Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bad writing in Alan Wake

Alan Wake is the story of a writer who goes away to a small town somewhere in America to take a break from his two years of writer's block.  After he and his wife arrive, mysterious things start happening, and he starts uncovering pages of a manuscript he doesn't remember writing.  This is where it all goes downhill.

However, it's a controlled slide, a descent, if you will, for Alan is going slowly mad - shadowy shapes stalk him, his wife is missing, and let's just say their island's doing the whole Avalon deal.  Roll a San check, Alan.  Things are not looking good.  But I'm not going to talk about the plot.  Go play the game for yourself.  It's definitely worth it.  I'm going to talk about the pages he discovers while wandering around town in the dark, with only a flashlight and a pistol as protection.  I'm talking about the wonderful yet cringe-worthy ability to write first draft material.

We've all been there, we've all done it.  We've all written something that we think sounds beautiful and poetic and on re-reading six months later sounds like a cat walked over the keyboard and Word auto-corrected.  "Did you mean 'nihilistic existence'?"  That's as far as it goes, for most of us - either into the shame folder, never to be seen again, but kept as a reminder of the folly that was, or into the ether, as a deleted file or an edited one.  We don't leave our work like that, and we certainly don't publish it, not if we're older than 14.  That type of over-writing is self-indulgent, immature, and doesn't make for particularly good reading.

Every time Alan picks up a new page of one of his manuscripts in-game, I cringe.  I know what's coming is going to be almost worse than the monsters.  But the pages give me information I need, so I listen to him read them in his monotone, and try not to cry.  I know Alan Wake has good writers.  Max Payne says so, and the actual dialogue in the game says so, too.  I understand what they're doing.  I'm not sure many others will.

The pages from the manuscript as essentially the 'what not to do' of writing fiction.  Ridiculous descriptions that make no sense upon reflection, inconsistent imaginary lighting, lots of use of adverbs, participles dangling all over the place like so many suspended log bundles that somehow manage to look like swinging bodies.  It reads like a first draft.  I spent a while wondering why, oh, why did they put this into the game?  And then I realised that, of course, that's what it is - Alan's first draft.  Considering the first monster you face chases you with catcalls such as: "You'd be nothing without your editor!" and "Every word you write is a bunch of pretentious s**t!", it's hard not to notice that this game was written by, well, writers.

So writing a first draft and letting it stay that way for publication is a big deal.  You have to be brave enough to say "Yeah, I know this is bad, that's the point, but listen to all this other awesome stuff."  You can't be shy, to publish a first draft, even ones so painstakingly created as these.  You have to trust your audience to get the joke, and know that you're playing.  And, most of all, as a writer, you have to resist the urge to let the editing blood-rage take over by repeating the mantra "It's for the good of the game, just the good of the game..."

I should probably do some research.  I'd be interested to read an interview with Remedy's writers.  I assume they must have done this on purpose - how could they not? - but at least if it was an accident, I'm giving them a convenient cover story.  And if they're reading this blog post, they'll know I'm willing to publish crappy first drafts, too.

Hey, guys, how about a job? =D

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