How To Write Bioware Fanfiction

Dragon Age 2 guysby *sandara
I think I’ve just won the most literal title of the day award, and it’s my first post of the morning. Hear that, rest of RPS? You might try to defeat me, but I will bland you out the park. I hope I don’t get stuck in a rut. Can someone out there recommend a newly written guide to some sort of writing? What? Bioware‘s Senior Writer David Gaider has just written a blogpost on how to write fanfiction? What I do is essentially fanfiction to the whole of PC gaming. That’ll do!

It’s called “Wrytw gud nao” “Storming the Sand Castle”, and contains five rules he’s come up with after judging a fanfiction contest set in the Dragon Age universe. Most people would balk at the task, but Gaider wanted to help the 400 plus entrants as much as possible: writing without feedback is like tightrope walking without a long drop. Unnecessary similes is rule #6, but he cut it because of rule #3.

3. DO pay attention to flow. In creative writing, flow is more important than language. Some writers will abuse a thesaurus so badly you half-expect to find it wandering dazed alongside the highway, dress in tatters and lipstick smeared across its face. They laden their prose with words they fancy because they think it makes their writing more poetic. It doesn’t. It makes your prose heavy, and while there might be some readers who appreciate that, it won’t make you a better writer. Be sparing with your language, and realize there isn’t a sentence so clever it shouldn’t be cut if it doesn’t assist your purpose– which is telling a story. Cut out all your extra that’s and but’s and adjectives and adverbs (I often need this advice, myself). Slaughter your word-babies mercilessly, for that pain will put you in the habit of not over-populating your prose to begin with.

Why did I quote rule #3 before even telling what rule #1 is? Because I’m following rule #5: Do the unexpected. There’s a lot of good narrative brainthinks, and just common sense writing tips from someone whose living it is to come up with this stuff. His writing muscle is strong.

That wonderfully cute Dragon Age image up there is by *sandra.


  1. timmyvos says:

    A bit ironic coming from someone (Gaider) who names Twilight as the best literature of the last 10 years and an inspiration for the games he’s written.

    • Carr0t says:

      Dear God, really? Maybe that explains the rubbish relationships in DA2 ;)

    • Echo Black says:

      “who names Twilight as the best literature of the last 10 years”

      Whoa. I guess even opinions can be wrong!

    • kalelovil says:


      That doesn’t seem to be the overall sentiment by Gaider here: link to

      “I find Twilight both fascinating and horrifying.”

      “Well, I think Twilight is far more effective with its romantic elements than most people give it credit for. Granted, it has little else going for it– but the romance it does well.”

      “I think the romance itself has some interesting elements in its construction and offers something to learn– for those who are willing to try. And I’ve tried, God help me. This is what I do for you people.”

    • Kdansky says:

      Citation needed, especially for such slander. The only thing I found was his twitter:

      “I find Twilight both fascinating and horrifying.”

      And that’s quite sharp.

    • timmyvos says:

      I definitely remember reading it somewhere but the closest I can find at the moment is this:

      link to

      But considering the romance in Twilight is basically non-existent and really creepy, the fact that Gaider thinks it’s good baffles me.

    • Optimaximal says:

      It’s a bit unfair to attack Twilight as wholesale dross. It has a target market, of which we likely aren’t part of.

      Also, from what a few people I know who like the series have said, the books handle things a *lot* more subtly than the movies.

      I still subscribed to Jimmy Carr’s view – ‘one teenage girls struggle to decide between necrophilia and bestiality’…

    • timmyvos says:

      I’ve read them, and they made me feel dirty. It’s like I’m reading a really creepy sexual fantasy. Bella’s basically Meyer and the whole story’s basically a tale of pedophilia and mormonism. The writing’s some of the worst I’ve read in years and most fan fiction is better.

    • Echo Black says:

      “It’s a bit unfair to attack Twilight as wholesale dross. It has a target market, of which we likely aren’t part of.”

      Target market schmarget market. The subject matter of a book or its primary intended audience have little bearing on it actually being good. There are good children’s books, and there are probably good cheesy romance novels with Fabio on the cover. Many books weren’t for me (stopped reading halfway) yet I could easily tell they were well-written. Is this the case for Twilight? I haven’t read them but I suspect it’s not. It’s kinda got that sophomoric vibe going for it.

    • BooleanBob says:

      I really don’t see the need for all this ad hominem (aside from, you know, it being the internet). Regardless of who he is, or what he’s done or said, the tips in the post are actually all pretty sound.

    • Apples says:

      I used to be in that target market and even then I thought it was absolute bollocking shite. “It’s not for us” is no reason to go easy on it. If the target market is lowest common denominator idiotic youth that just makes it worse.

      Plus, it’s downright dangerous for the target market, even if it’s what they want – not sure we really want impressionable teenage girls reading about how jumping off a cliff so your superheroically amazing and ~ttly hawt~ bf will save you is romantic, or that being a total dick to your dad and anyone who tries to be friends with you is fine, you’re just ~misunderstood~. I do think there should be some authorial responsiblity there and I do think that there ARE people dumb enough, especially at that age, not to see anything creepy or wrong about it at all. Hell, Meyer obviously didn’t, having based it literally on her dream wank fantasies, and she’s old enough to know better.

      edit: lol if you don’t see the problem with taking writing tips from someone who thought Twilight had tolerable prose (and who thought that epitomising the virgin-whore dichotomy in his games with Merrill and whats-her-face was a good idea, while we’re bitching about this idiot) then… what can I say

    • Gandaf007 says:

      I always found the Oatmeal’s… thoughts on it to be spot on.

      link to

    • bill says:

      Perfect example of an internet blog comment: take something you heard once on a blog somewhere and make it into indisputable fact – though it was originally taken out of context – and use it to invalidate anything remotely connected to the person involved.

    • codename_bloodfist says:



      >”Aren’t you hungry?” he asked, distracted.
      >”No.” I didn’t feel like mentioning that my stomach was already full – full of butterflies.

      Yes, excellent writing right there.

    • circadianwolf says:

      Twilight *is* terrible, both in terms of its style and content, but all the hate for it is at least partially about rejecting some important things it has to say, which Leigh Alexander talks about over here:
      link to and there’s a long related extract from a Jacob Clifton essay on True Blood here: link to
      Essentially, in the world of post-feminism and the “real men again” backlash, culture has by and large refused to discuss the very real, for most women, danger of male sexuality and physical power. Especially geekdom in particular has been taken over by a faux feminism of Ridley Scott/Joss Whedon action girl despite the rampant misogyny that’s (as has been repeatedly demonstrated by Kotaku recently) still a major part of the community. (Not to say that Alien, Buffy et al. aren’t awesome and important and feminist, they are; but rather the perspective that says they’re *enough*, it’s over, you can go home now [and make me a sandwhich], is. Basically: yes, women are powerful and equals to men. But for most women, life in the real world means constantly negotiating the threat of physically stronger men; Buffy is just as much dangerous wish-fulfillment as Twilight. In that light, True Blood is one of the most important works of present fiction, since it deals with that issue much better than either.)

    • Aemony says:

      Watch a marathon of all of the Twilight movies. I dare you!

    • DocSeuss says:

      @Echo Black: For what it’s worth, saying something is good isn’t always an opinion. The English language is cool that way. We have good/bad for objective criticism and like/dislike for personal opinion.

      There’s this really neat little thing called Literary Scholarship that you might have heard of. It’s basically a field of study, a subset of Fine Arts, that’s dedicated to literary theory and criticism. As it turns out, someone well-studied can easily, using the basic rules of academic discourse on the subject, determine the quality of a work provided that they are sufficiently well-studied.

      In other words, saying something is “good” or “bad” is up to cultural concensus (the word “good” is basically used when something compares favorably to a set standard, in this case, culture’s), not personal opinion. If Gaider called it good, then Gaider is full of shit.

    • NathanH says:


  2. sneetch says:

    Won’t someone think of the word-babies!? Stop this mad-man!

    • Jekhar says:

      Somehow i first misread this as “sword-babies”. I fear he mental images formed afterwards will haunt me all day.

  3. NathanH says:

    Quality of a game’s fan base = size of game’s fan base / quantity of fan fiction.


    • EstrangedManatee says:

      The quality of the community is undefined if no fan fiction is written.

    • NathanH says:

      Well, I don’t know much about hyperreal numbers, but I suspect we can represent qualities of communities with zero fanfiction as hyperreal numbers, so that any community with zero fanfiction is strictly higher quality than any community with some fanfiction.

      But I suspect that, for any video game, there is some fanfiction lurking somewhere.

  4. Casimir Effect says:

    What must a man do to avoid being condemned to a place where he must read over 400 Dragon Age fanfictions?

  5. SuaveMongrel says:

    Not surprising they would do this, really.

    Bioware’s writing has become akin to fanfiction these days anyway.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Couldn’t agree more

    • mjig says:

      Considering that Hamburger Helper used to write horrible homoerotic fan fiction, and they thought it was cause to hire her, it’s not surprising.

  6. caddyB says:

    I like my My Little Pony fanfic without dragonage characters in it, thank you.

  7. Orija says:

    China Mieville deserves to have point 3 branded on his body. Anyway, it’s not like Bioware’s trashy writers are good enough to be the ones handing out advice.

  8. Kleppy says:

    Haha, writing advice from David Gaider. Truly these are dark times.

    • DogKiller says:

      Very true.

    • StranaMente says:

      David “bioware decide who’s dead and we don’t care what you say or do” Gaider? link to
      I mean, he?

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      Aerothorn says:

      Wow, what a dick.

      I mean, if he had said “it’s really hard to account for all your decisions, there are limits to what we feel we can do with branching storylines” or something along those lines, I’d at least be understanding. But painting people who want their narrative decisions to be respected as wildly irrational children is beyond the pall.

      But Bioware writers seem to generally have a “I understand narrative dynamics better than you” attitude to any and all critics – see that filmcritichulk article about video game stories.

    • E_FD says:

      Yeah, I lurked around the Bioware forums during the releases of the first two Dragon Ages, and I was amazed, simply from a PR perspective, that Gaider was allowed to post on public forums at all, because he invariably came across as a condescending, full-of-himself dick.

  9. DogKiller says:

    Given the quality of Bioware’s stories and characters lately, I’m not sure if they’re really in a position to give out advice about writing fiction. Writing for video games always seems like the place people go when they fail at writing books and screenplays for film and television.

    • SuaveMongrel says:

      It didn’t always used to be this way, though. I’ve been playing Planescape Torment for the first time recently and the majority of other modern videogame tales pale in comparison.
      What was once such a creative industry seems to have become littered with fan-fiction-tier “AAA title” trite.

    • Hindenburg says:

      That’s because Bioware didn’t do it.

      You’re playing Black Isle, mate.

    • SuaveMongrel says:

      I realise that, but I was referring to the industry as a whole which is increasingly vapid. We’re going backwards, not forwards, at least as far as writing is concerned.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Suave I think we’re only going backwards until the indie scene can support larger teams that can make 2D RPGs. Games like Aquaria, Costume Quest, and Geneforge give me hope.

    • Ragnar says:

      @InternetBatman You mentioned Costume Quest, so let’s take a look at it compared to Mass Effect 1 and 2, and God of War.

      CQ has great writing, but the gameplay bored me, and I struggled just to finish the demo. In ME the writing/story is really good, and I really enjoyed it, and the gameplay was enjoyable enough to finish a 40hr playthrough. In ME2 the writing/story were ok, not nearly as good as ME1, but the gameplay was great, and I really enjoyed playing through it. God of War had amazing gameplay, and I love the games, but the writing….

      Sometimes, gameplay and writing converge and you have something truly special (Planescape: Torment, Uncharted 2), but usually there’s a tradeoff. I’m willing to put up with poor writing for great gameplay (God of War series), but I’m not willing to put up with poor gameplay for great writing (Costume Quest). So if you’re a studio trying to figure out how to allocate a budget (including who to hire), I can see skimping on the writing department in order to get better gameplay.

    • kud13 says:

      There are exceptions. I’m thinking of “Legacy of Kain” games here.

  10. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    How to write a recent Bioware game:

    1. Take a generic protagonist of a player-defined therefore also unimportant background.
    2. Have the protagonist join an elite, adjudicating group that is respected in the universe you’ve created; The Jedi, Grey Wardens or Spectres.
    3. Develop a single-minded threat to the very existence of the status quo, and make this an unquestionably terrible thing; The Sith, Darkspawn or Reapers.
    4. Make the stakes as large as one possibly can, endangering the entire existence of the Galaxy, Kingdom or Galaxy.
    5. Contrive a scenario where to defeat the threat in question, the protagonist must visit a minimum of four locations, with some dramatic turn happening after the third location.
    6. Have an assortment of characters join the protagonist and never be afraid to reuse characterisation; for instance a former combatant of a warrior-like race who dispenses anecdotes of his battles; Canderous, Sten or Wrex. Also consider a female thief or character with a bizarre and therefore interesting idiolect.
    7. Include a multitude of potential love interests, all with little-to-no reservation about indulging your advances.
    8. Have the protagonist be unquestionably triumphant in their quest.
    9. Watch your bank balance increase wildly.

    It’s because of this formula that I actually enjoyed elements of Dragon Age II‘s storytelling more than it’s predecessor, it was basically their first game since going 3D that broke this. I hate games where I always know that I’m going to ‘save the world’ and due to the Hollywood-nature of many scripts, will invariably be successful and correct in my pursuit. I believe the developers of Thief had it right; have a powerful fantasy world but have a personal and complicated storyline. Even the revelation of the stakes in say, The Metal Age took a large majority of the game to be fully realised with much intrigue and conspiracy prior to that, The Witcher 1 is also a great example of this.

    • Plopsworth says:

      Have you seen this chart? It covers a lot of the same ground.

      Also, Ten rules for writing fiction:

      Part one (from Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy)

      Part two (with Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson)

      I guess these would work as guides. Just add: “Forget thinking up your own stock characters, use Bioware intellectual property instead!”

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      Joshua says:

      This can also be said true of Baldur’s Gate, except that it might occur in a different order.

    • Zepp says:

      I…I… I must save this asap! Time to start writing, baby! Cya when I’m famous!

    • RedViv says:

      This is why I’m doubly peeved that EA wanted to try the “make an RPG in a few months” idea again, with that very game. Didn’t work with Pagan, didn’t work here. Learn from history, EA.

    • Casimir Effect says:

      I pretty much agree with the caveat that I do still enjoy Bioware games. I’ve just started DA2 and so far the big thing that stands out is how the story feels more personal. I’m fed up of saving the world/galaxy/realm: it’s a story which always contains more plot holes than well… a bad fan fiction, and there’s this constant escalation that makes things stop feel thrilling (Mass Effect 3 is in real danger of this).

      I loved Torment because it was personal. I loved Mask of the Betrayer because it was personal. I loved The Witcher games because they were peresonal. Personal stories mean you don’t have to wonder why merchants are still charging you money even though the world is about to end, or why conscription hasn’t been imposed. They’re probably harder to write but the result can be so rewarding if done well, it’s just no one wants to take the risk any more. And I’m not surprised considering the amount of rancor I’ve seen thrown at DA2 because the story isn’t apocalyptic enough.

    • Apples says:

      Moving past infantile “SAVE TEH WORLD FROM BADDIES” plots into personal stories is a sign of maturity. No surprise, then, that most comics, fantasy novels, and video games are the former.

      And no, attempting to make it ‘gritty’ by introducing a modicum of moral ambiguity doesn’t improve matters at all.

    • c-Row says:

      8. Have the protagonist be unquestionably triumphant in their quest.

      The problem with breaking that rule is that we usually invest time in a game to actually win it. Nothing wrong with a bit of drama and some shades of gray of course, but how many story-driven singleplayer games can you name were losing is still entertaining enough to not throw away the controller? The only more or less recent example I could think of is Red Dead Redemption.

    • Jimbo says:

      They did run that formula into the ground, but Mass Effect 2 at least broke from their usual story structure, being more like a TV series of mostly independent episodes with a finale stuck on the end. I liked it, but the downside was the main story arc didn’t really go anywhere, because most of the game was only tangetially linked to it. Mass Effect 3 is now effectively left to cover both Act 2 and Act 3 of the trilogy.

      I also appreciated what Dragon Age 2 tried to do, I just don’t think the execution was very good. I’m all for a disasterous outcome instead of a happy ending, but being railroaded into the exact same disasterous outcome by an evil magic sword, regardless of your choices, didn’t make for a very satisfying experience.

    • InternetBatman says:

      This isn’t recent. Replay the old catalog. Also, you forgot the crucial steps “the villain kills your mentor,” and “you have to get three things from three places.”

    • Apples says:

      A lot of games seem to be going for a Pyrrhic victory at least. E.g. Deadly Premonition, where you win and sort of get the girl but lose what you (the player) loved the most (trying to say that without spoilers is very hard). Bioware in particular do this – ME/ME2 had you lose at least one teammate, and DA:O had multiple endings where someone dies.

      I kind of think that players just need to get over it and stop being babies about narrative! In a mechanics-focused game, fine, you will always win (unless it’s an art game maybe). In narrative games, why do people feel disappointed or angry when they narratively lose? Maybe that’s a good emotion? Maybe we should capitalise on games’ unique ability to make us feel genuinely angry, sad or guilty about our own in-game actions rather than neutralising it and demanding that players must feel happy and as if they have had fun at the end of the game? MAYBE?

    • Casimir Effect says:

      The story of ME2 I actually liked because it wasn’t a “Universe in peril” kind of thing. Humanity was being targetted and in trouble sure, but the rest of the galaxy couldn’t give less of a crap. I agree that the whole story felt a bit out of place though, almost like it should have been an entirely seperate story (maybe one not involving Shepard) that happens between ME1 and a theoretical ME2 which continued the story of 1 more fluidly.

      The flawed-victory thing is nice to have (why I really love the film How To Train Your Dragon) although I fear it may disappear to appease the completionist gamers. You could save everyone in ME2 as far as I know, so long as you did all sidequests before going to the derelict Reaper then went to save your crew immediately after. The biggest disappointment of that game was Tali’s quest: I was loving the build up to having to decide whether to tell the coucil what her father did or not – it was such a laden decision. But then you’re given a Renegade or Paragon choice which makes all the bad go away and everyone lives happily everafter. Such a goddamn cop-out.

    • bill says:

      Doesn’t that also fit Star Wars though?

    • Kaira- says:

      A handy guide how the clichés fit to each of BioWare’s games. I’m surprised this wasn’t already posted here.

    • Dom_01 says:

      I really enjoyed Mass Effect 2’s story because it hinged around going on a suicide mission where you and your allies could die. I loved how it was a very bleak prospect, the thought of which followed you around in every mission. However, once I realized that it was mechanically easy to get the full party to survive, simply by purchasing all the upgrades to the Normandy and getting all the loyalties for the party members, it sort of lost the appeal. It really did seem that, though the stakes were raised, it was too simple to succeed narratively. Still, it’s been the best recent attempt from Bioware to make a good story, IMO.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Kaira How did they completely miss the climatic end-battle, where the armies of the enemy attack a location? Also, I think Neverwinter Nights 2 fits this more perfectly than any Bioware game.

      edit – I’m pretty sure Neverwinter Nights you join the elite Knights of the Nine or somesuch after you stop the king’s assassination, that could be the second one though. Shadows of Undrentide gives you two characters to pick from.

  11. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Alternate post title: “David Gaider helps fan fiction writers, helpfully.”

  12. StranaMente says:

    (erm… it’s Sandara)

  13. Nighthood says:

    David Gaider telling people how to write well is pretty laughable.

    Just because you’re “professional” doesn’t mean you’re in any way good.

  14. jstar says:

    Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination

    starts with a fuck off long bit about jaunting before it even gets into the story.

    One of the great sci fi novels.

  15. FCA says:

    Reading 400 Bioware fanfiction stories must be his way of atoning for being the lead writer on Dragon Age 2.

    Edit: Sorry for the cheap joke. Haven’t played DA2, because the gameplay from the demo put me seriously off. What I’ve read of the story, at least they tried to veer away from some of the Bioware cliches, but contains some horrible cliches as well.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      FCA, I’m very upset that you’re the one sleeping with the Champion and not me. I will start this conversation again in five minutes.

  16. Nice Save says:

    Wait, so he read 400 pieces of fan fiction, and now he’s telling the writers to use fewer words?

    I sense an ulterior motive here.

  17. elnalter says:

    Bioware already writes fanfiction.

  18. Maldomel says:

    Seems like haters gonna hate, again. Are you guys all pro writers? Could you do better than this man when it comes to storytelling?

    • Apples says:

      0/10 for this argument. You don’t have to be a Michelin-starred chef to recognise bad food. You don’t have to be able to create media before you can consume it. The commenters’ writing skills have literally nothing to do with Gaider’s (except that hopefully the more skilled ones will more easily recognise how bad it is)

    • SuaveMongrel says:

      What an incredibly stupid thing to say. Are all movie critics required to have made at least one Hollywood blockbuster before they can accurately have an opinion? No.

      He’s a shit writer and there are much better writers out there. I’m by no means a better writer but that doesn’t detract from the fact I can tell the difference between what is, in my opinion, good writing and bad writing (Gaider falls into the later category, if you hadn’t already figured that out, friend).

      Also, FYI, using a meme to start off your post and decry any “haters” doesn’t add any validity to your argument, in fact it does the opposite.

    • c-Row says:

      ^ This. Totally this. We don’t need to be better at something than those we criticize to judge the result. Games journalists don’t have to be developers to rate a game.

    • Apples says:

      c-Row: I think it helps though. Not that they have to have published a critically-acclaimed AAA game, but some game critics seem to have a woefully poor knowledge of what actually goes into making a game or what makes one good. Then they end up criticising some part of a game and coming up with ludicrous suggestions as to how to fix it that would either be awful as gameplay or require strong AI to be invented first. I think anyone actually criticising a game (as opposed to just reporting about them etc) should have at minimum have messed about in Unity or done some scripting.

    • someone else says:

      “We don’t need to be better at something than those we criticize to judge the result.”

      Do you even realize the irony in this in a comments thread full of “How dare he criticize, he’s a bad writer!”

    • Maldomel says:

      What I’m pointing out, is that it is a bit too easy to bash a guy and to categorize him as a bad writer like that. He worked on the project, did tons of work for it, probably. The result might not be really good, but here everyone’s talking like he is the worst guy ever. He works at Bioware, that might no be proof of his skill, but one would think that he hasn’t got his job by pure luck.
      Of course, one doesn’t have to show superior skills to be able to judge another man. I’m no writing genius either, but I know the value of hard work, even when it fails in the end. People have opinions, and everybody like to say something. DA 2 = a mediocre game, okay. Now, is that a reason to turn the comments in a rage party about one guy who just gives out a few tips for fans? I certainly don’t like to see that on RPS.

      Also, I’m not using a meme to try and make my post interesting. It’s just the one thing that came to my mind when I read the comments.

    • Apples says:

      He isn’t judging the result. He’s saying “Hey guys, this is how you make a good story, cause this is what I do!”. Except we’ve already judged the results of his tips, through his work, and they obviously don’t work all that well!

      Also his judgement is also in question, since he at least partially enjoyed and saw something admirable and emulatable in Twilight of all things. A film critic can be a great film critic but a bad film-maker. Gaider is a bad writer and a bad judge of writing.

      edit: wow yeah I bet he must be super skilled to get a job at writing in THE GAME INDUSTRY. THE WORST PLACE FOR WRITING. WHERE MOST GAMES DO NOT EVEN HIRE WRITERS. WHERE FAILED WRITERS GO TO DIE. bloody hell

    • Maldomel says:

      You have a grudge against the gaming industry? I don’t really understand your point here (I smell some irony, dunno if it’s because of THE CAPS LOCKS). He’s just giving general leads, basic tips. I can’t see what is wrong with that, because I guess most writers (bad or good) have this kind of tips in mind (be original, don’t try too hard with your style, just make it clear for the reader, and so on).

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      As a matter of fact, yes, and I know a myriad of other people who could. There are D&D GMs at my local store that write significantly better stories than Mr. Gaider and Ms. Helper. More to the point, these stories aren’t sold on the basis of how many characters you can shag.

    • Apples says:

      I don’t have a “grudge” against it, but it’s a fact that it’s not a good industry for writers. Bioware are one of the few companies that use writers heavily, but that doesn’t mean their writers are GOOD, it means they’re the best of a bad lot. Saying that he must have got his job for a reason means very, very little when another writer on the team was a literal slash fanfiction author.

      Yeah most writers have the same tips as he has put out there. They’re pretty generic. I’m not super mad about the tips themselves because they’re so boring, it’s just extremely silly that he thought a) they were worth putting out there when he must have read the same tips a thousand times himself and b) he’s not really a good enough writer to be dispensing advice. He’s like a Deviantart Naruto fanartist making tutorials on how to shade hair using the dodge/burn tools. Yeah he can write whatever he likes on the internet, but we can all take the piss out of it however much we like too.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      @Apples I agree that games journalist should have some basic knowledge of programming to stop them making stupid suggestions or judging game studios. Evaluating the game as a finished product can be done by anybody, but beyond that I read idiotic suggestions even on this site.

      After all we’re still in a world where managing big software projects is not a very well-developed science, and where around 50% of them either finish late or fail. Unless of course you’re not innovating at all and you’re just repeating the same process over and over (i.e. Zynga).

  19. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Point #1 is all too easy for a games writer to say, but I’m immediately reminded of the opening two paragraphs of The Hobbit – entirely descriptive yet giving a perfect sense of both the setting and the character who lives there. I know this blog post is about fanfiction but the author as a games writer must be aware that the best games writing has always been heavily descriptive too. Try playing Planescape:Torment and you’ll realise that a lot of what people refer to as the “dialogue” in that game is actually descriptive of the characters and settings, and helps bridge the gap between the graphics and the imagination. As graphics have improved, CRPG writing has got further from novel and closer to screenplay and for me that has made for fewer memorable characters or moments in games. I can vividly remember doing stuff in Planescape:Torment that was actually just described to me, while a few sprites stood around for a bit doing their idle animations. My mental images of characters from that game are far stronger and clearer than my mental images of any of the characters from Dragon Age or Mass Effect, although the latter were infinitely better represented to me visually.

    Uh oh, am I allowed to post here without making a pun?

    • jon_hill987 says:

      Also of note are the Discworld novels, there is huge amounts of description in there, several books have the opening page taken up by a description of how the world goes through space on the back of four elephants which are in turn on a turtle.

    • Maldomel says:

      That also makes the charm of other games such as dwarf fortress, with all the descriptions making you imagine epic stuff. But there it’s more about the lack of fancy graphics backed up by powerful stories.
      I’m currently reading the game of thrones books, and I’m amazed by all the descriptions that are not in the series, because you see the clothes they are wearing, so there is no need to comment about it for example. Same goes for locations and thoughts the characters might have: you can’t really transcribe that other than with some actions or visuals if you want to keep the seriousness of the whole thing.

  20. Gap Gen says:

    I wrytw gud nao thnks criag.

  21. Burning Man says:

    Why oh why is everyone hating on Gaider? It’s like Bioware was never known for good writing, ever.

    Seriously people, wtf? Did you enjoy DAO, BG2 and KOTOR for their stories or did you not? Or are you suddenly claiming the internet thinks they’re shit?

    • DK says:

      BG2 was decently written. KotOR was cliche Star Wars. DAO was laughable in it’s attempts to be “edgy” and simply ripped off Warhammer to large part. The rest of it was low effort, high budget (they didn’t even bother coming up with a name for the world it’s set in. THEDAS literally means “THE D ragon A ge S etting”).
      And that’s not even going into the clusterfuck DA2 was, with it’s utter lack of any characters that a sane person wouldn’t wanna strangle, and complete lack of plot through 95% of the game – and retconning of the supposedly “make your mark on the world!” Dragon Age 1.

      Mass Effect, brilliant codex, laughably cliche actual game story. ME2, ruined what good parts there were in ME1 and utterly failed to provide any coherent motivation for anyone.

      Jade Empire? Cliche story, yet again (Bioware only has one type of story, which they repeat over and over with very minor variations), first occurence of their biggest problem – the “Romance”.

      So no, Bioware aren’t known for their writing, they lost that pedigree many, many years ago. And certainly not since Gaider is in charge of anything.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Gaider is not Bioware, he may have written for DA:O but the writing credit for the other two games you mention goes to Drew Karpyshyn – who along with Chris Avellone are IMO the two Bioware/Black Isle/Obsidian writers that every other CRPG writer including those at Bioware merely tries to imitate ;)

    • Berzee says:

      “first occurence of their biggest problem – the “Romance”.”

      Wouldn’t that be KotOR?

    • Kaira- says:

      And here I thought the first occurence of “the Romance” would have been in Baldur’s Gate. You know, with you getting offspring and all that.

    • Megadyptes says:

      Because Gaider is an idiot and the stupid shit that dribbles out of his mouth is worth slagging off,

    • Wizardry says:

      Why would anyone enjoy a D&D game for its story? Well, other than Planescape: Torment maybe, because that was 99% story.

      Oh and the first Baldur’s Gate is by far the best written BioWare game. It came out before Gaider and friends joined the company, which may have had something to do with the decline.

  22. InternetBatman says:

    I don’t trust people, especially writers that use the word “flow.” It’s unspecific and generally depends on other factors. My 11th grade English teacher wouldn’t even allow students to use it in her class.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      Well… Haruki Murakami likes it, so it can’t be too bad. I’m pretty sure he was referring to it in a broader context though.

      “The point is, not to resist the flow. You go up when you’re supposed to go up and down when you’re supposed to go down. When you’re supposed to go up, find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there’s no flow, stay still. If you resist the flow, everything dries up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness.”

    • InternetBatman says:

      Oh, sorry. I was talking about using it to describe the story mechanics. Also, I love Murakami, but every time I read one of his books I wonder how much is getting lost in translation.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I very much agree with you and your teacher. The way Murakami uses “the flow” to make a somewhat obscure philosophical statement isn’t translatable to a classroom scenario where you want people to criticise specific details.

      I also love his books and, although my own Japanese isn’t good enough for reading novels, I’ve discussed his novels with some native speakers, generally reaching similar conclusions. His writing style is said to be very plain and, by the looks of it, Jay Rubin is a great translator. Maybe we should ask him to write the next Dragon Age script. :P

  23. DK says:

    Bioware writers telling people how to write. There’s the irony of the century.

    But then I guess for some inexplicable reason the games media is in love with Bioware.

    • Apples says:

      the games media is in a bioware romance with bioware. they’re worried that if they break it off, bioware just won’t talk to them anymore, and anyway they haven’t seen the sex scene yet – maybe bioware will show some side boob!

  24. codename_bloodfist says:

    I like the moneyshot remains on that elven gentleman’s lower face. Very appropriate in the context of DA2. Usually this would be the sort of stuff you’d find in–what a coincidence–fanfiction, but it seems that Bioware has already done the work for us. What has been seen cannot be unseen; enjoy. Ta ta.

  25. Mman says:

    Having read the advice, I take it Bioware’s current policy is “do as I say, not as I do”?

  26. Ghoulie says:

    Generally, I feel that Bioware’s stories and dialogue are exceedingly generic, but are presented in an enjoyable fashion.

  27. Gira says:

    I came into this article dreading the BioWare rhapsodies I’d see in the comments section. Mercifully, there weren’t any. David Gaider is actually an execrable writer, irrespective of his opinions re: Twilight and James Joyce. He is so unbelievably bad. And having him dole out advice, well …

    It’s just precious.

  28. whexican says:

    And as their rhythm quickened to its final climax, the Dovahkiin released a mighty shout that shook the very stars of Skyrim.

    Lydia slowly rolled off the Dovahkiin to lie on her back. Drenched in sweat and with a tired voice she said, “Wow, I haven’t been pinned like that since I took an arrow to the knee.”

  29. Berzee says:

    Obligatory half-hearted attempt at snark via quotation:
    “They laden their prose with words they fancy”

    Actual comment:
    This is a weird thing. I will read it, because it is weird. Maybe I’ll write some fanfiction once I’ve learned the secrets. We all should. o_O

    • Apples says:

      That kind of attention to detail is presumably why he also says that his first drafts come back littered with corrections…

  30. LennyLeonardo says:

    These are some pretty basic, but also decent rules. I need to pay more attention to #1 when it comes to introducing characters.

    P.S: Stop being so snarky about Gaider, he seems like a nice man.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I don’t know. I’ve read some forum posts by him that don’t really make him seem like a nice guy.

    • Megadyptes says:

      He’s a very nice man that just wants SOMETHING AWESOME TO HAPPEN WHEN U PRESS BUTTAN

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      #1 is full of holes. Dry sandy holes, nasty dirty wet holes, and nary a Hobbit to be found in any of them.

      Maybe it’s just there because writers of fan-fiction usually can’t pen a description of a character that doesn’t give them an erection half-way through thinking it up (and the rest of us a migraine upon reading.)

    • Burning Man says:

      Gaider is not a nice person, something he will readily admit to. In fact he comes across as quite nasty. But then again, that’s not what everyone else is bashing.

  31. TODD says:

    When Bioware’s writing rises above the level of fanfiction, then they should start giving tips.

    • trjp says:

      Yeah, I’m surprised no-one has linked to this…

      link to

      or they have and I missed it?

    • Betamax says:

      Except, that wasn’t written by BioWare. It’s a tie-in novel. Not to mention David Gaider is a person, you should probably evaluate his writing, not every writer they have ever hired.

  32. Tom OBedlam says:

    Hah, I like this. Admittedly, Gormenghast breaks rules one and three, and is one of the best works of literature going.

  33. ffordesoon says:

    As someone who actually writes fanfiction (pauses for obligatory shock, horror) and original fiction, and who found DA2 massively disappointing as a game and a story, I feel reasonably qualified to say that Gaider’s dead-on with his advice. I’m sorry people who don’t like that one thing he may or may not have said that one time can’t see that.

    And to those of you who think Gaider’s writing is bad because you didn’t like a Bioware game’s story, I’m not sure you realize this, but all writers have written bad stuff, at least some of which has been published. The best writers just have a higher batting average than most of us.

    Furthermore, anyone who’s done the bare minimum of reading on the subject of game development can tell you that Gaider isn’t just writing this stuff in a vacuum like a novelist. The stuff he writes needs to be doable in their current game engine, easily communicable in a cutscene or ambient dialogue, fun to play, etc. He can’t just, say, force them to cut a subplot after half of it’s been animated and textured and whatnot because he all of a sudden doesn’t think it works. Even though that’s theoretically his responsibility as a writer, as a team leader, that’s a situation where he risks a mutiny. He’s also got to deal with voice actors who might object to the way a line is written or simply not be able to come in that day, designers who have final say on what stays in the game and what goes, animators who can’t get the needed facial expression to work quite right, etc.

    None of which excuses a bad scene or a poor storytelling choice or whatever, but it is useful to remember that the man doesn’t just write the whole story alone in his office, hand it to the lead designer, and wait for it to come out exactly as written. Given how many factors are involved, it’s a wonder Bioware’s ever produced anything worthwhile at all in terms of narrative. That they have managed to do so a fair bit under Gaider’s stewardship is a testament to his talent and commitment, not his lack thereof.

    • DogKiller says:

      He’s written a few Dragon Age novels. You can’t blame his bad writing on others with those. That’s all on him and his editors.

    • ffordesoon says:

      True, if you think they’re bad. The general consensus seems to be that they’re decent, if unspectacular.

    • DogKiller says:

      Life is too short for mediocre books.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Nice job completely ignoring my point.

    • Gira says:

      Yeah, sorry, bro, but writing fan fiction doesn’t make you qualified to judge anything.

      Anyway, Gaider’s a horrible writer, and anyone who has even the most rudimentary understanding of literature could tell you that.

    • QualityJeverage says:


      Sorry, but saying bro means you aren’t qualified to judge anything. See? I can dismiss your point with a childish insult too. Get over yourself. Fan fiction is writing, and dismissing it outright nullifies anything else you might have to say. The majority of it may be self-indulgence by beginner writers, but that cannot be allowed to diminish the minority of truly great work. If you’re willing to ignore a genre of writing based on the popular stereotype, then congratulations: You’re the problem with art culture.

      Indeed, much of Gaider’s blogpost seems to address opinions like yours directly. So good job actually reading the source material here.

      “Anyway, Gaider’s a horrible writer, and anyone who has even the most rudimentary understanding of literature could tell you that.”

      Are you trying to embody the stereotypical pretentious lit snob? You’re doing a damned good job.

    • ffordesoon says:


      I knew someone would take the bait. Thank goodness it was you, Gira, and not someone who I actually respect.

      For the record, I’ve never read Gaider’s novels, nor do I plan to. I’m just saying that the man’s advice is pretty standard writing advice that I see a lot of fanfic authors ignore or miss. Given that, as a writer of fanfic, I have presumably read quite a lot of fanfic (which I have, almost all of it execrable), and given that Gaider’s advice was to authors of fanfic who often make certain easily fixed mistakes, how am I then not qualified to say, “Yes, these mistakes are often made in fanfic, and I’m glad someone is pointing them out”? Doesn’t that, by definition, make me more qualified than you to judge whether or not Gaider has succeeded at his stated aim? I mean, as a voracious reader of fiction period, am I not at least qualified to nod my head at his points?

      For the record, you write well, Gira. You’ve a real gift for concision, and your arguments make sense in and of themselves. I could go on, but I won’t. It’s a shame that you choose to squander your gift on tearing other people down.

      I eagerly await your pointless yet inevitable snide retort, in which you will almost certainly justify your own insecurities by attempting to make me feel insignificant. It will not work, of course, because even though I am but a humble fanficcer and you are a high and mighty whatever-you-are, I’m comfortable in my own skin, and thus don’t need to bully anyone else to make myself feel big. Judging from your many other posts in the comments sections of various RPS articles, you do feel that pitiable need. That’s really too bad.

      Anyhow, I’m off to go make things! Toodles!

    • Gira says:

      “Pretentious lit snob” is the final recourse for the philistine. Gaider’s stuff is adolescent dross; if you can’t see this, I suspect your sole journey into the wonderful world of literature has been directly towards the fantasy tie-in trashfic section. Fan fiction is never “great”, and its writers are always, by definition, “beginners”, or amateurs. Do you think Bellow would’ve been writing Dragon Age fanfic? Hemingway? Nabokov? The OP waltzes into the thread thinking getting some of his bedroom scribblings up on a blog or fanfic repository or whatever constitutes actual literary experience (with concomitant qualifications and authority), when this is laughably not the case.

      Everyone thinks they’re a writer because they’re physically capable of putting pen to paper. Most of them shelve the delusion when they hit 30 and still haven’t been published by anyone.

      ffordesoon: Missed your reply. My intention wasn’t to “tear you down”; rather, I was simply suggesting you’re no better qualified than anyone in this comments thread to judge Gaider’s work. At any rate, if you do have genuine talent, you could likely put it to better use than by writing fan fiction. And actually make some money out of it.

    • Chris D says:

      You don’t have to be published to be a writer. But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of best selling author and president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, John Scalzi.

      link to

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      To be honest, Gira, you just come across as entirely deluded over the level of your own critical faculties. There’s no insight and a lot of vacuous rhetoric. Gaider’s advice is basic*, but you offer nothing to this thread other than a sneer and a wiff of your A-level course notes.


      *Which I’m sure he’d admit. The blogpost is written with that in mind.

    • Gira says:

      I have absolutely no delusions at all about my critical faculties, and despite having worked in that capacity for some time, have no formal qualifications in the area, as you so blithely suggested. My central point, as has been reiterated now, is that writing fanfic gives one no special abilities vis a vis recognising Gaider’s utter incompetence as a writer.

      His advice wasn’t “basic” – in fact, it could very well be construed as dangerously misleading. I appreciate the reservations about floral prose, and would certainly take them to heart if it were, say, Cormac McCarthy writing the blog entry, but coming from Gaider it just stinks of self-justification for his own inability to exploit nuances of the language. And at any rate, it’s not advice for advice’s sake – the guy is positioning himself as an authority on the matter, and everyone here is more than justified in addressing why he might not actually be deserving of such a role.

      Given the evidence available to us, I mean.

    • QualityJeverage says:


      Describing me (Or anyone, really) as a “philistine” in any kind of seriousness just damns you further. It’s a very loaded word, and one that I really don’t think can be used anymore by anyone who wants to be taken seriously. As soon as you start throwing that around, you’ve labelled yourself the kind of elitist that society really doesn’t have a place for anymore.

      Someone can be a writer without being a good writer, or even a competent one. The only qualifier is that they write. Everything beyond that is left to your opinion. Once you begin to suggest that your opinion is in any way factual or indisputable (Especially when you claim to be “better qualified*”) then *bam*. You’re now the classic “institution” that will stifle and ridicule whichever artworks defy your status quo, you’re no longer worthy of any attention.

      You are being a pretentious lit snob. I think that’s a wholly accurate description of your behaviour right now. I would never devalue the work of the great authors you name, but nor do I think that their work is the only work worthy of attention. Art can come from anywhere, from anyone. Dismissing fan fiction as you do, not on the merits of any particular work but simply on the genre itself, is probably the most thoughtless and suffocating crime that a person can commit towards any form of art. Second only, perhaps, to outright censorship. It’s the worst kind of deliberate, self-important ignorance.

      To address your more specific point, when did the OP ever claim to have “actual literary experience?” He has experience writing and reading fan fiction. So he is qualified to talk about Gaider’s blogpost which, itself, is about writing and reading fan fiction.

      * On a reading of my post, I feel this “better qualified” statement is worthy of a little elaboration. Certainly, the study of literature is a noble endeavour and I have only respect for those who follow it and love it. What I have a problem with is a lack of humility. When those who study the art begin to feel that their tastes and opinions are more valuable than others, and that they are justified in telling other people they’re “wrong” for liking or disliking a given artwork.

    • Gira says:

      Precisely: Gaider is talking to young amateur writers about how to improve their craft. That is exactly, unambiguously, what he is doing. And I’m merely suggesting that perhaps those young writers should stand on the shoulders of giants, not spiteful little talentless hobgoblins like David “Fenris partially solidified his fist” Gaider.

      I mean, really. Gaider’s writing honestly warrants no defence – not even from an asshole like me.

    • ffordesoon says:


      For the record, I’ve read many well-regarded authors’ advice on writing, including some people you would presumably consider “giants”. Very few of them fail to mention the same tips Gaider dishes out. He could very well be a cancerous tumor on the backside of literature, but that doesn’t change the fact that his advice is sound. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, if I may deploy a cliche.

      Oh, and I’ve also read many well-regarded works of literature for pleasure, a few works by some of your “giants” among them. I don’t usually throw that in people’s faces, though, because I find that leads nowhere interesting.

      That being said, I don’t think I’m being too petty if I point out that I can think of at least one fanfic author who might make your list of “giants” – and this is a guy who used a self-insert author avatar and wrote about how he met all his heroes and they were super-duper nice to him and the one he liked most of all was totes his BFF and OMG he even totally gets the girl at the end!

      I speak, of course, of The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri.

  34. Betamax says:

    Oh look, someone attempting to give some helpful advice on the internet: get the pitchforks and flaming torches folks! Seriously, you guys.

    Even if you insist on tarring Dragon Age 2’s story with it’s the same brush as the areas it more obviously failed, then I seem to remember a few other games he has been involved with being well regarded (Origins, KotOR etc). And the tips he has given are fairly basic on the whole and done purely to help out some aspiring writers. Something you do not need to be a published writer to write a blog about, yet I don’t see anyone else doing it.

    Plus the logic that dictates that you don’t need to be knowledgeable in the same field to pan someone kinda backfires when you realise that it basically means he doesn’t need to be a Booker Prize winning star to give some fanfiction tips on an internet blog.

  35. nootpingu86 says:

    *Wesley Willis keyboard intro*

    Gaider was a waiter and bellhop that was in one of the Doctors at Bioware’s D&D-by-mail group.

    They thought it would be a good idea to hire him since he was opinionated and could crank out bad prose like no one’s business. He also liked video games.

    by 2003 Gaider was crankin that bad writing out like a boss. No one could stop him. He wrote Star Wars, Mass Effect, a bunch of novels no one bought

    He was finally working for video games

    DAaaaavid Gaaaiiiider x 3

    One day on the Bioware forums, an angry fan told him Dragon Age 2 was a bad game. He was not nice about it. Gaider decided to leave it alone. He is now finishing Mass Effect 3.

    DAaaaavid Gaaaiiiider x 3

    *Wesley Willis keyboard outro*

  36. Lakshmi says:

    People seem to have missed that this feedback came about because Bioware opened up a competition to encourage their fans who are writers. I often see artwork lauded on their facebook page (or on other games facebook pages), so it’s nice to see writers getting recognition.

    Not all fanfiction is utter bollocks (though I’m sure most agree a lot is), and when people like Joss Whedon talk about The Avengers being his attempt at fanfiction, surely the skill to play in other peoples sandboxes isn’t always a bad thing.

  37. urizen says:

    Read most of the comments…

    Most saying that Gaider is a bad writer but gave good basic advices. I don’t know Gaider’s writing appart from games. I don’t think it’s the “place where bad writers come to die”, and he wrote novels in the settings he created, good for him.
    I don’t think “fanfic” (as everyone calls this stuff) is bad, never read it, but they’re writers, and I guess some may prove worthy of attention in the future.

    What I say is Gaider’s advices are awful. Those are just wrong :
    1) Don’t be descriptive in the first chapter
    3) Spare your words
    5) The twist

    1) It’s obvious, i can’t count the number of great books with at least a hundred descriptive pages at the beggining… It has more to do with the scale advice (tip number 4 I guess) : if it fits the scale, it’s good.

    3) It’s higly arguable. American litterature tend to spare words. John Fante is doing great at it, as others. John Kennedy Tool, one of the greatest american autor in my opinion, is closer to new brittish litterature, wich do that less : Will self, Robert McLiam Wilson (Irish) and so on. French writers also tend to use more words, longer, heavier sentences. With some exceptions : Celine is one of my favorite writer, and he did not only spare words (in a way), he also abandonned grammar. Great stuff.
    But yes, i can get how it can be an helpful tip (“don’t be too heavy”). But it’s like playing go : some players play lightly, some more heavily, depending on their style. Both works.

    5) This is totally wrong. “Do the unexpected, do the twist”? Doing the unexpected in todays litterature would be “don’t do the twist”. And it worked, and works.
    This is the worst “writing tip” I’ve ever read. Not even a writing tip actually. Apply it to a screenplay, fine (still not mandatory), but please, don’t apply this as a general rule in litterature, even in short novels (where it works better as a rule I admit, but as a “chute” – final twist, don’t know how to translate this).

    These three advices sums up what is wrong in today’s litterature…

    PS : Sorry for the cheezy english writing, not a native speaker but doing my best.

  38. Very Real Talker says:

    I got attacked in the past for saying this, but the whole focus on romances is laughable, and speaks volumes of what their intended market segment is- ie not anyone with fully developed testicles