Category Archives: world building

Video game writing – interactive storytelling or grand world building design?

I have never made it a secret that I am an avid (if not particularly good) video game player, and I have noticed that storytelling in video games has evolved and become a lot more ambitious in the last few years. It’s come a long way from a lengthy backstory written up in the forward of an instruction manual to character customisation, choosing your path and having multiple outcomes. Yet the writing in video games is something that is dismissed by people who would still laud the plots and characters of movies and novels.

While interactive storytelling can be much more complex than linear storytelling, the fundamentals are the same. You have structure, characterisation, 3-5 acts and a climax, but time can pass dependant on the player and his or her interactions within the game. The script has to take into account a third dimension that is controlled by the player, and out of the writers hands completely. Working within the boundaries and constraints offered by the medium provide the biggest challenge to the writer of a game as opposed to, say, someone writing a novel.  Rhianna Pratchett had to write most of the backstory for Mirror’s Edge off screen in comic book format, so it didn’t exist for the majority of people who played the game, her original story chopped and edited to fit already existing level design and gameplay mechanics. A frustrating, but not totally uncommon, occurrence to video game writers.

But there are more games writers now than there were five years ago, and creators like Ken Levine of Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are more becoming the norm. Neil Druckmann, writer of the PlayStation title “The Last of Us” would like to see a move away from mainstream pop culture references and to make the stories told in games to be as personal as possible. When you don’t approach things from a personal or emotional level, he feels the player doesn’t learn the message you are trying to convey.

To me, the writing in video games is beyond simply the narrative, the lines of dialogue and scripted cut scenes. Video game writing is at it’s best when you don’t notice it. It’s the experience of the story, a believable and immersive world built and presented that makes sense. This is why I personally find video games such as the Bioshock series, Gone Home, Portal and Mass Effect great inspiration for my own world building exercises, and encourage me to want to expand my own fictional universes.


Choosing Character Names: Fun, or a Total Nightmare?

Character names can be tricky fishes. Occasionally you’ll think you’ve got the perfect name for your protagonist, only to get halfway through a story and realise that the name no longer suits them. Names can be used to stunning effect, evoking images, sounds, and even themes. They can hold meaning, both hidden and obvious, or they can be so generic that they don’t stand out at all.

But it’s a fine line between picking a name you want, picking a name that fits the character, and picking something that’s not going to jar or distract readers.

We’re often advised to avoid names that are too out there, absurd or overly complex, and just plain impossible to pronounce. But occasionally a story will call for the wacky. A good example of this is Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where you can find names like Zaphod Beeblebrox and Slartibartfast. And that’s OK, because it’s a space comedy whose ethos is the pointlessness of trying to make an impact in an unfathomable universe–absurd names are the least of these characters’ problems. The thing is, those names probably wouldn’t work so well in a contemporary romance or a period drama like Downton Abbey.

And then there are names that try just a little too hard to make the character sound cool or edgy. If you’re writing an action thriller, calling your ex-marine protagonist Rock Stoneblast might draw more snickers than anything. Actually, a while back Sky compiled a list of 20 Mental Movie Monikers, worth checking out for the lols.

Sci-fi and fantasy fall victim to impossible character and place names more often than most other genres. This is where you get your L’kazyx’hiqxues from planet Xzerquee’h’ex or somesuch (which is probably in the Pzzy’awxze’a galaxy). These monstrosities can be enough to make a reader quit early on. There’s also the issue of people who read out loud to themselves or read stories to other people, and don’t forget audiobooks.

When I pick names for my characters, the first thing I do is check their meanings on Behind the Name, just to make sure I’m not making any unintentional faux pas. The nerd in me quite likes it when an author gets clever with name meanings. You never know, there might be a reader who looks it up and is surprised to find the meaning has a connection to the characters’ backstory, attitudes, etc.

You also need to be mindful of when your story is set and which names were popular at the time. Putting a Beyoncé in 17th Century rural England probably won’t fly with the history buffs. 😉

There are tons of excellent sources for names, if you’re really stuck. With a little patience, you can generally find good stuff in the phone book, movie or TV show credits, even graveyards (creepy, I know, but sometimes you have to get creative!). And there are the online venues Baby Names, The Internet Surname Database, Random Name Generator, as well as Behind the Name (linked above). And a silly one, Name Generator Fun.

So how do you go about naming your characters? Do they walk into your head fully formed with a name, or do you begin with a name and build the character around it? Do you struggle to find fitting names for your chars? Have you encountered any memorable names from books/TV/movies that you want to share? I’d love to hear them!

(This entry was originally written for and posted to the Get Your Words Out community on LiveJournal.)

New Collaborative Geofiction website

Johannes Bouchain of Urban Geofiction and his colleague Thilo Stapff have set up a new geofiction community like no other. This is a collaborative geofiction experiment that welcomes cartographers to add to the map.


Using the tools of the Openstreetmap project – – Opengeofiction offers, for everyone who would like to participate, the possibility to contribute to mapping a fictional planet. Interested? Then:

1. Create your account – (You’ll get an e-mail when your account has been activated, it may take a little while.)

2. Choose a free (green) area from the overview map (Please send an e-mail to and mention the area you’ve chosen.)

3. Start mapping by using the tools available ( If you don’t have any experience yet, please tell the Opengeofiction team at and they’ll try to help you as much as possible.

Find more information about the project and about other ways to participate here:

Examples of what it can look like: (Roantra). (south of Kalm/north of Sathria, “under construction”).

You already have a fictional country and/or city that you would like to place on the Opengeofiction planet? That’s wonderful! The free (green) areas at the overview map can still be changed a little bit, so that your imaginary country hopefully will find its place in one of the continents. Maybe you find an area that already has almost the same form as your fictional country (and is also located in the right latitude, so that the climate is like you imagine it for your country).


The deadline for our fictional worlds map making competition has now passed (we might accept more maps if you send them before the end of Friday 24th though no guarantees). We’ve had submissions from cartographers, writers and artists from across the world, the quality far outstripping our expectations and our own ability.

While we begin the judging phase I’d like to share some cool mappy things with you.

New Cartography anthology from the excellent magazine The New Wolf.

Juli Marti Casals’ geofiction project 1/10000

An interesting article in the Guardian about hand drawn maps being cutting edge

Gloves map from Mapping Manhattan

the cartographers guild an excellent forum/ community of cartographers who specialise in making maps of fictional places. Authors take note: members of the guild can make you a map of your fictional world – seeing as many of us are too busy writing to have time to map our worlds, it’s good to know there’s professional map makers out there willing to come to our aid.

Storyslingers Fictional Worlds Event & networking party 1st June

Storyslingers Fictional Worlds Event & networking party 1st June 3-5pm (with after party from about 5pm).

with thanks to Maxime Plasse, cartographer, for supplying the map/ image for this poster–albums-max%27s+maps.html

Storyslingers is putting on a series of mini events on June 1st, culminating in a networking party for creative people. We will be celebrating fictional place and the art of cartography. There will be an informal exhibition of fictional maps created by cartographers from across the world who specialise in the art form known as geofiction: making maps of fictional places. Don’t miss this chance to see some of the best fictional maps in the world, right here in Dorset.

There are three informal events that are open to the public to drop in on any time throughout the afternoon:

3-4pm Fictional Worlds writing workshop. Creating fictional worlds, thinking about their rules and limitations. Open to all levels. 

4-5pm Open Mic reading event. Share your work with other writers and whoever happens to drop by. All stories must be set in a fictional world/ some new spin on reality. Take us somewhere we’ve never been before. Stories should not exceed 7 minutes or 1000 words. Stories of 3-5 minutes are best (600-800 words). We have short attention spans. Extracts from longer works are welcome. In the case of extracts the focus should be on the fictional world – delight us with a new place we wish we could go to if only it really existed.

5-6pm:  Networking party and drop in session. Writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, cartographers and readers are invited to come along and talk shop. Working on a piece of fiction? Just read the best book ever? Want to talk about it? Come along.  Let’s chat creativity over cakes and wine. 
Also, book swap and stall. If you’ve ever been handed a world book night book and it’s got stuck on your shelves, now is the time to pass it onto someone new. Same goes for any book you have idling that you’re happy to pass on. We’ll be displaying some of our handmade books too, which will be on sale.  Published writers/ artists are welcome to add their publications/ cards to the stall. 

The announcement of the results of the 2nd Map Making competition will happen sometime during the day – most likely at 5pm (Results will be published online later in the following week.) The maps will be on display throughout the event.

Tickets are on the door and it’ll work by a system of paying what you think it’s worth in relation to your bank balance, from £1 upwards. All profits will go towards funding a future Storyslingers event: specifically a (roving?) exhibition of the winning and shortlisted maps entered in the map making competition

Come to all or some of the events, pick and choose, drop in and out. Invite your mates along too.

Join the facebook event page:

1st June 2013 3pm-6ish
The Rutter Room
Bell Street