Writing for Game Design, Comics and Novels 101 – Themes

Good morning, afternoon or evening, wherever you live on Earth!

My name is Mark, and this blog is the start of the Amazing Gaming Productions series on writing for gaming and books!

I am the creator of Tales from Trinity City (link), a dark sci-fi tabletop RPG set in the last unoccupied human city. I have a completed rulebook and lore book you can download from my website.

This blog is all about themes!

The theme of a story is the fundamental truth of the story.

Themes are about the emotions you want to invoke, so they cover topics like Faith, or Destiny, or Love. Ultimately, these ideas lead to thematic questions that share a lesson for your audience.

For my projects, Webtastic Stories and Tales from Trinity City, the theme is suffering. For TfTC, the thematic question is – does suffering create meaning? For Webtastic Stories, can you evade unnecessary suffering by ignoring Internet gossip?

For Instance, the Witcher’s theme is destiny. Characters were making choices that either accepted or attempted to deny their Fate. Ciri drinking the waters from the Brokilon Tree, Geralt saying life is meaningless, there is no destiny, women are thankful that Fate saved one child, but four died of the plague.

The thematic question is almost too obvious, will Geralt man up and accept his destiny to protect Ciri?

Whether you think this is a neckbeard cliche that shouldn’t exist in 2022, or Geralt isn’t a strong man, this is one the best examples of positive masculinity in media in the past 3 years.

In Ghost of Tsushima, the theme is about honour. Jin makes decisions to either accept his heritage and the traditions of his people or deny them by becoming the Ghost.

The Thematic question for the game (and I think Sucker Punch did not do well answering) is will Jin accept or deny his upbringing. Will he learn the error of the Ghost’s ways?

The Savior’s series theme is love. Both Tobias and Lelya live lives they hate, thrust into a situation both would rather avoid. But as they get to know each other, they learn to love and trust each other.

The Thematic Question – will Tobias’s and Lelya’s love help them overcome her father Bronte, who is hell-bent on killing her to go to war with the other kingdoms!

Themes will help you create the best story if you do not ham fist the ideas into your work.

One of my favourite stories lately is the Kamen American comics. With each comic, Karly learns from her past and present, helping her personal growth as a powerful superhero. Vicki, Karly’s friend, contrasts her growth because she becomes more bitter with every success Karly experiences.

The Thematic Question – will Vicki learn to forgive Karly and start owning her life?

She never learned her lesson until it was too late.

The idea that stories have messages (oh my, someone writing a story wants to say something, I am shocked) has been getting a bad rap lately. With ham-fisted attempts to add messages into comics, games, movies and books, I almost understand.

Many people hear the words, the story had great themes, and they recoil in fear!

Despite the prevailing attitude, a story with a message can work. You need to be able to tell the story well.

One of the best ways to explore the theme in your stories is to ask what this story means to you. Whether you do a project overview page in either a game design manual or a story synopsis, you should always ask why you are working on this story and what sets it apart from others in your genre?

When you know who you are and who you can be, you can get through any hardship and produce what you want to do.

If you have a sense of why you are creating your story, you can focus on putting subtle ideas which go from one draft to another without the lesson becoming obvious. If the message of your tale is saying stealing is wrong, or transphobia is harmful, or homophobia is bad, then you may know about writing but have no expertise.

You can show your lesson (show, do not tell) with hardships someone has if they break your theme. A story about a kleptomaniac who is on the run after stealing a billionaire’s priceless heirloom is a great way to show “Stealing Is Bad!”

Themes will help you create a better story if you handle them with care.

Find the most entertaining way to tell a story, showing the theme. Will Tobias and Lelya’s love help them overcome her father, a murderous butcher? Will Geralt find a life of meaning by protecting Ciri, or will he backslide by wandering forever in a life of monster killing and debauchery? Will Aloy find out what is happening in the sacred lands and her origins?

Themes are the central and most important part of a story, do not waste time writing before you understand why you want to write the story and how your story is different from other stories.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog and sharing it on social media.

If you have any comments, use the comment section below.

Have a great day, guys!

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