Writing for a Visual Novel

I write a lot of things. Books, papers, documentation, game scripts, etc. But writing a visual novel brought some unique considerations and challenges compared to my past projects. So what makes writing for visual novels different? Well, there are two main elements.

The first is interaction.  A visual novel game loses its “game” element if there aren’t decisions for the player to make.  And personally, I think that they should have a whole lot of decisions (such as Fate/Stay Night), rather than only a couple (such as Kira Kira).  Of course, I write for video games so this is hardly my first time writing a story with branching dialogue and story paths, but Aurora’s Nightmare has far more choices and branching points than any of my previous projects.  It’ll be great for the final game, but requires a bit more planning on my part, along with a flowchart to keep track of everything.

The second element, and the one that really threw me at first, is the writing style.  Most of the writing I do (and probably the vast majority of fiction writing in general) is written in what’s called third person past tense.  For example, here’s a brief excerpt from Aurora’s Nightmare written in third person past tense.

  Ars opened his eyes to the familiar sound of the alarm.  Sunlight streamed through his window, promising another beautiful summer day.
He yawned and considered stealing a few more minutes of sleep, but decided against it.  He had way too much to do.  Besides, he didn’t even want to imagine how Tia would react if he was late for work.

Now visual novels, on the other hand, are written in what’s called first person present tense.  Which basically means you write it as if the main character is narrating the story as it happens.  Here’s that same excerpt as before, but in first person present tense, like how it will appear in the game.

  I open my eyes to the familiar sound of the alarm.  Sunlight is streaming in through my window, promising another beautiful summer day.
I yawn and consider stealing a few more minutes of sleep but decide against it.  There’s way too much to do.  Besides, I don’t even want to imagine how Tia will react if I’m late for work today.

What actually tripped me up a lot isn’t the first person perspective, I write that way often enough that it’s easy enough for me to switch to.  Present tense, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.  I rarely had any reason to write in present tense prior to Aurora’s Nightmare and often find myself slipping into past tense, at which point I have to go back and change all my verbs.  I’ve gotten a bit more used to it though.  I’m sure that I’ll eventually have no problem keeping my writing in present tense.  Probably right around the time I finish the Aurora’s Nightmare script and need to write something in past tense again.

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