Friday, October 5, 2018

Creating content: What is working for me...

I set my pen aside for many long years.  It was the nineties and I had basically given up on the idea of becoming a game designer.  In short, I gave up and took on a different line of work.

In 2017 I returned to writing with a vengeance.  I dug out old ideas, brainstormed new fun things, and wrote as quickly as I could.  I wrote quickly because I wanted to get the ideas down on paper (and I mean that literally, I like to write on paper) and I promised myself I would work on cleaning up the content once the work was roughed out.

When I have a flash of inspiration I write it down, I outline, I plug in stray thoughts associated with the concept and I write as much as I can about it as soon as possible. When I run out of immediate ideas, I set that aside and focus on a project I'm actively developing.  I am finding that this tends to clear the stray thoughts out of my mind and allows me to focus on a project.  It also gives me that little jolt, that quiver of excitement about a new idea to explore without the guilt of not acting on it.  I know I'll come back to it in the due course of development.

If I'm tired of working on a particular project, I don't move it on my development timeline.  I keep it there.  I alleviate any weariness by playing a game, baking treats for my daughter, reading something by Charles Stross, watching anime or writing fan fiction.   This last option is, I believe, most useful.  Writing fan fiction refreshes me.  I know I'm writing for me and a few people who happen to enjoy my stories.  I also base my fan fiction on old game session and campaign happenings so I reminisce about old friends and fun times while I write.  It is a liberating experience and one that I find makes writing more enjoyable overall.

I have been refining my processes with each book.  My current process is loosely laid out below.  Please note, that as I continue to evolve my processes this may change with each book.  The process described below reflects the process used in the development of Whispers of Persephone (now on KickStarter).  Please do keep in mind that I have only been doing this for a year, so if you have suggestions on how I can refine the process please do comment below.

Once I have my concept written down, I gather any and all notes on it and from those I construct an outline.  Now I realize that writing from an outline seems old fashioned and like it adds work but I have found it most helpful when I want to define what actions are placed in what order and as a means by which to chart the flow of the narrative.   By way of example, when I wrote Comet over Echo Rock I had a section in my outline that mentioned natural hazards but I hadn't defined them yet.  Looking at the placement in the story from the outline was easy.  This also allowed me to plan out the encounter with an eye toward total party attrition and how it affected the narrative.

Following the outline provided me with a roadmap through each section.  Introduction, background story, new NPC's, and encounters all flowed into place with remarkably little effort.  I soon had a first draft I could send to my first round play testers.  Next step, leave the play testers alone and wait for feedback.

Waiting is hard.  Getting feedback from your play testers is well worth waiting for.  Collect their feedback and let it weigh in on whether you need to make any adjustments to your project. This play test version can be a little rough, formatting can be imperfect, but it must be complete conceptually.  You don't want to test half of an idea.

Once I have the information from my play testers I evaluate the entirety of the information.  Don't try to please everyone, take a look at the things they point out in common and work to remedy those common issues first.  Once you've done your rewrite, clean up any loose grammar and work on the formatting to bring it into line with what you plan for final release.  This still doesn't have to be perfect, but I find it useful to start getting the product together throughout the process as it makes for less work in final editing.  I'm specifically talking about RPG work here, for comics it is critical to have your concept format laid out ahead of time. 

Second Round of Testing:
Once I have addressed issues identified in the first round of play testing, I take the document and put it out to the rest of my play testers. These folks get to dive upon the document now that it has been prepped into a document that almost resembles final product. These folks have the benefit of a document that is largely fleshed out with full text descriptions, narrative segments, (full game play mechanical data is done before going to the first tier play testers so these guys have a more polished version of those mechanical elements), and any art that you may already have for the book. 

Feedback from this second tier of play testing is (generally) more specific in its criticisms. Be thorough in your analysis as play testers are people and can suffer from observational bias.  You'll want to polish your rough spots, refine those problems that are identified, and realize that you'll never satisfy everyone.  There will be things that some people don't like which other people think are fantastic.  Weigh those opinions against your own concept of the product in order to determine whether you change it or not.

One thing I did for Whispers of Persephone it that I ordered proof copies of the play test edition.  Weird, right?  It was incredibly useful.  Not only did I have the book in hand to help with future edits, it also gave me an appreciation for what the book would look like in its final format and helped me to identify problems with color saturation, font issues, and how border art was affecting the overall feel of the book.  I recommend this for any book you release, as it really is that valuable a tool in your development process.  A side benefit of this, I had a physical copy to show during the KickStarter campaign.  I'm convinced that this helped my funding efforts.

I edited my first book release.  That was a horrible idea.  Have someone else, or even a few people, review your final draft for edit purposes.  Run your spell checking application before handing it to them as you don't want them distracted by bad spelling when they are reviewing the text.  Grammatical corrections are important as they make the difference between a book that is easy to read and one that is difficult to comprehend. 

I find it wise to have your document reviewed twice in your editing process.  Editing it following the first pass, then a second pass after you have made those first corrections.  This has worked well for me in the past.  You may still find things that need corrected afterward. Be patient and fix those problems as you find them.

Final Proofs:
Once final edits have been completed, order proof copies of the book so you can conduct a final review of your product before release.  This is an amazingly cool moment for me, as I am still struck with wonder when I hold a book I've written.  I hope you have that same experience. It is a great feeling!

This has been the briefest of overviews on the processes I've been using to get my books out. Whether you have been releasing titles yourself or are just starting, I recommend you research as much as possible before settling on your method as you may find processes that work better for you. I continue to revise my processes as I learn more from each release. In all things do your own research, your own due diligence, to arrive at your own method. 

Thank you for joining me on my adventure in game design, writing and self-publishing.
I write this as way of recording my own experiences and sharing my insights and failures.  It is my hope that people who are interested in developing their own games from learn from my failures (and avoid the same mistakes) and that they can take the productive experiences shared here and use them for their own success.  Best of luck to you!

I hope you will join me next time as this adventure continues.

At the time this entry was written I have my latest book "Whispers of Persphone" live on KickStarter seeking to fund its art (and fulfillment) costs.  I hope you'll check it out, support it if you can, and please do share it with others.

I have also launched a Drip page, where people can subscribe to support my creative endeavors. I have a monthly release available there and all subscribers get behind the scenes information on coming projects.  I hope you'll check that out as well.

Thank you! 


  1. I myself have never used an outline for any stories that I write The idea just flows out. However, I can see why to have an outline for a module development as well as a biographical page for the non-player characters that are in the module. I do have a question for you Mr. Quinton, Where does one get the open gaming license permission to develop a 5th edition module?

  2. WoTC, under System Reference document 5/1

  3. Thanks for that information Mr. Quinton!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts.