Introduction to Immersive Story, Characters, and Worldbuilding
Hello gang, I have had an opportunity to play through quite a few demos of people's games. There are a lot of great maps, cool gameplay aspects, and well thought out skills. One thing I am noticing more and more is that people may have a good idea for a story (or even a heavily borrowed plot line) that falls flat, because they continuously loose immersion factor.
Orson Scott Card once said that the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, is one is in space, the other is in a forest (I am totally paraphrasing, but it's the jist of the idea). Meaning that your setting is what sets up the "Sci Fi" or "Fantasy" genre of your story. I will have to say that although he was kind of on the right track with that, those are more cliches than guidelines. Now I could be wrong on this myself, but my feeling on the matter is actually what information you give, and how you give it that differentiates between Fantasy and Sci Fi. In Sci Fi, the more you can explain how something works, generally the better and more immersed the audience will be. In Fantasy the longer you can keep the magic alive the more the audience will want to live in your world. This is because of the 2 roles fantasy and Sci Fi play as fiction in our global society as humans on earth.
So, if you are writing fantasy, Do not explain the magic unless you are still willing to make that magic somewhat mysterious. A lot of writers have used "The Source" or "The Weave" or "The Fabric" or "The Force" to explain but not enirely divulge how their magic works in their stories. This is a good way, even if you are going to delve a little bit more into the "how", to keep it still feeling like magic (magic is simply a way for common folk to explain something they do not understand). Being subtle doesn't mean being utterly illogical.
If writing Sci Fi, remember that the more actual scientific theory you use to create your "Future World" the more the player/reader is going to beleive it. This doesnt mean talking about every nut and bolt and how it was all developed. It simply means that if you base your creations on facts that exist in reality, when the time comes to explain something (of a more technical nature), you already have an answer for the question... Thanks Jeopardy!
The Pitfalls of Information
Now since most of the games I have played in the last little bit are based in Fantasy let me focus on those, for now. Later I'll go into Science Fiction, and how not to make your players/readers go UGH! whenever you have a conversation in your game/story.
There are 2 major reasons the writers of Fantasy stories are loosing their 4th wall. I want to discuss these pitfalls and also show a few ways around those problems.
First off There is the "I have SO much information to give you, and I don't know how else to give it to you but just dump it all right here!!!!!!!!" Ok, so I have seen this a few times. First of all props to you if you have thought up a baseline for your story to go off of. Kudos if you have a storyboard. And If I were Mayor I'd give you the key to the city if you actually have a written screenplay of your game. But remember, just having oodles of information does not a story make.
What's worse here, is that it can actively destroy your game/story by trying to give it all at once. Like that girl/guy you liked in highschool. If you showered them with attention, even if they were remotely interested in you, all of a sudden they want nothing to do with you. Why? Because you lost your mystique, you have nothing left for them to discover. And you might think to yourself "But I am so much deeper, and have so much more to offer than what chance they gave me!" and you'd be right, but in their mind you are an open book, that has crayon illustrations and is 6 pages long.
Just like Megan Fox's personallity only even though there is nothing on the surface you know you are secretly wanting to see what's under that dress
Working around Info Dumping
Step 1: Subtlety
To avoid this in your writing, give information as subtly as possible. Meaning, think about how your characters would speak to eachother about ths subject. Not how you and your friends at the comic book store would talk about it. Let me give 2 examples:
Haldin: Seiara! Come quickly, the church is on fire and the priest has been missing for days!
Seiara: What? We must hurry! What was it that caused the fire?
Haldin: I don't know, one minute I was tending my flocks, then the windows of the chapel blew out! There was shrieking coming from inside the building, and fire started spitting from the broken frames! I went to go see if anyone was still inside but I found nothing!
Seiara: If the Priest had been here we might have been saved! we must see if we can save the church from utter ruin! The Gods will be angry with us if we do not.
::A loud crash comes from in the direction of the village. The earth shakes and the ground splits open letting loose a huge pillar of fire.::
Seiara: Oh Gods! Their judgment is upon us already! Quickly, we must get back to the chapel!
:: The earth opens wider and Seiara is swallowed into the chasm.::
In this scene I have done a few things, I have given a few pieces of information, nothing too big or daunting, but at the same time something is afoot, and the reader/player knows it. One of the spesific things I have illustrated here, are that the people are superstisious. This could mean a few things, because what is happening could easily be a newly formed volcano, it could be a hellgate opening up, it could be a giant, blowing a blue dart after being burried at the beach for 1000 years. But you don't know any of that for certain. The point is, you as the reader now WANT to go on a quest to find out what just happened. That's the effect you want to go for. Put the reader in the shoes of the person who will likely become your hero/heroine and you discover the mystery together, as an added treat (Somtimes) can you give the player more than the character knows (I'll go over why that is effective later). The other thing is, likely Seiara was important, was she Haldin's girlfriend, or was she the Mayor, or an Acolyte at the church? we don't know but Haldin wouldn't have gone to her for help or to make sure she was okay for no reason. So you have to make sure there is a reason. This may go without saying, but if you notice this gives you a lot of options to go off of. And now, you can decide how to release the information without the audience guessing what you are doing right off the bat.
Step 2: Planning
This sets me up for my next point. Plan this out, no one is saying you can't change it as you go, heck I do all the time. New characters get added, and suddenly their personality starts to grow, and I have all kinds of new effects from this person who didn't even exist 20 minutes ago on the entire breadth of my story. My suggestion is have a basic framework for the begning, middle, and end. If there is a plot twist in the game, plan at what point you want to pull the rug out from underneath the player. Doing all of this will help you once you start adding new things into the story to adapt to your new characters. Remember to give the information sparringly, just because you know what is going on the whole time, doesn't mean we want you to tell us all of it, and ruin the magic.
Step 3: Avoid "Nerding"
That puts me at the point of my second example.
Rynsashi: We have found the enemy's camp! It's good too because they were about to activate the golden mirror of Tinglung, which would bring fire down from the sky and burn everything!
:: A warrior approches Rynsashi from behind.::
Lukang: Rynsashi! I have seen everything you have seen. If you remeber I have the gift of sight and can see what others see if I choose to. I have used my powers to beat my enemies many times, as I can always evade their most skillful attacks.
Rynsashi: Oh, it is good that you can do that, soon we will be in the valley and I will strike the earth with my mighty Gong Hammer of the Earth Dragon. The power of this is to make the earth shake and crumble around my enemies and they will fall before my attacks. With your gift of sight you can see our enemies fall to their doom within the walls of the earth!
I actually can't write anymore of that... I'm terribly sorry if you found that interesting, because I did not. But look at the principle differences here. In the first there are several possibilities as to what these things the characters are talking about or experiencing could be. There is mystery and intrigue. In the second, everything is spelled out for you and even if its not exactly explained HOW it works, all of the things that these abilities do were layed out as if completely meaningless. And thats what people who read your work will feel, if you ruin the magic. As a side note have you ever tried to talk to someone about your favorite anime, only to find out 1 second into your explaination that they do not like anime? Remember those awkward feelings, because if you write like this, it's just like having that conversation with everyone who has ever lived (ok thats a bit of an exaggeration but it communicates the same point).
Step 4: Possible Narrator
A suggestion if you are having just FAR too hard a time not giving everything away all at once, or at least explaining some of the more subtle things like magical powers people might have. If you are just starting out in your writing, no one is going to crucify you if you use a narrator (use them sparringly, because it can get annoying quickly), they can say information like "Lukang was blessed with the gift to see the through the eyes of another from birth, it was helpful on many occasions. It will likely prove useful in the future.". Do you see the difference even there?
I just realized that I have this picture right over the part where I talk about infojaculation... It was actually not intended as this, but now that I see it it's kind of funny.
So Rule number one, No premature infojaculation, you can give all of the info you want just don't do it all at once. And don't force it on us, its not even your birthday!
The second pitfall has a lot to do with the first, but is more a lack of info than an abundance. Again planning is a good cure for this. Some of the games I have played seemed like they didn't really know what they wanted their magical beings to be able to do. So instead of thinking up ways to remedy that, they just simply became mundane boring everyday people. Also remember that if you are going to use subject matter that a lot of people have preconceived notions about, and you are planning on changing something fundemental about them, you need to set that up first. Don't just make Orcs this hyper intellegent race of interior decorators, unless you are going to explain how/why that is, in some way (and don't infojac it at us either).
Now, let's say an angel came to you right now, this minute! Other than asking you to clean up whatever is causing that smell, what might they say to you? Are they going to show up in your room smoking a cigar and try to talk to you about their cousin Gina? Maybe, but thats more of a satire than anything else, and it can be funny, but think about it. (For those that enjoy the sound of their own whiny voice let me save you the trouble. I will add this caveat: Whether you think Angels are real or not Most religious Dogma has the commonality of Angels as follows) A REAL Angel comes to you in your room. They are not going to have a casual conversation with you, more likely they: 1. have a purpose for being there; 2. will deliver their message and maybe answer some questions you might have; and 3. once they are no longer on topic, book it the hell (pun!) out of there. Because Angels have no use for mundane things. Now thats a single example but the point is Don't just make your characters talk like you would to your friends Unless they are of that setting. You can establish that Angels in your world Do in fact have cousins named Gina and do in fact smoke, profusely, their heavenly cigars. But don't just throw it out there like "Yeah everyone feels this way about this subject." Some use the "Angel among us" approach to help make us feel like they are just another every day joe untill you find out later that they are in fact an Angel. You wouldn't ruin the immersion in this way with an explaination like that because you set it up first.
Now to sum up. When writing Fantasy, remember that if you need to explain why someone can lift chairs with their mind, or set buildings on fire, do so with the idea that the characters themselves may not really know how it works. Avoid writing about things like magic or mysterious plot lines, the way you would explain it at the comic shop. Don't give away all of the information up front, save some for later. Plan your events so that if something changes, it enhances your story and gives more ideas, rather than taking away from your over all plot. Set up your world first before expecting people to "get into it".
This is the first in small series of tutorials I will be doing about writing. They are mostly opinion and I recognize them as such. I am not perfect in my writing, and will never claim to be. However this information is an analysis of what I see as "wrong" within the community at large, and some of the ways that people might be able to avoid it.
(Keep in mind that I am not covering all Genres of style here, One of the tutorials I will be going over is actually intentionally breaking down the 4th wall for the purposes of comedic immediacy)
Edited by Tharis, 13 March 2013 - 03:08 AM.