Overview: Developing Plots Means Story Progression
Plots without development are what? Tick, tock, tick, tock…That’s right, concepts! A plot that isn’t developed is just an idea without the details, or “meat”, that makes it progress into a full-fledged story. And this is the case with every story, regardless of genre, setting, style, or medium. A story needs story progression. The arcs, the character development, the details that make the audience want more.
It may sound logical, because honestly, it is. What isn’t logical, nor easy, is actually conducting that story progression. Many writers come up with brilliant ideas, but they don’t know how to execute those ideas. More specifically for game writers, the question is how to translate it for a visual medium.
However, with a few plot devices, your story can be detailed and packed with twists and turns! While there are many to choose from, here are 5 of the most effective plot devices used in game writing today:
This is something that if done correctly, you can provide faint transitions from point A to B without alerting the players, at least not consciously. For instance, if there is a story that takes place on a train, but the train is meant to derail, you could lead into it by causing sporadic turbulence. It provides the transitions needed to create seamless story progression, but it doesn’t take the player’s attention away from the dialogue, or events, taking place inside the train.
A classic example is thunder, and heavy storms while the characters are “safe” inside their house. Are they safe? Or is the thunder ominous enough that it foreshadows an ax murderer, a power outage, or a zombie outbreak?
No, this doesn’t have to be a character talking to himself, it can also be a character talking to another. For instance, in games like Skyrim, the players get their missions from NPCs that they have to engage contact with. If the player gets a mission, but feels like lingering for more information, all they have to do is select more dialogue options. In several of these options, they get more details and therefore, monologues, that help progress the story by providing valuable back-story, character personality, and maybe even hidden intentions.
However, it is important to note, it is not always a good idea to make monologues a prominent thing in games. Players want to play the game, not hear a bunch of NPCs ramble on and on. Keep monologues optional, and make sure information provided isn’t absolutely crucial, just in case the players skip it altogether. It should be rewarding for those who select it, but not mandatory to have.
Also known as stories within stories, nested stories are the most common plot device in game writing. Consider all the side missions you can do as a player in a game. Depending on the game at hand, you can have anywhere from 10, to well over 100. All side missions are nested stories, which can either connect to the main story line, or not. It’s entirely up to you as a game writer. Either way, it can add an element of story progression, or provide a much needed break from the main story line. Players have more to do, and more entertainment, while the writers have more areas within the game to add their content.
Think of the game Bastion; the narrator fills in details, but also provides helpful tips, like weapon tutorials. When the school of squirts tunnels up in the tutorial, not only does the narrator mention the name of the enemies, it also provides information, like where they came from.
Funny enough, narrators aren’t entirely common in games, but they tend to work when added. It gives the writers a chance to showcase humor, or whatever emotion the game is intended to portray. It can provide information that you’d otherwise have to work in more intricately. It adds a layer of interest to the overall gaming experience, making the story a prominent focus.
While commonly used in just about every visual, and non-visual, story telling medium, the name is fairly lost on many, unless they write for a living. The Proairetic Code may sound daunting, but it is actually just an action that’s caused by a previous event. It is a product of an action, and it leads to other events. For instance, if you are supposed to sneak your way past some guards, but one of them catches you, then all of them will be aware of your presence.
Not only does this make things pretty interesting for the player, who has to showcase skill or be forced to carve his way through some NPCs, but it can drive home a point you’re trying to make, as a game writer. If you’re trying to emphasize that your story takes place in a cruel world, you can make the failures of your player pretty costly. Say the player has to sneak by, because he’s leading another NPC to safety. If he gets caught, the first to die is the NPC they need to save, and the mission is failed. The players have to go back and try again. While annoying, and definitely not recommended to overdo, it can drive home the point that your world is cruel, and the stakes are high.
Summary: Use Devices to Develop Plots Further
Developing a plot isn’t about just smashing a series of events together, it’s about making them bleed into each other, making the story seamless and smooth. Choppiness is always discouraged. Game writing is different from all other mediums in that you’re handing your story to anyone who wants to play it. You have to ensure that whatever they choose to do, still progresses the story, so they can reach the ending rather than face an ever-expanding, choppy game that they won’t ever finish.
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