[7RQ] 2018-02-11

Tonight we’re gonna email like it’s 1999


I’m a member of the UK Writers Guild videogames committee, and chair Luke Openshaw recently began compiling ‘words of wisdom’ from working game writers — both on and off the committee — to disseminate to novice and aspiring writers. the first instalment is now online at https://lukeopenshawwriter.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/advice-for-aspiring-video-game-writers-part-1/ and that page contains a lot of wisdom from some excellent game writers. I am also present, though my advice was uncharacteristically short-winded:

Love games.
Read/watch/play everything with a good story.
And everything with a bad story.
Write every day.
Fight for your vision, but recognise when someone else’s idea is better.
Don’t let yourself be underpaid.
Get lots of sleep. You’ll need it.

So let's revert to type and expand on those points a little.

Love games.

Kind of obvious. Trying to write in any medium for which you have no love is, well, loveless — and your contempt will show through in your work. If you don’t love games, don’t try to write games.

(Genre can be a different matter; perhaps the best example being Michael Moorcock’s disdain of Howard and Tolkien, which led to his sublime creation Elric of Melniboné, the ultimate anti-Conan. But nobody would question that Moorcock loves books per se.)

Read/watch/play everything with a good [and bad] story.

In other words, yes, you should seek out good stories to experience, and not only within games. That's self-evident; experiencing good stories will show you what can be achieved, in any medium.

But you should also seek out stories you have no expectations of, or even ones you’re pretty sure will be bad. Why? Two reasons.

First, it's almost certainly outside your comfort zone. By definition, if you expect a story to be bad then you wouldn’t normally experience it by choice — but that in itself can make such pieces worthwhile, because they’ll expand your storytelling horizons. This goes doubly so for things that are popular; you may think the TWILIGHT books are twaddle (although, if you haven’t read them, how do you know? How do you know?) but consider that, as a writer, it might be worth your while to read one and consider what's in them that literally millions of people connect with so strongly.

Second, bad stories can be educational. True, when you get bored in a game, it's possible it may be a design flaw rather than a problem with the narrative. But when you're bored by a movie, book, TV show, etc, chances are it's the writing that's at fault. Nobody ever dinged a production of WAITING FOR GODOT because it lacked flashy special effects, but all the whiz-bang in California couldn't prevent ATTACK OF THE CLONES from sending legions of us to sleep. So bad experiences like that are worth examining. Ask yourself why this game, this movie, this novel, whatever, is losing your attention — or simply making you laugh in all the wrong places. Pick things apart, and figure out how to put them back together in a way that would make more sense to you; congratulations, now you can put those thoughts to use next time you write a story.

Write every day.

This goes for all writers, everywhere. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances from time to time. But all other things being equal, write every day. Writers write.

Fight for your vision, but recognise when someone else’s idea is better.

Look, I have something of a reputation as a back-talker; I’ll listen to anyone’s notes, but I won't accept them blindly. And if I think they’re garbage, I’ll say so. Too many writers are easy pushovers, often because we’re simply grateful someone is actually paying us to do this. It's understandable, but it's also one of the worst qualities a creator can have. Stand up for your ideas and work…

…Unless someone else genuinely has a better idea. When that happens, you should listen to it; act upon it with relish; and when it works out, happily give credit to its originator. None of us has all the answers, and recognising that is an important part of a writer’s development. Sometimes, the men in suits really do have a good idea. It’s your job to spot them amongst the, um, less good ideas.

Don’t let yourself be underpaid.

A perennial bugbear of mine, and one that could take up an entire essay by itself. But, just like being a pushover when it comes to notes, too many writers undercharge for their work — and especially in videogames, where developers often view writing's importance as somewhere below the night security guard. The Writers Guild's resources include guidance on rates for videogame writers, and you don’t have to be a member to use them. https://writersguild.org.uk/resources/

Get lots of sleep. You’ll need it.

You won’t be 25 forever — as many of us have found to our surprise over the years. HARROGATE UPDATE:

You can now buy tickets for the EXPHORIA CODE event in Harrogate online. Hurrah for the Internet! (That's me signing stock at Imagined Things, the bookstore hosting the event, before Christmas) https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/FFLGMH

It’s by no means perfect, but Christophe Gans’ movie adaptation of SILENT HILL is way better than most people give it credit for. Radha Mitchell and Alice Krige are great, the recreation of the dark dimension and monsters are spot-on, the whole thing is genuinely creepy, and THAT ENDING. Damn, that’s bleak.

(We pause here to pray for Sean Bean's accent, lost somewhere between Yorkshire and America by way of Ireland. The worst part is that his character's story is almost completely irrelevant, but at least it's the movie's only real low point.)

Anyway. If you’ve never seen it, you should; and what better way than to join horror author Kathy Palm, who’s rewatching SILENT HILL on Feb 16 and invites you to join her on twitter with #SilentHill. http://midnightsocietytales.com/2018/02/02/lets-watch-horror-movie-silent-hill/ https://twitter.com/kathleenpalm WRITING

Last week I said the GHOST STATION ZERO collection would be available last Wednesday. It wasn't, because I am an idiot and got my release dates mixed up. Sorry. It will in fact go on sale WEDS FEBRUARY 21. So there's still time to tell your store you want a copy. http://antonyjohnston.com/work/codenamebaboushka/index.php#vol2
You can now pre-order INTERZONE #274, which will feature my new SF story SOUL MUSIC (or get it for free, if you take out a subscription — scroll to the bottom of the store page). Pre-order now, get your copy in early March: http://store.clickandbuild.com/cnb/shop/ttapress

The latest episode of my heavy metal podcast THRASH IT OUT is all about Lamb of God's album VII: STURM UND DRANG. Bit of whiplash after Iron Maiden on the last ep, but where would metal be without some neck-ache? https://thrashitoutpodcast.com APPEARANCES

WEDS FEB 28: Reading, signing, answering questions from and about THE EXPHORIA CODE in Harrogate. See top of this email, and the Facebook event page: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/FFLGMH
SAT MAR 3: I'm a guest at Dunfermline Comic-Con, organised by Little Shop of Heroes. More info: https://www.facebook.com/DunfermlineComicCon/

Photos of dogs: http://instagram.com/antonyjohnston
Attempts at humour: http://twitter.com/antonyjohnston
Occasional rants: http://facebook.com/antonyjohnston