As engine building has been winding down, I started the beginnings of a marketing push for Harmonic Odyssey. I got back into forums and have generally been having a lot of fun with this part of game design and community involvement.
I also like to visit advice columns on Discord and elsewhere, to both get and give recommendations for the many facets of game design and development. A question that comes up time and again is how to get ideas for a story.
One big lie that is told about writers and creatives in general, is that they've always got ideas at the ready and can come up with things on the fly, else why consider yourself a writer at all? It's ridiculous to think that writing is an all-or-nothing thing. A muse is nice, but unreliable and fleeting (and I believe, if left unchecked, can chain the writer to a single area of a much bigger project).
Here are five ways that have worked for me when it comes to getting story ideas:
- Get away from your game. Simple enough -- take a break from your project. Go do anything else for a time (especially some of the other items on this list). My family and I recently picked up Hollow Knight for the Switch, and just messing around on something someone else made, when the inspiration to write another line of dialogue is failing me, has allowed the creative side of my brain some breathing room. You'd be surprised how often you'll get stuck on something, walk away for a few minutes, and come back with an idea for tackling it.
- Use your good ideas right away. Sometimes we'll come up with a great idea, but we'll stash it away for "down the line" in the story. Truth is, a lot of good ideas you have for later, could be equally or more effective, at the point in the game you're currently trying to come up with a story for. Alternatively, you might want to go ahead and work on parts of the story you know are good, and in doing so, you might inadvertently spark a new idea for earlier or later in the tale. Too, both are great ways of carving out the tone of your work, and that might do a lot to help you determine the overall direction you want to take things.
- Get out of your current space. Going outside, to someone else's house, or changing your surroundings in any way is a great method for kicking yourself out of a lackluster creative zone. Oftentimes, the ideas in our head are tied to the things going on outside of it. If you are tired of looking at the same four walls, perhaps you are unconsciously zoning out due to a lack of variety in your day-to-day. Put simply, it's hard to think of new things when we're used to the same old stuff, and that includes our environment, routines, and schedules.
- People-watch. Go find some people and observe them from a distance. Making up stories is something that comes easier with practice, and one easy way of getting that practice is to just sit in a spot where other humans gather. I write this during the time of COVID-19, however, so there is an assumption you can find people gathering anywhere at all while maintaining safe distance, yourself. In the midst of an epidemic, your mileage may vary!
- Re-read or re-watch one of your favorite stories. If you bothered to make your own story, there must have been others that inspired it. Taking a time-out to remember why you fell in love with something -- a book, a movie, a game, is one of the best ways to recall why you're making something in the first place. Do some "research" and make observations on the feelings that story evokes. Ask yourself how you can re-create some of those same feelings in your project.
Work on Harmonic Odyssey continues this week, as I have just finished the system that will serve as a stage-select screen for the next three areas in the game. More on those next time and in the weeks to come!