An Unexpected Influence

I followed my usual pattern. Get an idea. Brainstorm about characters and how they will interact together. Cobble together a rough plot. Decide upon a few goals for the different stages. Start writing and see what happens. As I write I learn more and more about the story I am trying to tell. I write both forwards and backwards, trying to sync things up. I sync up, but I don’t consider it rewriting. Not yet. That is for later.

I finish the story. It is a hair over 60,000 words. I hit my goal. I like the story. I like the characters. But I feel something is missing. There isn’t enough “there” there. But that feeling isn’t uncommon with me. I have a bad habit of overwriting. And overtaking. I’m just generally all around verbose. If I’m not pounding that story into the ground, I can easily feel I’m not saying enough.

So I send it off to my friend and de facto editor, even if I’m not sure if he likes being called that. I think of it as a compliment. A sign of trust. I’ve asked him to read it and give some story feedback. I need honesty here.

I’m also one of those writers that needs to get away from the work for a while. I need some space so I can see it, and think about it, objectively. And to let the back of my mind dwell on the parts that I already know need work.

I decide to treat myself. It has been about ten years since I’ve really played any video games other than time killer iPad games. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Nintendo Switch. I like that it doesn’t need a TV. And another friend with pretty good taste, she’s been singing the praises of the latest Zelda game. So, I treat myself.

The edits come back. It is a good news/bad news affair. He liked it. But, just like me, he doesn’t think there is enough “there” there. It stings. Of course it does. But I also know exactly what he means. I start fleshing out my notebook. I want the story to take a more solid shape. I think my attempts at brevity got to my head. I kept it too simple when I don’t really like simple. These characters aren’t simple in my head, so why should I have them exist that way on the page?

As I plan, and write, and plan some more I start to realize something. I am playing this video game at the exact right time. I can feel a connection between it and what I am currently writing.

Don’t get me wrong, my upcoming book, A Song in Darkness, is in no way similar in plot to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. My book is about a young red elf, one of the “enemy races” of the world, forging an unlikely bond with an elderly, world-weary bard over their shared connection to music. BotW is… well, I’m only a few hours into it but it is about an awakened Link who has to battle the ultimate force of evil. These are very different stories.

But I do think that in the ether they are resonating on a similar frequency. The feel of nature, and of small towns, and of the threat of danger, and a bit of distrust pervades the game and is a feeling I want to capture in the book. It is in the atmosphere of both works.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It would be foolish of me to expect my little novel to be a kindred spirit to one of the most well received video games of at least the past five years. But I can’t deny that it is having a profound influence on me and how I want to set the tone of this upcoming novel.

And this is surprising me. I’ve grown up playing video games and have always enjoyed them. And I certainly believe that they can be a profound source of story telling, even if there are counter examples, just as there are counter examples in any medium. But this is the first time I am feeling myself being stylistically influenced by a video game.

I know I have been shaped as a writer by countless books, stories and comics I’ve read, by hundreds of hours of television, plays and movies I’ve watched, and even by tabletop roleplaying games I’ve taken part in as either player or GM. But I don’t think I ever expected to feel I could learn from a video game.

This came at the perfect time. I’m excited to write, even as I am excited to keep playing.


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