Story Design Tips: Top 5 Timing Mistakes
by Guy Hasson
In the last three Story Design Tips columns, we talked about the three basic rules of timing when coming to design a plot for your game. We talked about how timing controls every little event in your plot, not just the big events. We talked about how to make sure that anything with any importance happen in a way that fits the laws of timing. We talked about how the laws mean changing not only the time in which something happens, but the emotional place of a character the positioning of characters next to each other, etc.
The laws of timing all answer the question: When does something happen? The three absolute answers were: At the very last minute, at the worst possible time, or at the most unexpected time.
Now we’re going to cover the 5 basic mistakes most story designers make when planning the timing of their plots:
5 Timing Don’ts
When does something happen?
1. A little bit after the last important event.
This ‘little bit’ is a black hole in which nothing happens. Instead, plan for you next event and make sure that something interesting leads up to it. Otherwise, your story will get sucked into the black hole of bad timing.
2. At some point later.
Black hole again. What happens in-between?
3. After the character gets to rest from the last event.
Good timing events can also happen during a respite. If nothing happens in the middle, nothing happens in your story.
4. When the player is ready for it.
When the player is ready for one thing, you have to do something that falls into the 3 laws of timing. If you do the expected, the known, you miss an opportunity and your plot is less interesting.
5. When the character gets information/a twist/a surprise without paying for it.
Any information, any twist, any surprise, be it a small or a large one, needs to come with a timing dividend. If the player just gets the info, the surprise, or experiences a twist and continues the game as if nothing much has happened, you did something wrong. The timing rules make sure you eke out ‘effect on the player’ from any new piece of information, any twist, and any surprise.
These are the most basic mistakes, too often repeated by amateurs and professionals, simply because ‘later’ seems a reasonable thing to insert into a story, or because the designers didn’t think that any piece of plot information in the plot requires some kind of effect.
If something happens and it isn’t surprising or unexpected or done at the worst time for the player or at least one of the characters, you did something wrong. I mean every piece of of information a character gets, any news, any changes, any discoveries, any twists must come at one of these three junctions.（Source：gamasutra）