Episode 82B – Justin Sloan – Video Game Storytelling

Overview

Before Justin wrote his own books, he was involved with writing stories for video games like Tell Tale’s Walking Dead series. His writing also has included screenwriting.

Justin is an ex-marine and lives with his family in California. He has moved from San Francisco to the L.A. area.

His first books were middle grade with the pen name Justin M Sloan. This is on top of the video game writing, screenwriting, sci-fi, and ghost writing.

Book

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Transcript

[00:00:49] Stephen: Hey, discovered word Smith. Uh, before we get to the second half of the interview with Justin, where we talk more storytelling, video games, just like last week, I [00:01:00] wanted to let you listen to one of the shout out promos. This is for my friends, Christine and JP. They do these serial fiction show and they’ll tell you all about it.

And then we’ll get right to Justin.

[00:01:20] Justin: Hello, we’re JP and Christine co-host of the serial fiction show. Do you like to read or write serial fiction and want to learn more? We have two podcasts, the reader serial fiction show and the writer serial fiction show on the readers, the cast, we escape into a new cereal each week. Then interview the author to tell us more.

On the writer serial fiction show, we break the serial episode down with the author and talk craft finger serial fiction game together. Come get lost in serial fiction and meet some amazing authors along the way to get you reading and writing serial fiction. So hop on over to serial fiction, show.com and check it out.[00:02:00]

We hope to see you there.

[00:02:09] Stephen: All right, Justin, welcome to discovered wordsmith. It’s really good to see you today. But before we get started, tell everybody a little bit about yourself, where you live, what you like to do.

[00:02:21] Justin: Sure. So hopefully you don’t hear the garbage truck outside just arrived as we started talking.

Yeah. I live in the LA area. It’s funny. Cause I always thought about Los Angeles. Just hot and flat and dry and brown, but where I live, it’s called lucky yadda it’s right up against the mountains and it’s just green and it feels like I’m in Seattle, almost not the same amount of rain for sure. But as far as like the greenery and the Hills and the trees it’s.

I love it. So we moved here about two and a half years ago from San Francisco to pursue the screenwriting side of life. And I’ve been enjoying [00:03:00] myself and not regretting it one bit. And before that. Yeah, so we were in the San Francisco area, which is where I worked at telltale games and do a little, couple other little stints up there.

And before that I lived this whole weird life where I was in the Marines and I did a government stuff. I was in the federal reserve bank of San Francisco and I. Japan and Korea and Italy. So a little bit of all over the place and various careers. Yeah. I like to say I’m on my third year. At this point, the first was dishwasher bus boy.

The second one was government brain stuff. And now creative.

[00:03:33] Stephen: Yeah. Nice. And we’ve determined that you can’t have good posters or you’ll have kids drawing on them. Yeah. Yeah. I have

[00:03:40] Justin: a, three-year-old a six-year-old and an eight year old. And so at this point, it’s funny because the older two never drew on walls or anything like that.

Just, they didn’t put any stuff in their mouth or anything weird like that. Now the youngest, she does everything that you ever hear a toddler does, like all the stereotypes as he draws on the wall, she puts on her mouth. One time we had to go to the emergency room to [00:04:00] get a bead taken out of her nose. Why would you put a beat in your nose?

[00:04:04] Stephen: Isn’t that crazy? How you get no matter what you do, they’re their own people. And you got to discover that crazy.

[00:04:13] Justin: Yeah, very much, but they’re fun. And they’re enjoying like storytelling. Like my daughter tries to make up stories and then my youngest before she could even talk was like opening books and pretending to read a lot of fun.

I’m doing a short film pretty soon for a class. I’m taking some fun classes on the side to. And I, my daughter is going to be the star of that. So we’ll see how that works out. My older one, not the younger, that would be impossible.

[00:04:36] Stephen: That’s pretty awesome. And I love when kids get interested in books. So that must mean you’ve got books around.

So you’ve got books for them to read and look at. I think

[00:04:45] Justin: that’s great. The middle grade books. So I did some, I’ve done about 12 middle grade books, which are eight to 12 age range. So a little bit on the high side for them. So. Except for the oldest one is about getting there. So yeah, that center of pen name because of Amazon and the algorithm and all that [00:05:00] stuff.

Yeah.

[00:05:02] Stephen: Okay. Let’s start there actually. And you told me a few things that we definitely want to touch on. So why did you decide to write some middle grade books? And can you tell us what they’re called? Sure. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:05:14] Justin: So I read it out under Justin M. Stone, I believe S T O N E. And. That’s where I started actually in a way I originally started cause I was reading the game of Thrones books and then I wrote something that was like that in a way.

But my preference, my style, I could tell right off the bat with a little more juvenile than game of Thrones. And I know that feeling and I love watching this. I’m a big fan of watching these kids movies with my kids or by myself, if I need to, I went in some monsters, university of the theater by myself one day in LA, because family was in San Francisco at that point and was like, oh, what else to do?

So it’s just kind of my style. I think I’d fallen in love with Harry Potter. I tried to avoid it most of my adult life until one day I was sitting around with some friends at a beach and they had the seventh book and I picked it up and read it. And I was [00:06:00] like, oh my God, I fell in love. And I read them all.

And so I was inspired. So I wrote a few middle grade books to start off and I didn’t say they were finished before my fantasy was ever finished because of the fantasy took me a lot longer to do six years overall versus these a little bit less. So, but yeah, to that. And then also, cause I knew I wanted to have kids someday and I want to.

I have something to show them. Like they might not be able to read that other stuff until they’re 18 because some of the contents, a little intense, but, but these are the things I can show them may be proud of.

[00:06:29] Stephen: And I love you mentioned because you’re a little more juvenile and that’s funny, but really, I think what you did was discovered your style and what Shaundra you fit in the best.

I went through the same thing. I was trying to write several different things and nothing seemed to be any good. Just didn’t sound right. And then just talking, w what would J thorn, he hooked us up, talking with him. He got me to realize, dude, you’re talking like middle-school kids. That’s what your language is.

And that [00:07:00] is what your story ideas fit and all that. And I’m like, oh my gosh. Yeah, that’s it. But I can’t resist it. So yeah. I know that same path.

[00:07:10] Justin: Yeah. It’s funny. And it’s, it’s a tough game for sure. Because even if we. Like middle-grade books. It’s still hard to find that market I’ve found, I’ve found it’s a lot easier to find like the adult Saifai market, for example, the readership is there and easier, accessible, easily easier to access.

And, uh, for, so for example, I recently had one middle grade book that I was pinging to an agent and the feedback that came back was that like, it needs to be more emotional. And I sent me an exam. I tried reading this one and I’m just like, oh my God, this is killing me. It was like, wait, you know, every five seconds.

And I’m like, no, if this is what they’re telling me, it needs to be that I’m just going to stick to my own thing. But I think that’s just about one of the mark, you know, finding the right champion for your work that you can go read a. Neil Patrick Harris. He has a middle-grade book out there called magical misfits.

And that was great. I love that series. I don’t know if it’s [00:08:00] a trilogy or what it was at the point, but I’ve read, I think all of them and every single one of those, I’m just like, yes, the whole way through. And that’s, you can see read those kinds of ones and they inspire you to try to write like them. And you can find what you’re like you said

[00:08:10] Stephen: your, I, I understand what you’re saying about the Fez with first thing, I started looking at it.

I’m like, oh my gosh, these are like tents books for these kids. And then I’m like, wait, My stepson is reading dork diaries, and a wimpy kid. You can’t tell me everything is like super serious. Yeah. The kids that read a lot and they like to read a variety, which is nice.

[00:08:33] Justin: Yeah. So that’s, I think that’s a key for everybody out there.

And this ties into video games too. The key is like we’re saying remembering that just because you get a few rejections, is that might’ve just been the 10 people that you queried happened to be readers who want the emo craziness, the super emotional bullcrap that bores the hell out of. Uh, right. Is, and so I was saying that ties into the video game world too, is it’s this weird situation where, especially as writers, I feel like you got to find your [00:09:00] audience.

And just because somebody hired you doesn’t mean everybody who works at that studio is going to be your audience. You know what I mean? This weird thing where like, when I was at telltale, we saw riders just coming and going. And it was like six months turnaround for a lot of them. I ended up being there for two years, which was.

But just seeing this turnaround is just, I think it’s a good example of like they’re writers. They know how to write, they got the job. It’s just that their tastes, the tastes of the people who they’re working with might not fall exactly in line with them. And when you have so many writers in one spot too, it becomes this weird thing where everybody’s judging each other’s writing and you get people in a room full of writers together.

It’s going to be very hard for everybody to just like, oh, you’re so awesome. And actually mean it. I don’t know if you know what I mean in that.

[00:09:46] Stephen: You worked on a few intense story games, so I’m sure that didn’t help.

[00:09:52] Justin: Yeah. Yeah. And it, like I said, it’s, I think it’s, I love the collaborative process and I love working with writers, but there was this interesting [00:10:00] way that they do at telltale where you just like partner up all these different writers and like you’ll have four or five writers on one episode.

And then we’ll just switch to the next episode with different groups of writers and different. And so you’re just always remodeling yourself and really trying to figure out where you fit. So it was quite interesting, like where some of them were just like great experiences and others. I’m excited for the next

[00:10:18] Stephen: let’s talk the video games for a minute.

You worked on, as you said, some of the telltale games, the walking dead stuff, and a few others, I believe.

[00:10:27] Justin: Yeah. So I was on, I started off in tales from the borderlands. I went on to, I think, game of Thrones from there. Then I did something called walking dead, Ms. Shown, which is what. Kind of spin us there.

And then I did a finally an episode of a Minecraft story mode

[00:10:42] Stephen: and my step son has played the borderlands in the Minecraft. And I’m actually working on Michelle and I started it a couple of years ago and said, two weeks ago, I said, Hey, I haven’t finished that. And then I talked to you and I’m like, oh, or some of it, at least I was a writer

[00:10:58] Justin: on it.

Yeah. So I [00:11:00] played a lot more of a development role on that one. And Minecraft, it was the, I don’t know if you’ve played this one yet, or your sons have the haunted mansion or the murder mansion. That was my baby. It started off where they came to me and said, we want to. Uh, not at the living dead episode where it’s just basically people trapped in a house and zombies trying to attack them.

And you’re just fending off the zombies. And I was like, that’s cool, but my taste lies more in this. And so we shaped it into more of this, a murder mansion type scenario. That was a lot of fun. And Michelle,

[00:11:29] Stephen: yeah. Uh, right there. Let me ask you, didn’t write a whole story. That turned into the game. They, how did that process work with several writers and multiple episodes?

And like you said, you worked on one episode, how did all that work together to create those video games?

[00:11:48] Justin: Yeah, so it’s, it definitely varies. So for example, when it came into borderlands, we are doing a lot more of the writer’s room stuff where we’re in the room as like a group, figuring things out similar with game of Thrones, [00:12:00] a big brainstorming sessions on what each episode.

And then they break it out by, okay, this person’s gonna be the lead writer on this episode. This person’s gonna be the lead writer on this episode. And then they say, okay, now you guys are going to help out that lead writer. We’ll give you like two or three people to work on that with you like that, like that.

And so Berryville, thumb at some games or episodes like Wolf among us from my understanding. Cause that was before I got there, it was mostly written by one or two people. It wasn’t in the same fashion, like later on for the Minecraft story mode. One. Fun scenario, where they just bring you in the room and say, okay, you’re going to have an episode of Minecraft story mode.

You’re here. You are a writer, here’s your narrative designer, you guys team up and figure it out. And so then you just go off for a couple of weeks and you just brainstorm. I don’t remember. It was a couple of weeks or exactly how long it was, because this is five years ago, six years ago, but let’s say a couple of weeks and then you go into the room and you just whiteboard the hell out of it.

Just writing ideas up on the wall. Coming up with stuff and going home and thinking about it some more and jotting down ideas, and then finally pitching [00:13:00] it to a room. And then what happened from there? So we came up with the original concept and then we pitched it to a room and they’re like, oh, that’s cool.

And then we went to new room with an executive producer and some other people, I think I forget how many. Exactly. And then we get more into the weeds, get into each of the beats and everything like that. And so it’s an interesting concept. Cause, cause at first there’s like the murder mystery. That we did, where it was much more of an action adventure version of it, where you have the mystery up front, but then reveals who it is.

And then dealing with that and chasing each other down kind of stuff. Uh, that one, they felt was a little bit too complicated. So then you get like that feedback in the room and it’s great because you’re there and you’re getting the feedback. And instead of just when you’re on cave, trying to figure out things on your own, it’s so much quicker to just be able to brainstorm it like that.

And then we did the revised version where we got back in the room and said, okay, let’s see how we can make this a little more contained. That that’s

[00:13:51] Stephen: totally different. When you write your books, it’s basically you coming up with things, thinking that things, write them all down until maybe your editor says, Hey, [00:14:00] you should maybe change this, et cetera.

So this is completely different. You can have a completely, your whole story idea, but if there’s other people that are like, that’s not any fun, I don’t think this is how the Carey, so you have to go change that. How does it all tie together then? How do you get all the different chapters to tie into one big story?

When so many people are writing.

[00:14:19] Justin: Yeah. So that’s the job of the lead writer. And in theory, they might take it over and just rewrite stuff. If, if it doesn’t flow together in some way, or if they feel like one writer’s voices and melding with the rest and they might just ditch that writer and move them onto another team or something, hopefully there’s a little more guidance first and hold hand holding and discussing all that stuff.

But sometimes I found, there were times when. There was one episode I can remember. And I won’t say which one, because then you can just look up the credits and stuff, but like where I went there and I was like, I wanted to have some discussions figure out what we’re doing. And they’re just like, no, we don’t have time for that.

Just go. And you’re like, all right, thrown to the wolves in that case. And if you get it right, yay. If not, let’s see what else you can work on is dead. Like that [00:15:00] kind of situation. So you get a lot of that, but yeah, it’s very different from writing the novels and I’m doing a lot of ghost writing right now, which is a fun thing that I’ve recently started.

And that’s fun because what I do in this case is I get the outline from them. So it’s like somebody else does all the hard work for me, in my opinion, because the figuring out the stuff is the hard part. The writing is easy for, and then, but I’m being very selective. So I’m only taking on projects where I get to have creative freedom and I’m telling them upfront, I only want to work with you if you’re open to me changing things, how I want, and we can discuss, of course, Totally crazy on you go out in left field, but it’s great because I’m getting the best of both worlds where I’m able to collaborate a little bit and brainstorm if I want to.

And they’re enjoying that the people who are hiring me and, but I don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting on my own. So that’s a fun, new thing I’m trying to

[00:15:46] Stephen: we’ll come back to that in a second. Um, on the telltale story. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I think it’s interesting that you were involved in video. And it was definitely a niche type of video game.

That was [00:16:00] only a couple of years. That was really super popular, a very similar to some of the old text adventure games or choose your own adventure. But they’re not because you still have to come up with a story with a beginning and an end. And I assume when you’re coming up with the basic. You follow the basic story, outline the building up to the conflict and your inciting event, that type of thing.

So how did you work in with those particular games that the player choices, which I know did not change the story so much as it affected who says what, when or that type of thing? So how did you work with that in story?

[00:16:35] Justin: Yeah. And probably depending on the game and episode as well, like there were some where it was more impactful than a.

But, uh, it’s very much like writing the screenplays and that kind of place at telltale. And I know you’ve probably heard that they, some new company bought out the rights to telltale and now they’re making the new Wolf among us too, and other games. So that’s exciting. So maybe there’ll be a resurgence when those release funds cause Wolf among us, I think was the best hotel games.

There is my [00:17:00] flavor, but yeah, it’s a fun process where you just get in there and you basically. Depending on the project and lead writer and all that. But the way I like to do it, the best we come up with the main idea of what the story is going to be. Then we start outlining the beats. Like we’ll figure it out first.

You know what the main point probably what the end point might be. We work backwards to figure out what the arcs of the character and all that. And then we figure out what are some kind of rails that the character might go on? Like, what are some different emotional paths or ways that they would deal with this?

And you don’t want to say happy, sad, angry. You want to be along the same line, but different versions of that. I re sarcastic something else. And then you figure that out. Then you go back to the beginning and start figuring out the big beats and you say, okay, this is probably a good choice moment because it feels like a moment where as a player I’d want to make any kind of moment, like that is probably a good stop point to stop and say, okay, choice, moment, choice, moment.

As much as you can, even if those are, like you said, just little role-playing moments where all it changes is what the next character says after you, and then continues on. So we would do a lot of that. The magic, I think comes as you’re writing it, you’re able to then go [00:18:00] and do those callbacks. So you’re like, oh, remember that thing we did that we thought wasn’t really going to be a big deal.

Let’s call back to it now. And if you said that earlier, now you’re going to get slapped or now you’re going to get your arm chopped off or now, or this kind of stuff. And that’s where it really starts to have that. Role-playing fun that I think really drew the players in because it’s those moments for me, at least.

And for a lot of players, I think where it’s, they know it’s not going to be this. Game changing thing where you get like 10, 15 different Indians. But, uh, but it’s a lot of fun because little things change and the characters around you changing, you might end the game with one less character and somebody else likes you more because of that.

Yeah. I don’t know if that answered your

[00:18:37] Stephen: question. Um, no. Yeah, yeah. I’m actually in Michigan right now. I’m on the boat captured and you had the choice to be. Uh, very submissive and just, yes. Okay. Whatever you want or hockey and raisin for me, the Michelin character was the cocky brazen one.

[00:18:55] Justin: So

[00:18:57] Stephen: I’ve played most of those other, other,

[00:18:59] Justin: again, [00:19:00] I was just saying, do you still have the Sparta kick in that episode?

I wonder, I don’t remember if that’s still a thing like the front push kick off the boat at one point that was in there.

[00:19:10] Stephen: Okay. So you mentioned screenwriting that you’re starting to do now. And I would imagine. Um, screenwriting is different than novels because you don’t get to throw as much background character thinking that type of stuff into it.

But how is screenwriting similar or different to writing the video games?

[00:19:32] Justin: Yeah, so I actually started with screenwriting. I did the novel thing for maybe a half a year to a year, and then I got right into screen. Because I love film and television and right away, I was like, I love books, but I really love film and television.

So if I love storytelling, why not get into that also? So I just jumped right in with taking classes and kept going. And I enrolled in a master’s program at Johns Hopkins where they had also screenwriting and creative writing. So I was doing like poetry and creative writing and screenwriting and all that.

And I fell in love with, [00:20:00] so that’s how it got me into video games. As I presented to screenplay writing samples and they liked them enough to say, okay, And brought me in. And in that case, the writing was pretty much the exact same. The main difference is thinking about those choice moments. And then the main thing to thinking about player, agency, things I like to think about is like, what are the cool moments?

And if there’s a cool moment, your hero should be doing that. And I feel the same way about most screenplays. I’m telling a movie about Jack Reacher. I don’t want him to be paired up with his Robin and then have Robin be the guy who gets to hit the button that makes everything exploded. He’s got to be the main character.

And then also what was cool that I learned from the video games thing that works for the screenplays. Is whenever you’re doing those choice moments. And you’re thinking about the three scenarios, it helps you think about what’s the most fun scenario there. And you’re probably thinking of 15 or 20 different scenarios when you’re doing three of them, because you have to think of make sure those cliches ones, aren’t the first ones you come to.

And so, likewise, I think it helps it screenwriting a lot because I’m thinking, okay, if I was doing this as that kind of video game, what would be the choices here? Okay. Which one feels the coolest, which one earns the most quippy [00:21:00] response from the side characters. And I think that’s great. I’d say, but as far as like the sitting down in the actual writing, there’s really no difference.

It’s the same thing. Since then, though, I have worked in mobile games, which can be quite different and I’ve worked on some other games which can be also quite different. We did a kind of a hybrid game television thing where part of it was basically like a reality show where you’re watching these cartoon characters move around with.

And then they have a little interactions that you put in there that they say to you. And so a lot of the writing, like in these kinds of environments is done in Excel. You’ll just have the character, their emotion, then what they’re saying. And then you try to get these like four or five line or sometimes more interactions with the characters.

And then that tells an overall bigger story. You have to think about the time that’s spent in between all those interactions and what else is going on, what else are they doing? And will the player have forgotten what’s going on by that point versus a telltale game is just a to Z. It’s a story nonstop, right?

If the character stops to get [00:22:00] some water from the stream, that’s part of the story. That’s part of the narrative that should be revealing the character or pushing the plot forward or something like that. Versus in some of these other style games like mobile, especially they’ll probably be happy randomly or to.

Stars or whatever the mobile game gives you. You know what I mean? So it is quite different than it sounds

[00:22:19] Stephen: though. No matter which of those mediums you’re in video games, novels, screenwriting, it still all comes down to the basics of story, the same type of beats that you got to hit to progress a story that you’re not doing something radically different all over the place story is story that sound accurate

[00:22:37] Justin: for sure.

And when I was ever, I wrote a book a while back called Korean writing career and my old boss at telltale, actually co-wrote the second one. And one of the big points that we stressed there was, or that I like to stress a lot was to always have those, let the doors of opportunity be able to open when they need to.

Like, I didn’t think of myself as a video game writer, per se. When I first went to telltale, like I was doing the novels of the screenwriting stuff, but the door opened up [00:23:00] that opportunity knocking and all that. And I was like, sweet, why not try it? And I loved it and it was awesome. And like you said, it’s the same basic principles.

If you’re good at one you’ll probably. The others. There’s a little learning curve to switch in between the three, of course, like screenwriting is quite different from novel writing because it’s so much more on the structure and so much more on, and I don’t mean following a structure to make a story because that kind of pisses me off.

I actually just got a note a couple days ago from a reader who that’s, this one doesn’t follow the structure enough. And I’m like, screw off, man. Like the structure is written by people who analyze movies, but don’t actually write movies. And most of the ones that are written really well, I have some semblance of the structures in there, but.

Exactly. Follow the structure for this little checkpoint, a tick list of five points here, 10 points here, stuff. Anyway, the point being there, like when I’m out, when I’m working on a screenplay, it’s so much more like that. Each line of dialogue has to be perfect and each movement has to be exactly precise versus a novel.

You can get away. And that’s why when I [00:24:00] looked at the leaf and saw it fallen, I remembered the way that my mom had fallen off of her bed, so that weird. And he goes into this tangent and by the time I stopped walking, I was already at the grocery store. And I didn’t remember how I got something weird, move through stuff like that without having to do it.

And then video games, I guess it depends on which video game you’re talking about. It could be one of those two or something. Totally randomly.

[00:24:27] Stephen: I was listening to, I forget the name of the book. It was about the war between Nintendo and Sega back in the eighties and the Sega guy. Kolinsky their mantra was like, the name of the game is fun. And if the game isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter if the story hits all the beats or not, but the game has to be fun.

Same with stories. They gotta be engaging and draw you in. Move to the next thing. I love Stephen King stories. I’ve read several of them multiple times, but I can tell you all the things I don’t like about Stephen King, that he doesn’t do very well, [00:25:00] but the stories still draw me in. So if you ask Stephen King, what the beats are, I’m sure he can.

He’s smart. He knows that, but I don’t think he sits down and tries to write to it.

[00:25:13] Justin: Yeah. And I think a lot of times, like I do looking at these kinds of structures that you know, what they are and what people are talking about. And if you’re in a meeting with an executive and they start referencing it, you know what they’re talking about?

So you don’t look silly, but what I find the most useful for us, if I’m writing a story and I start to feel lost, uh, there’s a lot of good things you can do there. Let’s sit back and just think what’s the simple, emotional journey and whatnot. But if you just feel writer’s block or whatever it is that it might be, then I like to sometimes pick those up and just scroll through and think about stuff.

Ask myself some of the questions that these are asking me. So there’s a great one called my story. Can beat up your story. And I love some of the questions that it asks in there. And so if you just start jotting down those responses, then you might just be like, oh, and it all starts. Uh, but more often than not, I just feel I’ll be watching like some movie or TV show that’s totally unrelated or playing a video game.

And then the [00:26:00] story starts really clicking into place for me, even if it’s the romcom, but I’m playing ghost of CIMA, SEMA. However you say that, which is a Japanese like samurai game, you know what I mean? It doesn’t have to be related in any way or have similar story, but for some reason when you start being engaged and inspired by other stories, I feel that’s when it really clicks and the structure, it can be fun.

I do think for new. Writers who aren’t necessarily great. I don’t think I was a naturally amazing. I think I work really hard and I think I study and I think I read a lot. And so I’m a fun writer or there’s like Charlie Kaufman’s of the world who are just geniuses and they’re going to put pen to paper and it’s just, Ooh.

And they probably don’t need to ever look at any of this stuff. But I do think for a lot of new writers, it is important to at least study the structure stuff so that, like I said, they know what people are talking about when they start talking about it, but also so that they don’t just go off randomly.

Some person walking in the woods and nothing ever happened to them.

[00:26:54] Stephen: And I have found, I’ve learned through my reading, writing the same [00:27:00] type of thing, like you just said, I have a natural feel for a story and progression, but if I get stuck or something doesn’t seem right. Look at it like, okay, where’s the action.

And where’s the conflict and where is this beat? The inciting incident, how they resolve it? And, oh, I missed this. For example, I’ll spew this off. And again, I’m not a professional and not a movie critic or anything, but I just went and saw the second denim movie and everybody with me, my face. They said, oh, I liked it better than the first one.

I said, eh, it was okay. I was thinking about like, why did I think it was just okay. It’s because once carnage came out and you had Behnam they met, and that was the final battle. That was it. And I’m like, wait a second. No, no, no. You need to have these two meet, have carnage kickback. And then they go off and venom has to regroup, come back and win.

That’s the structure [00:28:00] that’s needed to get. And it was a short movie. They could have added that in, but I didn’t feel the movie was fulfilling. And I realized why, because I have been working on learning destructions,

[00:28:13] Justin: we’ve come to expect. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I need to see that movie and I’m excited, but yeah, that one and there’s actually a few good movies out there right now, but I feel like I have so much work piling up.

I need to finish something so that I can reward myself.

[00:28:29] Stephen: Yeah. There you go. I agree. Venom too. If you like the first one you should like the second and I don’t think it’s really any too much better or too much worse. It’s about the same, but it’s got a great little after

[00:28:40] Justin: credit scene. No, I thought the first one is genius.

I’m a big fan of a wideness or just the back and forth that they have. I loved all that, but I tend to like movies that a lot of people don’t like, I’ve noticed at least according to reviews on rotten tomatoes. What can I say about my case? Nothing. [00:29:00]

[00:29:00] Stephen: I’m doing some movie watching with a friend horror movies.

He’s a horror movie specialist. He’s watched over 1200 horror movies and kept track of writers and directors and little notes and stuff. So he has me watching some horror movies. And I’ve never heard of most of these. So I’m getting a good education in these movies.

[00:29:21] Justin: Awesome. That’s a lot of fun. I started doing some of that at one point, just going through shutter.

I was just saying, yeah, it was a different experience for me. I’m glad I don’t have a friend like that. Cause I can only take so much for my brain surgery.

[00:29:35] Stephen: Well, shutter, it looks like it has some really good shows on, I know a couple of years ago it was a lame station, but they look like they’ve got some good stuff on there now. So I might jump for sure.

[00:29:44] Justin: Yeah, definitely.

[00:29:46] Stephen: So let me ask you, you mentioned ghost writing. How’d you get into doing good. And are you writing novels or memoirs or sports car

[00:29:54] Justin: articles strictly fiction, for sure.

Like I said, I’m being really picky and it’s actually, I’m mostly doing [00:30:00] fiber. Actually. My wife is about to launch a product that I think is going to be awesome. It’s called a Kubrick. K U B R I C K. Hopefully it will be, it’s gone through us like a soft launch, I think. We’re just getting it. So that’s all for writing books and doing stuff with books.

It’s not going to be anything else, but related to that, so like ghost writing, editing book covers that kind of stuff. But how I got into it was yes, I’m going to be doing a lot of work on that platform pretty soon. But how I got into it was what was I doing? Oh, so I was complaining about book sales going down during colada.

My sales definitely tanked during that time. And maybe it was because the kids were home and I got less work than. And for a while I had COVID and that sucked and like all these things, I don’t know, whatever the reason being the book sales went down and I was like, oh my God, this is getting depressing.

And so I talked to my buddy about it and he’s a finance guy and he’s like, I got a lot of story ideas, but I’m working like crazy now, but I have money. How about I just pay you some money and you write my idea and we’ll put both our names on there. And after I make my money back, we’ll split the royalties.

And I was like, I ghost writing, but I get [00:31:00] my name on there. And so I did two of those and those will be out pretty soon. We’re excited. They’re fun. I liked his ideas a lot. And I think the nice part about that too, was I had somebody else putting me in check. Sometimes I tend to write too fast and too.

It’s slowed down right here. Let’s let it breathe a little bit. Let’s get a little more description to this and that. And I think it became a better book because of this. I actually listened to an audio book of mine the other day. I was like, oh, I see what people mean when they tell me I’m too fast sometimes.

Cause I lost track of my own story. What is happening right now? So, yeah, so that got me into it because I started thinking, wait a minute, maybe I can do this. Like the process of somebody else telling me what to write as long as I can still play within there and change things up and have a dialogue to figure if I’m not buying in a certain moment, let’s change it up and do something different.

From there. I went ahead, listed myself on Fiverr and Reedsy and somewhere else, but I forget where that was. Maybe I’ve worked, but I haven’t found anything on Upwork really. And Reedsy, I’ve recently gotten one nice ghost writing a novel contract and on Fiverr, I’ve gotten a few and, but I’m doing a lot of other weird things too.

So I have a couple of [00:32:00] video games that I’m working on with people. And so will they see the light of day maybe, but they’re not. So even though they contacted me through ghost writing service, I said, okay, but I don’t want to do this and this, I have a credit on it, if it’s good. So I’m reserving the right to not put my name on there if I want to.

But as far as they’re concerned, if they pay me right this the night, they have to use my name if I want them to. And so that’s a nice situation, right. Whereas like ghost writing, if I want it, if I feel like it meets my brand, if it falls within my brand and I’m doing these other ones that are called, I don’t know if you’re familiar with

Yeah. Yeah, so I’m writing for, and if T worlds. So now NFTs are people who don’t know are basically digital arts that people are putting out into the world and charging money for. And it’s this very weird, interesting thing. And now some of them want to have stories behind their launches. So I’m doing one that’s called elementals with a forest that have the, a at the end there.

And it’s all these kind of like a space fantasy, basically. It’s these robotic aliens who are like robot. [00:33:00] Metal organism based creatures who are coming to earth to save us from ourselves in a site like this, a spotless post-apocalyptic future. They’re coming down to earth, who to save us from ourselves.

And that’s a lot of funds I’m writing the universe for that. And we’re going to do this whole short story and overdoing for each chapter. After that, that leads into the novel is the kind of the high ranking and Ft holders. They have this whole rank system involved. They get away in on what the story is going to be.

So we’re going to do a telltale style where we’re going to have some choices at the end of. Section chapter, whatever you wanna call it. And then that’ll eventually lead up to 20 something chapters, and then we’re going to publish it as a novel. So there won’t be three choices each time written out or something like that.

It’s only gonna be the one choice and that’ll end up being with a novel is, but the people are playing along the way. You get the choice.

[00:33:46] Stephen: Yeah, that’s cool. I was going to ask you, so what are your plans next and that kind of answers? What all is coming up for you? Do you think you’ll get back into writing more of your middle grade, but do you think you will get back into doing more video games at [00:34:00] some triple a games again or something like that?

[00:34:03] Justin: Good question. I actually just got a couple offers, which is cool for regular stuff. Like jumped. And so we’ll see where those go. I won’t jinx it yet. Knock on wood and all that, but they’re fun projects that I’d play a little bit different role to than I have in the past. So that kind of goes back to your what’s next question.

So next is what I’m talking about. Like the ghost writing and the other, I don’t, if you want to call it ghost writing, if it ends up not being ghost, but writing for hire is a better way to say it and yeah. Looking at those kinds of positions again, but I think I have two lineups. So you check in with me in a couple of weeks to a month, I’ll probably have some concrete answers for that.

[00:34:36] Stephen: Oh, cool. Okay. Yeah, cause this’ll probably be a couple of weeks before it goes live. I can see what any updates are in Adam in the show notes and link to your wife’s Cooper.

[00:34:46] Justin: You said, yeah. Jake is going to be a big launch and we’re going to be excited about it. So stay tuned for that.

[00:34:54] Stephen: We’ll do just, it’s been really great talking to you.

I appreciate you taking time to chat with [00:35:00] me and tell us a little bit about video game writing. So what would be your advice to anybody out there that would like to get into writing video games? What would you tell them to do?

[00:35:11] Justin: Yeah, I’d say try to get that basic experience first and network with recruiters.

Of course. So events like game developers conference GDC is a good one. A lot of the recruiting company, a lot of the companies have recruiters there and go meet them, shake their hands, say, Hey, I plan on applying at some point, I just wanted to introduce myself, tell you I’m excited about what you’re doing.

And they might ask for a resume there. They may not either way when you follow up like a month later with the resume they’ll they might remember your name. They might not, but hopefully they will. Getting some kind of experience so that you’re not just random. And I think there’s a lot of areas you can get experience out there.

There’s like Facebook groups for game writers, LinkedIn groups for game writers. There’s a fiber and Rick and all these places that you can go on there and say, Hey, I want to be a game writer. I’ve done this and this. And you want to hire me and games out there might never [00:36:00] happen, but it’s still experience you can use as a writing sample for applying for something else.

And if they do happen, then you get a writing credit. That’s awesome. And that goes on your resume, but I think that’s the key is getting, building up that resume, building up that network and just reaching out to people and following up, like that’s one way I did it is I reached out to some people at Pixar and they had moved over to telltale and that’s how I found out about telltale.

And then I followed up with them and it all spiraled them became awesome. So as long as you’re putting yourself out there and making sure that you’re doing the work and have the writing samples, uh, screenwriting, like I said, I think it was always a smart thing to pursue because it ties directly into that.

And if you don’t want. Using it as a screenplay, you can always use that as your outline for writing. Very true.

[00:36:38] Stephen: And with the tools that are out there, anybody can open up word or even notepad and start writing story. And with video games, there’s so many tools that are free out there to get people started.

And I think that’s probably something people miss, oh, I don’t want to program. I don’t want to learn all this programming you don’t necessarily need to because a lot of the tools are. Visual and drag and [00:37:00] drop for a basic game. You don’t have to create cyberpunk 20, 77. You can create a nice side scroller or something like that.

Just to have the experience. That’s more important than saying I worked on this $5 million game because nobody’s going to do that from their bedroom.

[00:37:17] Justin: Yeah. I know somebody who is doing his own games with some pixel art and having fun and that’s one way he got into telltale and then somebody else who had just worked on who had worked on, um, what’s the name of that one?

It’s one of these, it’s an app based one where it’s a choice-based and him and he, I think he had done it for six months and they met the recruiter and that helped get them in the door because it was, they knew he had a real relevant experience. Of course the industry is insane. It’s very tough to get into.

So I would also say don’t be discouraged before these offers started coming my way. Like now I’ve been applying for about two years while I’ve been doing my other. Uh, like you mentioned, the book sales went down, which is why I got into ghost writing. But during that time I was also looking at some jobs out there and yeah, it’s competitive.[00:38:00]

Craziness. There was one job that if you look at the resume and you look at the subscription, I, and I did the interview too. And the whole time we were just having a good time and it’s great, but they ended up hiring somebody else. And that’s just because it’s so competitive or maybe they just hated me in my mind is because it’s so competitive out there.

They’re going to have

10 of me’s, but there’s one little thing. That’ll be their deciding factor at the end of the day. Like actually there was an interview I just had recently where the guy emailed me back. He’s like, Hey. I love your writing sample and all that. At the end of the day, there was just one little thing that my coworker wanted from somebody.

And that’s why we went this other person, but I’m keeping your resume on file and hopefully we’ll be able to work with you soon. And so that it’s like that, like never know there’s that one. Oh, they were in the military. Oh, this one was in the Navy versus the Marines. And we want Navy in this game. So let’s go with that.

That’s like just the littlest thing that you can’t really control, but I’d say, just keep putting yourself out there.

[00:38:50] Stephen: And I think that’s important. I appreciate you saying that because one of my goals is working with kids to prepare them for the future work. And things like video game [00:39:00] story, writing, narrative writing that didn’t exist 15, 20 years ago.

So it’s a new skill, a new job, but it’s a real job out there. So you get parents that are 30, 35, and that’s not a job they think of, but it’s one that their kids could do to prepare for. So kids that are. It can use tools and create video games and write stories. And then by the time they’re 1820, they’re like, well, I’ve made these video games all through school and they’ve got this portfolio and resume to show people already and that’ll put them way ahead of the

[00:39:33] Justin: game.

You can even do things like, I dunno, there’s like a whole community out there for RPG maker. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but it’s basically you make games, no games we used to play. So I went on Fiverr and paid somebody like 80 bucks and they turned a chapter of, one of my novels into an RPG maker.

Like, I just gave her the text and stuff and yeah, it was a lot of fun. I never did anything with it. I just, I wasn’t going to do the whole thing. I was thinking, cause I’m trying to make a board game too. [00:40:00] But every time I heard the board game artist, the, it didn’t look right to me. And so I’m on pause until I can just find the right artist to do the board game.

And then I was going to try to release them both together as a Kickstarter where you get. The video game, along with the board game and have a little fun with that. But someday, someday

[00:40:16] Stephen: with me in mind, I’d love to see that and be involved. Cause I’ve got idea for like the one middle grade book I wrote, I have a card game idea and I want to get developed and I’ve got an artist for that.

So I think I can actually do it. It’s a simple game. So I’m no, yeah,

[00:40:30] Justin: the fiber and all these places. There’s so many people that are offering their services and just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean that they’re bad. Some of them are probably bad and skip corner. If you ask around, like the way I found that are that person who’s not listed there anymore.

Unfortunately was, cause I was talking with another veteran writer who had done it and he was like, oh yeah, check out this person. And then I did, and it was a great product. I was like, oh, good job. So you can ask around or you can just try people out if they’re only like 30 bucks. If you could, if you have some extra dishwashing money, then go ahead and [00:41:00] try.

[00:41:02] Stephen: Yeah, I love that. I hadn’t even thought about some of those. I’m gonna have to check some of that out. I like that.

[00:41:09] Justin: If nothing else, it’s a fun experiment that you spent 30 bucks on at the end of the day, you can look at it and go, this is cool. This is what my video game would have looked like. And I

[00:41:16] Stephen: know I was working with one of the tools called G develop and it will export for web.

So you can then put the files on your website and people could play it right on your website. And I was like, oh, that’s a cool idea. If authors could get. Uh, whoever does the cover or something to create some sprites, you could treat games. And I even thought, oh, you can create the framework template for a couple of different games and then just drop in different sprites for different authors for their webpage.

[00:41:46] Justin: Yeah, that’s awesome. And if T is too right, you put your NFTs in there. See what happens? The fun little, super Nintendo version of if you’re Storyworld yeah, not at all. That’s a lot of, I would do more of the PR the key, I would also say here though, is as a writer, [00:42:00] don’t get too distracted. And that’s one thing that I think also impacted me last year.

It was like, I just kept, I was trying to do, I was thinking I was doing the V board game. I was looking at video game options. I was looking at doing a visual. I just started getting all excited about all these things and it, and I was still trying to do the screenwriting and try and do the novel writing and doing everything else.

So it’s do too many things and then realize you’re not focusing enough on the one thing that the two heads try to pick one path and then experiment little bits here and there with the others when you can. All

[00:42:26] Stephen: right, Justin, it’s really been a great talk. I appreciate you taking the time. I’m glad Jay hooked us up.

I’d love to keep in touch a little more and find out about some of these things you’re doing. That’d be great for

[00:42:36] Justin: sure. That’d be awesome. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

[00:42:41] Stephen: Thanks. It’s been a great talk. I hope people got some good info out of it. I’m sure. Thank you.

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