so on forgetting the fact that you're even reading a story. Of course, this is subjective depending on the type of story you're writing - genre, tone, what scene you're trying to depict, all with the character's in question and how they react to situations. All of it works together to elicit an emotional response.

Personally I think both analyzing other people's writing and finding a style that you generally like is the way to go. Ask yourself why you feel a certain way and why the passage got to you. How does the author write structurally?

Writing is also the way to go. The only way to get better is with tons and tons of trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn't, and through a large amount of complete and utter failure. It's also one thing looking at yourself and seeing what's wrong with it, which is a good thing, self-reflection is always good so you can re-write or scrap it and start a new idea, but it's another getting someone to look at it. How about posting a sample of your writing for critique? Just a suggestion but it might help.

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Re: Training? Advice?

#15 Post by joakkar » Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:06 am

Whimsical Conductor wrote:
Writing is also the way to go. The only way to get better is with tons and tons of trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn't, and through a large amount of complete and utter failure. It's also one thing looking at yourself and seeing what's wrong with it, which is a good thing, self-reflection is always good so you can re-write or scrap it and start a new idea, but it's another getting someone to look at it. How about posting a sample of your writing for critique? Just a suggestion but it might help.
I'm only two scenes away from finishing a sprites-less demo. I'll probably upload it tomorrow to get people's opinions. Thanks again or the help.

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