Being a suburban lad through and through, every time I head down to the supercharged mass that is London I have to tell myself I’m going on a mission or an adventure. That way I mentally prepare for the chaos.
A few weeks back, I headed down to The Big Smoke on a mission of utmost importance: directing the voice over (VO) work for Seven: The Days Long Gone. I met up with my co-directors Jakub and Karolina, the Project Lead and Quest Designer, respectively, and we made our way to the PitStop Productions recording studio near King’s Cross.
Unfortunately for the voice over artists we had chosen to voice Seven’s main characters, I took to my directing role like a dictator to brainwashing. I’m confident that these highly-experienced actors appreciated my relentless input. Not that confident, mind you, but it’s too late for self-doubt now! When I jumped into the booth and had a little go myself, naturally I found that it’s much harder than it looks.
It may be a cliché, but it really was surreal to hear many of the lines I sweated over brought to life by these talented voice actors. When I write, I mutter every word to myself, particularly when it comes to dialogue. It helps me to check the lines feel natural, and that punctuation crops up where natural pauses occur. It’s not very scientific, admittedly, but it works for me.
Even with this process, however, I didn’t always appreciate the intricacies of a line because I didn’t always imagine the character speaking it in context. The voice over recordings were a timely and pertinent reminder that in-game dialogue is far from the end product. That may sound obvious, but it can be hard to keep the bigger picture in mind when writing; imagining the state of the world at that particular time, and everything the character may have gone through. These considerations are further complicated by the fact the player may have acted in a variety of ways up to any given point, so there often has to be an element of neutrality to the line. They may have forced the protagonist to start an impromptu open graveyard, for example.
I enjoy storytelling in many of its guises. In addition to working on Seven, I’m currently writing a long-overdue short story entitled Kellen’s Plan, and working on my first screenplay, called The Henchman. I realise that by dabbling in all of these different forms of media I risk spreading my time too thinly, but I think the potential rewards outweigh the risks. I want to immerse myself in every facet of storytelling, because I’m increasingly finding that core story principles are crucial regardless of the format. The primary goal is always to elicit emotion, stories are always metaphors for life, there always has to be conflict throughout, and the protagonist has to go through a metamorphosis of some description.
Despite the storytelling core running through all of these media forms, there are of course major differences between them. One of the most significant is the way in which the story is enjoyed. In video games, the stories that are created have to serve a greater purpose: they have to feed in to and enhance the world created. The writing is brush strokes of one colour on a vibrant, many-hued canvas. Films and television shows constitute an intrinsically visual medium, so screenwriting must enable the reader of a script to visualise how the words on the page could be brought to life. Writing literature is one of the more closed-ended of the forms, in that the writer tries to convey exactly what they wish the reader to experience. Even this requires interpretation, however; as Stephen King says, description should start in the writer’s imagination, but end in the reader’s.
The whole process of bringing lines to life in the VO recording session reminded me of the importance of keeping in mind where your words are destined to be next in their journey. It never ends with whatever you chuck on to the screen; whether it’s the voice actors who breathe life in to lines for a video game, or the director transforming them into fluid action for a screen show, or the reader taking the seed of your prose and letting it bloom in their imagination. In short, don’t forget that your aim is to write something that shows your imagination whilst appealing to someone else’s.