Plotting from the top down

October 5, 2010 in Game Development, Painter Story

One of the problems with the first attempt at writing Painter Story was the unstructured plot. We knew a bit about the main character and the various girls he could pursue, as well as some potential outcomes. But we never really worked out the route from A to B. And in the old pre-alphas I used to circulate on IRC, it showed, just as badly as the temporary art and audio.

Something that I’ve been doing since we reset the project is building out the plot, working from the top down. (I say me, because the bulk of the work on laying out the plot has been mine, but the others certainly did contribute as well.) Things began by outlining a story for each of the dateable girls, entirely separate from common or shared events. From there, we worked together to take the three disparate mini-outlines, and combine them into one big outline that included common events. At that point, we also identified major story choices that would lead the reader towards a particular path, as well as other choices that might trip them up or lead to better endings.

That work is pretty much done, but for getting to the actual writing, it’s not really enough. It gives a good overall view of what happens, but this 50,000 ft outline doesn’t provide enough low-level detail to identify anything more than key scenes.

So for the past little while, I’ve been working on a more detailed outline for the first part of Painter Story. This one identifies individual scenes, as well as provides at least a paragraph of explanation for each one (or will, when complete). We can identify what’s missing at this level, and let us know where things will go from each particular scene. That way, when it comes to actual writing, I and any other scene writers are more likely to really drive the story forward, and lead in to following scenes better.

This is a long, slow, painful process — but without it, Painter Story would never be as good as I’d hope for. While it’ll probably never be on par with Katawa Shoujo or Cradle Song, I’d still like to create something that sits in the top 25% of original English language visual novels. By constructing a strong story, I’m sure that’s achievable.