Collaborative Writing is Hard, But Worth It: How We Wrote the Script for Our Indie Game

Way back at the beginning of Hexile, before we had abilities or voice actors or transform meshes or a landscape that could load on an average PC, Eddy gathered a bunch of people together to start having conversations about story. He and Austin had fleshed out some basic concepts, and we began to have meetings--once a month or so--where we would just talk about and refine those basic concepts. All of our shared note-taking documents from that period of Hexile development are hilariously circuitous; filled with gems like “Does the main character need to eat? >NOPE” and other concerns that seem completely mundane and irrelevant, but that had to be ironed out.

After four or five of these meetings, it became clear that we needed to find a way to transition from conversations to actual writing. We drew inspiration from a screenwriting book, Save the Cat!, that suggested writing out the beats of a story.

Eddy, shown here with the beats for the first part of our story

Eddy had fostered the sincere belief among all of us that collaboration would strengthen this project, not hinder it. Hexile would be richer for having the insights and contributions of many people. Writing the script collaboratively, however, proved to be a trickier beast than anticipated.

Three of us were assigned to the main drafting phase. We divided it into roughly equivalent chunks, scurried away to write our assigned section, and uploaded it to a shared doc. To provide feedback, we held many, many conference calls upwards of three hours long. Every line was read aloud, and dissected. I was surprised by many of my co-writers’ comments--language that seemed natural to me sometimes read as overly formal. And it went both ways--lines that were funny to them soared over my head. We were critics, but we also championed each other’s work, brainstorming ways to help the joke land, or looking up synonyms for each other to avoid repetition. We went over every line with a level of scrutiny we would never have applied to our own writing. It was like we each had a version of the story in our head that varied--sometimes just slightly, sometimes dramatically--from everyone else's version.

It was frustrating, sometimes. I wanted to jump into my co-writers' heads and make them see the story the way I saw it, and I'm sure they felt the same way. But rather than fighting it out, what most often resulted from these moments of disagreement was clarity--we'd realize what was essential about what we were advocating, and we'd find a way to achieve a balance of our ideas.

The result was a script that was tonally consistent and far more polished than anything, I believe, one of us could have produced on our own. By the end of it, I couldn’t remember whose lines were whose, and that seemed like the greatest accomplishment of all. Every word of our script, no matter who had been the person to type it, belonged to the collaborators together.

Thanks for reading--we’ll be back next week.


By the way, We're on twitter: @WeAreDystrophic.
You should also wishlist us on steam.