How to Misuse Story Structure for Video Game Narrative Design

The more time I spend working in the games industry doing what I do in the realm of Narrative Design. The more reactions and raw emotions I see towards the idea of Story Structure Guides. On a good day the reaction towards them is one of keen interest and understanding. On a bad day it is a look of disgust, horror and pure hatred.

These various story diagrams, cheat sheets, books and outline templates are everywhere. They are mainly geared around screenwriting but are often useful for other forms of writing and story plotting. Some are nothing more than 3 statements to guide your thoughts. Others are….well….this thing…

The Moral Premise Blog: Story Structure Craft: "The Story Diamond Won't  Work For Me"
Seriously what the hell is even going on here?

I’m not here to convince you that they’re an essential tool for all narrative designers. Each creative has their own process, I’m just going to share mine. However I will say that there different kinds of storyteller and you should respect their approach to problem solving. The sooner you start treating others’ creative processes with the same respect you would like your own to be treated the more you will learn from them and they you.

So to begin, here are the two basic types of storyteller:

  • Pantsers – Those who get an idea, sit down and write the crap out of it. Editing, fixing and rewriting on the go or afterward.
  • Plotters – Those who plan out their story in as much detail as possible before sitting down to write. Preempting roadblocks with a loose roadmap to steer their writing.

The reality is that most of us do a mix of raw unfiltered writing and hyper detailed planning. Some lean heavily on one side over the other but there will come a point where the plotter just needs to stop messing with diagrams and actually do some damn writing. Meanwhile the pantser will hit a major roadblock and will need to break down the problem before being able to continue.

The modern myth of the writer is that they are all tortured pantser artists. (An interesting mental image) A myth that often extends to narrative design. You know the one, the muse speaks to the the writer and the words just flow out of their fingertips. Getting the muse to speak to them is the problem because the muse can be cruel. Drink, drugs, and a montage later. Somehow the story has been finished, but at what cost?

It is a myth that personally stopped me of doing any kind of professional storytelling for most of my life because I don’t do words gud most of the time due to my dyslexia. I need time and a plan. Also diagrams are cool! That is why all this stuff is so useful and fascinating for me. It’s how I tap into my creative energy.

Some will find this useful and will hopefully nod along as they read. Some will make that dismissive “pffft” sound, give up halfway through reading and then write a subtweet about this post. They know better than me, at least when it comes to their own creative process so go them!

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