“Do you have any advice for me on how to get started as a narrative writer?”
“I just wanted to know how you broke into game writing.”
“How do you get involved with these types of jobs?”
These are just some of the questions I receive from people who want to be narrative video game writers.
Well, brace yourself, because it’s finally time to reveal the big secret…
…there’s no secret.
I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but don’t click away yet!
The hard truth
It really comes down to hard work, determination, and a lot of luck. It’s a slog, it’s hard, and it’s made exponentially more difficult if you don’t already know anyone in the video games industry looking for a writer.
To date, I’ve reached out to 402 different developers and publishers. Of those, only 13 came back to me with a positive response, and I’ve worked on projects that don’t even reach half of that number. It’s hard, man. There’s a good chance you might already know just how difficult it can be.
But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. I love the games I’ve worked on and the people I’ve worked with. Some of them have even become my friends!
It’s time for the tips
So, can I offer any advice got budding game writers? Of course! And you don’t need to buy some crappy online course or ebook, either!
Tip 1: Create a portfolio
It doesn’t matter if it’s video games you’ve made, short stories you’ve written, or a few writing samples from other areas. You absolutely need to have something (anything!) that a company can look over.
I suggest putting together:
- a two-page script with characters talking to each other
- an action scene
- a few item descriptions
Tip 2: Read books, play games, and watch movies
This is the fun part. Ya gotta understand the medium that you’re writing for, study story structure, and how to create characters.
My personal recommendation is Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s an absolute must for any writer.
Tip 3: Reach out and apply
Yea, a few hiring managers may scoff at this one, but apply for any writing job that piques your interest, especially if you don’t meet the minimum criteria.
That’s just good advice for any job that you’re after. Most of the time, the criteria in a job posting is a wishlist for the position, but most people will never meet 100% of the criteria.
Tip 4: Make friends
Join writing and game communities, chat with people, and… network. I know, I know, a good portion of us writers are introverts and “networking” or chatting to new people is terrifying.
Sign up to Twitter, LinkedIn, Discord, and Reddit to find other writers and potential job opportunities.
Tip 5: Accepting hard truths
Accept that you’re not going to be the lead writer of the next Assassin’s Creed or Red Dead Redemption entry. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but those positions are beyond rare and needlessly stringent. I’m pretty sure it’s easier to win the lotto than to get one of those gigs.
Besides, are you even comfortable working in a corporate position that puts incredible pressure on you to hit KPIs and win awards? Me neither. This leads me to my next point…
Tip 6: It’s okay to start small
There are so many new games released every week and almost all of them are from smaller studios. Often, the project leader will also be the head writer, but that doesn’t mean the company doesn’t need someone to help. Hell, you might even start off writing marketing tweets. Just do anything to get your damn foot in the door.
That’s kinda it. Even though the video games sector is the largest entertainment industry, it’s hard out there. You might be lucky and work for a company on a retainer, or you’ll just be hired on a per-project basis.
As for me, I like working on a range of different projects at once. It keeps me motivated.
Good luck and don’t give up!