There’s no logical reasoning behind it: the scene has been laid out, the characters all have distinct forms of speech, point-A and point-B are in clear sight… but somehow the page remains empty, as if refusing to let itself be stained by a single one of my words. Eventually I’m able to force something out, no matter how many days it takes, but it inevitably leaves a bad aftertaste in my mouth: because I had to force it, and I’m not sure if it was good enough, if I didn’t just write words only for the sake of completing a scene, or even if I was being truthful to my characters. In fact, this same notion of having characters to call my own has been a tricky one to internalize during my time here at Fallen Snow Studios. The reasons are both obvious… and maybe not-so-obvious.
For those who don’t know me, I’m Daniel “Via” Cuturrufo, scenario writer for Elizabeth’s route, who joined this team several months after the release of Lucid9: Inciting Incident. The prospect of writing for a project that not only was in mid-production, but already had a published first half, intimidated me at first. Several bad experiences had left me quite wary of these humongous VN projects (people either lost interest after realizing how tough of a job it was, or the project died by itself, crushed by the weight of its own ideas) but a stubborn part of me decided to try it out regardless, after a friend from Sekai Project had asked if I’d be willing. I said yes, and proceeded to go through the majority of Inciting Incident before my pal David, another writer, could contact me with the details.
The initial months were rather… difficult. Again, joining a project under these specific circumstances put me, as a writer, in an awkward spot: I couldn’t go back to revise or make significant alterations to a character’s personality or background, as everything I wrote had to be a direct evolution of what readers had already experienced in the first part. Lucid9 is also a plot-heavy story, and “plot” isn’t something I excel at. I’m not great at keeping up with too many details at once, you see, and even now I always have our Master Document open (currently standing at 66 pages) to periodically check if I’m getting anything wrong.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t all pain and suffering. Fallen Snow Studios granted me a few surprises along the way. The first one was discovering just how organized everything was, and how frequent communication between writers and also other members of the team occurred. Part of my surprise may have been due to the aforementioned “bad experiences”: most groups I’d worked with in the past met either one of these two characteristics, but rarely both. One of them had their documents neatly sorted in different folders and everyone’s roles were clearly defined, but writers rarely ever talked to each other, and didn’t read scripts that weren’t their own. Another time I got the complete opposite: a group that discussed ideas all the time, but never committed enough to properly organize its time and resources. And being part of those very same teams, I wasn’t completely blameless about these issues.
Part of why everything works smoothly here at FSS (at least compared to these past experiences) is possibly the fact that we have a dedicated director, (who at most also plays the role of editor). Diamonit (or Dia, for short) has been a key figure in keeping us all working at a steady pace. While he doesn’t do any writing, he’s always checking everyone’s progress, telling us right away when something works, but mostly when it doesn’t. Having a director means that his decisions also carry more weight than anybody else’s, which is honestly for the best: it allows us to not get stuck in our work, to know what’s the right thing to do and what mistakes need fixing. It’s quite refreshing to feel like I’m not on my own for once. The role of director in the EVN studios I’ve been part of has always been taken by whoever is considered the lead writer. Working for a studio under someone whose sole job is to direct has been a novel experience. But of course, without our co-director David, who’s also been in charge of keeping up with the VA’s, promoting L9 and basically taking care of everything not related to the creative aspects of the project, we probably wouldn’t get to focus on our jobs without any worries, as we’ve been doing for a while.
But being able to focus doesn’t mean that everything would go smoothly for me. Following up on the issues I described before, my job FSS became somewhat of a struggle, and the hardest part was probably the writing itself. My task is to tell a story from the perspective of Yama, Elizabeth and the rest, characters that had been fleshed-out extensively during Inciting Incident by the amazing Luna Chai and the rest of the team. But they hadn’t been fleshed-out by me. That’s an important distinction to make: you can analyze the previous scenes, make a list of personality traits, simulate in your head how a conversation would proceed between two or more of these characters, but you’re still an outsider in their world, and you don’t know what’s really going on in their heads.
To make sure I could do it right, I started by writing a number of practice scenes, trying to simulate their personalities as I had seen them in Inciting Incident. Of course, thanks to the nature of the heroine routes, it was actually required of me to tweak their personalities a little to reflect the overhauled mood of the game, but I still felt it necessary to get the basics right.
Our director’s reception to the first practice scene was… politely negative. Elizabeth was too aggressive, Yama too jaded, their interactions way more hostile than necessary. I realized getting a hang of characters that weren’t mine was harder than it seemed.
But I kept trying. The second practice scene did a lot better than the first, and after the third one I finally gained enough confidence to start with the script proper. But yet again, progress became a rocky business, for the reasons explained at the beginning of this post. Even while knowing what would happen during the scene at hand, I just couldn’t get the dialogue or narration to come out naturally and often struggled with painting a right characterization for Yama and Elizabeth.
To reiterate, I was allowed to take some liberties with the characters and setting for the sake of making my route more distinct… but it was still a difficult affair.
Yet one day it clicked. After several months of struggle, my hands finally typed out a scene that felt right. It was a moment in which I not only knew what a character had to say in a specific moment, but rather how they would say it, and how they would feel as they said it. It came to my attention that I could not just churn out conversations and narration without feeling as trapped as before, and it didn’t take me long to realize the reason: it finally felt like these characters were mine. I don’t use this word to say that I own them, but rather, that they are a part of me, and that I can understand them even if they are technically completely different people. Getting to this point helped me a lot, not only with writing, but also with feeling more passionate about the project… and also have fun with it, a feeling I realized I’d been losing over time.
Progress might slow down still, and sometimes I won’t know what to do. But I’m glad I’ve reached this point. It makes me want to give it my all. And once everything is written, and the project has been published, I hope the rest of you will feel just as much as I’m feeling as I write this script.
Take this as a year’s end reflection of sorts, and also as your long-awaited project update. Everyone is working hard; words are being written; sprites and backgrounds are getting drawn. Despite life getting in the way and all of us encountering a different creative hurdle every week, we’re still working to make sure this is a product we can be proud of.
Oh, and Merry Christmas and a happy new year.
(PS David is an awesome dude)