What to do if you can't come up with a good story?

Puffer

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I have been thinking about making a game for a while that heavily depend on story like To The Moon. Some ideas does pop up after watching some movie like: the shape of voice, your name or firework should we see it from the side or the bottom,... but they never ends up suiting me and seem to be really hard if I want to implying that idea into my game. Also most of my idea end up being thrown away because:
First: I felt like it's not good enough
Second: Someone already did, or it already have been popularized. It's doesn't seem to be unique/stand out
I want you guys to give me some tips on how do you come up with an unique idea and turning it into a game
Tks first!
P/s: If you think you can help me out the story part for my game feel free to PM me for more infos!
 

gstv87

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Someone already did, or it already have been popularized. It's doesn't seem to be unique/stand out

The Hero's Journey.
look it up.

after you do, *that* shouldn't worry you anymore.
 

Plueschkatze

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1. Don't search for something that is PERFECT. It will only stop you from moving on.
If you search for perfection you probably never will finish something... or it will take you forever.

2. Everything has been done before. But a teacher once told us at a story releated lesson, that even if everyone of us were to write "Harry Potter", each story would turn out very different, and probably way different from what J.K. Rowling came up with. (Some may turn into Star Wars or Lord of Rings, because they are very similar if you break them down to a base level...)
And I think he was SUPER right. Take a look into archetypes, stereotypes and story structure, and types of stories, there have been people researching this things. They broke down almost ALL stories that can be told into a few numbers of possible combinations... Your personal touch and experience is what makes all of this unique.

Maybe write something that let's you draw from personal experience. It might be hard for you to imagine what it would be like to be a soldier or a space ship pilot or whatever, because you've never been one. But you've probably been in love, or experienced loss or worked at some kind of job, which you have knowledge about that you can use without doing TONS of research.

For inspiration:
Watch people on the streets, in parks, the museum, if you want to write about people, watching some might help, just imagine what their lifes could be like...
Play games, watch movies, watch documentaries, read history books
Writing prompts can be fun: https://www.instagram.com/writing.prompt.s
Listen to music, especially fitting a genre you'd like to work in
Get some people to bounce ideas with

Writing is hard. I can come up with ideas easily, but I have a hard time writing the story down from start to finish.
I'm trying to get better with that by learning a bit more about the writing process...
there are a couple of indie authors on youtube and also professional ones that share their knowledge.
Feel free to write me a PM if you want me to share some of my fav channels ;)
 

Landazar

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Personaly I ideas takes directly from my dreams, they are extremly abstract so you can try remember your most abstract dream and develop a story based on that.

I can give you already imho good one story.

"Your sister has disappeard and you was only to see how she walked road, you begin follow to save her, but she's starting moving faster and you slower, road begins to split to more and more roads, twisting, deforming, road signs displays paradoxes and only you can find your sister, but it won't be easy task."
 
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Kes

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No one is going to come up with a "unique" story idea for you, because stories draw on the human condition in one form or another, and none of us is unique. Even what might appear at first glance to be highly unusual (e.g. the dream in Landazar's post) is in fact fairly common. What we do is put our own slant on a story, bring in different elements, emphasize different facets, give this character a particular personality and that character another one.

You can take a fairly simple idea. Then think about your characters. How would this character react to the precipitating event? How would that character react? What would they say to one another about it? You now have the beginnings of your own story.
Ask lots of why questions. For example,
Why would this third character want to join with the party to accomplish whatever it is they want to do? What are their motivations? "Just because" isn't good enough. Think of a solid reason or two.
Why do members of the party stay when it's becoming apparent that this might be dangerous?
Why do they get on with each other, or alternatively, why do one or two find it difficult to travel together?

Always ask questions of your characters. What are their hopes and dreams? What are their fears? What does each one want from this joint undertaking?

The more of this you do, the richer your story and characters will be and before long you have a distinctive (but not unique) story to tell.
 

bgillisp

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When I was younger I used to actually copy actual stories starting points and then just see where it went in my version (obviously I didn't release these, as they were just for practice). I tired this with A Darkness at Sethanon and The Fellowship of the Ring, and what I got was really different. Let's just say Fellowship of the Ring had space aliens at one point thrown into the mix, and thankfully only one other person has ever seen that mess.

Oh, and I have a Harry Potter meets Persona one floating around too. That...was weird.

But to better answer the question, there are two solutions I can suggest:

1: Practice, practice, practice. And just remember the first draft of most stories are awful. Write it, then write it again, then again, then again, and you get the idea.

2: Make an arcade or puzzle game that needs minimal story. Look at how much story the original Pac Man has (none), yet it was a hit. Just make a fun game instead. And yes, you can probably still do this in RPGMaker, I managed to pull off a 16 level puzzle game with the event commands in RPGMaker + the RTP graphics.
 

Dankovsky

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Some extra points I picked up when struggling with my story and watching a lot of GDC.
This will have quite a bit of examples so I hope it will be useful to many of you, even though I'm too lazy to look for actual links.

1. Stories in games are not THAT important and most players won't remember them. Bare minimum - you have to have a story that makes sense, and doesn't have huge gaps or dumb bits, so the player's immersion is not broken (see "Death to 3-Act Structure" presentation).

2. Instead of obsessing with story, work on creating awesome characters instead, and making them likable and memorable. This is arguably easier and affects players much more than the "amazing plot", especially in RPGs (the same video, also check out the video regarding "crafting great characters" from the creator of Danganronpa).

3. Don't look for a PERFECT idea. Pick a "pretty good" idea and work it to perfection (I think this was Tom Francis' presentation, Gunpoint dev).

4. Regarding structure: if you need as much guidance as possible, you can base your work on Hero's Journey structure, or even "Save the Cat" film structure. If you find it uncomfortable or too constraining, work with Sequence structure instead (which I think is the best structure for RPGs and most other games that combine action with gameplay - for this you can check out "sequence structure for games" presentation in GDC vault).

5. Personal point: pick three of your favorite RPGs and actually write down their story structure. Bioware's RPG plot structure is mostly the same every game and very simple (see: Dragon Age Origins), but it works wonders. Final Fantasy (my examples are VI, VII, IX) is often pretty complicated and has A LOT of story beats and twists, but is worth studying if you're serious about storytelling in games.

6. Also some personal ideas on simple and effective story structure for RPGs:
1) Decide how long you want your game to be
2) Write a list of your central game locations based on your playtime (for a ten hour game this can be about 4 central locations with 2-3 hrs of player time per location, for example see Undertale).
3) Write a short "contained" plot for each location, so that each location will have a separate simple plot (like "this location is a village and the plot is about a greedy lord that taxes everyone to death". (great example - Bravely Default)
4) Tie all your locations with a single plot thread (the story of your hero and his reasons to go to each of this locations), then add epilogue, and you're done!

7. "Someone already did it" is not an argument, as others already pointed out. Pick whatever story you want, and if someone did it (they did) - just add some twist to it to make it unique in some way. Even if, like, it's LOTR in Space (which has also been done...). "Make it the same, but different" (see: Blake Snyder).

P.S. I just realized you're working on something more narrative focused like To The Moon instead of classic RPGs... which makes this a little different, but I think many of the above points still apply!
 

Astel

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Find a random story generator, it will rarely give you something usable, but sometimes it can spark some inspiration.
 

D351R3D

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I have been thinking about making a game for a while that heavily depend on story like To The Moon. Some ideas does pop up after watching some movie like: the shape of voice, your name or firework should we see it from the side or the bottom,... but they never ends up suiting me and seem to be really hard if I want to implying that idea into my game. Also most of my idea end up being thrown away because:
First: I felt like it's not good enough
Second: Someone already did, or it already have been popularized. It's doesn't seem to be unique/stand out
I want you guys to give me some tips on how do you come up with an unique idea and turning it into a game
Tks first!
P/s: If you think you can help me out the story part for my game feel free to PM me for more infos!

Astel
Find a random story generator, it will rarely give you something usable, but sometimes it can spark some inspiration.

Astel makes a good point

My idea would be to read more books, watch more movies. Fill your brain up and overload it with lots of crap about the genre you want to do whatever with. I like Pokemon and Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley and I'd like to combine those things. However I think you're looking for some strong story elements.

I think this is what you're writing about? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Moon

If so play more games like this game
https://store.steampowered.com/recommended/morelike/app/206440/
and use your google fu more wisely in the future.
 

AmazingKazuki

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Write down ALL ideas. You gather them up and take a step back. Even if it takes a few days, and once you keep thinking about it you'll fill in gaps. Don't forget to be loose with ideas since you'll probably change them here or there as you go through putting everything into the engine. And just because someone else did something like it doesn't mean you can't shape it to make it YOUR way. Take your time.

Hope things work out.
 

Puffer

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Write down ALL ideas. You gather them up and take a step back. Even if it takes a few days, and once you keep thinking about it you'll fill in gaps. Don't forget to be loose with ideas since you'll probably change them here or there as you go through putting everything into the engine. And just because someone else did something like it doesn't mean you can't shape it to make it YOUR way. Take your time.

Hope things work out.
I hope things work out well for me too. None of my idea end up being used because I always feel like it doesn't fit for me, doesn't reflect what I want to create? So how do I fix that?
 

AmazingKazuki

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I don't know the full concept and idea of what you want to create, but there are a number of reasons why it might not work. Things like: Can the engine handle it?; Is there a script/plugin for this or that?; Is this idea fun?; Do I have the right graphics?; and then there is other things like psyching yourself out. If you want, you can PM me with some more details and such, but I'm sure a lot of people have been here with not knowing if their idea translates well into a game or because of resources.
 

Puffer

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I don't know the full concept and idea of what you want to create, but there are a number of reasons why it might not work. Things like: Can the engine handle it?; Is there a script/plugin for this or that?; Is this idea fun?; Do I have the right graphics?; and then there is other things like psyching yourself out. If you want, you can PM me with some more details and such, but I'm sure a lot of people have been here with not knowing if their idea translates well into a game or because of resources.
Well it's most likely not because of the engines or script , since I have use Ace for a couple of years now so I know if my idea can be translated well into a game or not, and it does work, but what I'm talking about is the story part, I kinda hard to explain, it's like something is missing form it but don't know what is it? IDK, it's really hard to talk about it
 

AmazingKazuki

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Well, I like to write stories and have a few friends who are quite creative in the story parts. If you need help you could reach out to me with a PM and I'll see what I can do. :)
 

trouble time

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Just fictionalize a real life event. We've got plenty of battles in the real world and if you're good at abstraction the possibilites are pretty endless.
 

D.ray

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The key to this is coming up with a good plot or storyline. it should be something that you feel interested in or are passionate about telling. It isn't good enough if you have cool characters, game ideas or interesting scenarios. This might work if you're going for a non story driven game, but if you're not, then you need a strong story to glue everything together. This is true of all good story driven game writing, or writing in general.

Coming up with a good storyline or plot, can take a while. And even once you have one, you have to flesh it out. That can take a while too.

If you're having trouble translating your story into game or feel like it's missing something, then it's probably because you don't have a story that's strong enough, or you haven't fleshed it out to make it as strong as it could be. I would recommend trying out different ideas and developing it by writing out the details, emotions, arcs, character motivations and whatever else you can think of for those ideas.

And there's nothing like reading good books to make you a better writer either.
 

Tai_MT

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Here's the thing:

Your story is about your characters. Doesn't matter what your setting or plot are. They've all been done before. Sure, you do semi-unique takes on those ideas, but that's not really the reason a person engages with a story to begin with.

Nobody plays a story driven RPG for... well... the story. They're playing it for the characters.

To that end, just write compelling characters. Study people.

Here's something that's always stuck with me, when it comes to writing a good story or good characters:

People are dynamic. You act differently with your girlfriend than you do with your best friend. You act differently with your parents than you do with your favorite teachers. You act differently in a group of two than you do if it were just one. You act differently in a group of 5 people than you do in a group of 3. Depending on who is in the group of 5, you may act differently as well.

That's where your story lies. In these character interactions. Who are these people to themselves? To each other? Do they perceive themselves differently than others perceive them? If so, why? If not, why not?

The vast majority of your story is going to be told through a few methods:

1. Characters interacting with each other and making decisions amongst the group.
2. A situation happening to the characters and determining how they will act/react to the situation.

This is why most writers tell you to just come up with a base concept. I'll use Stephen King since I'm familiar with a lot of his work. "Under The Dome". It's base concept is, "A town is put in a bubble that nobody can get out of, what happens?" From there, the entire story is about the people who live in the town, how they act and react to this situation, how they interact with each other, and what possible terrible things could happen. There is largely very little plot to be had, and the bubble is resolved in less than a chapter, when the author finally gets around to it. The makers of the bubble aren't even really the antagonist of the plot. The people who live in the bubble are.

But, that's how you write a "unique" story. Simple concept, one sentence. Then just keep asking, "Why?" to everything. Who is your main character? Why? What happens? Why? Why does this person interact with this other person like that?

You need to develop characters to tell a good story. You really don't need a whole lot else. Well, a level of coherency in your plot does help, but the vast majority of your story is going to involve just your characters saying and doing things. That's why people love Star Wars, after all. It isn't really the setting. It's the characters.
 

Aesica

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Honestly, I don't think the general story matters much. How much of the fantasy genre is some variation of "farmboy hero saves the world from the evil dark lord?" Faaaaar more important than your overall story is how well you tell it. The journey is what matters, so make the characters and people they meet feel fun and memorable instead of flat cardboard cutouts. Try to think up some sort of personality and brief history for every NPC you make and reflect it in how they interact with the player--even the token guy at the entrance of every town who says, "Welcome to Everytownsville!" As for your main characters, why are they traveling together? Do they always get along with each other?

TL;DR: Flesh out your characters and make the journey interesting, because that's what people will remember. The overall story theme is just a backdrop and doesn't matter all that much.
 

consolcwby

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To the OP (and anyone else who is interested), story construction is a feat unto itself and is a considerably lengthy topic too broad for a forum post. However, there are a few tid bits I've picked up over the years on how to create fairly interesting stories - FIVE, in fact:

1) Interesting characters MUST be flawed: This should be a given. No Mary-Sues or Gary Stues should ever exist in a story. In fact, a character with severe bad points is more interesting than a character with severe good points. Take this character for example: An over the hill ex-athelete, in debt, is a womanizer and a recovering alcholic who enjoys telling strangers (and friends) about his pro-baseball days and hires women based on their looks and sexuality. Yet he is kind, and always has a sympathetic ear. Who is this? Sam from the tv show Cheers. Flaws also serve a secondary purpose:

2) Interesting characters provide dramatic conflict: In this context, you can think of dramatic conflict as characters who rub each other the wrong way, their personalities clashing, a mismatch. An example of this is the tv show The Odd Couple, where two divorced childhood friends are living together - one is the ultimate slob and the other is an obsessive-compulsive neat-freak. The basis for the entire show is how they deal with getting on each other's nerves. Most of the plots were thin, but it was the dramatic conflict between the characters which made them interesting.

3) Each interesting character must have their own stakes within the story: Saving the world, friends, and family aside, there must be another reason for a character to be involved. This can be difficult to set up, however, as long as you keep in mind a character's motivations (what causes them to act the way they act/ how they act/ why they act) it can usually be figured out. Tropes and cliches aside, this is really character dependent. An example (made up) would be a former swordsman known for his honor, placing his honor at risk to accomplish a failed deed, to redeem a mistake he made. The honor being placed at risk is this character's stake within the story.

4) Dramatic conflict should be character driven, not event driven: In videogames, the reverse is usually true. "Big Bad Foozle", the villian, destroys the hero's villiage and so the hero sets out on his journey of revenge. (YAWN) This 'plot' is fairly weak, particularly towards the hero, because the hero in this case has no AGENCY (meaning he has no other real choice except to avenge, and avenge hard). Character driven conflict allows the character to have agency and creates more tension within the plot. Particularly if the character makes the decision logically and rationally. An example (and not a good one) would be Fellowship Of The Ring: It is Frodo's decision to take the ring to Mount Doom. No one is forcing him to make this decision, therefore dramatic tension is introduced due to this decision.

and lastly,
5) The story should focus on the characters and not the plot: Think of this - "An evil empire is expanding it's influence globally, gaining more power. A group of young people decide to stop it. All characters in this group are brave and noble. Eventually they win." This is plot-focused storytelling and is rather drab. Now, think about this - "An evil empire is expanding it's influence globally, gaining more power. It's leader, Sire Dreadsock is becoming bored and complacent with his conquests and seeks a new challenge. Therefore he secretly funds a group of young people to try to stop his empire, giving them all the tools neccessary to destroy himself. However, his son - as the self appointed leader of the group and main character - begins to question his father's plan and eventually uses the group to free the planet." If you can see the difference between these two examples, then you know what I mean by story should focus on the characters and not the plot.
 

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I just accepted right at the start that I couldn't tell a good story, and found someone else who could, and threw money their way (that last step might be optional depending on who it is).
 

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