Visualization as a Narrative designer's tool

Visualization is an important tool in the hands of a narrative designer. With its help, you can quickly convey the idea to both the user and fellow developers. How to work with this tool — says HSE lecturer, writer and game screenwriter Sergey Chekmaev.

Sergey ChekmaevThe material was prepared based on the lecture “StandUp Show for novice screenwriters of infancy”.

Text is the basis of everything

I will start with the fact that behind any scenario, plot and narrative there is initially a text.

Someone will definitely say: “There is nothing easier than writing a text.”

Believe me, such a formulation is blasphemous for many text workers, provoking a desire to go throw yourself under a train.

The right idea should sound like this:

“There is nothing easier than writing some text.”
That is, a text in which vaguely familiar letters will be present, arranged in some arbitrary order, which, in turn, forms some vague message.

It’s really easy.

However, if we are talking about the text of the script, whether it is the script of a movie, a game, an interactive graphic novel or even a board game, then it should not be done “somehow”.

The fact is that the worse the text is made, the harder it is to reformat it into a product for the end user in the future.

Here, let’s stop for a second on what a bad text is. This is the one that:

  • poorly written;
  • heavily structured;
  • with “cardboard” characters;
  • with the obvious absence of at least some plot twists (or with the presence of completely banal);
  • with a poorly designed universe.

You can’t build plot arches, laconic dialogues and script inserts on the engine from a bad text. In general, everything without which it is impossible to imagine a game with a plot.

To give the team a bad text means to condemn it to double work. She will not only have to do her job, but fill in the numerous gaps left by a negligent screenwriter.

So let’s go back to the initial thesis:

“Text is the basis of everything.” 
And you need to be able to do this text!

It’s not about literacy (however, it won’t hurt either). Including, for example, it is necessary to be able to create living characters, clearly think through their arches, not to “lose” and not forget about their development in the course of history. Especially in our time, when the creation of a game can take 4-5 years (it often happens when developers start a project with one screenwriter, and finish with others).

Visualization is the main tool of a narrative designer

If a screenwriter should be able to write a text, prescribe well-developed living characters within it, develop their storylines, close story arcs, then the task of a narrative designer is completely different. He tells the story prescribed by the screenwriter using the tools that the game allows him. In other words, it visualizes it.

That is why it is very important to distinguish a screenwriter from a narrative designer. These are two completely different professions (you can read more about the difference between these specialists here. — Ed.).

The text for which the screenwriter is responsible is primary, as we discussed a little above, but by itself it has not solved anything in games for a long time (and not only in them).


People today are used to the fact that history is revealed through the demonstration of events. One of the main techniques of writing in a screenwriter is called:

“Show, don’t tell” — “Show, don’t tell”.
It is believed that it goes back to Anton Chekhov, who wrote:

“Don‘t tell me about the moonlight; rather show me how the moonlight flickers in a cracked glass.” In the middle of the last century, it became one of the key elements of the Anglo-Saxon narrative theory.

Today it is used everywhere.

For example, the conflict is not discussed, it is shown, including through an exchange of replicas, as, for example, it was in the recent “Squid Game“, where almost in the first scene it becomes clear the extent of the fall of the main character, reproaching an elderly mother that she does not give money. A little further on, it is shown how the amount given to him for a gift to his daughter, he spends on horse racing.

Important: there is no narrator in the series who tells about the fate of the main character or characters who explain the disposition in detail (exceptions are the rules of the games). Instead, the viewer is shown the actions of the characters in specific conditions. Based on their reaction, they, and at the same time the world of the work, is revealed.

As for the narrative designer, when telling a story, he just becomes the notorious narrator who uses all the tools provided to him by the game: from graphics and animation to music and color effects.

Visualization — as a tool of working communication

Visualization is important not only as a way of presenting the story to the end user. It also helps with workflows.

We are all clip—conscious people. We watch a huge number of movies, TV series, commercials, small clips and cuts, plots. We all play games. Thus, we have already worked out visual perception, which, among other things, is not ready to perceive the sheets of text.

Therefore, a hastily sketched plot plan will sometimes give much more for a quick understanding of the story than a couple of ingenious pages typed in small font.

Moreover, it allows the author himself to navigate it better, to find weak places faster or those that require more effort. This brings us to the thesis:

“Visualization tells you how to work.”
For example, can answer the question, how does the script affect the player?

We haven’t thought through the whole plot yet, we don’t know what the setting will be in the game, we’re lost even with the genre. But, after taking an appraising look at the scheme and roughly figuring out what each reference point in it demonstrates, we can already say something about the game or its specific stage.

For example, let’s take such a scene diagram:

We see that:

  • blue and orange blocks are dialog phrases;orange blocks change to blue blocks when the characters interact with each other;
  • the dialog blocks in the diagram are much more than half.

From all this, you can quickly conclude, without going into details, that a particular scene is based on dialogues.

It is not necessary to prescribe such schemes. It can be simpler.

For example, one of the best visualization tools in the work is a scenario board. When creating games, programs such as Figma or Figma are usually used for visualization instead of it. . A very useful tool in the work, if we are talking about a large-scale game with a huge number of levels, the appearance of new characters, or a visual novel with various episodes, with whole seasons, etc.

When 10-15 people write the same project together, it’s very easy to lose its storyline or, for example, forget a character. Documents with good visualization of the picture help to avoid such incidents.

What should a novice narrative designer read?

The big problem with game narratives and screenwriting is that games are a fairly young type of media, unlike the same cinema, not to mention literature. The games have almost no well-known, 100% proven mechanics. Also, the gaming industry tends to change rapidly: new genres, fresh solutions and tasks appear every now and then. All this is glued and layered together, and it is quite difficult to write a single answer book for everyone.

To begin with, you need to gain some baggage, first of all, classical screenwriting, which is no longer very applicable to our time. The twists and plot solutions present in the books have long been known to everyone, but as basic knowledge and skills, all these elements are simply necessary.


  • Robert McKee — “The Million Dollar Story“;
  • Blake Snyder — “Save the Cat! Everything you need to know about the script“;
  • Vladimir Propp — “Morphology of a fairy tale“;
  • In December 2021, the book “I want to go to Gamedev! Fundamentals of Game Development for Beginners” from leading experts of the gaming industry and teachers of the Higher School of Business of the Higher School of Economics.
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