You may have heard: I’m writing one grenade bark for every like on this Tweet. I’ve just finished 500. I’m hoping to write up to 1003.
It’s a long road to 500 barks – or pseudo-barks as they may be, since real grenade barks are snappier – but I’ve enjoyed several reveries on my way. When this exercise concludes I’ll do a post about writing barks well, but for now I’d like to discuss a few of my fancies.
The fear of the blank page is natural, especially when it’s an unusually large blank page. Staring at it won’t help – but starting on it will.
If you’ve been tasked with writing a large quantity of lines, start writing. Write down everything that comes to mind. If it’s obvious, write it down. If it’s trash, write it down. In the beginning, the most useful thing you can do is gather material to work with. You need clay to mold and that means digging through dirt.
Some of your lines will be good to use immediately, while others can be used with editing. Others still will need to be discarded entirely. In all cases, though, one idea may lead to another – worse ideas may suggest better ones, or they may suggest where not to dig. Keep writing until you’ve found what you’re looking for, then keep on writing.
Every interaction with the world is a story. Making a character’s bark specific to the character is always good practice. But characters change over time. Their language should change over time as well.
Some of my favorite barks were about “kaboom-beans”. They were basic barks, but instead of shouting “grenade!” the character gleefully shouted “kaboom-beans” in the hope that the phrase would catch on. Later, I wrote a bark where another teammate warned about “kaboom-beans” – only to swear unhappily beneath their breath for using the phrase.
The barks were characterful, succinct and informative. But more than that, they formed a mini narrative arc. Stories happen everywhere, even in the smallest spaces. Exploring the possibility of narrative in that space not only delights attentive players; it makes it easier (and more fun!) to write your barks.
Exploit the Medium:
Each medium contains possibilities that can only be explored in that medium. There are artistic opportunities on stage which cannot be replicated in film; the tricks one can use in writing a novel won’t carry over for writing a video game. This is not an original observation. I hope it may be a useful reminder, however, as I think it’s something we can take for granted. Taking stock of the opportunities and limitations of the medium can lead you to novel designs.
In this instance, consider the bark. Barks are often a response: when the when enemy AI throws a grenade, your ally warns you. In reflecting on this, two points came to mind.
First, the fuse. Why not have a longer fuse, so the AI can spout a slightly lengthier line? Depending on the experience you’re creating, it might be something worth playing with. Take stock of what you can control. Play with it.
Second, the order of events. Why have the grenade trigger the bark, instead of the bark trigger the grenade? Let characters spout a few lines, then interrupt it with a grenade. The narrative opportunities in this, it seems to me, are plentiful and worthy of further exploration.
We’re 500 barks down. Hopefully we’ll have 503 more to go. Next time, I’ll discuss the art of writing a good bark. See you then!