take it personally, babe

Okay, so it’s now been a little over a week since putting out don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, and I’ve gotten a lot of comments on it already. I wasn’t expecting it to turn out as popular as Digital ended up, and I don’t think it will be… which is fine. And it definitely attracted much less universal praise, which frankly, I’m not too upset about, because it means I have an idea of what I need to improve on.

So here are a few of my thoughts on some of the things that did seem to work and more importantly, the things that didn’t. In no particular order, and it’s pretty long; this is mostly for my benefit.

  • Queer high school drama! Of course, I’m good at writing this, that’s what I do. I’m not going to pat myself on the back for it. Whoop-de-shit.
  • Kendall. Everyone hated her and her stupid turns of phrases about as much as I did, thankfully. I will pat myself on the back for that.
  • John. I didn’t think I was being particularly subtle with him, but it seems like a lot of people didn’t get the most important thing about his character: that he is an absolutely awful teacher. There probably needed to be more of his life outside of the classroom to underscore this. I’ll have to keep that in mind.
  • A male protagonist. Okay, clearly I don’t really have a grasp on a male voice. That could definitely use a whole lot of practice. A less hateable and introverted one specifically should probably be easier to work with, in the future.
  • Talking about dicks. …and on the other hand, I should probably just not ever try to write about a straight dude’s sexuality like that ever again. The sexual Arianna scenes were painful to write, and apparently they were even more painful to read; I think maybe understatement would be a better approach if there’s a next time. Not that I’m convinced there even needs to be a next time.
  • Arianna. Particularly, her big speech at the end at the end—which I found to be a phenomenally creepy use of persuasive rhetoric—fell flat, and was taken by most people at face value? I’m not sure how I could have handled this better, but I’d better figure it out.
  • Creepy sexuality. I’m okay with people missing the point, but at one point, there was a forum thread where I was accused of pedophillia; even though they eventually figured it out, I’d rather not repeat that. o_O I don’t know how I should have made it clearer that you should feel bad about the Arianna path, but again, better figure it out before trying that again.
  • Voyeurism. On the other hand, nearly everyone seemed to get the point of the Charlotte thing. (Except for a bunch of people who figured despite the evidence that the school would have access to her middle name, which is… surprising, but noted.)
  • Ichigo’s speech. I was worried about this, and apparently rightfully so. Even people who did engage with the content didn’t seem to like the form. I ultimately figured that she really shouldn’t be subtle about it, since absolutely nothing else in the game was subtle; but the universally negative reaction seems pretty clear to me that it’s maybe more complicated than that.
  • Repetitive dramatic pacing. Not many people commented on this—which I wouldn’t expect—but the few that did seemed to be influenced by it in exactly the way I’d hoped. Awesome. This is definitely something I’ll do more, over my normal sort of free flowing haphazard pacing.
  • 12channel. Other than the joke in Isabella’s chapter being seemingly way off the mark, it sounds like this was pretty effective. I don’t know if I’ll ever use a Greek chorus/shadow girls-type thing again, but I’ll definitely retain their influence on the pacing. On the other hand…
  • Actually being thorough while looking up *chan names instead of spending twelve seconds and being satisfied it’s non-existent. Ha ha, whoops. Embarrassing!
  • Free resources. They’re clearly hamstringing me, and the art style as a whole made it really hard for the artist I worked with to cope with. It’s definitely going to have to be all original from here on out, even if it does turn out to be difficult to find artists to work with.
  • Choices. This was the first time I’ve ever done a branching story at all before, and I think I understand now how to make it work better. The basic idea is, make sure the branches are all things you would like to add to the story anyway. There will definitely be more of that in the future.
  • Lack of choices. A common criticism was that reading the messages at all wasn’t a choice and that felt false. I felt like this would be too hard to write around at the time, but in retrospect, it would have been worth it. See also the next point.
  • NaNo. In order to get it done, I spent most weeks working on this all day. That’s good; clearly I finally have the work ethic to Get Shit Done. It’s a great exercise, I highly recommend it, and I wouldn’t be half the writer I am without it, but I think it’s safe to say after five NaNoRenO games, I’ve learned about as much as I can from that particular limitation. Time to move on from one-month games.

Overall, the reactions have so far been overwhelmingly positive despite caveats, which is nice to know. But clearly I’ve got a lot to learn from here.

In general, I think it’s about time I move away from teenaged melodrama, and probably traditional visual novels in general, because I’m in danger of working myself into a rut here. The next new major project I start on—whatever it might be— is definitely going to need to be something very different.

That’s all I can think of. Am I missing anything?