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Article - 'Creating a Plot' by KaosTenshi

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 8, 2003

Blurb

Steps to creating a unique plot, working from the ground-up with a very basic foundation and ending up with a storyline that really shines!

Body

One of the most important parts of making an RPG is molding an interesting plot. For some this comes natural; they can look at a few chipsets, listen to some midis, and start building a world and storyline in their heads. However, for some, molding a plot is the most difficult part of making an RPG. This kind of difficulty seems the worst for people who are more left-brain dominant... those who are primarilly CBS/CMS makers, coders, and such. The easiest way for a logical mind to come up with a creative story is to follow logical steps to piecing one together.

The Basics
The Twist
The Conflict
The Path
The Outcome


Okay, five steps. Seems simple enough, right? Well, here's what you do with those five steps:

The Basics
Some of the greatest RPG storylines of all time started off on a very simple premise. Final Fantasy VII is very simple; "A group of people trying to save the planet from being sucked dry of its life force". Saving the planet sounds incredibly cliché, don't you think? But then, The Basics are almost always cliché. The biggest tip I can give you is to be careful what you write... If you can't start out your description with "The premise is very straightforward..." then work on streamlining it. I know this sounds like awful advice, but if you don't make your basics very easy to understand. If your basic plot is too convoluted, then your plot twists later on will turn the RPG into one giant mass of confusion. You could end up with an RPG that only you and a couple of other people might understand.

The Twist
Now here's where things really start to take shape. This is like building a house on the foundation you just layed with The Basics. The Twist is where your game (hopefully) has the chance to stop being clichéd. In Final Fantasy VII, the twist could be described as follows; "Shinra may be an enemy, but Sephiroth is a far greater enemy. He plans to cause a great wound to the planet and then suck out the planet's energy as it tries to heal itself." Let’s use a game as an example for this article... It’s a game called Cryptic. The Basics of the game are that the main character Sophia is trying to solve a murder... But The Twist is what brings the uniqueness to the game. In this game’s twist, we play as Sophia... who while running from the crime scene yelling for help, was hit by a car. She woke up in a hospital not remembering anything, and has to try to remember to figure out who the murderer was.

The Conflict
Call it cliché all you want.. Angst and inner-turmoil rock when done properly. They add a whole new level of depth and difficulty to a game. This is inner-conflict. The more simple form is external conflict, where something is directly placing you in danger. Final Fantasy VII shows both forms of conflict... We have Sephiroth of course, trying to summon Meteor to destroy the planet... Yeah, I can see how that would tick some people off. But aside from external conflict, we’re also struck with Cloud’s internal conflict: Just what happened in Nibelheim those many years ago? For Sophia, we also have these two forms of conflict... Someone’s trying to kill her to keep her quiet. To top it off, she’s trying to piece together parts of her life and her past, but doesn’t like what she’s finding. So does she give up on the case to save herself or does she continue searching to find out more about herself, her past, and the murderer?

The Path
Being heroic is about doing what you have to do and doing it bravely... But just what do your characters have to do? They have to follow The Path (not to be confused with The Way... *gives Lun a cookie*). The path of a game like Final Fantasy VII is a long and winding road... Taking you from location to location, uncovering more plot along the way and adding detail to the game... but for some games, The Path isn’t a globe-trotting experience, but instead it’s just a series of events a character takes part in, in a more localized environment. For Cryptic, Sophia’s path takes her all around the city... her apartment, the office she works at, the club she used to hang out at after work... but it also takes her to the slums as she starts to remember that something important happened there. It’s not where she goes that makes up The Path, it’s what happens there to expand on the plot. The Path eventually brought the party of FFVII to a giant battle with Sephiroth... but The Path brings Sophia to the murder scene, and a confrontation with her own past.

The Conclusion
FFVII had one of the greatest conclusions... Sephiroth is dead and the world seems saved, but Meteor is still bearing down on them. Aerith’s prayer for Holy succeeded, and Holy arrives... instead of destroying the Meteor however, it aims it straight at the city of Midgar, using the Meteor to destroy the real wound to the planet and letting the planet heal itself. The Conclusion is where you pull all of the ties of the storyline together into one grand finale. The Conclusion is what can make or break a game... If your players play a long, involved game only to get ‘you beat the boss, you saved the world, game over’, it’s a real slap in the face to people who had praised your game for the depth it had. Sophia finds out who the murderer was, but that doesn’t automatically make everything better...

The ‘everybody lived happily ever after’ ending is far too over-done, and cheesy. If you want a happy ending, then instead of trying to depict a perfect future for your characters, depict the perfect moment... Alex and Carol getting married, having a house full of happy children, and growing old happily together just comes off as a cheap ending. Instead, the two of them just standing on the hill together after the conflict, both tired and battered, but victorious... Alex smiling and taking Carol’s hand as they stare out at the sunset before the final credits roll...

But don’t think your story has to have a happy ending! Quite the contrary... If a happy ending doesn’t come natural to your story, don’t do it. Don’t make up your mind in advance if you want your ending to be happy or sad, if you want it to wrap up everything or leave it open to a sequel in the future... Chose the ending that you believe best fits your game. For some games, the ending is merely a new beginning for their characters, which can be a good thing or a bad thing...

...Afterall... Sophia finds out that she was the murderer.


So write down your five steps. They’re not going to come out perfect on your first try, but simply a way to convey a basic unworked plot. Then, without modifying the original, write it over again and again until you believe you’ve made the changes you like to it. Then you can start work on your script... And by this point, you’ve probably already had lots of little script ideas pop up in your head. Get someone else to proofread your plot and script. Be careful who’s advice you take on your game, but always be patient with those who offer it. Always try to get opinions from skilled and respected writers and game-makers... And remember the following quote.

“Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing your past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts... and recycling it for more than it’s worth. But trust me on the sunscreen.”

...Okay, forget the sunscreen part. But what it means is that advice is a way for experienced game makers and writers to pass on what they went through to those who are new at this. It’s always better to learn from a veteran’s mistakes without having to make your own. This kind of writing isn’t for everyone, but this can be a huge helper for the brain stuck in ‘logic’ mode.