The Bookish Fox

Writing Lessons from Life is Strange

When I was a small child, I was obsessed with a computer game. It was called Rockett’s New School. It was a game for preteen girls that was basically a “choose your own adventure game.” You could choose who you befriended, how you handled stressful situations, and how you would position yourself in your new school. It was pretty much the best thing ever.

Much to my delight, I discovered Life is Strange. It is basically the same game with time travel and geared toward adults. It is pretty much the best thing ever.

As I was playing the game last night, I realized there were five writing lessons that people can learn from the game. I am happy to share them with you!

Lesson #1: Make Your Dialogue Realistic

I am in the first episode of the game, and I will be honest: the dialogue is absolutely painful. The game was developed by French men, and it really shows. The dialogue is stilted. As much as I love the game, I am pulled out of the plot. I keep yelling, “Nobody would say that!” Fortunately, the creators took user feedback seriously, and they improved the dialogue in future episodes (which is a bonus lesson in taking constructive criticism seriously.)

Bottom line: Write realistic dialogue. You can improve your writing skills in this area by sitting in a cafe and listening to people talk.

Lesson #2: Avoid Giving Your Characters Artificial Choices

As much as I love having the ability to make choices in the game, I sometimes wish I had more. There are times when I have a choice between one thing a character would never say/do and another thing a character would never say/do. I also ask: “isn’t there a third option?” Or the choice seems really trivial and stupid.

Bottomline: Your characters should be making realistic decisions. Ask yourself every time your character makes a choice: “would someone really choose this?”

Lesson #3: Details Develop Story

One thing the game does really well is have a lot of details that develop the story and world. For example, there are posters in the school that advertise a missing girl or there are items in the classrooms that give details about the characters. 

Bottom line: Don’t forget the details in your story. They help develop the plot and characters. Be very intentional with them, and you will have a well-developed world. 

Lesson #4: Remember Characters Are People

A large part of the problem is that the creators are functioning under the belief that teenage girls are not real people. They make Max, the main female protagonist, really angsty and ridiculous. Instead of thinking of her as a human being, they thought of her as a teen girl at first. This makes her a ridiculous, unrealistic stereotype. 

Bottom line: When you think of your characters, think of them as people first. You will avoid stereotypes this way. 

Lesson #5: There Is No Rewind Button

In the game, Max has the ability to rewind time. I find this lowers the stakes a bit. Make a wrong decision? No big deal! You can rewind time and make a different choice.

Bottom line: Don’t keep undoing your characters’ decisions. Have them make a choice and suffer the consequences. Suspense comes from a level of irrevocability.

Do you enjoy playing video games? Let me know your favorites in the comments below


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