Posts filed under Video Game Writing

Dan Jolley: Self-Employed Freelance Writer

Name: Dan Jolley

Age: 44

College & Majors/Minors:b University of Georgia, BA in English

Current Location: Ringgold, Georgia

Current Form of Employment: Self-Employed Freelance Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work from home—I'm self-employed—and my current position alternates between "on the treadmill" and "on the couch." I write in both locations, though; I have a walking desk set up, where I plod along at 2 miles per hour and type, and on a good day I do about 5000 words and about 15000 steps. That works best for prose, though. If I'm doing non-prose, such as a comic book script or a screenplay or dialogue for a video game, more often than not I wind up on the couch. Usually with one or more cats on me.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I got my first professional writing contract at age 19, after I met a girl in a video arcade and asked her out. On our first date I told her I wanted to be a writer, and that I'd written a number of short stories, and she asked if I'd ever considered writing comic books. I hadn't, but I'd grown up reading them, and I told her as much. She said, "Well, I know a couple of comic book artists. Want me to introduce you?" I told her yes, yes I would like that very much, and she introduced me to Tony Harris and Craig Hamilton. I ended up working with Tony for about the next ten years on various comics projects, one of which got nominated for an Eisner Award, the comics industry's equivalent of an Oscar.

From there I branched out into licensed-property novels, movie novelizations, original young adult novels, some manga-format novel tie-in comics, some children's books, and video games. 

I've been writing more games than anything else for the last several years, but that's about to change, because on May 13 of this year, my first original novel for adults is coming out from Seventh Star Press. It's called Gray Widow's Walk, the first book in the Gray Widow Trilogy. It's the story of Janey Sinclair, a teleporting vigilante in contemporary Atlanta, Georgia, who must face a grotesque, vicious, possibly extraterrestrial enemy.

Then, on October 18, the first book in my new Middle Grade novel series, Five Elements, debuts from HarperCollins. Set in modern-day San Francisco, it's the story of four twelve-year-old best friends who become bound to the magical elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, and have to try to stop a century-old, hideously evil magic user from dominating the world.

Dying Light - PlayStation 4
Warner Home Video - Games

So I guess I'm a little more novelist than game writer now. Well, this year, anyway.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

In 2014 I was fortunate enough to land a job coming up with dialogue, scenarios, and characters for the first-person parkour-vs-zombies video game, Dying Light.

While working on the game, I got to live in Wrocław, Poland for three months, since that's where the developer, Techland, is located. It was a fantastic experience. I got lots of exposure to a culture I might never have otherwise known, made some fantastic friends, and ate way more pierogies than I probably should have. Dying Light went on to sell a bit north of five million copies, so now I can realistically say that my words have reached people all over the world. 

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

College is about a lot more than taking classes. It's a chance to test the adulthood waters without committing a hundred percent, and at least in my view, is an excellent time to make mistakes. (One of the best bits of wisdom I ever heard was, "The older you get, the higher the stakes are when you screw up.") I made a lot of mistakes in college, from partying too much, to making terrible relationship decisions, to endangering a few true, solid friendships. The key there is to learn from those mistakes, because living life and gaining experience will help your writing every bit as much as mastering your command of language. Not much good comes of being a brilliant writer if you've got nothing to write about. (It helps, I've found, to have friends with terribly sordid pasts.)

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Well, this advice is for those who want to be writers, because I got my start as a writer before I left college and haven't ever truly tried to do anything else. But here it goes: absorb as much knowledge as you can, both in class and out. Make as many friends as you can. Listen to as many stories as you can, from many different types of people. Take as many creative writing classes as possible, to be sure, and learn as much as possible from your professors. But be aware, keenly aware, often painfully aware of the world around you, because that's where your stories will come from. Sometimes you'll witness whole sequences of events that you faithfully transcribe; sometimes you'll hear other people's accounts, with which you can then take artistic license; sometimes you'll catch just a scrap of conversation or an image glimpsed from the corner of your eye that will spark an original idea. As Stephen King puts it, when you're a writer, "Everything is grist for the mill."

“Also—and saying this got me in hot water when I spoke to some creative writing students at NC State a few years ago, but it’s one hundred percent true—do not, under any circumstances, expect your degree to get you work by itself.”

Also—and saying this got me in hot water when I spoke to some creative writing students at NC State a few years ago, but it's one hundred percent true—do not, under any circumstances, expect your degree to get you work by itself. Use the knowledge you gain as you earn the degree, certainly, but the degree itself is... I wouldn't say worthless, because you learn so many invaluable things while you're getting it. It's just that the credential itself is inconsequential. I've been a professional writer for twenty-five years now, and no editor or publisher or producer has ever, not once, asked me about my education. They don't care. It doesn't come up. The all-important question is, "Can you write, or can you not write?" That's the only thing that matters.

Check out, follow Dan on Twitter, and check out his Facebook page

Lisa Brunette: Manager of Game Narrative Design

Photo courtesy of Ally Davis.

Photo courtesy of Ally Davis.

Name: Lisa Brunette

Age: 42

College & Majors/Minors: St. Louis University for a BA (double) in 1) English 2) American Studies, with a certificate in Creative & Professional Writing. For grad school, I went to University of Miami and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

Current Location: Seattle, WA

Current Form of Employment: Manager of Narrative Design (I manage a team of writers at Big Fish)

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I manage a team of writers for Big Fish. Our company focus is casual, free-to-play mobile games, but we have a solid history in making hidden-object puzzle adventure games mainly for PC. This is my seventh year as a writer in the game industry. Previously I wrote for Nintendo as well as Cat Daddy Games, which is best known for its AAA hit, Carnival Games. Before I hit the gaming industry and stuck, I'd been a writer and editor with credits and bylines in numerous publications, both in print and on the web. Notably, I wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, published pieces in Poets & Writers and a number of literary journals, and won major grants and awards for my creative writing, including a full scholarship for my MFA program.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

When I entered the job market as a college grad in 1994, we were in the middle of a bad recession. The only job I could find after knocking on so many doors my knuckles bled was as a secretary, which frankly for me felt humiliating at the time, but I've since come to appreciate it. A really tough mentor told me to make the most of it, so I did, joining the organization's secretaries' group and rising as a leader. I also offered to write anything I could, and my skills were recognized. Within six months I was promoted to a new position that had been created with me in mind, and writing was a good portion of the job. It was fund raising for a cause I believed in, and I was the one who wrote the brochures, direct mail pieces, and other materials they used in the fund-raising campaign.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

Before I'd even graduated college, I was the board chair of Missouri's largest student-run environmental organization. Because I had the skill, I also wrote all of their fund raising materials and campaign writings. This was key to getting a job in a tough market, even as a secretary. I came to FT work with a great deal of experience, but because the job market was terrible, I had to start over anyway. This should be a good lesson to recent college grads. Don't think you're too good for something. People ask me all the time how they can get a job as a game writer. My answer? Work in Customer Support on the phones, Quality Assurance as a tester. Even if you think you have great experience during college, you might have to get a foot in the door any way possible.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

As mentioned above, I held an activist leadership position on campus and beyond. That gave me a wealth of experience in writing, speaking, and politics. I also interned in DC with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote columns for the student newspaper, and wrote and published poetry. I drafted the proposal for the university's first-ever recycling program as well, which was adopted. I won a prestigious essay award, too, which boosted my writing self-image.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Write whatever you can— it doesn't have to be literary to make you happy. Some of the most fulfilling writing gigs are when the writing is employed to help others, or reach out to specific audiences of non-academics— such as in non-profit fund raising or ad copy or for a trade publication. Some of my favorite pieces of writing are when I wrote for the fishing industry, or about a 100-year-old dairy farm, or about a company that has built big dams and impressive bridges all over the west. The story is paramount, and you never know where it will be hiding.

Check out more of Lisa's work on her website,! You can also connect with Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Posted on May 1, 2014 and filed under Journalism, Video Game Writing, Writing, Communications.

Janet Schwind: Self-Employed Writer, Editor & Publishing Consultant

Name: Janet Schwind

Age: 51

College & Majors/Minors: Indiana University Bloomington. Double major in Journalism and English.

Current Location: Indianapolis, IN

Current Form of Employment: Self-Employed Writer, Editor & Publishing Consultant

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am currently enjoying my fourth year as an independent writer, editor and publishing consultant. Prior to striking out on my own I had come from an advertising agency background where I was a copywriter and producer, writing for a wide variety of clients in both business to business and consumer areas. I worked on everything from print ads and brochures to websites and radio, tv and video scriptwriting and production. I often worked with graphic designers, partnering with them to brainstorm concepts.

After a few decades of this I decided I had had enough of the advertising world— suffered a bit of creative burnout— so I quit my job. It was scary as I had made my way up the ladder and was making a lovely sum of money. But that didn’t do it for me anymore. It was totally exhilarating to quit! I slacked about at coffeehouses, thoroughly loving my escape from the cubicle farm. I was out and about among the living. I felt freedom! And sunshine! I moved forward trying to discover what I wanted to do next, taking on some temp editorial jobs with the state legislature until I landed a job at a small publishing company. This lasted 2.5 years until the economy took them under but what I gained from that job was a passion for publishing. I had fallen in love with it! I wore multiple hats at this small company— primarily as project manager, taking each author through the publishing process. I was responsible for creating the timeline, working with graphic designers to develop covers and interiors, with orders and shipping, with printers, and with online distributors. Oh and I edited manuscripts. I even wrote a chapter in a book we published called "Overtime: The Bonus Years."

I do not believe anything happens by accident. Such a detour from my former advertising background led me to this new passion, and gave me the tools I needed to do what I had always wanted to do— have a freelance career combining everything I love: publishing (editing) and writing for business.

Last year I was able to take 5 weeks away from my life to take an amazing adventure: I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain— a 500 mile pilgrimage. I am working on a speaking/powerpoint presentation and will likely write a book after that. I have over 3000 photos so it’s going to take a lot of editing.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). Tell us about the interview process, too!

My first job was with my hometown newspaper (South Bend Tribune) on the editing desk. I worked every Friday and Saturday night proofreading articles and writing headlines to fit the copy space. I loved it! Only a few people worked those lame hours, but there was something special about that first job.

Eventually the hours were not enough to sustain me though. Shortly thereafter I got a job at a large advertising agency as a copy editor— what I considered to be my first professional job. It was very exciting. While there, as editor I asked for small writing projects in order to build myself a sample portfolio. That strategy worked because I was laid off from that job after one year and next went to a small ad agency with my writing samples, and landed my first job as a copywriter.

I don’t recall having to take any tests for these jobs. There have been a few jobs in my career where I have taken editing and writing tests, however. They were temp jobs as I recall. The interview processes at ad agencies involved showing samples of my previous work. Whatever samples you can accumulate, the better— especially starting out. Write for businesses and magazines and anything where you can gain experience and a sample to take away. They look for professional samples— not like poems and fiction stories. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?  

I had the opportunity to write a video game as a freelancer in partnership with Gabriel Interactive, and with a grant from the National Cancer Institute. It was an educational antismoking videogame for young girls to encourage them not to start smoking. This was a new application of my skills. The project was important to me for many reasons. It lasted a year and a half, and it enabled me to jump into having my own business. The creativity involved with this project was out of the box for what I was used to doing as a copywriter for the advertising market. It really stretched me creatively and also was such a fun and satisfying project to be involved in. I worked with game designers and programmers. I learned a new software called Chat Mapper which enabled me to write dialogue in non-linear fashion for the video game play. This was very different thinking, sometimes difficult to wrap your head around. We brainstormed characters and storylines and I helped develop each character and their personalities. It taught me to think differently and working on such a huge team was fun. I even wrote in a peripheral character based on myself— Janet was a cute hippie girl who made jewelry and sold it on the beach in Dolphin Pier.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

In college I was on the yearbook staff my senior year, which was a fun experience. But honestly there wasn’t much else during college (in the extracurricular sense) that I did toward my career. I worked in the audio visual department’s library for some extra money. I filed tapes. (This is sort of like saying I carried a watermelon*.)

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree? 

If you’re still in school, I would say to have a second major. English is good, but perhaps a second major gives you a broader field of career possibilities. Having good writing and communication skills is so important in any profession. Put yourself in as many environments as you can where you are required to write. Collect as many professional samples as you can. Offer to write for free when you’re just starting out, in order to build up a portfolio of work. Find a magazine you want to write for and study up on their stories and then submit articles. Experience as many different things as you can, and write about them. Start a blog. Create a GooglePlus professional profile and a LinkedIn profile. Be aware of your internet presence and clean up anything that is out there that doesn’t enhance your professional appearance. Be consistent in the way you present yourself online across all of these channels. This will help build your credibility and your consistent appearance in search engines. Live life. Do stuff. Write about it. 

*Jennifer Grey’s character, Baby, to Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.

Visit Janet on her portfolio site her publishing website Connect with Janet on Google+ and on LinkedIn!