Cash DeCuir is a writer for Failbetter Games. You can follow him on Twitter @CashDeCuir.
Not long after graduating from college, I applied to be a writer at Failbetter Games. I’ve been working with the company for nearly a year, and I’ve learned a great deal in that time. Though I can only share five of those lessons at present, I hope that doing so will save at least one soul from having to learn – as I did – the hard way.
1) Don’t mistake the spark for the fire
Beware “writer ideas.” They are lofty, beautiful, enchanting things that are entirely uninteresting in themselves.
I still fall for them. I’ll have a thought I find particularly delightful, and I’ll mistakenly believe that the idea is – by itself, alone – a complete story. I will believe that it is justified by its own existence when, in truth, it still must be built into something worthy.
By way of example: last year, while working on content revolving around confessions, I thought about the damning power of Beauty, and a man tormented by his aesthetics – and I thought it was the niftiest. But! As I found after having written it, it wasn’t interesting in itself. It was an idea, not a story: pure abstraction, totally inconsequential as it was. I reworked it into a story, and reworked it again into a better one – and by virtue of making it concrete, consequential, and engaging narrative arc, it became the most celebrated of all the confessions I wrote.
2) House your soul in the body it deserves
When crafting a story of any kind – a game, a novel, a film, a post-modern-mish-mash-sorta-something – you must stay true to the core idea. If you try to expand your core too many ways (more features!/chapters!/scenes!), or try to make it into something that it is not (let’s add horror!/romance!/tragedy!), then your work will begin to fail. This isn’t to say the idea can’t grow or mature – that the scope of your story can’t expand. It is only to say that you must be careful in its cultivation: some things that grow out of it are better cut.
If you have a wonderful idea, then give the idea the story it deserves. That is your duty as an artist. You are giving a body to a soul. Put the soul in the right body, and it will be very happy. Put the soul in the wrong body, and it will be a miserable, awkward creation. People will shy away from it- sometimes politely, sometimes not.
3) Don’t deceive yourself, or you will suffer what you deserve to suffer
In writing, as in life, there are things we believe to be better and more beautiful than they are.
I don’t mean to say that, “in reality,” the things we hold highest are without virtue – only that we need remember our Darling might not be the gloried, uncomplicated Good we believe it to be.
We must always be aware of our work. Blindness in art is a kind of death-in-life. After all – if something is utterly wonderful, why change it? If you can’t improve – why go on?
Not only that, but it damages the work as a whole. No one else will see what you see. No one will love as you do. And if you aren’t willing to determine what ‘s bullshit and what isn’t, you’ll leave that to your audience – and they’ll be sure to let you know.
4) Never apologize for what is meant to be
You have your idea. You’ve refined it into a worthy thing, and you’ve begun work on realizing your vision. Now – no matter what happens – believe in it. Write your story in the most effective way to realize its themes. Don’t apologize for going to strange and interesting places. Don’t apologize for challenging your audience – or for providing them pure entertainment. Whatever happens, don’t give them an out. How awful would it be for an actor to break your heart with a moving performance, only for them to stop in the middle, apologize, and promise to tone it down?
5) You’re always going to fail
Near the end of every project, I always have a moment where I despair for what I have done. I recognize how much better the work could have been – and should have been – if only I’d known something I learned at the end. But the deadline looms. The piece has to go out. And as we launch the content, I swear that I’ll not fail the next story: I swear that next time, I’ll use everything I’ve learned and – if nothing more – fail in a wholly new way.