Writing for Roleplaying Games: Developers

Most roleplaying game lines are directed by someone called a “developer,” or something similar, like “line editor.” It’s his job to determine the direction for the game line. He orchestrates any arc-plot, decides which books will get written, hires writers, and edits the drafts.

Just How Much Direction Does A Developer Give?

It depends.

I know, that isn’t very useful. But it’s true. Most will at least give you some kind of outline or write-up of what the book is supposed to be like. Some will give loose directions and expect you to fill in all the gaps and come up with the inspirations yourself. Some will give you detailed directions for every chapter such that you’re essentially writing their story.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each. The loose outline can be wonderful if you have a good idea of what you want to do with the book, and terrible if you find the book’s premise uninspiring. It can also be something of a trap; some developers do have a good idea of what they want done with a book and simply don’t communicate that well. It may look like they’ve given you a loose outline and want you to take the reins, when in fact they want something specific.

In this case, it’s going to suck when you get through the first draft and find out that it isn’t what the developer wanted at all. It took me a while to learn this; if it seems like the developer hasn’t given you much in the way of direction, ask questions. Even if those questions are as simple as “hey, do you really not have much of an idea of what’s going on in this book, or am I missing something?” If the outline is at all ambiguous, ask for clarification. In fact, one of the first things you should do with your outline is to go through it, scribble notes on it, and then send off all your questions to the developer. This unfortunately doesn’t help in the case of outlines that seem complete yet aren’t; only experience with that particular developer can help in cases like this.

The specific outline can be great if you aren’t sure what you’d do with the book, and terrible if you have your own ideas about what you want to do. In the latter case it may be worth running your ideas past the developer, but keep in mind that it’s his game, not yours, and what he wants goes. The more specific his outline, the more he’s probably thought about the book, and thus the more certain he is about what he’s told you.

How Brutal Are Redlines?

For those who don’t know, “redlines” are your first draft covered in red ink, telling you in detail everything you did wrong. And since your developer is probably overworked, he won’t take the time to sugar-coat his opinions.

I found redlines to be pretty brutal for my first two books, which weren’t my best first drafts for obvious reasons. I used to say that my developer for those pieces wielded an “editorial chainsaw” that left sucking chest wounds. Some developers are better than others; some get unnecessarily vicious when they’re in a bad mood, while others succeed in being friendly no matter how much work they’re telling you to change. (If you find one of the latter, treat him like gold!)

It’s almost impossible for redlines not to hurt at least a little, if you have any emotional stake in your writing whatsoever. It’s never easy to have someone say “you’re wrong, this is bad.” My advice? Read through them, no matter how painful they are. Do it a little at a time if it’s particularly difficult. Then put the manuscript away for a few days; maybe a week if your contract leaves you enough time. Stick it in a drawer where you won’t see it and do your best to forget about it. When you come back to it, I think you’ll find that although it’s painful, it’s less so, and it’s easier to see where the redlines are right.

If I wait like that, things that at first made me say “what’s he talking about? I thought that was good!” later look a lot more reasonable. You need time to internalize everything, and to get past that first defensive reaction, before you can really work with your developer’s comments.

It’s important to get to that point, too. Because few things piss off your developer more than seeing that you’ve ignored his comments. After all, if you don’t write the book the way he wants it, he’ll just have to rewrite everything himself. And he doesn’t have that kind of time.

Posted in Gaming, Writing

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