To hell with writers, what you need is an editor!

Snipehunter's picture

I've been wondering for awhile now, how I was going to talk about this, but I think I'm just going to say it. The last time I talked about story and writing in games, I stirred up a bit of trouble, so I've been wondering if I should share the realization I've had recently... but it's too good not to share.

I can't really talk about what I'm doing at work. Strict NDAs abound and I will be damned if I violate them, but I think I can say this: Part of what I'm doing these days involves working with an editor. No, this is not some QA or production guy who happens to have an English degree, nor is this some designer who thinks she can write. In fact, it's not even a writer who's decided she'd rather edit than write... this is an editor who gets paid to do that job, specifically, by book publishers. The guy probably makes more in a year than I do, and you know what... I think he's worth it.

In fact, I think he's worth every penny he gets and he probably still deserves more.
It might come as a surprise to you, but I've literally never worked at a studio that had an editor on staff. Hell, until now I've never seen a studio that works with an editor for its game writing. Now that I have, I can't help but wonder, what the hell is wrong with us? The writers are right: We are naive as an industry about writing. What those writer's have wrong though, is how we're wrong.

We're not really wrong about who we hire to write and don't. Some of us do a lot better than others, but where we all fail is that we forget or skip the next step -- we don't put the work of that writer in front of a real editor. Someone who is going focus on a uniform presentation, message, voice and style while your writers focus on the story and its characters. Oh sure, there are probably a thousand writers out there right now saying something akin to, "Yeah, but that's just a part of what we do" but to those people I have to say this:

If you're doing your editing yourself, you're costing yourself time, effort and most importantly focus and your work is suffering for it.

You probably don't even realize it. I mean, I never have and neither has any writer I've ever worked with. Editors don't even come up in industry shop talk; that's how blind we are to the need for them. I went to AGDC this year and you know how many times editors were discussed in the half a dozen writing track lectures I attended? I bet you can guess now but I'll say it anyway: Not once.

The thing we're not seeing in our lack of editors is important, though: Editors make what you write better, not just the text, but the actual characters, stories and themes behind the words.

If my experiences are any indication, editors are incredibly effective collaborators. They can take pretty much anything you hand them and turn it into something better (often many times better). Don't think it's all comma placement or spell checking, either. What makes an editor most effective isn't the proofing for grammar's sake; it's the editor's ability to keep you and your work on message. It's having a continuity cop, a sounding board, a librarian and a proof reader all at once and it's something we've LONG been missing in this industry.

I feel like I've had an epiphany of the *facepalm* variety and what I'm saying here isn't giving it due justice, but trust me - you want an editor. Don't even think of hiring a writer until you've first found your editor, because your editor is going to find you the right writer for the job. Don't let your designers write anything the player is going to see until you've got your editor, because the editor is going to be the one who keeps your designers' work consistent and gives your game that one signature voice its narrative needs to succeed. More importantly, your editor's going to show your writers and designers how to do it themselves without thinking.

I'm going to stop now, so that this stays on course and doesn't ramble. Let me leave you this piece of advice:

Free up your writers and designers to focus solely on creativity and give them a powerful creative partner in the process; find them an editor.

- Snipehunter

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