Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time
You Can't Kill Batman

Russ Pitts | 6 Nov 2007 08:02
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"Where do you get your ideas?"

The question, asked by innocent bystanders, well-meaning associates and the idly curious alike, plagues and troubles writers of all shapes and sizes, not solely owing to its ubiquity (although it is a perennial favorite). No, the question is such a bother because the answer is often as mysterious to the writer as it is to the reader.

Where do ideas come from? Do they come entirely from the mind, springing forth fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus, whispered in the ear of our subconscious like the voice of some muse, or are they products of our hopes and dreams, influenced by everything we see or hear, stolen from the very fabric of our lives?

The answer is most likely "all of the above," but it's often hard to tell. Ideas just come, and the birthing of them feels like an arcane, delicate art; a swirling cauldron we're reluctant to peer into, lest our examinations kill the proverbial cat. Hence, the popular image of the writer staring longingly at the blank page, begging for the emergence of ideas that, for whatever reason, are too stubborn to obey.

Wouldn't it be easier if someone else had already done the legwork for you? Created the world, characters and story, filled the page already, leaving only blanks to be filled between the spaces? That's, in essence, what it's like starting a franchise writing project, games either built around an established license (Star Trek, etc.) or games inspired by or following up on a successful original story, and the writers for these games are just like any writers anywhere, only a large part of their work is already done. Or is it?

Not necessarily.

"I don't think I would say writing for franchises is easier," says Wendy Despain, Chair of the IGDA Game Writer's Special Interest Group (SIG) who's written for a number of franchises, including BRATZ: Forever Diamondz and "several Roddenberry Sci-Fi properties." "It is different and sometimes takes less time overall, but there's also a tendency to bring the writer in later in the project. ... This is usually less than ideal."


Writing for an established series can be an effective way to make a living as a writer, and is often the first stop for many writers on their journey to a lucrative career. But for a creative writer, working within the constraints of a preexisting idea can be a treacherous path to success.

"[Writing for franchises is] easier in some respects, harder in others," says veteran playwright, screenwriter and game writer Haris Orkin, whose work has appeared in Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard, Kingdom Hearts, Call of Juarez and other games. "Usually, if the characters and/or story are already established, you are forced to stay within certain parameters."

Parameters like the characters' mannerisms, way of speaking, what they say, how they say it and where they happen to be when they're going about the business you're attempting to describe, to name a few. One would think it'd drive a creative mind insane to adhere to the tenets of someone else's vision, but according to Orkin, the process has its pros and cons.

"I enjoy working either way," Orkin says. "I love creating characters and stories. But also I love the challenge of taking someone's work and kicking it up to a whole new level. Creating your own characters and story gives you more flexibility, but it also requires a lot more work initially. So there are good and bad elements of both."

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