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Alpha_ProgDes

Episode 1 - The Village

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Short Story with room to fill in (by me of course or good ideas I pluck from someone else; credit will be given). A spring afternoon starts like any other in this mountain region. The sun sets to light rain and slight breeze crosses the overpass. The bridge sway gently and yet in sync with the breeze. The five men look below to see a village to the east bathed in rays of the sun setting against the horizon. Near the base of the path, sounds from afar become remarkably clear. One man notices the sound of faint hooves riding the plain. He points out to the other 4 men that it must be coming from the opposite side of the village. All the men agree and continue on their journey. This village of Ra'oh is a bustling village of merchants and farmers. The village's vast plains allow it to grow a great variety of vegetation. The encircularing forests give home to many animals. The mountains to the West are filled with endless quantities of metals and ore. Ra'oh supplies the various cities and other villages with food and supplies. Its merchants bring in citizens from all around to teach the ways of farming, pottery, mining, and hunting. It is a bartering system that harnesses trade and knowledge in an optimized synergy. Yet, this village is simple. It does not use the latest tools from the northern region of Ziral. It does not even have scholars who are equal to the learned mages of the eastern city of Ha'uk. Its wealth is in the knowledge of its people. Fruit sellers are normally located at the edge of town. Miriam, being a fruit seller, always sees the most interesting people. It is the village custom to have fruit sellers at the edge of town to give visitors a healthy replenishment after a long journey. Though Miriam saw there were new visitors riding in, the setting of the sun meant it was time for her as well as the other fruit sellers to begin to close their shops. It seemed strange to Miriam that the riders were not slowing down. Another fruit seller, Oriya, also noticed the peculiarity of these riders. Then the unthinkable happened. A horrid sight which has not been seen in over 800 years had appeared once again. Oriya and Miriam were in shock. In such fear, that their bodies could neither move or produce sound of any kind. Tales of this horror had been passed down throughout the generations but now had been considered as an old wives' tale. But it was no longer a wives' tale, but a dark legend which has come to reclaim its place among the living. The women struck by fear saw the Flag. The legend told of riders who wore plates of regal metals and wore black or white capes. The legend had been told by so many that the exact description of these riders had been lost. But one detail was never changed, never lost, never misspoken. The Flag Which Bleeds. This flag and the letters it bore was never to be reproduced or uttered in any region, city, or village. Such a crime was so heinous that it was punishable by death --swiftly. But there it was; the Flag which spews the blood of demons rode closer. Finally a loud shreek was heard throughout the village. The shreek made by Weilina was followed by a spear in her throat. Miriam and Oriya finally feeling the blood in their legs began to move. Only they were too late. Each woman took no more than 9 steps and burst into dust. A foul stench swept through the village paralyzing some and caused others to go mad. Huts and houses combusted into black flames. Villagers were speared and mounted on horseback. The Shadows of Death descended on this village of Ra'oh on a whim. The five men only minutes from the Ra'oh saw the black flames and plumes of smoke which rose after them. They looked toward each other, each with a hesitant countenance. Finally the monk which had heard the hooves made the suggestion to go to the village. The others agreed but unanimous weight of disagreement fell upon them. The group of five began to run toward the village. Their eyes focused on the flames that engulfed the village. Ra'oh was destroyed. Its people tainted by a demonic force unseen for centuries. But these men knew this force all too well. They too knew the stories. But not the wives' tales that others knew. This group of five knew the horde known as the Shadows of Death and the Flag Which Bleeds and yet can never die. As the group neared Ra'oh, a rain of axes, wooden planks, and brick rained from overhead. An unfortunate turn of events has turned this group into the things they despised most, yet must now embrace. (episode 1 to be continued) Critiques, suggestions, flaming. Post below. edit: Did some proofreading and correction. [Edited by - Alpha_ProgDes on July 8, 2007 7:57:53 AM]

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I got through the first sentence. The very first word was a typo, and the first line told me that this story was just like any story, about an afternoon just like any other. Snore. Get a hook, and I'll read more!

You need to give me a reason to care about all the crap you're trying to tell me. Drop me into the meat of the story, and let the setting fill itself out later.

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Original post by Pete Michaud
I got through the first sentence. The very first word was a typo, and the first line told me that this story was just like any story, about an afternoon just like any other. Snore. Get a hook, and I'll read more!

I'll have to be more careful in the future. Thankfully, I'm going to be a professional [smile]

Quote:
You need to give me a reason to care about all the crap you're trying to tell me. Drop me into the meat of the story, and let the setting fill itself out later.


I see you like action flicks [grin]

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I'm going to have to agree with Pete. You spend way too much time on exposition which, frankly, is boring and never pans out. Why the hell do I care if there's metals and ore in the mountains? The detail is never used later on and it doesn't stand for itself alone, so why is it in there?

Try to work more on really throwing your audience into your characters lives. You go on and on about the village, but that's not the same as describing the villagers' lives. It's basically the difference between telling someone you went to the grocery store and telling someone what happened while you were at the grocery store.

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Original post by Pete Michaud
I got through the first sentence. The very first word was a typo, and the first line told me that this story was just like any story, about an afternoon just like any other. Snore. Get a hook, and I'll read more!

You need to give me a reason to care about all the crap you're trying to tell me. Drop me into the meat of the story, and let the setting fill itself out later.



I'll agree but more politely :D I found myself reading the first few sentances than going "ehhh" and then jump to see what other people said about it. Then I went back up and started reading again so I could see what else I could add.

I would suggest more action words in some spots and also more "sense" words all the way around. Words that engage the five senses. Such as, "A pleasantly cool/warm spring afternoon starts..." would be a good way to enhance the 'feeling' within that opening sentance. This will help people feel like they are there, or better to understand what is being described.

Another example, The metal chair was uncomfortable; vs The small cold metal chair was uncomfortable as it pressed in from all sides. The first sentance is true and people can comprehend it, but the second tells you exactly how uncomfortable by giving feeling to the chair. It's cold metal and probably hard, also it's small and presses in from all sides giving you a trapped or confined feeling. Pressing in from all sides also indicates that there are arms on the chair and that there isn't much room to move around to relax, without having to state any of these things.

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Then the unthinkable happened. A horrid sight which has not been seen in over 800 years had appeared once again. Oriya and Miriam were in shock. In such fear, that their bodies could neither move or produce sound of any kind. Tales of this horror had been passed down throughout the generations but now had been considered as an old wives' tale. But it was no longer a wives' tale, but a dark legend which has come to reclaim its place among the living.

The women struck by fear saw the Flag.


This hear kinda confused me in the flow of events wise. It says she becomes afraid, so much she locks up, then she sees the flag. Yet I'm assuming the flag is what inspired such fear in the first place?? Or is it the riders and the realization of who they might be that causes the fear? If so you may want to clarify that in such a way as: "The women struck by gripping fear saw the Flag only known to them from stories, confirming to them the nightmare before their eyes". Something like that could also help the flow to the next sentance about the legendary riders.

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The five men only minutes from the Ra'oh saw the black flames and plumes of smoke which rose after them.


What?? Did you mean "rose 'before' them?" Or is them referring to the riders in the village? A bit ambiguous, at least to me. May want to re-read your intro for other possible slips or confusing wording etc.

My final thought is, are these guys running to the troubled village with urgency? If so, I'm not really feeling that. All the pointing out of things, making agreements etc just makes it all feel sorta casual. If there is urgency maybe put some words in there that describe the hastiness of their movements torwards the troubled village, or the speed of their decisions and how fast they act upon them.


I hope all of this helps :) I like the idea of what you're presenting, even if at the moment it needs some polish/feeling. Good job and keep on going.

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Aside from the terrible writing, there are some logical flaws in the story. The sun usually sets in the evening, not the afternoon. Ra'oh appears to be a bustling center of culture and commerce, but is a mere village.

The main problems with your writing as I see them are:

1. Pick a narrator and stick to it. Each "scene" should be told from a single point of view, and in a single tense. You start off in the present tense (always difficult to do effectively anyway: that's why most books are written in the past tense) and change to the past tense without warning.

2. Show, don't tell. Don't just tell us that Miriam thought it was strange that the riders weren't slowing down. Show us how she reacts to it. In general, never tell the reader what a character is thinking: instead make sure the reader can figure out what the character is thinking by examining what the character is doing.

3. Avoid exposition. If you need to tell the reader something, have a character tell them in dialog. Don't just tell us the history of the Shadows of Death, have a character tell us. For best results, have both the leader of the Shadows and the leader of the band of five give us different stories so that the reader is left guessing as to which is the exact truth (but make the stories similar enough that they can get the general idea what's going on).

3. Pick a tone and stick to it. If you must have dry encyclopedic exposition -- you must tell the reader something that you can't believably have a character say -- don't mix it in with dramatic action. Put it in a different scene. Offhand, both Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have lots of unspoken exposition in their books, but it's carefully segregated from the actual action of the book.




Here's my re-imagining. There are still plenty of flaws with it, but I think it sounds less like an encyclopedia entry.

Quote:

Nestled peacefully amongst hills on the edge of the Southern mountains there lies a settlement. Quiet now in the setting sun, its daytime activity is betrayed by the dust trails of trade caravans, themselves now hidden in the village's outlying woods.

From the crest of a nearby hill, five stand against the sun, looking along a trail that leads down to the village. Through the drizzle of rain, the sound of hooves is faintly audible. One man, in the robes of a monk, points to a dust cloud. It is shorter but wider than the others, and leads not away into the woods, but from the east, across the plains and towards the village. His companions follow his gesture, and then nod in wordless agreement. They begin to make their way along the path.

***

Miriam viewed the approaching riders with some annoyance. With the end of the day, she had begun to pack away her fruit stall, not expecting to see any more visitors. She briefly considered finishing clearing up before she saw that Oriya, a neighboring stall worker, had put some of her fruit, only the most popular fare, back on her stall. In no mood to lose business to Oriya, she proceeded to do the same.

By that time, the horses were mere seconds from the stalls, but showed no sign of slowing down. Miriam had served visitors from many places, but rarely any quite so rude, or dangerous. She was about to step forward and flag the riders
down when she noticed the look of shock and fear on Oriya's face. Frowning, Miriam followed her gaze. The thing she saw froze her to the spot. Her heart pumped faster, a rushing noise filled her ears, but she could not move. The riders, and the thing they carried, thundered through the stalls knocking fruit into the air.

A scream pierced the air, and the fog in Miriam's head. She turned and began to run as she saw the scream cut short with a spear through the neck of its source, another stall keeper named Weilina. Stumbling, she glanced back at the riders, but saw only the thing they carried. The noise in her ears returned, a red gaze descended, and then there was nothing. As they trampled past, the hooves of the terrible rider's horses ground a thin layer of dust into the dirt.

The thing they carried fluttered in the wind, flinging globules of thick hot liquid into the air. The blasphemous icon etched into its black surface dripped blood. A foul stench filled the air where the droplets hit the ground, and wherever the miasma went, villagers babbled incoherently or froze as if paralyzed, steel and iron tarnished and warped, and wood smoldered and burst into black flames. The riders speared the villagers and heaped their corpses onto horses. In short order, the settlement of Ra'oh was razed to the ground and all its people killed by the riders, under the banner of the thing they carried, the Flag That Bleeds.

***

Minutes out from the ruined village, the five men survey the clouds of smoke which rose from the black flames burning within. They look at each other hesitantly. The monk says they must go the village and the others, uneasy but resigned, agree. They start to run, towards the fire and smoke, towards the Flag That Bleed and those that carry it: the Shadows of Death.

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@Nathan: I agree pretty much with what you said, except for this:

Quote:

never tell the reader what a character is thinking...


This is a matter of style rather than a hard and fast rule. For instance, I would have felt much more involved in the story if, however briefly, we actually heard a character's speech, instead of having it given to us passively. Even with your rewrite, there's a disconnect with the characters. Granted, these are bit-parts, but in an opening chapter you really do need to grab your readers by the throat and engage their full attention with every weapon in your arsenal.

For example...

Quote:

"Oh! I wonder who that could be?"

Miriam glanced up from her packing and saw her rival Oriya peering down the road. Now she too heard the thunder of hooves on the dusty road beyond and scowled as she saw Oriya putting some apples back on her empty stall. I'll be damned if I'll let that blasted whelp outsell me again! Miriam looked down at her remaining stock. Some apples perhaps. And maybe those pears. Perhaps she might yet make a profit today.


Another issue I have is that there's no explanation for why there are these five guys hanging around on a bridge overlooking the village. Mysterious is good, but you do need to give a reason for the reader to want to know more about said mystery. The bleedin' flag also felt rather overdone, but I suppose it's early days yet.

A story is a fractal entity, each chapter should be a story in its own right, with a beginning, a middle and an end. And so should each paragraph, and each sentence. But the key is to give the reader *characters* to care about. The plot should spring primarily from the interactions of the characters, not the other way around. Focus on the *people*, not their location. If the reader is not emotionally engaged, they won't bother to read your story.

*

@Alpha_ProgDes: See above. But I'd also suggest taking a creative writing course. It's not really possible to teach creativity, but it is absolutely possible to learn the craft of writing fiction. There's a lot more of that in creative writing than people realise and it is eminently teachable.

I can give a few pointers, but the best way to learn is to read, read and read some more. (And write too, obviously. Most novelists will tell you that you need to get the first million words out of your system before you'll be any good.)

Read some good books. Read them over and over, until you can see past the story and take an objective look at how it's structured and written. Read them objectively and study them. Read other authors. Look at Terry Pratchett's early books and compare them to his latest ones; his style has changed dramatically in recent years, moving away from light, frothy parody and into fully-fledged satire.

Read books you like and study them with a view to seeing how the magic is done. Once you learn the techniques, it's easy to 'see the strings'.

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Original post by stimarco
@Nathan: I agree pretty much with what you said, except for this:

Quote:

never tell the reader what a character is thinking...


This is a matter of style rather than a hard and fast rule. For instance, I would have felt much more involved in the story if, however briefly, we actually heard a character's speech, instead of having it given to us passively.

Oh yes, there's clearly nothing wrong with characters telling us what they're thinking. Many interesting thoughts can't be expressed passively. My point, not very expressed, is that the author shouldn't be telling us what the characters think: the characters should, whether it is by actions or words.

And yes, it's a matter of style. Never say never. Sometimes the reader needs to know what a character is thinking, and the best way is just to tell them directly. You don't want to do that too much, though. It's meant to be a narrative, not the minutes of the town hall meeting.
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Even with your rewrite, there's a disconnect with the characters. Granted, these are bit-parts, but in an opening chapter you really do need to grab your readers by the throat and engage their full attention with every weapon in your arsenal.

I think that's mainly because I'm not a very good writer! [grin]

I think part of the problem is the pacing of the scene. It seems like we should spend at least a few pages immersed in the idyllic utopia of Ra'oh (I hope that ' isn't just for show. [smile]), so that when the Shadows Of Death roll in, it actually has the emotional impact it's intended to have.
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Another issue I have is that there's no explanation for why there are these five guys hanging around on a bridge overlooking the village. Mysterious is good, but you do need to give a reason for the reader to want to know more about said mystery.

I didn't actually think that was a problem. Plenty of stories start with mysterious characters. They are, perhaps, overly mysterious. Some dialog could have drawn the reader in and given them room to speculate. (I considered adding dialog to my rewrite, but didn't want to veer too far from the source material.)
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The bleedin' flag also felt rather overdone, but I suppose it's early days yet.

I don't know that the flag itself is hammy, but Alpha_ProgDes's description of it was decidedly rotten. On account of it dripping demon blood, and on the reaction the characters had to it, I chose to paint it as an inherently evil, almost sentient, object of great power. Although my lack of skill still left it rather ham-fisted.

One way to reduce the ham factor would be to tone down Miriam et al's reaction and just have them treat it as a flag decorated with an outlawed symbol drawn in still-wet red paint, even if that isn't what it actually is.
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@Alpha_ProgDes: See above. But I'd also suggest taking a creative writing course.

In addition, joining a writer's club (writer's group, writer's circle, whatever) would probably be worthwhile. You get a sounding board for testing your writing against in exchange for criticizing the writing of the other members, which itself will help you recognize similar flaws in your own work. After all, anyone can learn how to write; the trick is learning how not to write.

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Well right now I'm just reading the critiques. I didn't realize that writing the game story would be the same as writing a short novel. But please carry on. Don't worry I've gotten the point that my writing style sucks [smile]

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Original post by Alpha_ProgDes
I didn't realize that writing the game story would be the same as writing a short novel.

Narrative is narrative. If you don't write something people will want to read, there's little point writing it.

But don't forget that the game's background doesn't have to be described with a narrative. If it's a problem for you, you may be able to achieve the same goal -- giving the player a grounding in the game's world -- by writing in an encyclopedic style. You wouldn't be in bad company: D&D campaign setting source books are mainly written in this style.

On the other hand, if you press forward with the narrative approach, you'd have company there, too. Offhand, Elite and Outpost 2 came with complete stories set in the universe of the game. In these cases, though, they were written by experienced science-fiction writers and not the game developers.

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Original post by Nathan Baum
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Original post by Alpha_ProgDes
I didn't realize that writing the game story would be the same as writing a short novel.

Narrative is narrative. If you don't write something people will want to read, there's little point writing it.

But don't forget that the game's background doesn't have to be described with a narrative. If it's a problem for you, you may be able to achieve the same goal -- giving the player a grounding in the game's world -- by writing in an encyclopedic style. You wouldn't be in bad company: D&D campaign setting source books are mainly written in this style.

On the other hand, if you press forward with the narrative approach, you'd have company there, too. Offhand, Elite and Outpost 2 came with complete stories set in the universe of the game. In these cases, though, they were written by experienced science-fiction writers and not the game developers.


I'd go further than Nathan and point out that games are software designed to enable players to tell their own stories. Playing a game is, like playing cops'n'robbers as a kid, inherently a role-playing experience, regardless of the genre. It doesn't have to be labelled an "RPG" for this. Doom, Tomb Raider, Jet Set Willy and even Asteroids and Defender all place the player into an adventure. It's up to the player how he plays his role using his avatar and the game's environment.

ALL the rules of fiction therefore apply to games too. They're just applied in different ways because of how games work. I.e. your job is to ensure the game has all the story elements necessary to allow players to tell entertaining stories. This might be through traditional literary means, such as scripting cut-scenes and writing character dialogue, or using much more subtle means as would be the case in a puzzle game. (For example, "The Incredible Machine" and "The Secret of Monkey Island" are fundamentally the same type of game. The difference is in the user interface, not the core game mechanics as both are based around solving logic puzzles. The latter uses narrative as a reward for the player. The former uses the successful running of the machine as its reward mechanism.)

Decide first what kind of game you want to create and how you intend to present it to the player(s). Only then will you know how best to provide those storytelling tools. You may find a scripted cut-scene works better than, say, a narrated voice-over. Some writers prefer scripting over prose as each requires very different styles of writing.

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wow lots of experienced writers on this board! Excellent critiques. Alpha I can't deny that your writing was drawn out and lacking a cohesive rhythm, but I also can't say that it's terrible. It seems like it is merely a rough draft. Why not rewrite it? Now that your thoughts are down on paper, you know exactly how you want the flow of your story to be related to the reader. It helps to know exactly where you are going when describing the way there.

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Original post by Alpha_ProgDes
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You need to give me a reason to care about all the crap you're trying to tell me. Drop me into the meat of the story, and let the setting fill itself out later.

I see you like action flicks [grin]


Actually, this is a general guideline for most of all writing. If a person walks into a bookstore, they aren't going to read the first half of each book to select one. They are going to read the first sentence, maybe page if you are lucky. So maybe you have the best concept ever, but its start is hidden off on page 22, too bad, no one is going to get there. It is a standard technique to hook the reader, and then once they are engaged to fill out the meat. Or as Pete says, it can just be filled in along the way, it is a mistake made by many new writers to think it is necessary to expend paragraphs on mere detail on setting and characters. Also some good advice is "show, don't tell" Don't tell me woman are struck by fear, have them scream and drop their baskets. Don't tell me the main character dislikes his foe, have him glare at his foe icily and grip his sword hilt. The reader wants to experience your world firsthand, not have it described to him as if he is a child too small to understand things himself. ;) Now you do in fact do a decent bit of showing, but there is a lot of telling that ought to be replaced ;). As far as material its not bad, definitely some potential there. Just shape up the writing a bit. And game writing doesn't have to be like novel writing, only if you intend on having the player read it ;). If its more for you and won't directly be seen by the player you just have to make sure the plot is good, even if the writing isn't so tasteful.

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