Tip: Invisible Ink - a blog on storytelling

I’ve been reading up on storytelling, as that’s the weakest part of my game making. (And that weakness is the major reason why I’m not currently working on a game. I don’t have a story that’s good enough to spend time on turning into a game.) In doing so, I’ve found a blog I’d like to share: The Invisible Ink Blog. He talks from a perspective of movies, but what I’ve read so far (I’m reading the oldest posts first, and have made it to September 2006) is mainly about the fundamentals of storytelling, so it’s useful reading for game designers too. (At least when it comes to story-based games, which is what we’re mostly talking about here.)

Here’s a link to an ebook (legal!) of the same name by the same author, also on his take on storytelling for any interested…

Thanks! That goes on my to-read list.

Can you give us the elevator pitch version of where he’s coming from? What are some fundamentals?

I’ll try. McDonald believes that all good stories have a point, that there’s basically a single message you should be getting across with any story (whatever message your story wants to tell). He follows the classic story structure of rising action and struggle leading to a climax leading to a resolution. If you have a solid framework message for your story, the story will follow and be succeed. Characters have to struggle and make sacrifices in a thematically appropriate way order to resonate, authors should only write what is true (emotionally, that is, not factually)… sh*t, this is my floor.

It’s overall prescriptive and sticks to one style of storytelling, but it should be helpful if you’re looking to tell that kind of story. Especially useful, I think, for beginning writers. If you only read one chapter, the chapter on Armature is the core of the book.

If you’re interested in archetypes and archetypal stories I recommend taking a look at the work of Vogler and Campbell. As a writer I’ve already used a couple of their points (well, Cambell’s originally, but Vogler made it more accessible) to expand my own game idea (I’m studying a topic called “Narrative and Story” this semester and these dudes come up a lot). Or you could go back and have a look at the man that all narrative theory is based on, one way or another, and check out Aristotle’s Poetics. Surprisingly approachable, there should be plenty of translations online (project Gutenburg has a few from memory).

Seriously, these dudes will give you notes to hit in your text, and Vogler is as applicable to games as he is to film and fiction. This is a pretty good start if you read nothing else.

PS - The blog looks interesting too. I would put money on McDonald being a screen studies student of some description. Or teacher. Thanks for the link - really insightful.

Regarding Campbell, THIS. (Film Crit Hulk on why the Hero’s Journey isn’t useful to a writer.)

I’ve not read enough of McDonald yet to comment more on him. (But funnily enough, I did read a post today where he dismisses games as being incapable of being stories.)

That especially ironic since I read Invisible Ink in a course on playable fictions. Could you point to the article? I’ll bet it’s just delicious with ignorance, isn’t it?

Here it is: invisibleinkblog.blogspot.se/200 … grail.html

Does anybody else see the irony in the fact that two of the names that have come up in the context of this discussion are Campbell and McDonald (OK, its a little different from the traditional Scottish spelling), even though the discussion has nothing whatsoever to do with the massacre at Glencoe?

Robert Rothman

Hm, I think he may be onto something with

…though I disagree that this automatically invalidates story-games. If what makes it “story” is that it’s been stylized and stripped of detail that is irrelevant to the narrative (with the hindsight that allows one to know what the narrative is), well, IF authors do that through their decisions about what to model and how. Game worlds, unlike the real world (depending on your religious belief, I suppose) can come pre-loaded with intentionality and meaning.

Nor much to do with soup or burgers, I imagine…

I left a comment on Brian McDonald’s blog, and got a link to this video interview in reply.