Writing the End First

My few readers will notice that I have failed to uphold my goal of reading one tech book per week. I have been side-lined the past ten days or so with trips in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices. Don’t be alarmed; it’s nothing life threatening or serious. But the experience has been draining.

Not wanting my blog to devolve into an apocalyptic abandonware of content, I have decided to discuss about my process for writing the story for L’Astra Vojego, (LAVO) the game which has occupied the majority of my efforts these past couple of years (and then some). Instead of explaining programming and design challenges, I would like to focus on a facet of indie games which I believe is often made to ride in the bitch seat, the narrative.

I do not mean to imply that LAVO is going to be the next War in Peace. Or Hell—even the next Twilight. Because unlike Stephenie Meyer I do not anticipate one day swimming in a pool of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. However, I do believe we can strike a chord with a certain type of audience with whom are story resonants. And today I want to give a behnd-the-scenes look at my thought process when it comes to writing scenes.

Note: There are no spoilers.

A Brief Aside

It has become more common for professional studios to hire a full-time writer. Our company does not have that man power available. Therefore Jeff—my partner in crime since the start—switches off roles with me. Sometimes he works on the over-arching narrative, the broad strokes, and then I come back in and fill in the gritty details, e.g. character dialog. Then we take a cleaver to the entire thing and cut out what’s not needed and/or what can be expressed in different ways.

I do not wish to speak for Jeff. Therefore, this article will be from my perspective in the role of filling in those details.

The Ending First

In all seriousness, I wrote the final scene first once I had a mental image of the character. Since our game advertises multiple branches and methods of completion it may feel cheap to shoe-horn everything into a single ending regardless of the player’s choices. All I can ask is that you please trust me those choices will not be superficially in vain. To be more specific, the final result of the ending will be the same, but its catalyst will change from gameplay to gameplay based on player choices.

Anyway—why the ending first? Because it’s easier to work backwards. If we began at the start then we run the risk of developing a narative branch that leads to nowhere. This ‘write the ending first’ approach helps alleviate that by a significant degree. It establishes a clear goal line for all of the story branches to either achieve or fumble.

Futhermore, once I know what the characters will do at the end I have an easier time working backwards to develop their motivations for their actions. In this sense the final actions are arbitrary. For example, I wrote one character in the end who does very little. But having him appear with no prior introduction would smack of poor writing. So I found myself forced to work backwards to incorporate him into the story early on so that I could build on his motivations for the final act.

Therefore, I hope with the reverse-approach, the narrative feels cohesive from start to finish.

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