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On Building a Menagerie

(edit: If anyone's noticed this post changing between page views, it's because I wrote this early in the morning while medicated. I ended up accidentally a lot of words. Also, steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5...)

Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, but Missing Stars did not always have a plucky cast of adorable mental patients. When we first started, we had plenty of potential writers, yes, but no characters. Although imperial.standard had some character designs up, it was neither feasible nor desirable for the writers to stick with just those characters. Let's take an abbreviated look at how we resolved that.

1. Getting started.

First off, we had our potential writers come up with at least two possible love interests, plus a main character if they can. 

Name, Age, Mental Illness
Background description
Basic idea of their route (what you want to happen in the route, it should be an event on how the character and MC are coming closer [please note, this does pertain to her mental illness, and how they are overcoming it], does not need to be detailed for this purpose)

Once all is done, we'll go through them and pick the ones we think will work. After that we'll start assigning writers with the people they feel most comfortable writing, alternatively, if you want to "stake a claim" with one you've written- please say so.

One last final thing...
It's important to differentiate between the girl's disorder and her underlying personality. - Honeymuffin

Straightforward enough, isn't it? After all, creating characters is fun! Now, to avoid spoiling things, let's come up with some characters right now and wring them through the casting process. Today, we have:

-Manic Maria

-Priya the Pyro

-Bipolar Bertha

-And finally, Alien Hand Alois, a potential MC.

Starting out, each of us is somewhat inclined to try coming up with an entire cast by ourselves. In the end, however, we'd be lucky to have two of our characters show up in the story at all.

It's probably better that way. If one person comes up with all the characters, that person will feel entitled and obligated to write all of them... and writing an entire VN by one's self is a daunting task indeed. I myself, with my day job, can just barely manage one path girl, let alone two or more.

2. Discussion


Okay, so we've got characters, but do they work? After the character proposals are brought up, the team(at this early point, the whole team; the writers haven't yet cloistered themselves away in their snooty little club) discusses the pros and cons of each character. Here, we point out the more glaring faults and discuss how the characters would work against other personality types. So, after being picked apart, it looks like...

-Manic Maria's depressive episodes would just come off as being a generic shrinking-violet, though the mood whiplash from her mania does have dramatic potential.

-Priya the Pyro's backstory reads like a catalog of racial stereotypes. They'd have to be tossed before she can be taken seriously.

-Bipolar Bertha is too similar to Vacuity Mechanica's Borderline Bernadette, who is a much more fleshed out character. Bertha was kind've just thrown together as an afterthought anyway.

-Alois does have some potential, but his condition comes off as being just a gimmicky contrivance to allow for some sordid situations. Grab-ass with the librarian, anyone?

Using what we glean from discussion, we move on to the next step.

3. Character Elimination

Now for some suspense! Not only is everyone emotionally invested in their characters, but having a character survive to the end also greatly improves the creator's chances of remaining on the team as a writer. Selection is done by simple poll, with surviving characters being the ones with the most votes. The developers are given a chance to vote for five or so girls they would like to see in the eventual cast. While voting, we considered everything, such as how the characters play off each other, their roles in various ensemble models, how well their appearance compliments each other, how well their proposed storylines would fit together, and whoever we thought would have the hottest h-scenes. To keep the workload and creative contributions balanced, we did our best to pick each character from a different writer.

Votes are counted... and recounted as many times as necessary in order to get a manageable number of love interests... or as many times as it takes before we figure out how to even run a poll with multiple choices without screwing up.

image by imperial.standard.

The results are in... and Priya the Pyro manages to make the cut by only one vote! Turns out she was just too moe to eliminate.

4. Assigning Writers.

So, the writers managed to come up with characters we're going to use. But can they actually write? Yes, they've all been deemed competent from looking at writing samples submitted in their join threads, but it remains to be seen if they can actually pull off their characters. For these purposes, we each did a sample scene in which a narrator interacts with the girl. The goal was to show how well we can utilize and portray a character, as well as demonstrating technical ability. The word limit is 500 words, but that's almost always exceeded because we sure do love making walls of text. Characters created by non-writers were left open for anyone to try writing for.

Writing Test: Priya Azmi

"Whacha doin' today Alois?" chirped Priya.

Though nothing in her reputation is cause for alarm, I find her mischievous smile to be a little disconcerting.


When I regain consciousness, I see Priya, asleep next to my bed. She's been crying.

I feel almost guilty about making her feel guilty. Funny how cute girls can get away with giving me third degree burns, isn't it?

I know she's torn up inside, but I also know that if I wake her up, she'd say something like "Wasn't that fun?"


Unfortunately, it turns out our ambitious sex scene ended up a rambling mess. Looks like we're not going to be writing for Priya after all. Fortunately, this isn't necessarily it. We can still coach other writers who would like to try out for the job of Priya's path writer. After that, we can still be useful as an editor or character consultant.

Another important thing to do at this stage is get the main character figured out. This tends to be a less orderly process but requires input from everyone involved, since everyone will be writing from his or hers point of view. The protagonist has to be fleshed out enough to be interesting, but still relatable to readers. S/he also has to at least seem compatible with all the potential love interests. Because of these concerns, it's generally easiest to go with a fairly generic audience surrogate for the type of game we're planning. On the other hand, nobody wants to write as a faceless goon with no personality.

The need to make a main character that's versatile, relatable, but NOT boring makes the protagonist the most challenging character to design.

After several meetings worth of discussion, Alois is out. His replacement is Quirky Quinn, a happy go lucky ginger dude with a dark secret.

5. Outlining Story Paths.

Now that writers know who they'll be working on, they take the time to actually plan out the storyline within the VN. An important consideration is the theme of the girl's path. Is there a moral? What kind of stuff happens in the story? How do the characters grow over time?

When the characters were first proposed, most of them already came with suggested storylines and endings. These can serve as a starting point, but the writers aren't married to them, especially if they're writing for a character someone else created.

Let's say that Priya's writer decides that the theme for her story is knowing when to exercise caution, and knowing when to take risks. Following that, the writer throws together a basic flowchart for planning purposes, showing key events and how they lead to the various endings. What exactly happens during the first act is kept up in the air.


During this stage of planning, side characters are either proposed or conscripted out of the pool of rejects.

6. Start Writing, Son.

So, we've got a character and a plan! Now we get to work on Act 1. What we did was first decide which order we'd like the girls to first appear in, then describe what kind of scene we'd like for them to first meet the main character in. Using that, some poor soul(s) draw up a detailed scene-by-scene flow chart for act 1. Scenes are assigned and volunteered for, and writers get to work.

And that, friends, is a nostalgia-filtered look back at how we populated Missing Stars. I might have gotten some of the details wrong, but that's pretty much it. I hope that this post has been useful, even as a model of how not to do things.

Let's now have a moment of silence for those potential waifus who didn't make it.

This post is dedicated to the memories of:

Adele Truong Alessandra Medici Alyona
Amy Bahar Annie Ruducci Cecilia Paszek
Eleanor Callesse Elizabeth Faulkner Emese Vervloet
Felisa Basile Fran Dragovic Hanagawa Sumire
Hotaru Shibata Karin Van Lierop Katya Belova
Laura Bieler Lauren Whitman Louisa Schneider
Maria Lenz Mathilde Aschner Setsuko Sakei