Writing VNs

To the aspiring VN author, this article is dedicated to you. 

You need to start writing now. I can’t stress this enough. If this is the path you’re choosing, the road is a long one. Your destination is far and there are no rests. However, this is your passion and you will not be dissuaded. So I tell you, begin writing. While you still have the time, no matter how little, never waste it. You will never get that back. 

Campus Notes – forget me not.

I’ll be the first to say that VN authors don’t need a degree. Such things are fundamentally supplemental. They represent a dedication and mastery of a craft. To achieve the same, you need to [1] read, [2] write, and [3] learn. 

By reading, you’re able to derive a few things which are essential to the overarching development of visual novels: [A] quality, [B] style, [C] tone through sound, music, and illustrations.

[1A]: I don’t care if you read Clannad, DDLC, Steins;Gate, or Katawa Shoujo. Although, I suppose when I further expound on my point, DDLC will be an object of possible contention. Nevertheless, I posit that reading popular VNs aren’t good enough. Those that are popular gain their claim to fame by possessing good qualities. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t take note of these. I’m arguing that mediocre VNs are equally as important and may in fact better demonstrate what’s crucial when developing visual novels. 

We have gotten used to the high level of quality in our games. When we read one, they’re rated 85% positive or more. We don’t see products below that on the scale. This is the problem. We begin to take good writing for granted. We register the game as good but don’t recognize what makes it so. It’s easy to say that something reads well or flows nicely, but I want you to look at games as more than good or bad. A purely evaluative assessment is useless. Think of reviews which simply state that, “This game is so good. It makes you believe the characters are real people!” That does little to reassure a person who is lukewarm about the product. It says nothing about the intrinsic quality of the game, throwing out completely subjective terms of relatability and good. Reading bad and mediocre VNs will allow you to pinpoint what makes a narrative NOT work. Only then can you truly review a game, both the good and the bad. 

[1B]: Following talk of reviews, this is where style pops its head in. If a game is good or relatable, find out why. Maybe it’s the extensive worldbuilding? Or is it the emotional dialogue? In fact, maybe it’s the opposite. The author didn’t talk about the world at all because it’s understood; an exaggeration of our own. Any additional information would ruin the subtle parallels they’re trying to convey. Perhaps the dialogue is absolutely useless; small talk because it’s what people do: conveying unfamiliarity and awkwardness between characters. In every scene, think about the factors that go into it. What style fits the image you want to make? 

Importantly, take note of the unique writing style which visual novels have. If anything, they’re more akin to the script of a play. Yet, they find themselves unique because they can convey internal thoughts and monologue. I urge you to take full advantage of this. Otherwise, there’s no point in writing a VN over contemporary short stories and novels. Part of the advantage is the ability to work with cliches and tropes. As explained in an earlier article, The Popularity of Visual Novels, VNs are a subdivision of anime culture. Archetypal characters character are going to be a part of the narrative, there’s little question about it. Your goal as a writer is either to subvert them or refine them. This extends to common scenarios as well: (a) the confession after school, (b) a ditzy girl getting lost, etc.

Feel free to use these as writing prompts if you wish:

(a): In my locker, a bright pink envelope laid atop my books. Its edges were slightly bent, the writer’s persistence to fit the letter within obvious. I imagine whoever it was to be pretty cute, fumbling with a confession they spent days writing, their final barrier the dimensions of a letter. Even the penmanship appeared as if it was intricately scribed to the point where it looked like a typed font. I can still remember it. 

“3:30 – The pond. I hope you’ll come.”

The wind was strong, blowing hair into my eyes. I had forgotten to check the weather that morning and only had a light sweater on. But I wasn’t cold, only anxious. The closer I got, the faster my heart beat. My phone read 3:25. I was early. I wondered who she was, who would confess to me, what I would say. Soon enough, ten minutes passed with me lost in thought. 3:35, she wasn’t there. Had this been a prank? Did some assholes set me up? Was she just late? I never found out. 4:00 rolled around. I never saw her.

(b): I yawned openly, tired from a long day’s work. As usual, I found myself taking a detour through the park. Honestly, it’s more routine than detour at this point. There’s not much logic to it. It takes longer to get home and is a rougher trail, but the time spent allows me to forget all about my lonely office job. Compared to the cubicle, this place was the sweetest freedom I could taste. Alone to myself, I could slump my shoulders, loosen my tie, and drag my feet.  This time though, I wasn’t alone. Where the path diverged, a beautiful young woman looked around confused. I wouldn’t feel right just leaving her here and it’s not like she’s out of the way so…

“Excuse me, Miss?”

Her head swiveled left to look at whoever was talking. When she realized that the person being talked to was in fact her, she turned to face me. Through her small pirouette, her long olive coat swayed to and fro. 

With a small gasp, she replied, “Um, yes? Do you need something?”

No, I’m trying to help you… 

“Actually, I was wondering if you were alright. You seem a bit lost.”

“Oh,” she chuckles, blushing, “you could tell?”

I return a laugh in kind to try and save her pride. 

“I’m sure it’s common. After all, it’s gotten pretty dark. Where are you trying to get to?”

“Well, I was trying to get to the Shinaki trail and now I’m- Where is this?”

“This is the intersection of Yamamoto and Jinkei. If you want to go to the Shinkai trail, head this way,” I point, “and take the second left. That’ll put you back on track.”

“Oh, thank you so much. Your name was?”

“Makoto Idachi. A pleasure to meet you. Do try and not get lost again, okay?”

This time, she innocently laughs in earnest. 

“You can call me Maya.” She bows with a smile on her face.

“Get home safe, Maya.” I respond as she rises.

Quickly, she takes off before me, skipping down the trail I pointed out. I watch her, wondering if she’ll be fine on her own. However, she soon stops abruptly.

Once again tilting her head to me, she calls out, “Idachi, you should be careful too. Maybe come with me?”

“Hm? What’s the matter?”

“Yamamoto and Jinkei… Oh, you know. I heard it’s pretty dangerous around here. People have even started going missing and- I’m just a bit scared.”

I don’t know what it was but the hair on my arm stood on end. My mind screamed at me not to go with her. 

“Please, Idachi. Won’t you come with me?”

[1C]: Tone through sound, music, and illustrations will be the most important part for you to pay attention to. As writers, our grasp of music is limited. However, if you’re developing a VN, you need to be able to direct it. At the very least, you must grasp what tone the music evokes and the types of instruments it uses to do so. Silence or the sudden cutting of sound is very useful as well. When writing a script, keep in mind what the music will be. I recommend you even play something in the background. Additionally, mix and match music for a fun experiment. Truly grim narratives increase the factor of terror with the inclusion of happy music rather than the usual droning. 

Voice acting is also something key you will want to write notes for. Knowing when to pause, what to emphasize, how to say something; these are absolutely integral. However, give your voice actors freedom. We have a set way in mind we want things to be said. Yet, we need to give them freedom in their field to allow their talent to show. Their unadvised performance may be better than what you were trying to mold. 

Art as well is something you must allow freedom for. Convey the details you want to portray to your artist(s). This includes the general color palette. Find reference material for angles and perspective. Above all, every person in the process must have access to the full script and any background materials you can provide. They too must be in communication with each other. Far too often have I seen the sprites, BGs, CGs, music, and script been completely out of sync. This is unfortunate as the individual components represent an abundance of quality in their own right. 

**Maybe check out Liah? Her art is fantastic and also has free sprites for use.

Here are a few links:

**The sprite itself is an asset for the upcoming VN, Tidal Blossoms.

To see more art and catch updates on the game’s development, check out these links:

The reason this is still categorized into [1. Read] is because you shouldn’t want to make mistakes. I’m not arguing that you won’t make mistakes. In fact, you’ll make many. What I’m discouraging you from doing is making stupid mistakes. Read so you can get a feel of what you want and what you need. Learn from the mistakes of others. Don’t waste money on assets you’ll show off in the prototype version. Try and narrow down what you want before you start spending.

Chuusotsu! 1st Graduation: Time After Time

[2] Writing is the only way you’ll get better. In fact, it’s the only way to succeed. There’s no other way to show your experience in a considerable manner. Moreover, writing is a long process. Of course, the writing period will change dependent on your speed and the estimated length you want your VN to be. Even in the late stages of development and advertisement, you’ll still be making adjustments to the script. Most are minor changes, others a plot breaking continuity errors. My point is that you don’t need other assets at the offset and you won’t need them for a long time. 

Besides, at the offset, you don’t know how long your VN will be. While I did posit that you may have an estimated length, never take these to heart. Sometimes, you won’t reach it and it’s up to you if that’s for better or for worse. Maybe you should leave it shorter than intended. The plot points connect stronger and filler would only detract from its quality. Or is it that you didn’t spend enough time with description? 

**Spending time describing the intricate appearance of a character is largely moot outside of select cases. Some cases include the sudden infatuation of the player character, losing himself in beautiful hazel eyes which glisten like the sunset on a summer day. Or describe things which aren’t easily visible in the sprite. The most prominent thing which comes to mind is an engagement or wedding ring., accessories which may go missed by the player, yet explain the character.

**Small pet peeve from me: I hate the advertisement of word count. If you’re pumping the script full of crap just to put it on the store page, you have another thing coming.

Perhaps the script is even longer than intended? In the middle of writing, you thought of some great character arcs that supplement one’s history and builds the universe. Or maybe the common route is too long or you took too long explaining a character’s morning route. 

**Describing the day to day life of a character, especially when done by the person going through said routines, is short and quick. We don’t pay attention to the small things. People have a two-track mind, doing one thing while thinking about others that are more relevant. 

In any case, you must finish a draft of the ENTIRE script before making the necessary corrections on these grand scales. Otherwise, you’re stuck in an endless loop of revision, looking at the same set of sentences again and wondering if it sounds right. Revision isn’t bad. Never think that. But another advantage of finishing the entire script is letting someone else read it. This is paramount! You know the story. You fill in pieces and correct words subconsciously. Pass it over to a friend. Let them have a run through and you’re guaranteed to find typos (even after release). 

Chuusotsu! 1st Graduation: Time After Time

[3] Learn. Will I really take a whole section of this article to explain learning? No. Make note of what others do and see if you can develop further upon that or bring together concepts into a new idea/mechanic. Pertinent to the last section (writing) is to take criticism and reviews seriously, sorting out subjective from objective remarks.

**Important to note that subjective remarks are still very important. Hidden in them is a critique and hint towards what audience you should be directing your efforts towards. 

Dear reader, the aspiring developer and author you are, please chase your dream. It’s a road fraught with difficulty, there’s no doubt, but this is the community you love. Yes? I can’t imagine myself being more passionate than anything else. If you feel the same way, then please, start writing. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s