Dear Authors: WiP Process

In a few days, my fantasy-comedy WiP, Not Your Mother’s Shire, will reach 6/25 total chapters, 110k/500k target words. I would be grateful for “best practice” insights about any or all of the following–what did you do?:

  1. Editing. Like most drafts, the work I have on dashingdon needs tweaking for clarity and effect. Since I’ve discovered my voice and style for this medium as I’ve gone, some things are inconsistent from beginning to end: types and kinds of choices, amount of text before decisions, etc. My best pages are my latest, but newcomers will need to read through the earlier ones to get to them. So, I’m concerned I’ll lose testers I would have kept if they’d seen my better content first. TL;DR: Should I take a break from forward progress to sharpen up or press on to the finish and then double back?

  2. Design decisions. I’ve discovered as I went that I want to do some things differently. I want to recalibrate stats, roll checks, and rep gains. I want to change wound tracking. I want to code my ROs as gender swappable–having done one, I’ve seen how much time this adds. If I continue and then double back, I might get an even better sense of what I ultimately want. If I don’t, I can keep on with my momentum, but commit myself further to things I want to change. TL;DR: Should I take time to change things now or change them later, when I’m finished?

These are smaller and more nuanced questions.

  1. Optional chapters. I have 5 optional chapters planned, e.g. Ch 9.5. They focus on relationships and don’t effect the plot. Basically, they’re a vacation day with the RO cast in different iconic locations. Has anyone tried things this way before? How’d that go? Is there a better way? I figure this switches up the pace and allows people who don’t care to skip at the cost of word count. There’s other organic and integrated relationship building. These would be dedicated and limited, e.g. you can hang w up to 3 of the 6 and join them in whatever they’re doing. Anyone coded entire chapters as optional? How’d that go?

  2. Killing off ROs. Anyone done this? How’d it go? How was it received? Anyone made the PC kill them?

  3. Endings. Minus the 5 optional chapters, I’ve planned 20 plot-essential ones. However, the player will only experience one of the three ending chapters per play-through, depending on their choices. Anyone else do it this way? Differently? I have four plot endings: serve the dragons, rule the dragons, slay the dragons, or become the dragons. Is four enough? Too many? What am I not thinking of?

  4. Achievements. Did you do these as you went or double back for them? I was thinking of making a wiki post in my thread to ask readers what they think the achievements should be. Anyone tried this? Something else?

As an utter wimp, I’m grateful for any pain you can save me. Cheers!

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I tend to go back and revise chapters quite a few times as I write, finishing a chapter, then going back and reworking the previous chapters, advancing a chapter, going back, et cetera, iterative-style. That has the advantage of making you look clever, as though you anticipated all the cool plot twists early on when in fact you are adding them in as you go. As for what you should do, it depends how much you need the momentum of progressing or whether you’ll take a morale hit if you wake up six months from now and say, “Ok, time for another crack at chapter one!”

Both? I think this sort of project benefits from the flexibility of change throughout the process. Stuff like gender swapping will be annoying later, to go through everything and making sure you have your pronoun codes right–at a minimum. I recalibrate stats and *sets constantly throughout the process though.

“Chapter” is such a nebulous term that it’s hard to know. One person’s chapter is another person’s vignette. But as far as whether people do relationship-exclusive lengthy optional scenes, yes, definitely.

I would guess that many authors have exclusive ending chapters based on their choices.

You are not thinking of “have a deeply satisfying and super hot romantic relationship with dragons.” As for whether the number of endings are enough, think in terms of nuance. Rule the dragons, ok, but what flavor of that ending? You can create smaller variations of big endings, which will be fun for everyone but vastly expand your work.

Here’s what I do, anyway. As you write, leave a *comment achieve nameofachievement in the text of your game whenever you get an idea for one. Then when you are done, search for those and use the ones that still seem interesting to you.

OK, here’s my best one. You wrote that you “will reach 6/25 total chapters, 110k/500k target words.” I say, get rid of the 110k/500k thinking from your mind. You’ve written 110k. How do you know you’re going to hit 500k? Maybe you’ll end up with 400k. More likely you’ll blow way past some arbitrary number and end up writing 700k words. And then you’ll end up hating chapter three and cut it, and now you’ve lost 65k words, and so forth. Don’t sweat the target number. It’s a fake number, and it makes you think in terms of the percent you have written, but that just makes you beholden to something illusory. Just write and when you’re done, you’re done. If you can do that, you’ll save yourself time and potential stress. Best of luck!

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If you feel like you need to take a break from forward progress, then I say go for it. Reviewing what you’ve written may help you with your forward process if you need it.

If you take a break now, that doesn’t mean you won’t return to those revised chapters and revise them again, even if it’s a small revision.

If you change them now, you don’t have as much content to go through compared to if you changed them later theoretically speaking. Depends how much bigger the finished project will be compared to how big the project is in its current form.

I will say you don’t need to make it perfect when you first change them to gender swappable. That’s what beta testers are for and people who are interested will no doubt point out pronoun bugs in the code for you.

Yes, do it.

The greatest thing about Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2 was the fact that I could go talk to my party members. Especially in Origins I could talk to them on and on and whenever I wanted to.

Speaking from my personal preference, I’d prefer if I could hang out with the NPCs but not at the expense of losing out on the opportunity to hang out with other NPCs. This means you can have all hangouts happen linearly (but still with the option to opt out by the MC) without the MC having to make a decision between hanging out with Bob or Ann on Tuesday night OR all the hangouts can happen but at different times depending on who you hang out with first.

I don’t like the formula where you’re given a day off but have to choose between hanging out with an NPC, building your skills, managing your resources, or all of the above.

Audiences in the wider market (Steam, Google Store, etc.) have grown to prefer the all important word count over replayability.

This was talked about, somewhat, in another discussion. I’ll link it; maybe it might give you some insight since I myself have no done this.

Generally I prefer ‘less is more’ and like @Gower pointed out… there can be varying branches within those four plot endings.

My current approach is I do these as I go or as I think of them even if I haven’t narratively written the part where they occur yet since I like to write in consecutive order.

Hope this helps. Good luck! :tada:

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I think you should do the optional chapters. As for killing ROs, I don’t think I have seen it done, but it would be great if you can do that. Go for it!:relaxed:

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I am not an author, but IMO, if you make their deaths an outcome of the MC’s choices instead of being scripted in, it’d be better received. It would also make for a more “thrilling” story, where any choice you make can have major consequences on the MC, the plot, or another character. (also if you decide to kill off Yester, I will start a riot)

And as for who’d done RO deaths-(One example is the author of Zombie Exodus. In Part 3, the author has scripted RO death/s, because there where way too many ROs. Many players that have romanced the said character have voiced their complaints and opinions on the death of a favored character.)

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Given the caveat that the following is my approach and each author/developer develops their own, here are my answers to your general questions.

Normally I suggest finishing a pass(draft) before moving on to the next … with that said, there are exceptions to this.

This qualifies as such an exception.

Once you have solidified your voice and style, stopping and revising all proceeding work should become a priority.

These consistency issues are primary drivers of your game… for your game to be truly tested properly, these things should be standardized.

The easy and upfront changes, you should try to make as you go forward. Otherwise, my suggestion is to let it go for now and finish your writing. The balancing can be addressed in future passes or reviews of your material.

This goes for everything. I personally plan out 4 or 5 passes just in the first draft of a story.

initial writing pass
initial coding pass
initial systems and mechanics pass
initial editing pass
initial play-test pass (aka pre-alpha slice-of-life testing)

From there, I add future passes… for example on the project I am working on now, I have 3 additional passes scheduled, because there are things I need to go back over, discovered during this current March pass I am working on.



I will address your nuanced questions later.

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  1. You need to discover your process. There is no universal process and trying to copy someone elses habits can lead to paralysis.

But I’ll answer anwyays. Finish your current draft before “doubling back to clean up”. You should only double back if you need to make major structural changes to the story in order to finish the draft. If your only concern is a beauty pass then keep pressing on to the end. Beauty pass later.

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I don’t know how many of these have definite answers (and if they do, my answers may be wrong… :sweat_smile:) I can tell you what I do, but you should treat it as advice rather than anything more.

I would generally want to go through the entire work before going back to revise, unless there are specific changes I want to make (e.g. to add foreshadowing, alter worldbuilding details). While it does sound like you do know what changes you want to make, it also sounds like you’re going to be changing a lot, so it may be easier for you to wait and change it later, but you could go either way.

In this case, you’re changing smaller things that will definitely become more work as you go, so I’d definitely recommend making those changes now.

Not quite, but the chapter I’m currently working on will be a mostly optional holiday chapter, where you can choose to hang out with various ROs or just to skip to the end. Hopefully the readers would be fine with it… :sweat_smile:

I would definitely recommend not doing this, or if you do, make it avoidable. If a writer kills off (or otherwise writes out) an RO, it can feel as though the writer is essentially punishing players for liking that RO… :sweat: And especially if it’s the MC who kills them… :grimacing:

I will note that in my published game, pretty much all ROs can die (and the MC can even kill some themself), but these are all optional, and you have to go very far out of your way to kill some of them… :sweat_smile:

Live in harmony with the dragons as equals? :confused:

For my own games: the published one has three “routes” through the final chapter, but it’s pretty similar no matter what, and the real different endings are relegated to the epilogue; meanwhile my current WiP will have multiple routes over several late chapters, but as I haven’t got that far yet, I can’t give you any advice about it… :sweat_smile:

In my first game I did these as I went along. This time, I haven’t done any, but I’m not sure whether I’d want to do as many this time. :sweat_smile: But either way can work.

I would also agree with @Gower that you shouldn’t aim for a specific word count; aim to complete the story as best you can, whether or not it fits the word count, and certainly don’t add extra just to pad it out.

Good luck with your game! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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lol I’m back with more rambling :stuck_out_tongue: For all your questions you asked, there is no set answer for them (unlike my math hw). You simply have to find what’s best for you.

If you like to plan things out, do everything first, then go back to it. (for everything that’s not the main plot/story).
If you are more of a “figure it out as you go” type of person, then do everything along with the story.

Here’s my 2 cents on these:

as someone who has read your game/story, it seems quite polished/good enough for no major changes. I would say you should press forward to the finish, then go back and tweak the demo.

There’s another option too; press forwards, but whenever you get stuck on plot idea/s or have a writer’s block, you can tweak the current demo as a sort of “stress reliever/break from writing”.

I think it’s better if you lay the foundation (the game) down first, then build up from it (skill checks, stats, etc). You will get a better idea of where the stats/checks should go.

There’d never be “too many” endings; after all, different choices can lead to different endings, and there’s a LOT of choices and combos you can make. Having more endings than only a few, in my opinion, is better because it feels more “real” and makes me want to replay the game to see the other endings. They’re way more fun.

Also- Where’s the option to have tea parties with the dragons and live happily ever after? lol, I mean- you have choices that either kill, conquer, serve, or become. There’s no “middle ground” or “neutral ground”. Can there be a ending where we co-exist peacefully(enough) with the dragons?

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I’m really wow-ed, humbled, and grateful for all of the hard-earned wisdom you’ve taken the time to share. Keep it coming and rest assured your words aren’t wasted on me. I hate learning the hard way as much as I can help it.

re:Gower

Ha! @Gower I think about that entirely too much, actually. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and detailed response. Your 1.5M+ words of published CoG lend serious gravitas to your words. The bit about using *comment to place hold achievements is super helpful. A smarter person than me would have thought of that themselves–and you did. Great advice about illusory mileposts. I think I have a problem with that irl. I’ve read your response a few times and am letting it all sink in. Thanks again!

re:Black Cat

Thank you so much @AChubbyBlackCat. I know exactly what you mean about Dragon Age. I’ve giving serious thought to your suggestion not to time-limit the vacation days for replay value in favor of word count. Thank you also for the link–super helpful. There’s so much practical advice here that I know you know what you’re taking about, and I’ll be rereading for days–I can be a bit slow.

re:935

Glad to see someone share my morbidity! I think, if I can land it (big if), these will be the most meaningful and lasting impressions anyone takes away. This is what happens when you grow up reading GRRM! @935

re:Misty

Misty! @Mistyleaf123 Did you know that Misty is the name of a famous pony from Chincoteague island? Totally get you about not scripting in deaths. Choice, all the way. The way I have it now, there will be ROs who aren’t down with your faction decisions, whatever you decide. They might not be who or how you think–allegiances will shift! Good example w ZE–I’m going to check it out. I totally dig everything you’re saying. Super grateful since you know the piece so well. Boo for math hw, btw. Good idea to break up the work that needs to be done by feeling–I’m moody by the minute, so this will help. When I began, I wanted the endings to be severely different in meaningful ways guided by player decisions. I’ve thought about peaceful co-existance, actually, and will some more. Lot of moving pieces to that. You’d have to meet some of these dragons and some of the zealous rebels positioned against them to understand fully. I don’t want any major decisions to be easy or for anyone to be solely good or bad. Even the ones you know already. There will be an option to pretend to slay certain dragons–some are nice, actually–and let them live in exile. Thanks for being a top reader!

re:Eiwynn

@Eiwynn The five passes seem like a really great approach. Daunting, when I think of total word count, but definitely methodical, especially since I don’t have a separate editor. I think you’re right about circling back–can’t do everything at once. I believe I could get bogged down in continual improvement and then peter out. Definitely don’t want that! Can’t wait to see what else you have to say. Cheers!

re:Jose

@Jose_Garcia You’re totally right about paralysis. I live in constant fear of this and think sometimes we don’t get a say. I think you’re right, too, about holding off on beauty. I was never going to be prom queen anyway.

re:Parrot

So cool that you’re doing optional holiday chapters too! I see what you mean about some players feeling punished if their fave RO is killable. I’m hoping, if I can execute (pun) well enough, everyone won’t hate me. I think you’re right about which changes should happen when. I’m going to think more about everything you’ve written. Cheers!

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As @Gower said, I also recalibrate stats throughout the whole process. There are times when I realise ‘wait, here the MC would sharpen his ability to x, or their personality would go in a direction I hadn’t anticipated’, so I feel like I need to acknowledge it. With the caveat that I try not to change them drastically, to alienate the ones that have already played or to shift the focus on something totally different for the evolution of the MC.

As for the forward vs. backward, I would say that it depends on what kind of writer you are. There are some that need to have the whole draft in front of them in order to make the right changes, while others keep returning to the previous scenes. They are just two different types of approaches, you could try the second one and if that doesn’t seem to work for you, just go forward, don’t worry.

I don’t have much experience in fiction writing, to be honest, but I have years of experience in non-fiction and I have observed these two types of writing patterns. Maybe it 's also the same in fiction:)

Hope this helps you at least a little bit. Good luck!

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I’ll echo what a lot of folks have said: what I’m going to describe is my process, and it totally may not work for you.

I do best if I lay out the rough scenes I want in a chapter, then write the first scene, then edit that. I edit by running randomtest with the option to show all text and choices. I read straight through three to six permutations of the scene to make sure the overall flow is what I want. If not, I re-write and re-run randomtest. Then, instead of reading additional permutations, I search the randomtest text for phrases from the result of various choices and *if statements. That lets me check the prose flow at the granular level and catch places where the prose doesn’t fit together.

I do the write-revise loop for each scene until I’ve got a complete chapter, at which point I do a light pass over the entire chapter.

In my latest chapter, I waited to edit the entire chapter instead of individual scenes. It near about killed me, so I’m going back to the scene-by-scene editing approach.

I tend to change as I go, but I also cheat and use variables for my stat checks. I stole Emily Short’s approach and have variables that represent low-threshold, medium-threshold, and high-threshold checks. It means I have a lot of code that looks like *if trait_driven > trait_driven_mid_pass, but it means that I can adjust those thresholds per chapter, and once I’m done with the game, do a final adjustment throughout.

I’m adding the occasional one if I think about it, but otherwise plan to add them after I’m done with the game.

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Oh, just to check, do you get to vacation with them even if you’re not romancing them? I’d definitely recommend including platonic versioons of bonus content :slight_smile:

Yes please :pleading_face:

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@Alexandra_Zorila Thanks so much for your input. I think it’s really valuable. We should borrow as much as we can from other disciplines, especially ones so similar, to save our energy for problems we can’t avoid.

Per usual, I do my best learning when I fail extravagantly and make my myself a liar. For instance, I thought I’d save time (utlimately) by coding for a gender swap in advance. I proceeded on this assumption and have found that the thousands of extra keystrokes labor my pure-creation step. As with editing, if I do it while I’m writing, I don’t get any writing done. So, my new-found strategy is slowing me lots! Guess that’s the difference between knowledge and understanding. After the chapter I’m on, I’m reverting to writing/coding sans gender-swap, if only to get to the dedicated effort sooner. Now I understand, beyond what anyone can tell me. This is my tenth or so thing like that with ChoiceScript and IF.

@Sargent That’s a really nice hack, with the preset difficulty tiers. Thanks for sharing. Your process sounds excruciating, but I bet you produce MUCH better drafts than me. I call my first my “vomit” draft. To keep with the metaphor, if I don’t vomit my way along, I end up quite constipated. Sorry to share the details of my literary digestion. What’s the saying? Writer don’t like writing, but they like having written. True of me, anyway. Cheers!

You know, enough people have asked me about this that I have to consider it. These days dragons are more how-to-train-your-dragon than Smaug. Even the Game of Thrones dragons were sympathetic, weren’t they? There’s a spoiler in my story about what the dragons really are, but people may grow quite attached them before it. I’ll see what I can do.

As for the vacation day: yes! You can hang even if you’re not romancing. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Persona 4/5, but they handle some phases of the game like this. Platonic option is a go. In some ways, I think the platonic options are far more intimate than the sexual ones as I have them planned. Cheers, friend! Thanks for asking. @TSSL @ParrotWatcher I’ve come to believe friendship has a potential that sex doesn’t because it isn’t as clouded up with eros.

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