After my first year of college studying for a mixed arts degree, I was stressed, tired, and even more confused about the direction I wanted to go in life. I loved English and writing - which was the reason I started the degree in the first place - but having to write made it almost impossible. I sat my exams, passed, and deferred my place for the following year. But that’s a story for another day.
After a long think and a short holiday, I decided that I would try freelance writing. It seemed like the perfect way for me to figure out if writing was something I was really passionate about. So, I set out on my journey of self-discovery. That journey led me here.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I write short scripts for a YouTube production company that creates content for children; and I’m not lying. Technically, that is what I do. But if we’re getting into the meat and bones of it, what I really do is write Fortnite fan fiction. It’s a tricky one to explain, but I’ll try my best; The company I work for are actually an independent, self-established production company. They produce content for children, all of which is video game themed; mainly the popular games Fortnite and Minecraft. The videos they make are kind of like fan films; they utilize the games and their characters and add another dimension to the game that it is originally lacking, which is, well… any kind of story line.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fortnite, it is an online game that has three game mode versions, the most popular being Battle Royale. The whole idea behind this is that 100 players have to fight in an arena to be the last one standing. You can play with a variety of character “Skins”, which allow you to have a set look for your character. Some of these are characters created by Fortnite, but there are also skins available of characters that exist outside the game - like Harley Quinn, Deadpool, and Travis Scott. These don’t change anything apart from aesthetics, but provide us with everything we need to make these fan-films!
Like I mentioned earlier, since Fortnite doesn’t have a plot, and the characters don’t have, well, character, it’s the perfect sandpit for storytelling!
So, let me run you through the process!
As a writer, my job is to write the scripts. I don’t come up with the concept myself - My producer will send me a fairly broad, sometimes open-ended brief, and I’ll have to write a 10 - 12 page script based on it. This requires a knowledge of the locations in the game, as well as the dances and emotes. At first, I wrote with the map open in one tab, and the list of dances and emotes in another, but eventually, I got familiar enough with them and didn’t have to look them up anymore.
The briefs themselves are often whacky and wonderful in order to keep the kids engaged - anyone that has kids will tell you that ten minutes is a long time for a ten-year-old!
Sometimes, I’ll use plot hooks and take ideas from my favourite shows and movies that are a little outdated to our audience and recycle them in a way that suits the scripts.
Myself and my coworker James Flynn (head writer for another one of our channels and voice over artist) will often exchange ideas for scripts and laugh at silly references we made that the kids probably won’t get - after all, we have to have a little fun ourselves!
A lot of the episode titles can easily be mistaken for soap opera descriptions - and understandably so. “Agent Peely Catches Deadpool Cheating” doesn’t sound like it’s aimed at kids but I promise we keep it PG!
The visuals aren’t “Created” by us, so to speak, in the sense that we don’t animate these videos, but use the game as a platform. The visuals are simply screen recordings of Fortnite game play. The guys at head office will work off of the script and act out the script using characters, emotes, dances and locations that are all part of the game. The huge variety of character skins creates endless possibilities for story lines that the characters themselves don’t have in the game.
After the script has been written and the in-game footage is recorded, the voice over artists will record the dialogue for the characters. That will be synced up with the video, along with some music. The characters don't have voice over in the actual game, which gives the voice over artists free reign over the kind of vocal characterization they'd like to give the characters. It adds to the third dimension that we give the game, and makes it possible for kids to have favourite characters based off of more than just appearances.
Once the video is ready, it’s posted to YouTube. The views, comments, and stats for a video will determine not only how successful it is, but whether or not the story line is one we’re going to continue with or not. The videos often get tens of thousands of views, and our main channel has over a million subscribers. One of my guilty pleasures is reading through the comments section of the videos that I wrote scripts for, and seeing how the kids feel about the story lines and the characters I’ve written. There’s nothing more heartwarming than having kids say they love something we’re doing with the story or saying that something I wrote made them laugh. There are always some not so pleasant comments, but it’s the internet. That’s bound to happen.
So, how do I feel about this being my job?
Writing these scripts is something I have a lot of fun doing - at the end of the day, a creative outlet is a creative outlet. Sometimes it’s silly, and sometimes I catch myself rolling my eyes at the stuff I’ve written. As a fairly new writer, it’s been an incredible opportunity for me to practice writing consistently, and with recurring characters and plot lines. And, honestly? I just really enjoy the response I get when I tell people I write Fortnite fan fiction for a living.
If you’d like to know more about the videos, you can check out @james_davey_flynnvo Instagram for some behind the scenes recordings and voice over process!