The Art of Sim Storytelling

Season four of The History of Twin Bayous (THOTB) is currently a work-in-progress. As of this writing (Oct 24), I have collected material (screen-shots) for what is expected to be at least 13 episodes and that is only half of what is planned for season four.

So far I have actually written only one episode for season four and have tentatively scheduled it to be published on Saturday November 7th. I usually like to have about 13 episodes “in the can” before I will start scheduling them. For season four, I am planning on continuing to schedule episodes to publish every other day.

This brings up the topic of how I write and construct each of these episodes.

First of all I like to split the story into seasons. In Story 8, I called them “parts” as in “part I”, “part II”, … “part IV”, etc, but I did originally want to call them seasons. It is just that when I was getting started, I thought it was silly to do so.

For The History of Twin Bayous, I like to think of it as a kind of television show that is part drama and part comedy. (Oh I get it! This is what they call a dramedy!)

Anyway, each season consists of a number of episodes. I like to try and keep the number of episodes to less than 30. In fact, I like the number 26 because historically most television shows’ seasons consisted of 26 episodes (less than half were shown in the fall and the bulk of the episodes were shown in the spring).

Yet in my stories it never seems to come out that way. Season 2 of THOTB consisted of thirty-two episodes and season 3 consisted of twenty episodes. It does seem that the number of episodes depends on the number of story-arcs within the season.

Season two had a number of story arcs & sub-plots

  1. Teen Pregnancy Epidemic (starting at episode 2.3)
  2. Cheaters and Toads (starting at episode 2.7)
  3. Town Feuds (starting at episode 2.12)
  4. Jacqueline & Anton (starting at episode 2.15)
  5. Morgan & Mark (starting at episode 2.23)
  6. Romero & Juliet (starting at episode 2.26)
  7. The Source (starting at episode 2.29)

Whereas season three had only three story-arcs

  1. The Abandoned Quarry (starting at episode 3.3)
  2. University (starting at episode 3.7)
  3. The Jellyfish War (starting at episode 3.14)

Looking at the total number episodes in seasons two and three, you may be thinking that 32+20 does come out to 52 [26 X 2]… But, no, I did not plan it that way.

In fact I do not do much in the way of planning my stories. In find that when I do too much planning, it rarely comes out the way that I planned it. A good example, is the Jellyfish War is season three. I had a lot of stuff planned for that, but I decided to cut it down. Besides that period of time in the History of Twin Bayous requires some shroud of mystery, because it does play a role in the story going forward (hint… hint)

One of the reasons that I abandoned Story 8/Part 5 was because I had over-planned it and it was becoming more like work than a fun thing to do. On the flip-side of that, Story Zero seemed lacked any sort of plan or plot and when I realized that I decided to quickly exit stage right and start fresh with THOTB.

I like to play The Sims 3 and do not like the storytelling aspect to get into the way of my playing. I rarely, if ever, pose my sims for screen-shots. I prefer live action shots and I find posing to be cumbersome and time-consuming. So far in THOTB, I posed the sims once and that was in episode 2.20 where Mark Clemens was interrogating Morgan LeFey about the disappearance of his grand-daughter. I had to pose Morgan because she kept pulling out her magic wand and doing witch-stuff. I needed her to be reacting to what Mark was telling her.

That is… she would think about it…

As I am playing, I watch for patterns of a story forming and I begin telling the story in my head.

In writing there are a number rules and principles that writers adhere to. The two main rules that I follow is the Rule of Three and Chekhov’s Gun.

The rule of three or power of three is a writing principle that simply states that things that come in threes are inherently funnier and more satisfying to the reader. The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three. See the link above for details on this writing principle.

The second rule I follow when writing is Chekhov’s Gun. Anton Chekhov, the great Russian playwright and critic of the 19th century, stated:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

In Sim storytelling, I have the most fun with the principle of “Chekhov’s Gun”, because it is one thing to write about a rifle hanging on a wall (that must be fired in the next chapter), but to foreshadow an action within the screen-shots that are captured from TS3 and that make up the bulk of each episode is a thing that makes sim storytelling a fun activity.

Following the principle of “Chekhov’s Gun” also means that when I, the author, say or show something within the frame of the story, I am making a promise to reader that that thing has a purpose within the structure of the narrative. It is a promise that is sometimes difficult to keep, but it does prevent me from getting bored with my writing. Because if I were to be bored, I would be doing something else.

Over the course of time, as I am collecting the material for each episode, I may take hundreds of screen-shots. I estimate that each published episode consists of about a dozen screen-shots. However for 13 episodes I may take about 1000 screenshots or 80 screenshots per episode. So out of 80 screenshots, I only actually use about a dozen screenshots per episode. As I am collecting screen-shots, I am storing the jpegs in folders separated by episodes after each gaming session.

As I am collecting screenshots for the episodes, I am taking notes and fleshing out the story. I use Microsoft OneNote 2013, both for taking notes and for the actual composition of the blog post. (I have learned that there is now a free version of OneNote.)

I like to use OneNote for a number of reasons. For one I can get to my notes from just about anywhere. When I am playing TS3, I can write notes to OneNote from my Fire Tablet.

When it comes time to write the blog post, I drag and drop the selected screen-shots into OneNote. Sometimes the pictures are selected to fit the words and sometimes words are written to fit the picture. Most of the time it is the picture that drives the story.

When it comes to words for the narrative, I am a minimalist and like to think of what I am writing as more like a comic book than a graphic novel. Part of my minimalist approach to writing stems from following the principle of “Chekhov’s Gun”, but also comes from my desire to not bore the reader with a lot of extra and unnecessary details.

As Ernest Hemingway put it: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Once I have finished writing an episode in OneNote I then use the “Send to Blog” feature. This OneNote feature does not actually send the post to my WordPress blog. What it does is send the post to Microsoft Word.

MS Word has a feature that allows the user to construct a blog post in Word and then publish (or publish as draft) the post to WordPress or some other blog. Within Word, I do a final pass of cleaning up the blog (spelling, grammar, and formatting).

There are two things that I always do when I am editing the post in Word. First I select the entire post (CTRL+A) and then I “Clear All” formatting from the Styles drop-down. This ensures that my post in WordPress uses only my default format/font settings and is not cluttered with unintended formatting. For this reason I do not do any formatting such as italicization within OneNote. I save that adding formatting for when I have the post within Word and after I have done a “Clear All”.

Secondly I do a find and replace to remove any “empty paragraphs”. These are paragraphs that contain only a non-breaking space. For some reason OneNote sticks these into the post. In raw HTML they would appear as <p>&nbsp;</p> and to the reader they appear as a bunch of blank lines making the post look messy and unprofessional. To remove all “empty paragraphs” using Word, I do a search-and-replace (CTRL+H) for ^s^p and remove them completely.

Finally, from Word, I “Publish as Draft” the blog post.

Over on my WordPress site, I then find my post listed under Drafts. I bring up the post in the editor, I do some tidying, set the tags, set the featured image, and then I schedule the post in the queue with the other scheduled posts.

Normally I like to keep the scheduled posts queue at three to four weeks. That is about 13 episodes and that is the high-water mark. For example, right now there are five posts in the scheduled queue and this one will be number six. Back in June of 2014 I had scheduled most of the remaining Story 8/Part Three episodes for the entire summer all the way up to the end of August. The last episode of story 8 part 3 was written on July 7th, but did not appear until August 29.

I would rather be late and get it right, than to rush out a bunch of crap that I wish I could take back.

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