Story Concepts & Development for Novels, Comics, Games, Film and TV

Writing as a Collaboration

I can understand how people might think of writing as a solitary occupation. But unless you’re self-publishing your own novels, writing is far from a solo act.

If you’re writing screenplays, you’re more than likely working with a producer and/or a director (and sometimes even actors, who want to have a hand in how they come across on-screen). If you’re writing in comics, you’re working with an artist and probably an editor. In games, you’re working in collaboration with an entire game development team, whose requirements will literally shape the written story.

Working as part of a team is not always smooth. On most projects, a writer has little to no control over the artists they will be working with or who will be supervising their work. It helps to remember that each person has their own desires for the project, their own ego, and if they’re worth their salt, each wants to put their own unique stamp on the final product. The goal is to find your place in the midst all of that.

And it’s not always comfortable having other peoples’ hands in your work. Sometimes, decisions and changes are made that are not necessarily best for the story.

To put it plainly, story is not always the first priority of the project.

I realize that statement may sound counterintuitive, but depending on the industry you’re writing in, the needs of story are often trumped by other (important) concerns like budget limitations, game mechanics, page length, or contractual requirements.

I’ve heard people I work with refer to me as a “story surgeon”. I’m proud of that label. I don’t shy away from requirements. In fact, I consider it one of the great challenges of working in games, comics, and film. I thrive on exploiting game mechanic limitations in order to find ways to “tell” as much story out as possible. I get excited about finding the “inevitable but not predictable” solution that both appeals to the appropriate audience and still fulfills the project goals.

[When I’m writing on my personal projects, having too much freedom can sometimes stunt my creative process. Once I finally start making decisions about character, story, or structure (implementing my own parameters), that’s when the real process of writing takes off.]

When you are working in a particularly visual medium like comics (or webcomics), the first time you see your work translated artistically can be a momentous moment. It will often be indicative of how well (or not) you have conveyed your vision.

And if all the stars are aligned, your artist (or team) will actually elevate the project beyond your original vision, giving you inspiration you hadn’t expected. Those become defining moments in a career, when the work becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

If you are not already in the know, Alien Confidential is being concurrently developed as an iOS game by Namco/Bandai. I learned last month that the game developers will be including elements from the webcomic into the upcoming game release.

I consider that the ultimate payoff of a good collaboration.


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