Video game and book beginnings

11 March 2013 @ 12:25 pm

I think starting a video game and starting a novel are two acts that accomplish the same thing. The reader and the player both want to be immersed in a brand new world and immediately want bad things to happen. It’s the writer’s job to both give the participant of the game exactly what they ask for and yet always push them into next bit as unprepared as possible.

People read/play for different reasons. Some recipients do not want to be challenged enough and so will grind their way up the easier levels before they enter the game play itself so that every encounter is almost always in their favor. There’s not a lot of comparison to this in writing, because a main character who is always promised to be the winner is really important in children’s literature. Some people just can’t handle any amount of actual threat and we’re just going to assume that that kind of person is just not our ideal reader and leave them behind.

Others want to start on super-hard-suicide-hell levels, just because they can. In writing, that’s like writing with an unsympathetic main character, writing from the omniscient POV, writing in the second person, or just doing anything that makes the act of writing a book even harder than it already is. No one has ever said it couldn’t be done, it’s just not easy to do. Successful books that do press boundaries have to be so much better than the average book, and I’ve met writers who would rather try and fail a thousand times than compromise their morals/ethics whathaveyou. So not our ideal reader, either.

Most people just want to get in there and jump on people’s heads. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Books and games both start out with whatever the MC does all the time. I call it “falling in love with the bacon guys” Stargate Atlantis sets up two soon-to-be dead lackeys guarding the room by having one say to the other, “Bacon is the food that makes other food worth eating”. Then the baddies burst into the room and shoot them dead. They went from two extras you knew were going to die to The Bacon Guys! in two seconds.

It’s the perfect example of letting the reader, if only for a paragraph, feel exactly what is at stake in this world. You might think to skip it and start the battle on the page or just off of it, but you don’t give your reader a chance to know who they should be rooting for if heads immediately start popping off. Maybe this should be movies, games and beginnings because visual media knows they have opening sequence to show who is the good guy here. Gladiator showed it with a dog, because we all know dogs can’t love bad people.

People want to start out by just doing, and yet books and video games throw up these horrible expository chunks of information they seem to think you absolutely need to know before you can start having fun. Nooooooo! you howl at the load screen or that first page of really dense paragraphs, but it is too late. You’re about to dedicate the next 20-45 minutes of your life learning everything you don’t want to know. The only bit of playing you’re going to be able to do is going to be in a controlled setting, and the plot is going to revolve around some stupid thing that if it were the real game you could have done in seconds. But no, they worked on these cut scenes, damn it, and they are going to show it to you.

Exposition kills momentum. If you are good enough that you can include exposition already in a fun and interest manner that presents well researched thoughts in bite-sized, almost predigested chunks of knowledge, I’m not talking about you. If you stop the plot as soon as you finished you fun, interesting hook and spend the rest of chapter one and all of chapter telling your readers everything they need to know in order to continue, I’m no longer interested.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Most video games start the same way. There you are, the main character, and you’re about to do…something you’ve done a thousand times before, but for some reason, for now you’re doing it with someone else. And it’s boring, but at least you can do things.

Then, the BIG BAD THING happens. When the BBT happens, your character has only their wits about them. How they deal with the BBT will tell your reader more about your character than you could ever show in a cut scene, plus it’s happening immediately. Your character is just like your puny video game character, but instead of regenerating at home base if he dies, he’s just dead. So try twisting that BBT so that it is constantly a threat to the main character. Don’t lift the pressure as soon as he gets out of that first engagement, go back and make it worse.

By the end of the third chapter, your main character should have most of the information he needs to at least start solving the BBT. You still have hundreds of hours left to write, but hopefully if you take out all the cut scenes and put in MC trying to solve BBT, your story will not peter out at about the 22k-27k word mark.

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