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  • Selling Your Story: From Elevator Pitches To Prototypes

    [11.14.19]
    - Gregory Pellechi

  • The Outline

    And I know what you're saying, "but I don't outline. I write as it flows, from the heart, from the seat of my pants, as inspiration strikes!"

    You know what else comes from the seat of your pants-farts. And no one wants those. Well, no one else wants those. Not outlining is fine for the solo work of a novelist. But in game development you're working as part of a team. And that means your team cannot wait for wit, whimsy, fancy or flashes of inspiration to strike.

    They need to be working as you work. Which is why you need an outline. So asides from the additional information about your story an outline provides, it also allows others to plan and make suggestions or provide feedback.

    An outline can be as simple as a list of the chapters or levels, similar to what we see in Super Mario Bros 3. The world map lays out the chapters we're going to encounter. Or at least it provides a list for the player of how many stages they'll have to go through.

    For stories though an outline is often different, and there's no set form. Personally I tend to write outlines as a location and/or scene because I know the story beats I want to hit during that section. But of course anyone I'm working with can't. Though giving them an outline does provide the bones of of the story they'll be working with.

    Outlines as with everything else about a game can change during development. Hell these days a game can even change once it's been published. So don't feel like you're committing yourself to something that you can never veer from. If the story takes you elsewhere, then it does and you can update the outline to reflect that.

    Part of the beauty of this ability to change is you're not beholden to any particular story beat as the outline is really just the major points in a story, no matter how big. The downside to this is it allows others the space to imagine something else entirely filling those gaps between the milestones.


    The Synopsis

    If the outline is the bones of a story, then the synopsis includes the connective tissue. It builds on the outline to include the major details, such as the characters, what they do, how they interact, and how the story develops.

    The most disappointing thing for many writers in creating a synopsis is that you have to give away the twists and the ending. You have to reveal that Darth Vader is really Luke's father, that Spider-Man dies, and that Bruce Willis was dead the entire time.

    What you're not doing in the synopsis is actually writing all of those bits out. Instead you're simply stating what happens. With book outlines it's often in the present tense, and given the fact that games are interactive I cannot think of a good reason to change this format.

    Writing it in the present tense helps you as a writer or game designer to get a better idea of what the player "should be" doing, and what their focus is.

    If we turn to Firewatch and the raccoon attack then the synopsis would be something like-Henry enters the burned down cottage. He goes to the old stove and opens it. A raccoon jumps out and Henry falls over. The raccoon then makes for the window and escapes while Henry recovers.

    There's no emotion, no gilding, no great detail there. And of course that's just a synopsis for a single scene. In the context of the wider game it may have just been reduced to a single sentence-Henry goes to a dilapidated cabin, opens a stove only for a raccoon to jump out and surprise Henry.

    If we compare that synopsis to the actual scene it includes nothing of the detail that makes it a unique story or encounter. The synopsis doesn't list mechanics, not sound effects, art assets or even dialogue. It states simply what is to occur. Leaving all of the nitty gritty writing, and further design work, for later.

    The obvious downside to a synopsis is the amount of time it takes to produce. And even with an outline your team may not understand or get what you're trying to do.

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