Writing is a tricky thing for me and writing a game is HARD. I am not a creative writer, even though I try. I tend to fall back on the same vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar problems, and familiar misspellings. That being said, I am sitting here with 122 pages of finished text. So how did it happen? What is my process for getting this book done?
I rely on a few tools to get myself in the right mindset to write. When I want to flesh out an idea I start with a notebook and writing implement. I usually go with one of those 6 by 9 inch faux leather books and a mechanical pencil. I lay out what I am trying to accomplish in point form and then get to work expanding each point. I try to do this exercise as tech free as possible. By the end my notebook looks fairly messy and I am sure I’m the only one that can understand it. I have TERRIBLE hand writing and I always do that thing where I am trying to fit a concept or idea onto one line and the writing gets more and more cramped as I get closer to the right hand side of the page because I just don’t want to drop to that second line.
When I have a rough outline of what I am trying to write, which usually contains a few fully formed full sentences and a LOT of ideas, I switch to digital. My ‘rough draft’ tool of choice is google docs. I can start a file on my PC, switch to my tablet if I want to do some writing on the go, write on my phone if I have an idea while half asleep… so on and so on. The flexibility that the google suite of software provides can not be underestimated, especially when it comes to a collaborative workflow. When I get enough writing, word vomiting, whatever, I can share my rough draft with my editor, Jenn, who is not only extremely talented but even easier to work with. From that point its a back and forth with edits, suggested changes and complete rewrites until I get something I am happy with. The book is extremely polished in comparison to this blog. You can thank editor Jenn for that. She does amazing work and the book would not be nearly as nice as it is right now if it was not for her efforts.
Of course being happy with a rough draft is one thing… if it doesn’t play well I might as well have written nothing. Playtesting is my next and most tedious step. I have two methods of playtesting. First is a playtest where I try out mechanics myself against myself. Most of the initial game development was done this way. I spent hours and hours moving minis around the table, rolling hundreds and hundreds of dice (sometimes all at once) and then taking notes about how it worked. When I am satisfied with the results I play the slightly polished version with friends. From these play sessions I often encounter issues I had not thought about before. Like one situation where if a character had run that turn they’re not only useless in all forms of combat but also nearly invincible. I fixed that one early on thanks to the process I had set out. I take lots of notes when I play with friends, implement them, playtest with myself and then with friends again. I’ve used this iterative process all through writing Anthems of War and the results show. I still have playtesting to do, and a lot of it is the more crunchy stuff like testing combinations of spells, skills, traits and equipment. My system for building characters was the hardest part to playtest but because I followed this process it was painless and as far as I can tell fairly balanced. If you build a 300 point army and your opponent builds a 300 point army you can expect a fairly well matched fight even if your army consists of 8 elite soldiers and theirs consists of 14 rough and poorly equipped bandits.
After I have a semi polished draft I switch into layout mode. I do sample boxed layouts in Inkscape, a vector tool I love and that I am fairly fast with. When I get to something I like I reproduce that setup in Affinity Publisher, my desktop publishing software of choice. From there its a lot of copy and pasting, moving around text and making sure it looks nice. I try to keep subjects grouped together but do not hesitate to jump over to a new page if I need to keep expanding a concept. I often end up reading sections over and over again, adjusting little bits of wording as I go along. What I end up with is a layout with big gaps between subjects. I use those gaps for art! I wrote about the art of Anthems of War last week. Until I get the art I use a color coded system. Orange for spots that need a piece of hand drawn art and I have a semi-clear idea of what I want, green for spots that need photos (usually large end of chapter sections), yellow for art I have commissioned and am waiting for the final results, and purple for art I have not yet commissioned and have no idea what to fill the area with. This whole layout process is once again very iterative. I make subtle changes as I am going, get lots of feedback from people I trust and eventually arrive at something I am proud of. The work continues. I am still adjusting even though I’ve been saying the text of the book has been done for over a month. Just this week I added a new skill, changed how mounted characters move, and adjusted some pages to make them flow a little nicer. I am noticing I am making less and less of these types of sweeping changes as time goes on and that has to be a good thing, right?
So that is it! That is how I write. Its a very iterative process where I go back multiple times to slowly fine tune a rough draft into something more. I did that to a lesser extent with this blog post. I did up a rough outline on Sunday and then adjusted bits as I thought about them all week. No matter where you’re reading this from jump into the comments where you originally found this link and let me know what you’d like me to cover in future blog posts! Better yet, join the discord server or the Anthems of War community facebook page and throw your suggestions in there! I am releasing info on my discord first and often have little tidbits to share mid week. I try to field every question I get thrown my way no matter how difficult. Links to all of my socials are in the footer of this page.
Until next time, friends