Monthly Archives: November 2013

Typecasting Tuesday Will Return Next Week

Life.  Major events.  Flu. 

The old Royal will be back in action next week.

How Video Games Can Make You a Better Writer

Video games can make you a better writer.

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m nuts.  My wife would agree with you.  She is fond of calling them “stupid little video games.”  She’s also fond of calling anything that she thinks is a waste of time as “stupid little.”  Like this “stupid little blog entry.”

But, if you look at the structure of video games, you can learn a lot about setting the audience’s expectations, fulfilling them and/or changing them while, at the same time, raising the stakes with each new surprise.

Case and pointUncharted 3

Uncharted 3 is as if National Treasure meets Indiana Jones was turned into a video game.  You are Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter who finds himself stumbling across epic adventures involving hidden cities, untold fortunes and nefarious evil villains.

As technology has improved, the game play has improved as well, including allowing you to participate in insanely cinematic events.  It’s this new technology that has allowed game developers to take the gloves off, from a story telling perspective, and indulge in the nearly impossible to make an exciting game even that much more memorable.

And it can also make you a better writer.

Here’s how.  At one point in Uncharted 3, you desperately need to stow away on a plane before it leaves so you can save your best friend and mentor who is being held captive where the plane will eventually land.  Your girl friend will help out.

Below I’ll sketch out each major segment in the scene.  Watch how the game developers set your expectations and choose either to fulfill them or twist the outcome to amp up the danger and elevate the risk.

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  • Plan 1:  Sneak on before it takes off.
  • Obstacle:  Armed baddies between you and the plane
  • Expectation:  Run, shoot and fight your way through.
  • Surprise:  You make it to the runway, but the plane it taking off faster than you can catch up to it.

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  • Surprise:  Your girlfriend shows up with a Jeep.
  • Plan 2: Still need to get on the plane!
  • Obstacle:  It’s about to take off.
  • Expectation:  Girlfriend will drive you to hop onto the plane’s wheel before it takes off.

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  • Outcome:  Expectation met.

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  • Plan 3:  Hide out until the plane lands and you can save your friend.
  • Obstacle:  Staying hidden.
  • Expectation:  If I stay out of sight, I’ll be safe.

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  • Surprise:  Mid flight you are found by a very large, angry man.

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  • Plan 4: Knock guy out and hide.
  • Obstacle:  Guy is frickin’ huge and won’t go down and wants to throw you out of the plane
  • Expectation:  Use something bigger to defeat him.

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  • Outcome:  You open a parachute of an airlift cargo crate and knock the guy out of the plane.

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  • Surprise:  The chute pulls out the crate, a truck and causes the plane to shift wildly.

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  • Another surprise:  You are blown out of the plane.

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  • Another surprise:  you snag the cargo netting of the crate barely attached to the plane.
  • Another surprise:  You have to shoot your way passed baddies coming down the cargo netting to get you.
  • Plan 5: Shoot the baddies, climb your way back onto the plane.
  • Obstacle:  Nut jobs with guns.
  • Expectation:  It’s a game, so if I shoot well and fight well, I’ll make it.

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  • Surprise:  After killing the baddies, the cables holding the cargo to the plane snap and everything starts sliding off.  You have to run up the moving cargo and jump to safety.
  • Expectation:  If I make it, I take control of the plane and land.
  • Surprise:  As soon as you reach the cargo hold, baddies start shooting at you.

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  • Plan 6: Shoot, duck, cover and take over the plane.
  • Obstacle:  More dudes with guns.
  • Expectation:  With good skills I can take the plane.

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  • Surprise:  The ensuing gunfight causes a fire which ignites and explodes cargo leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plane.
  • Plan 7:  Hold on for dear life and climb baby, climb!  Take over the cockpit and save your life!
  • Obstacle:  Gravity, air suction, damaged plane.
  • Expectation:  These games are all about gun play and climbing.  I can do this.
  • Surprise:  You’re sucked out of the plane without a parachute.

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How do you survive?  Well, you’ll have to play the game to find out.

But this exciting sequence is a great example of making each plot twist up the stakes, increase the danger, surprise your audience and challenge the protagonist.

So, the next time your storytelling significant other decides to invest an unhealthy amount of time on a “stupid little video game,” remember, it’s research.

And it just may make him (or her) a better writer.

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It Only Took Sixty-Three Drafts to Learn How to Write

Writing can be a painful experience.

I spent the majority of my life around, involved in and pursuing a life in film.  I studied it, I performed in it, I wrote for it, I directed it and I loved it.  Some of my work made it to Hollywood, but most was of the independent nature.

The combination of my faith and my passion for film led to the creation of Sonlight Pictures, where the character of Gabby Wells first emerged.

When I decided to attempt to convert the first season of television scripts about Gabby Wells into the first novel in the series, I had virtually zero training in writing novels.  My experience over the last 20 years revolved solely and completely around screenplays.

But I like a challenge.  And, I figured, worst case scenario, my novel sucks but I’m a better writer for having tried.

rewrite-redpenThe first few drafts of the first Gabby Wells novel were simply conversion pieces, taking the scripts and morphing them into novel form, finding the many gaps that needed to be filled with character back story, internal drivers and emotional damage.

It wasn’t until about draft 50 that my daughter said “We actually have a novel now.”

Fifty drafts.  I didn’t expect the learning curve to be that steep.

Around draft 60 I had exhausted all I could muster in making this novel work.  It was as good as it was gonna get considering my skill level at the time.

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That is until my daughter suggested something rather drastic.

I was working on converting the second season of television scripts into the second novel and was not looking forward to repeating the daunting task of trying to master a new writing style while converting my material from my old writing style.  It’s just a tough haul.

So, after hearing me complain about the impending frustration, she suggested that I forgo everything I had done before and start writing the second novel from scratch.  I know the story, just tell it as the writer I am now, not the writer I was when I wrote the screenplay.

To my amazement, it worked.  The first chapter was smooth and interesting and funny and draws you in.  I must say, it’s pretty dang good.

It was so good, in fact, that it made me realize something horrible.

I had to do the same thing with the first novel.  After 63 drafts, I had to scrap it and write it all over again, from scratch.

Sure, I’ll be able to pilfer quite a bit of the more polished sections of the text from draft 63, but the feel, the mood, the style, the approach will be completely different.

I’m not happy about it.  From concept to screenplay to novel, I’ve been living/writing this story repeatedly for almost five years.  I want to be done in the worst way.

But, not until its as good as I can make it and, unfortunately, I can make it better.

At least one for one more draft.

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