Bad Storytelling 101: Keep Your Promises

Jason Brick Freelance Writing ServicesMy older son is 12. He got a lot of video games for Christmas. Which means I got a lot of video games for Christmas. I’m not a fanatic, and I’m way behind the curve in terms of trends, but I noticed something in this batch of games that annoyed me.

If you’re interested, I’ve played the campaigns for HaloHalo 4, Call of Duty Black Ops & Black Ops II, and Uncharted 2 this month.* Nearly all of them had this feature, and we can learn about writing from this mistake.

Video games have a rhythm, much like a story. You begin with no knowledge and gradually learn how the controls work, what your character is capable of, and how dangerous the opposition will be. You master the set of skills required to be good at the game as it gradually escalates the challenge level. This is a lot like beginning a novel knowing nothing, and gradually learning enough about the characters and situations to care how it ends up.

In this more recent crop of video games, the climax scene often requires an entirely new set of skills. You’re not doing what you’ve been training intensively for over the past hours of gameplay. You’re doing something entirely different. It’s annoying because it makes success harder and anticlimactic because you miss out on the payoff for the time you’ve invested mastering the game.

Please, folks, I beg of you…don’t do this in your writing. If you make a promise to your reader through foreshadowing, a character trait or a situation, don’t change the rules in the last scene and fail to keep that promise. Let the momentum of earlier story build into a satisfying payoff.

I’d love to hear your comments on this. What do you do to avoid this trap? What are some examples of people doing it right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Thanks for listening.

*This may have something to do with why I’ve been posting about once a week this month.

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