Writing with Bones

On November 4, 2014 by christy

One thing I have noticed about my process (so far), is that I have about 3 stages of approach to my dialogue. My first dialogue draft is always functional. I include everything I need to say regarding communicating relationships (between PCs and NPCs, and between NPCs), plot points, and if applicable goal or gameplay information. The second approach (which may be multiple drafts) is to try and apply a speech and character-world-view style that I think is needed or optimal. This is about trying out something new, something that is meant to make the writing better. My final stage then is about me integrating everything that has come before with my own personal style. It is about remembering how the only way I can do interesting things, or at least get satisfaction from what I’m doing is to go back to my own voice. I then mix together what is needed (making the functional implicit), what I learned by experimenting, and then drive it all with what I know and love.

What is difficult about these stages is that prototyping occurs during the first two stages. This means potential players are first exposed to my writing when it is at (what I call) the ‘bones’ stage — the flesh hasn’t been added yet. At first this was really hard to deal with. The last thing I wanted was people to see my bones. I wanted to yell over their shoulder: “that isn’t what the world will be like! that isn’t what I’m intending! That isn’t what I’m capable of!”. Some understand that it is just a prototype, but most have no idea that writers don’t spurt out finished words first go. I remember listening to a great podcast with Amy Hennig and Ken Levine talking about being Creative Directors and writers on games. I loved hearing that they are sometimes changing things up to the last day, and that they have teams that trust them to do that. They know they will come through.

Indeed, on most of my recent projects my programmers have come up with ways they can easily update the dialogue (even up to the last build). It is so important that element isn’t locked off as I am busy project managing first, then addressing design, and then making all the internal changes needed to get the dialogue right. Dialogue is such a personal thing for me and so as my world-view changes so does my dialogue.

I think I will like the opportunity to tweak these elements until the end (if the text is automatically generated, not images). But I am looking forward to seeing if my process will change. It has already in the sense I know what my favourite *voice* is. But I still seem to take all these steps. I guess the space is needed…

“Ry Cooder’s cover of James Carr’s “At the Dark End of the Street” ~ via Darren Tofts