For today’s blog post I thought I’d get a little personal and talk about why I became an author. It’s a question I get asked when people discover I write stories, especially when they learn I studied computer game design at University and dropped that for writing!
I’ve already written a blog post comparing the stories of video games to books and why I believe neither is inherently better than the other; a balanced life can benefit from both! There, I go into some detail about why I prefer writing stories to designing games. Simply put, I’ve always been drawn to stories.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be either a knight, a pirate, a veterinarian, an eco-warrior, or an author.
Then in my early teens I discovered video games and swapped my imaginary life for a gaming one. What fascinated me most about video games were these virtual worlds that came to life. No longer did I need to imagine living in a fantasy world when I could explore through them, albeit as another character. It’s no surprise that role playing games and MMORPG’s were my favourite games, and that my favourite activity in these was exploring their worlds. Nowadays, modern graphics are incredibly realistic and large open world games let you live another life. These are complete worlds which are built from scratch with realism and attention to detail in mind. And where games like The Elder Scrolls lacked in certain areas, the modding community came along and created their own additions to make these games even more realistic. I can’t play Skyrim without the mods which add realistic eating, camping, and survival for instance.
You can guess that I love survival and crafting games too!
As a teen, I forgot about books because I could be a knight or a pirate in my virtual worlds. Even though I abandoned books for a time, I could never shake off that desire to write. I wrote articles and reviews for gaming websites and was employed professionally for a time to write web content. It felt like a natural progression to pursue a career in video games. Isn’t this what I was passionate about?
So I studied computer games design at University. But again, that need to write gnawed away at me. At first, I thought it was just a need to world build. I obviously love video game worlds! I spent hours writing design documents and building my own fantasy worlds. I wasn’t sure where I was going with them, because as I worked through my degree, I found myself drawn to and enjoying the essays and modules that required me to write. My favourite subjects involved creating massive design documents and exploring interactive stories for games. I’m the reason why my tutors needed to impose word limits. Sorry tutors!
Also, in the back of my mind, I resented the idea that game mechanics were more important than story. At the time I hadn’t made the connection yet; I simply preferred writing stories.
After graduating University, I eventually found work for a small mobile games studio. I didn’t have much creative freedom there, and that’s one downside of working for a games company. Unless you decide to go indie, you don’t choose which games to design; you just use your skills to help design someone else’s idea. That’s what I did. I helped design and test games that I wasn’t necessarily passionate about. But again, my favourite activity came down to writing. Any task which required me to write, whether it was some in-game text or an app store description, I embraced it. I offered to write. I wanted to.
Finally I was able to admit that I enjoyed writing. More than that, I needed to write. Writing was somehow a part of my blood. It was a calling. All those game ideas I had suddenly turned into book ideas.
Why not make my own story-driven games?
I did think about this. I still do think it would be fun to pursue in the future should an opportunity arise. But as explained in my books vs video game blog, video games still require game mechanics to be fun and functional. By writing a book, I would be 100% focussed on the story and the characters, and not worrying about balancing the gameplay. Also, there’s a lot of skills involved in creating a game! I can write (so I like to believe!) and I know good game design, but I’m not a programmer, nor an artist, or a musician. I would have to learn these additional skills or hire someone to do them for me. There are some incredibly talented indie game developers out there who have created games from scratch by teaching themselves these skills. Games such as Stardew Valley and Undertale. I am in awe of these people.
But for me, I didn’t want to risk becoming a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. I have a full-time job to pay the bills and there’s only so much leftover time for creative endeavours! I picked writing as my key skill and decided to focus all my time learning how to become a better writer and story teller.
Writing is easy, right? Why bother?
Well, there’s no shortcuts to learning any creative skill, whether it’s writing, or painting, or learning the piano, or creating a video game. You can’t take a course and become an expert in a week. It takes a lot of practice, repetition, and mistakes which all cost time, so I chose to dedicate my time to developing my writing. I think there’s this misconception that writing is easy because we all write words in our every day lives. Anyone can write a book. Technically, anyone can draw a doodle or make music. But it takes many hours of practice to do these things well.
If you’ve never written a book before then where do you begin?
By reading other books. Many books.
But that’s a discussion for another day!
Writing the first draft of Sand Dancer reignited by love for books and writing like nothing before. In the years I spent re-writing Sand Dancer, I honed my writing craft by writing short stories and entering competitions. But the most important thing I did was read a lot of books, and I fell in love with YA fantasy all over again. I don’t get as much time to play video games these days because I prioritise reading and writing, but I don’t mind this at all.
I found my home in books.