Panic View: Jay Posey

In the past year or so I have been able to interview several authors for 42 Webs.  Thanks to Angry Robot Books and to the generous authors who gave up their time to answer back.  Luckily I was able to be part of Jay Posey’s Blog Tour to promote his latest book Three.

Unlike other interviews this one comes with a giveaway contest.  At each stop there is a question; a question whose answer can be found on either the book page, the extract (which will also be on the book page shortly) or in the blurb.  So enjoy the interview, enjoy the question, and good luck on the giveaway.

42Webs: Three is set in a post-apocalyptic (PA) setting. PA writing has gotten very popular lately with titles like The Last of Us, Hunger Games, and Falling Skies. While many people believe the PA genre popularity is inevitable due to the popularity of Zombie genre, what do you attribute its recent growth? What drew you to it?

Jay Posey: It’s kind of funny how those sorts of things work out, because when I was writing Three, there wasn’t really a whole lot of post-apocalyptic stuff going on out there in the mainstream. But people have been talking about the End of Time probably since it started, and I think apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic entertainment tends to flare up anytime there’s a lot of uncertainty in the public consciousness.

For me, when I started I didn’t really sit down to write a post-apocalyptic tale. I was just looking for the right setting for the story I wanted to tell, and through some random connections my brain made, I realized if I took the setting from a short story I’d written much earlier, and gave it an apocalypse, I’d end up with a world that would suit the story very well.

Once I’d made that connection, I found that the post-apocalyptic setting really intensified a lot of the decisions that the characters had to make in the story; when there’s not a lot of social pressure to do the right thing, doing the right thing becomes even more meaningful. I also liked being able to make a big deal out of small things, like the dropping of a single chemical light, or using up three rounds in a gun.

42Webs: Three, especially the character, seems to draw from westerns (lone gunman, man with near-no-name). Many people grew up in households where Westerns are almost like a religion. My grandfather loved Clint Eastwood and passed it onto my Dad who in turn passed it onto me and my siblings. What was your experience with westerns growing up?

JP: I didn’t have any real family lineage when it came to Westerns, but I can’t remember a time that I didn’t love the genre. I’m not sure if Pale Rider was actually the first Eastwood western I saw, but it’s one that really stands out in my memory as having left a lasting impression. That might have been my first experience with a Good Guy who at one time hadn’t necessarily been that good of a guy. And then there was The Magnificent Seven, which was just really powerful to me when I saw it the first time, probably for a lot of the same reasons. I think I’ve always been a sucker for stories with people standing up for what’s right even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. And Unforgiven still ranks as one of my all-time favorite movies.

42Webs: How does storytelling differ from the video game world to novels?

JP: Oof. This is probably a subject I could go on about for waaaay too long. But for a quick summary, I think the biggest factor is that game players need to be an active and significant part of their own story experience, whereas readers are used to receiving story in a more passive way. Readers have story delivered to them, and while they certainly collaborate with the experience in the way they interpret the words on the page (e.g., how they picture the setting, or the characters, etc.), there’s generally not an expectation of having any control or influence over how the narrative unfolds (except for the Choose Your Own Adventure-style, of course).

In video games, however, the narrative isn’t really complete until a player brings his or her own experience to it. In the ideal world, the player’s choices have real consequence and meaning in the game world. The player matters. Which is especially tricky for the video game writer, because you have at least one wild card running around in your world jumping on all your boxes and seeing which windows are breakable while Dramatic Moments are supposed to be happening. That’s kind of foreign to most storytelling media.

Many of the fundamentals cross over between novels and video games, but the two have vastly different strengths, and I think it’s important to try to take advantage of those strengths rather than trying to cram existing models into forms that don’t really work. Novels really excel at giving us glimpses of the interior lives of characters, and video games have incredible storytelling power in providing players with choice

and consequence. Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead games are a perfect example of how powerful it can be for players to have to make decisions when all the choices are bad in some way or another, and then have to deal with the consequences of their actions. We miss out on that in a lot of video games, unfortunately, but when you see it done well, it’s incredible.

42Webs: We are seeing more VG writers taking their crack at novel writings. We’ve seen the likes of David Gaider and Drew Karpyshyn writing novels. What draws you to novels?

JP: It’s really a combination of factors. I think there’s a natural connection between writing for games and writing novels, because in both cases you’re usually doing a lot of world-building and character creation, so on one hand it was just another way for me to use a lot of the same creative skillset.

There’s also a lot freedom that comes from writing a novel. With my books, I’m fully in control of the world, the characters, the events, all of it. In my day-to-day work in games, I usually have to find ways to contribute creatively to very well-defined limits, often after decisions have been made that have significant impact on the narrative. It’s probably like that for anyone working on an established franchise (and certainly isn’t unique to games) but novels provide a refreshing way for me to explore other creative ideas that I don’t necessarily get to play with in the world of games.

Novels also let me escape the technical limitations or resource issues that so often limit what can be done in games. I never have to worry about how many bad guys I can have on the page at any given time, or what the draw distance is for that sweeping vista I want to describe.

And finally, game development, especially at the big budget level, is such an incredibly collaborative process, and many of the components that go into storytelling are actually well beyond the control of any one particular writer. There are often numerous compromises that have to get made along the way. That’s not to say that compromises are always negative; very often story changes need to get made because it improves the gameplay experience. Understanding that “story” is only one component to the overall game experience, and knowing when to push for a particular idea and when to set it aside for the sake of a better game are crucial to being a good developer. But it’s nice to have the novels as a little sandbox so I can go off and play with my toys the way I want to, without anyone else messing with them.

42Webs: What advice do you give to people who want to venture into video game writing?

Three, by Jay Posey, artwork by Stephen Mayer-RassowJP: First, I think it’s important to evaluate exactly why someone thinks video game writing is the best use of their particular skillset. Many times when I talk to aspiring video game writers, they start telling me all about the world they want to create and the stories they want to tell, without being able to explain why it needs to be a game rather than a novel, or a graphic novel, or a movie. If you’re not constantly thinking about how a player is going to interact with your story, it’s easy to get off track.

Secondly, I recommend that people study writing for a variety of media. Screenwriting is a great way to learn about visual storytelling, compact writing, and effective dialogue. Prose writing, especially long-form work like novels, can sharpen world-building skills and long-arc or complex plotting. It’s also helpful to study which fundamentals of writing translate between media, and which elements are best suited for particular forms.

And finally, I suggest that people play a lot of games in an analytical fashion, to break down how particular gameplay moments succeed or fail at delivering a satisfying experience, and why. It’s important to pay attention to how the game as a whole comes together, including parts that we may not typically consider “writing”, like how the environment art affects mood, or how well the enemy AI matches the expectations that the narrative presents. Environmental storytelling is a major portion of games that often gets overlooked, but you can look at pretty much any Valve game to see how powerful it can be when done correctly.

Up next is one of 42 Webs’ ‘signature questions’. These are small questions that while growing up I always wondered about authors?

What is your favourite book/author? Why?

JP: This is always a tough one for me to answer, but if I just go with my gut, I always tend to come up with J.R.R. Tolkien with my favorite book probably being The Hobbit. It’s really hard as a reader to claim any one book as a favorite, but I think The Hobbit is the one I’ve re-read the most number of times in my life. Tolkien was truly a master of the craft, and managed to tell very weighty and heroic stories while still throwing in those occasional light touches that kept them grounded and made them feel like believable, authentic experiences. Bilbo’s reflection that “adventures are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine” pretty much sums it up for me, I guess.

What is your most memorable comic trade/graphic novel? Why?

JP: I have to admit I’m not the most ardent follower of the great world of comics. I was a big Iron Man fan growing up, and tended towards the Marvel side of things over DC, especially Spider-man and The Avengers. But surprisingly, I think Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns release as a graphic novel stands out to me as my most memorable. (I didn’t read them as the single issues, only after they were compiled.) I enjoyed the treatment of Batman’s return to crime-fighting while struggling with his humanity and age.

Each stop on this Blog Tour of Three by Jay Posey has a unique question.  Be sure to enter your answers into the giveaway by dropping by My Shelf Confessions and enter your answers in the rafflecopter widget! You can answer as many or as few as you like as each answered question gets you an extra entry!

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One Response to Panic View: Jay Posey

  1. Pabkins says:

    Playing games in an analytical fashion would take away so much of the enjoyment! But then I guess if someone wanted to make it their job…that’s already taking away SOME of the enjoyment…because then…its work!

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