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Video Game Writing Tip #8

Avoid the Pit of Repetitive Doom

The vocabulary of the English language is rich. When you’re writing for a video game, there’s a trap that you can fall into, and that’s the monotonous word-choice pit. Some of the words I see used far too often (annoyingly so) are: pitiful, weak, strong, kill, destroy, and beast.

In a video game, many situations are repeated over and over. You’re killing monsters, defending a location, saving a princess, or raiding a hideout (just to name a few). It’s wise to beware of auto-pilot. If you accidentally turn your mind off and go into automatic writing mode, then each of these situations will begin to sound exactly the same.

One might think that there are only so many ways to say, “Let’s kick their asses!” And yet, there is a multitude of ways.

  • Charge!
  • Go get ’em!
  • I’m ready when you are!
  • They’re gonna hate us for this.
  • It’s butt-kickin’ time.
  • Bring on the fodder!
  • Here’s Johnny!

And so on and so forth. Your real enemy here is your auto-pilot.

I use a thesaurus many times a day as I’m writing. I look words up in the dictionary to make sure I’m using them properly and also because there are sometimes synonyms there as well. Your resource books are your friend, and there’s no shame in cracking one open. My dictionary, thesaurus, and rhyming dictionary are as critical to my writing success as is my coffee machine.

These books help you get out of auto-pilot and out of your own habits. If you rely on your own mind at all times, you’ll naturally slide into a rhythm that matches the voice inside your head. A large part of learning how to write involves becoming alert to your own thoughts and linguistic tendencies.

I’ve seen many writers who write via stream-of-consciousness. Some of them never bother to revise their work. Revising isn’t just about fixing what’s wrong, it’s about improving what’s right. Writers that don’t give their work a second, third, and even twentieth pass have a self-imposed ceiling on how successful they can be.

Stream-of-consciousness is fine for a first draft, but in the end, you will improve your work by going back and tweaking it. Switch out the words you tend toward with words that say what you wanted to say even better.

As an example, the above paragraph is a first draft. Here are two ways I changed it by choosing words that were more interesting. You’ll note that I didn’t increase the word count at all.

    Extemporization is acceptable for a first draft, but ultimately, you’ll elevate your prose by revisiting and revising. Exchange the vocabulary that comes naturally to you for more evocative phrasing.
    It’s okay to improvise in a first draft, but you’ll improve your writing by checking back and reworking it. Ditch the lines that came off the top of your head and replace them with sentences that sing.

This is a good exercise to do. Take a few sentences from the last email you wrote and try to reword it in a few different ways. You’ll begin to see that your true power lies in revision.

Let me know what you think!

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