Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Airship at the Center of the (story) Maelstrom (part 2)

When we last left our heroes, we were trying to hammer a coherent story out of several divergent narrative threads. While each social hub has its own unique requirements, here’s the general approach we take.

1. Write custom intros to try to get all story threads to a sort of general starting point before going too deep into the social hub’s narrative. 
Handle any necessary character introductions and transitions from the previous paths or story points. It’s usually not possible (or desirable) to completely homogenize the story, but making an effort to establish common ground makes writing the rest of the hub easier.  Here are some of the dangling threads that needed to be cleaned up before starting the airship proper:
-Scylax may or may not already be traveling with the party. We need to get him introduced and get the party up to speed.
-The party may already have been looking for the Airship’s captain, or he may have gone unmentioned in the story so far. He needs an introduction and some brief background.
-Find an excuse for the NPC Nyx to leave the party if she’s present. It’s not impossible to conditionally write dialogue as if another character were present, but only roughly 14% of incoming paths feature her, so we decided it wasn’t worth complicating dialogue further.

2. From the general narrative bases established in 1, write the different story vignettes for the social hub. 
This should include both critical path dialogue that furthers the story and additional flavor details and background information. Odds are the vignettes won’t fit perfectly with all the preceding paths, but we’ll worry about that later. For the time being, the focus is on generating compelling dialogue.

3. Revise dialogue with an eye towards the preceding branches. 
Now that we’ve got a bunch of interesting conversations, it’s time to make sure they’ll all flow neatly into whatever story the player has taken. We read through the different dialogue paths, and if the flow ever feels off or the characters’ focus seems schizophrenic, we add an alternative set of lines. As an example, after it’s brought up that Anaxagoras was afraid for his life, Nephele responds with one of the following (depending on previous story threads)
Nephele: Oh, did you find out about the price on your head?
Nephele: Did you think it was too dangerous to stay in Sparta—with the civil war and all?
Nephele: What? Was it because of the luddites?

4. Add additional sections as needed.
Sometimes, it’s just impossible to make a vignette fit a certain set of circumstances leading into it. In that case we can just disable the dialogue, or if it’s plot essential, write a new vignette that connects the specific story threads.

Of course, writing is a process, and editing remains ongoing as we show our work to editors and early playtesters. However, this methodology has done a good job of giving us solid drafts that meet our intricate story requirements.

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