The Artifice https://the-artifice.com www.the-artifice.com Mon, 28 Sep 2020 12:16:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Batman: The Telltale Series Was An Intriguing and Ambitious Take On Gotham City https://the-artifice.com/batman-telltale/ https://the-artifice.com/batman-telltale/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2020 12:16:34 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/?p=139375

With Matt Reeves’s new Batman film on the horizon (starring Robert Pattinson), it is a perfect time to revisit previous versions of Bruce Wayne and Gotham City. While many versions of the characters are revered, like Christopher Nolan’s Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises), the version of Bruce Wayne and Gotham City seen in Batman: The Telltale Series has gone completely under the radar of many fans and critics. Batman: The Telltale Series is an episodic video game series with its root in point and click adventures. The series was released in episodic form from 2016-2018, with 2 seasons that consisted of 5 episodes each season.

Unlike the combat heavy action Batman: Arkham video games, Batman: The Telltale Series involves simple input movements and quick time events for detective work and combat sequences. Additionally, Telltale’s series is firmly based in dialogue options and choice systems, where players have the ability to make decisions about what Bruce Wayne says and how he acts as Batman. Both seasons of the Telltale series allow the player to create their own version of Batman, complete with their own distinct moral code. The choices made by the player can alter the narrative, changing the relationships between key characters.

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Perhaps due to the controversies surrounding Telltale Studios including “nonstop crunch culture, toxic management, and frustration from developers” which helped lead to the studio’s closure in 2018, the two seasons of Telltale’s game have generally been overlooked by many Batman fans (Farokhmanesh). This is disappointing as this distinct take on Batman is extremely intriguing and holds many qualities that future films and television shows could look to as an inspiration. While Telltale’s series included many classic characters like Commissioner Gordan, Harvey Dent, Harley Quinn, The Riddler and The Joker, the writers at Telltale made ambitious changes to the Batman mythology that helps the series stand out. These are four reasons that Batman: The Telltale Series was an intriguing and ambitious version of Gotham City.

This article contains spoilers for Batman: The Telltale Series.


The Telltale Series Made Bruce Wayne and Batman Equally Important

One way that Batman: The Telltale Series distinguishes itself from many other Batman films and video games is the developer’s effort to put equal focus on Bruce Wayne and Batman (voiced in both seasons by the excellent Troy Baker). The duality between Bruce Wayne and Batman is something that many films and video games struggle to balance. In particular, the Batman: Arkham games have very little focus on Bruce Wayne’s civilian identity, opting to focus almost exclusively on Bruce’s exploits within the Batsuit. In a review for Polygon, Susana Polo asserted that the balance between Bruce and Batman present a “tantalizing potential of a very different, story-first experience”. Both seasons of Telltale’s series give the player time to inhabit Bruce’s role as a business leader and public figure, along with his role as the caped crusader.

In the first season, Telltale focuses the story on the legacies of Thomas Wayne and Wayne Enterprise within Gotham City. Because of this, Bruce Wayne’s public identity is a critical part of the narrative. The relationship that Bruce has with key characters are also shaped by Bruce’s public and private life. Telltale made the decision to make Oswald Cobblepot a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, which puts Bruce firmly in the cross hairs of a conspiracy to take Wayne Enterprises and leads to shocking revelations that force Bruce to question his own mission. Additionally, the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent is a key element of the narrative. As a key financial backer of Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign, Bruce must navigate his support for Harvey amidst ugly PR scandals and shifting public opinion.

Furthermore, the first seasons gives the player several situations where they can choose to appeal to individuals as either Bruce Wayne or Batman. For example, the player can meet the corrupt Mayor Henry Hill as Batman or Bruce Wayne. While Batman can physically intimidate Mayor Hill into giving him information, it will hurt his standing with Gordon and the police department, who frown on the crude intimidation tactics. In contrast, Bruce Wayne can appeal to Hill with his wealth and influence, but Mayor Hills wants Bruce to stop funding Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign in return for the information. Though it is not always perfectly executed, Telltale works had to demonstrate that both identities have upsides and downsides, which must be weighed and balanced thoughtfully.

The second season of Batman: The Telltale Series, known as “The Enemy Within” takes this concept a step further by forcing Bruce Wayne to go undercover in the criminal underworld, without the protection and anonymity of the Batsuit. In the final moments of the first episode, dubious government agent Amanda Waller reveals she is aware of Batman’s secret identity. and uses it to blackmail him. Waller forces Bruce to go undercover as a corrupt version of himself, working to gain the trust of enemies like Harley Quinn, Bane, and Mr. Freeze. This change to the usual Batman mythology disrupts the comfortable protection that the Batman persona usually provides Bruce. By forcing Bruce Wayne into the action, Telltale made Bruce’s gameplay segments incredibly tense, as Bruce has to balance maintaining his dangerous cover while also working to minimize casualties of the villains’ destructive urges.

The Telltale Series Demonstrates That A Fallible Batman Is More Engaging Than An Invincible One

Throughout Batman’s eighty year history, portrayals of the character have often moved back and forth on a sliding scale of vulnerability and infallible. Some version of Batman are known for planning dozen contingencies and back up plans and for displays of almost super human level of preparation. In contrast, other comics and films depict a more fallible protagonist, one who struggles with morally nuanced decisions and complex detective work. Telltale’s Batman falls firmly into the second camp; a decision that helps define the complicated identity of its hero and its darker, more mature narrative.

Batman: The Telltale Series illustrates that Batman is often at his most engaging when he is forced to confront difficult, morally gray choices. In different segments of gameplay, the player may make choices that have unforeseen consequences later in the story. As Eric Kain points out in a Forbes.com review, many of the choice that the player makes as Batman relate to deciding “how violent your actions will be”. This fits perfectly into Telltale’s decision to create a more fallible hero. The series, which was rated Mature, is unafraid to depict more realistic blood and violence, something that many Batman films and video games have struggled with in the past. The player can decide to craft a grim Batman, one who brutalizes his enemies and rebuff the support of characters like Jim Gordan, Harvey Dent, and Catwoman. In contrast, the player can choose to tempered Batman’s violence to become a symbol of hope in Gotham, one that receives the benefit of doubt from the police and other allies.

Season 2 continued to present difficult moral choices for Bruce Wayne/Batman. In Episode 1, The Riddler forces into a no win situation where Batman must make choices about safety of two groups of hostages. In this case, Batman is forced to choose between killing three government agents trapped in death traps against the slow torture of another agent by sonic blasts. It’s a harrowing sequence with no clear right answer, with both groups of agents pleading for the caped crusader to sacrifice them so their colleague will be safe. Riddler’s cruel conundrum is a dark crisis that demonstrate how difficult it can be to don the mantle of Batman.

Another key instance of Telltale depicting a fallible Bruce Wayne involves the undercover sequences with The Pact (Harley Quinn, Bane, and Mr, Freeze) in season 2. In certain situations, Bruce can defect attention about his suspicious activities to other characters, but these actions will often have consequences for those characters. The most significant example involves Bruce and Selena Kyle/Catwoman. In a tense moment that precedes a key assault on a secret medical lab, Bruce can admit to being the mole within Harley’s organization or he can stand silent as The Pact accuses Catwoman of treachery. If Bruce admits his role, he will jeopardize his role the larger mission to protect Gotham. In contrast, many players choose to have Bruce engage in a romantic relationship with Catwoman, so jeopardizing her safety is something many players are unwilling to do. If Bruce admits to being the mole, an entire section of gameplay will be skipped, with Bruce being incapacitated during the first part of Harley Quinn’s violent heist of a virus. If he is part of the team, he can minimize casualties and leave less of a bloodbath.

The Series Had Refreshing Takes On Classic Characters And Introduced An Ambitious New Villain

Batman: The Telltale Series includes several iconic villain across its two seasons. Despite the familiar nature of these villains, the writers and designers at Telltale often shake up the established mythology around these villains. In Season 1, the pudgy crime lord Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) is re-imagined as a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne who returns to Gotham looking for restitution and revenge. Mob boss Carmine Falcone maintained a fairly traditional role, until the revelation that he controlled the city’s crime underworld with Thomas Wayne’s support. Harvey Dent/Two Face plays key role as a longtime friend and ally for Bruce Wayne and then as an enemy. Despite, the traditional implementation of Harvey Dent, Susana Polo of Polygon asserts that conclusion of Bruce and Harvey’s story is as “moving as some of the best versions of Two-Face’s origin story out there”.

Season 1’s brand new villain, Lady Arkham (a character created for Batman: The Telltale Series) is a huge highlight of season 1. The character, whose identity is revealed in a stunning plot twist, serves as a clear foil to both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Lady Arkham was also praised for her character traits and design because she is a female character whose “sexual and romantic appeal to Batman (or one of his top rogues) is not her primary character attribute” (Polo). Twisted by her childhood traumas and Gotham’s corruption, Lady Arkham believes she is doing what is necessary to purge Gotham of corruption. She serves as a complete and nuanced antagonist for Bruce Wayne, engaging with both forms of his identity.

Season 2 includes a large rogues gallery of familiar foes with unfamiliar attributes. The Telltale version of Harley Quinn is one of the notable characters to receive changes to her origins story and identity. While some versions of Harley Quinn are slavishly obsessed with The Joker, The Telltale Harley Quinn spends much of the second season manipulating John Doe/the Joker and other villain like Bane and Mr. Freeze. Additionally, in this version of Gotham City, Harley Quinn is a fully formed character prior to the birth of the Joker, which grants her more autonomy and a clearer identity than some comics versions.

The Riddler was another character who Telltale made ambitious changes to. The brilliant villain was given a savage redesign that represented one of the cruelest versions of the character ever seen. Tortured and experimented on by “The Agency”, a black ops government agency, Telltale’s Riddler is a savage foe who is accustomed to violence and cruelty. Armed with clever death machines, Riddler returns to Gotham to destroy his enemies and punish the Agency. His conflicts with Batman involves tests of morality, culminating with a trial that forces Batman to balance the lives of three caged agents against the life of their colleague Iman Avesta (which was previously discussed in Section 2 of this article).

Lastly, John Doe, the man who becomes the Joker, plays an intruiging role in both Season 1 and 2. First revealed in Episode of 4 of Season 1 in a mostly standalone arc, the character gained prominence in season 2. The precarious and often twisted relationship between Bruce and John plays a huge role in defining the narrative of Season 2. Bruce can choose to support and encourage John, or rebuff and deny him. There is a precarious balance between helping John and manipulating him to achieve Bruce’s goals. The decisions made by the player with John Doe can lead to the character to being Bruce’s greatest enemy or a confused vigilante who worships Batman. Regardless of who John Doe becomes, the emotional connection between Bruce and John added an intriguing wrinkle to the Batman/Joker dynamic, potentially making Bruce intimately responsible for the creation of his ultimate nemesis.

Both Seasons of Batman Telltale Balance Multiple Enemies Well

Another excellent quality of Batman: The Telltale Series is the way the each season balances multiple villains over the course of its runtime. Telltale’s narrative structure and progression demonstrates the multiple villains can work if they are implemented clearly and carefully. The choice to use multiple villains makes the Telltale series feel more like a comic than a film. Some the best Batman comics deal with multiple villains such as Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Hush.

In Season 1, Oswald Cobblepot, Lady Arkham and Two Face all play key roles as villains within the series. The overarching narrative works well because Lady Arkham serves as the puppet master, pulling The Penguins strings throughout the story. These two foes are key villains that Batman must confront throughout the story. In contrast, Two Face serves as a key antagonist that Bruce must confront without his cape and cowl and Harvey serves as a rival to the other villains. The rich cast of characters helps to flesh out world of Gotham and each villain fits into a certain aspect of Bruce’s dual personalities.

While Season 2’s arc is less refined and more messy than season 1’s story line, it still functions fairly well despite its large cast. The Riddler serves as the introductory villain before his sudden death in Episode 1, he is acts as a teaser villain that sets up much of the action in Episode 2. In Episode 2 and 3, Harley Quinn plays the role of puppet master, manipulating Bane, Mr. Freeze, and John Doe as her plan progresses. Only near the end of the season, does John Doe/The Joker become the central and most significant villain.

The mix of villains is a great way to keep the story fresh and exciting as fans of Batman will be eager to see how classic villains are interpreted in this version of Gotham. In a review for IGN.com, Alanah Pearce asserted that the series benefits from having ” a constantly evolving, largely unpredictable story”. Telltale cleverly spaces out the introductions of villains, with the first episode usually only focusing on one key villain, who serves as a kind of introductory foe. As each season’s story progresses into Episode Two and beyond, more villains are added to the mix, complicating the story lines. This approach is a simple way to ground the player in Batman’s world without overwhelming the player with too many characters in the first episode of each season.


Batman: The Telltale Series provides an unique take on the Batman mythology. Telltale’s story focused approach created a game that was distinct from previous iterations of the character. While the game’s pacing, overall game design and gameplay are not perfect, it is well worth the player’s time to experience the excellent narratives that unfold in both seasons.

In terms of a future for Batman: The Telltale Series, it seems that a Season 3 is highly unlikely. While LCG Entertainment purchased Telltale in 2019 including the “studio’s key assets, trademarks, technology, and select intellectual properties”, it is unlikely that a direct follow up will be created (Takahashi). According to Dean Takahashi from Venture Beat, the immediate future of Telltale will likely relate with “rereleasing some of the games from the studio’s back catalog”. This is a disappointment for those who finished Season 2 because it was an excellent ending that proves to be emotional and dramatic, while also leaving room for a follow up. Fans of the series will likely be left wondering what direction a potential season 3 could have taken, without ever receiving a satisfying answer.

Regardless of the future of Telltale, Batman: The Telltale Series stands one of the most intriguing and ambitious versions of Gotham City across films, games, and television. Telltale honors much of the established Batman mythology but also brought its own ideas to the world of Gotham. The gritty, mature design and storytelling create a world full of fascinating character that Batman fans will love to inhabit, ally with, and battle against.

Work Cited

Farokhmanesh, Megan. “The Tragic End of Telltale Games.” The Verge, The Verge, 4 Oct. 2018, www.theverge.com/2018/10/4/17934166/telltale-games-studio-closed-layoffs-end-the-walking-dead.

Kain, Erik. “’Batman’ Review: Telltale Spins A Provocative New Story.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Aug. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/games/2016/08/06/batman-review-telltale-spins-a-provocative-new-story/#2bb2770d34d5.

Pearce, Alanah. “Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 5: City of Light Review.” IGN, www.ign.com/articles/2016/12/13/batman-the-telltale-series-episode-5-city-of-light-review.

Polo, Susana. “Batman: The Telltale Series Review.” Polygon, 2 Aug. 2016, www.polygon.com/2016/8/2/12347266/batman-the-telltale-series-review-pc-ps4-xbox-one.

Takahashi, Dean. “LCG Entertainment Game Veterans Buy Telltale Games.” VentureBeat, VentureBeat, 28 Aug. 2019, venturebeat.com/2019/08/28/lcg-entertainment-game-veterans-buy-telltale-games/.

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How Will Microsoft’s Purchase of Bethesda/ZeniMax Affect The Upcoming Launch of the New Xbox Consoles https://the-artifice.com/how-will-microsofts-purchase-of-bethesda-zenimax-affect-the-upcoming-launch-of-the-new-xbox-consoles/ https://the-artifice.com/how-will-microsofts-purchase-of-bethesda-zenimax-affect-the-upcoming-launch-of-the-new-xbox-consoles/#respond Sat, 26 Sep 2020 00:46:56 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/how-will-microsofts-purchase-of-bethesda-zenimax-affect-the-upcoming-launch-of-the-new-xbox-consoles/ On September 21st 2020, Microsoft purchase Bethesda Softworks and its parent company ZeniMax Media in a massive $7.5 billion dollar deal that has the potential to reshape the video game landscape. Due to the massive deal, Microsoft now owns acclaimed game studios like Arkane Studios (Dishonored), ID Software (Doom), Machine Games (Wolfenstein) and Bethesda Studios (Elder Scrolls and Fallout), all of which create multiplatform games that regularly release to critical and commercial acclaim. Microsoft and Xbox have been criticized for its lack of first party games (in comparison to its competitors Nintendo and Sony) but the purchase of Bethesda and its parent company could rewrite this narrative and push more consumers toward the Xbox platform. Will the massive purchase help Microsoft sell its new Xbox consoles this fall?

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Stronger only when you fall? https://the-artifice.com/stronger-only-when-you-fall/ https://the-artifice.com/stronger-only-when-you-fall/#respond Fri, 25 Sep 2020 15:31:22 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/stronger-only-when-you-fall/ I have always seen movies or read books about where protagonists become strong when they fall down or get their heartbroken. But does it have to be that way? it may be possible that characters can never heal from what affected them negatively, but they can become strong from the other things that hurt them.

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The Pillars of Outstanding Stories https://the-artifice.com/outstanding-stories/ https://the-artifice.com/outstanding-stories/#comments Fri, 25 Sep 2020 10:44:03 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/?p=142939 Ever since paintings of human endeavors first graced caves in Sulawesi and France, humans gradually leveraged their inner selves. They used their observations of the world to reach out to and share themselves with others. In other words, to make sense of what happens to and around them.

It may be to entertain, or to relay themes of human virtue and/or vice via creative thinking and personal experiences. Whatever the case, telling stories helped people breed their curiosity for the universe over time.

As humans grew more complex, the make-up of stories evolved and took on varying forms of narrative wisdom. Examples include David Corbett’s exploration of character via The Art of Character. Plus, Donald Maass’s breaking down of story moods with The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

A friendly reception at the Castle In The Sky (1986).

Stories also evolved to reflect the times. Titles ranging from Othello (1603) and its take on jealousy, to Bruce Holsinger’s The Gifted School (2019) and its critique of privilege. The body of works sharing the author’s imagination and worldview has grown alongside human communication worldwide.

Whether they feature in films, books, games, or TV series, good stories do more than just connect goings-on. Tales add meaning to whatever happens on the page or screen, and (d)escalate the drama at the right moment. They even educate the audience should they dive deeper into the narrative.

Which is where great tales come in. Tales that go beyond what good ones achieve. Mainly by considering every part of the storytelling package and augmenting them while binding the lot together. All in the name of depicting not just a string of interesting events, but one with thematic purpose.

A purpose that lurks beneath the entire narrative surface.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) at the helm… and handles.

How (well) said purpose hangs over storytelling pillars is a balancing act the writer must break a leg for.

This article seeks to break down and expand the five pillars that carry a tale by working together to beget something greater than the sum of its parts. Each pillar shall be presented with an example of a work that succeeds in its respective department. Honorable mentions shall also be included.


Characters Whose Depth, Quirks, And/Or Chemistry Engage Audiences

One of the foremost storytelling aspects is the crafting of characters. Through their words and deeds, they relay the story’s core message. They also keep the audience engaged with quirks and interpersonal dealings.

Factoring in the tale’s scale and scope, the author can play with the depth and breadth of their story’s cast to test the power dynamics in said cast. To see how much room the narrative has for the level of characterization and depth each personality embodies. Success can beget memorable (inter)actions without bogging down or rushing the pacing.

Discworld (1983-2015) is a swell (not just in size) example. Via its locales, events, and themes, the series yields figures that honor the tales’ comedic bent and provide enough depth to generate momentum.

Discworld‘s foremost primary/secondary characters

The entrepreneurial stubbornness of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. The mix of the gentle and hard-hitting in Captain Carrot. The foul-mouthed zeal of god-turned-tasty-tortoise Om. Discworld‘s mad lads ‘n lasses fuse their physical and mental facets with the series’ tone and themes to create a unique realm of fiction. One that puts a smile on readers’ faces and also gives them food for thought.

Chalk it up to the way in which Terry Pratchett conveys social commentary while “seamlessly [integrating] light talk within a dramatic context.” 1 Even Death can draw a laugh out of readers, if not a life.

Characters can act as both narrative agents in service of theme and as entertaining vessels on which the audience may ride and have fun with. All with consideration given to the environment the cast inhabits and the chain of events that propel characters across said environment.

Fleshing out each personality (e.g. backstory, relationships, role in the world and story) before pitting them against one another can forge dialog and action that make sense for the character and their situation. This in turn enables the tale to leave an emotional impression on the audience.

The cast of The Maltese Falcon beholding the titular relic.

Other Examples: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (2016-7 anime series), Portal (2007 video game), The Maltese Falcon (1930 novel and 1941 film)

A Plot Whose Pacing Has Action And Downtime Balance One Another

Characters need room for bouts of challenge and rest on their quest for growth. So does the plot. The chain of events draws its thematic heft and engagement from how well (i.e. balanced) scenes are spread-out.

A plot—one embracing “expert use of pacing and loving attention to character” 2—follows some semblance of flow. It does so via internal and external conflict ensuring that the author will have their story’s stakes peak and dip at the right moment. All while attempting to surprise the audience with twists and turns backed up by foreshadowing.

Case in point? The video game Get Even (2017). With a “whodunit” premise and an Inception-like plot (and VR) device, Get Even‘s chain of events serves less as a, well, chain and more as a stairwell. One that has more steps added to it with the uptick in clues and distrust between ex-merc Cole Black and probing doctor Robert Ramsey.

Robert Ramsey and his family sharing a moment in Get Even.

As the game builds up to the breaking down of the Ramsey-Black relationship and the pre-climactic twist, the uncovering of evidence and sharing of foreshadowing quicken past plot points. The situation weighs increasingly upon the characters before everything comes crashing at the whodunit’s moment of truth.

This results in a climax that tests the player avatar’s strengths and weaknesses (exposed via character development). It also begets a payoff that matches the raised stakes and weightiness of the story’s theme of subjective denial vs. ruthless fact-finding. All amidst “concepts of human identity, love, and [one’s] responsibility to [their] fellow human beings.” 3

Like a rubberband one gradually pulls in opposite ways before it snaps back to the center, a story should respect the audience’s patience and intelligence. It should do so by saving thrills and character dynamism for big moments via understanding the kind of journey the cast must take to develop. In other words, how long and intense said journey should be.

By widening/narrowing the tale’s span and spacing out necessary plot beats for tweaking the stakes, the author can yield a plot with no corners cut. But one that also doesn’t outstay its welcome with regards to character growth, world-building, and suspense.

Abel and Donovan in Bridge of Spies.

Other Examples: Bridge of Spies (2015 film), The Thief of Always (1992 novel), Mystic River (2001 novel and 2003 film)

A World That Enthralls With Its Atmosphere And Reflection Of Reality

Plot and character may get the limelight when it comes to discussing storytelling (i.e. which one to prioritize, how to reconcile the two). But one may argue that setting also deserves a spot at the table. Particularly with regards to bringing out motifs and adding meaning to events and figures.

The story world can reflect the human condition and reality via its layout and inner workings. Ergo, the author can use this additional storytelling avenue to create conflict and circumstances. Situations that relay exposition, theme, and other tidbits about the world that flavor the backdrop and its commentary on humankind.

Enter Looking Glass Studios’ Thief series of video games (1998-2014). The faction wars between the technocratic Hammerites and nature-loving Pagans. Constantine’s loopy mansion and the opulent edifice of Angelwatch. No matter where one looks, the “City” offers a lived-in sense of history at every nook and cranny the anti-hero Garrett plunders. Further immersing the player into the story by “having them learn things they’re not supposed to.” 4

Garrett facing the Haunted Cathedral in Thief: The Dark Project (1998).

A testament to the efficacy of the open-ended map design and the population of maps with telling architecture, objects, and figures from all walks of life (and death). Thief‘s setting serves as more than just a playground that invites exploration and exploitation. It also acts as a stage for hosting the power struggles and personal hardships that Garrett witnesses.

Couple that with collectible documents that flesh out the characters and world, and one ends up with a rich universe within and beyond the levels. The game doesn’t “provide escape in its virtual spaces so much as a sense of curiosity mixed with eerie discomfort.” 5

Choosing the right spots for driving home the story’s theme and exercising restraint when dishing out lore ensures that the audience can be pulled into the fictional world. A feat achieved without leaving folks wanting or having them get bogged down by minutiae irrelevant to the tale or, if relevant, clumsily depicted.

As Jeff VanderMeer states, one is “creating a model of a world, putting only certain elements of that model into play.” 6 With that in mind and a hierarchy of foreground/background details, stories can yield places with their own personality. Places that challenge and help the characters on their journeys.

From the New World’s setting is one steeped in mystery.

Other Examples: Early Riser (2018 novel), From the New World (2012-3 anime series), The City & The City (2009 novel)

A Theme That Contextualizes Plot/Character/Place And Fuses Them

So what is the trifecta of plot, character, and theme conducive to? As mentioned before, a story is more than a collection of events and characters left to unfold and act. It’s a manifestation of the commentary the author relays via their work. Commentary stemming from a core theme.

The gap between the poor and rich, forbidden love, choosing between personal ambition and family… Themes can stem from the collective unconscious or from one’s personal philosophy. No matter the origin, they make or break a story’s lasting impression.

Identifying motifs and relaying them via the trifecta can craft cohesion that leaves no story pillar fragmented or diluted. With theme in hand, the author must ensure “every development and character are connected to this main narrative undertow.” 7

With Exhibit A being The Master & Margarita (1967) for its take on authoritarianism and its attempt to subdue the paranormal alien. All in light of “Soviet society breeding greed and cynicism despite its ideals.” 8 The urban jungle of Moscow, the hellish troupe of Woland, the Devil’s spring ball welcoming history’s darkest celebrities… They combine to serve the theme of embracing the unknown not just beyond oneself, but also within.

Koroviev, Azazello, and Behemoth from The Master & Margarita.

As the tale forges parallels between Moscow and Pontius Pilate’s Jerusalem, the book extends its theme through the ages to show said theme’s endurance. The novel thus reveals the core issue’s roots in the human condition and in the sociopolitics that swarm the individual. When one blends all this with Mikhail Bulgakov’s wry narration, they understand how the tale transcends the sum of its parts and time periods.

Like society itself, a story can be made more potent and efficient by having every facet come together. Theme is the glue that binds the lot. This is why the author should, from the get-go, pinpoint the right theme for their story. That done, they can plant its seeds for growth into the characters, events, and setting so that they may sprout out via conflict and drama.

Knowledge of the story’s medium and facets (e.g. cinematography in films, writing style in books, player agency in games) can make all the difference. A difference that helps bake the tale’s message into every building block, yielding sound commentary on the subject matter without being too overt.

Living the dream in Ratatouille.

Other Examples: American Beauty (1999 film), Ratatouille (2007 film), Blood Meridian (1985 novel)

A Sense Of Style That Adds Color And Flair To The Overall Narrative

And should the author further cement their work’s authenticity beyond plot, character, and setting bound by theme, they may go the extra mile. How? By imbuing said work with that special touch from exposure to past life experiences (which include the consumption of other artworks).

That special touch is style.

It can be via facets like a book’s narration type, a game’s virtual environment, or a film’s camera shots. Whatever the case, the author can use their medium’s components to embed into their work idiosyncrasies that reflect their outlook on life. This in turn impacts the author’s story approach, including the treatment of the characters and events.

With Moby-Dick (1851) making for a case of stylistic authorship through its encyclopedic take on whaling. The range of genres (e.g. “sermons, dreams, travel account, autobiography, Elizabethan plays, and epic poetry” 9) that color the prose. The structuring of chapters around the meeting of nine ships that amp up the dread ringing Moby Dick. Such examples of the ways in which Herman Melville sorts and drives his tale seem daunting at first.

Moby Dick strikes back before Ahab can do so.

But they serve a purpose. To draw the reader into the isolating atmosphere that molded Captain Ahab and his crew on their quest to slay the white beast. An atmosphere that, by the end of the 600-page journey, doesn’t so much wash over the characters and audience as it capsizes the lot.

As a metaphor for humankind’s lust for conquering the unknown, Moby-Dick pulls punches. But only in favor of dishing out its message head-on with Biblical and even Shakespearean force. An effect that wouldn’t resonate as much without the meticulous pacing crafted by the unpredictable prose.

Of all the facets that make up a story, style is the most experimental of the bunch. It reflects the author’s mindset with regards to the worldly experiences that impacted them. But like experiments—such as those done in a lab—things can go well or awry with every ingredient added and tweaked in quantity.

The author may have lots of options to play with. Examples include how they frame their film’s visuals (think Wes Anderson) or how they structure their book’s paragraphs (e.g. Kurt Vonnegut). But whatever they choose must fit the narrative’s specific needs for plot, character, and setting. Failure can lead to a muddled tale, while success can beget a story fetching in its content as well as in its delivery.

Contrasting the escapist with the dystopian in Brazil.

Other Examples: Brazil (1985 film), What Remains of Edith Finch (2017 video game), Lullaby (2002 novel)


As Tahir Shah proclaimed, stories are a communal currency of humanity. Such worth enables narratives to transcend their being strings of events in which characters (re)act and, if the author plays their cards right, grow.

Embracing a clear message. Molding personalities and happenings around said message. Such steps can weave a tale that provides thrills and/or a novel exploration of the human condition. Through the qualities detailed in this article, the author can realize their potential in as balanced and cohesive a fashion as the storytelling allows. All within the artistic limits the talent works against and draws creativity from.

An artistic tribute to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita. Artists: Alessandro Lecis and Alessandra Panzeri, Paris, France – 2020.

Works Cited

  1. James Scott Bell. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue : The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA, Compendium Press, 2014.
  2. Weiland, K M. Structuring Your Novel. Workbook : Hands-on Help for Building Strong and Successful Stories. Scottsbluff, NE, Penforasword Publishing, 2014.
  3. Gwaltney, Javy. “Get Even Review – A Thrilling Sci-Fi Adventure.” Game Informer, www.gameinformer.com/games/get_even/b/pc/archive/2017/06/27/a-thrilling-sci-fi-adventure.aspx.
  4. Macgregor, Jody. “Thief’s Brilliant Subtlety Is Still Unmatched 18 Years Later.” PC Gamer, PC Gamer, 13 Oct. 2016, www.pcgamer.com/thiefs-brilliant-subtlety-is-still-unmatched-18-years-later/.
  5. Ryerson, Liz. “A Stairway To The Unconscious - Thief: The Dark Project, 20 Years Later.” Medium, ZEAL, 1 Dec. 2018, medium.com/mammon-machine-zeal/a-stairway-to-the-unconscious-thief-the-dark-project-20-years-later-6bd1f92783e9.
  6. VanderMeer, Jeff. Wonderbook : An Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. New York, NY, Abrams Image, 2018.
  7. Movshovitz, Dean. Pixar Storytelling : Rules for Effective Storytelling Based on Pixar’s Greatest Films. Middletown, DE, Bloop Animation, 2017.
  8. Gendler, Alex. “Why should you read “The Master and Margarita”? – Alex | TED-Ed.” Lessons Worth Sharing | TED-Ed. TED-Ed, 30 May 2019. Web. http://ed.ted.com/lessons/why-should-you-read-the-master-and-margarita-alex-gendler.
  9. Bezanson, Walter E. Moby-Dick: Work of Art. 1953.
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Famous Actors Appearing in Video Games: Yes or No? https://the-artifice.com/famous-actors-appearing-in-video-games-yes-or-no/ Thu, 24 Sep 2020 21:59:02 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/famous-actors-appearing-in-video-games-yes-or-no/ It seems as though in more recent years, video game developers are adding familiar faces to their stories. We saw Ellen Page in Beyond: Two Souls, and more recently the star-studded cast in Death Stranding. Does seeing a specific actor in a game entice you to purchase it, or do you lose the immersion factor?

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Storytelling in Gaming https://the-artifice.com/storytelling-in-gaming/ Thu, 24 Sep 2020 21:09:07 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/storytelling-in-gaming/ Gaming in many ways is another medium that requires writers, and yet the approach to story telling in writing is unique and quite different as opposed to traditional storytelling via books. I propose an article that might entertain looking into the deeper facets of story and writing in the gaming industry and the unique approach that is taken in completing a script as opposed to traditional writing. Focus could be placed particularly on discussing the need for adaptability in characters, characterizing empathy and emotion within a character as we follow them while also playing as them, the duality of the protagonist and the gamer etc. which while coming naturally in traditional writing, have to be balanced against what is possible within the given game dynamics

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Fragmented Literature: What Does It Achieve? https://the-artifice.com/fragmented-literature-what-does-it-achieve/ Thu, 24 Sep 2020 21:08:33 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/fragmented-literature-what-does-it-achieve/ Modernist texts are often heavily fragmented – the plot is jumbled and does not follow a simple beginning to end chronology. This can be off-putting for many readers as it can make a story hard to follow and less immersive.

However, what are the benefits and what does writing in fragments achieve? An article could look at a selection of texts that are fragmented and offer an analysis of what this particular structure is doing.

For example, in Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertesz, the plot keeps circling back to the same line, its repetition representing the repetitive trauma it has caused the protagonist. Or, in The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, the plot is broken up by page long chapters detailing the nightmares had by the protagonist which can show how they interject in his life just as they have interjected into the plot.
There are many works of literature that fragment the narrative and do so for thoughtful and strategic reasons. Thus, exploring texts that do this meaningfully could be an interesting read!

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Inspiration vs. Plagiarism https://the-artifice.com/inspiration-vs-plagiarism/ https://the-artifice.com/inspiration-vs-plagiarism/#respond Thu, 24 Sep 2020 04:23:07 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/inspiration-vs-plagiarism/ It is natural to be inspired by the works of your favorite author when writing your own story. Needless to say, there are many books whose stories show signs of inspiration from older works leading to a contesting balance between seeking inspiration and plagiarism. One such book that skirts the border between the two involves Terry Brooks’ “The Sword of Shannara” often criticized to have plagiarized Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The book has nevertheless found its share of audience and was a massive success. I propose an article that discusses how Brooks took Tolkien’s fantasy formula and used it to provide major boost to the fantasy genre in the post-Tolkien era.

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Writing in Isolation during a global pandemic https://the-artifice.com/writing-in-isolation-during-a-global-pandemic/ https://the-artifice.com/writing-in-isolation-during-a-global-pandemic/#respond Wed, 23 Sep 2020 18:54:49 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/writing-in-isolation-during-a-global-pandemic/ Amidst a global pandemic, most of us are working from home, and in that context, mental health has become a persistent topic. For writers, daily access to the outside world is an integral part in motivating our creative processes. Under current circumstances where quarantine and isolation is advised, I propose an article that may consider the positive and negative effects that isolation may have in writing as a creative process.

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A study of gender diversity in animated media https://the-artifice.com/a-study-of-gender-diversity-in-animated-media/ https://the-artifice.com/a-study-of-gender-diversity-in-animated-media/#respond Wed, 23 Sep 2020 18:41:04 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/a-study-of-gender-diversity-in-animated-media/ I would like to propose an article that studies the evolution of gender diversity and representation in animated media with a particular comparison between Western and Eastern animated media and their subsequent progress. Cultural stereotypes and societal perceptions have always played a great role in influencing the type of media that is usually made available to the public. The same could be said in the case of the animation and anime though through the course of history, the two mediums have taken different approaches in representing gender diversity on screen. How this comes to reflect upon the relevant societies and communities involved as well as the greater evolution of the story-telling medium may offer unique insights into modern discussions on the same topic.

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