Breaking Down Generic Stories – FF7 vs Portal 2

I’m working on two manuscripts currently. My editor has Book 2 of the Barcode series, Cavern of Youth, and I’m slowly writing New War Order, Book 3.

I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I experimented with the Hero’s Journey for Book 2. For those that don’t know, this journey is a cycle that heroes go through. I won’t bore you, but just think Harry Potter or Avatar. Anything really. Most American stories are built on this.

Why? Why would I do something so generic? Whhhhhy?

I know. I know. I don’t mean to disappoint anyone, but I had to experiment. My story uses Greek gods and gladiators. The hero’s journey is very big in Greek mythology so it only makes sense to try it once.

It really wasn’t difficult to plan. Now I see that many authors may choose this route because fans love it and it’s makes writing a breeze. It’s so simple to write with an established pattern than create your own.


After writing the story, I found myself on the verge or writing Book 3 the same way. Oh no! It’s so simple and a guaranteed “good thing” as long as the writing is strong.

But I couldn’t do it. Something strange happened. For the past two days, the stars aligned differently and wild spirits found refuge in my computer screen. What am I saying? I discovered something.

Spirit One (WoOOOoOOoo)

Steve Jasmine was my first spirit. This guy contacted me on Twitter and let me know about his analytics. Basically, he studied blockbusters and reveals what makes them so special. It’s really…epic.

After reading his website, I learned how important it is to make sure that readers can:

  1. Relate to characters
  2. Envision the world
  3. See antagonist conquer a larger evil
  4. Witness a fight for love
  5. Enjoy the ending

I’m oversimplifying to make a point. Steve Jasmine breaks down various levels of “greatness” including what appeals to adults and kids.

Spirit Two (Boo!)

My second spirit was a game discussion between Final Fantasy 7 and Portal 2. Don’t know what these are? The first is a puzzle game where you control a character through a maze. There are essentially three characters. Two are guides for the main character, Chell. I don’t want to belittle the story because I know Portal 2 has many fanboys. I haven’t played, but I’ve done my research and it honestly is unique and written well.

However, I have played Final Fantasy 7. It is one of my favorite games of all time. The story is very complex. It follows a large team of mercenaries that are on a hunt to stop an evil villain. If I explain this story, it’ll show my bias so I’ll stop there.

I”d rather focus on the discussion that happened between fans of these two games. Basically, Portal nerds believe the story is better because it’s simple and humorous. It also manages to have complexity and depth. Final Fantasy geeks think that the story is a classic with an entire world built around it.

So which is it? Complex story with entire world and depth in characters but confusing storyline and game play? Or short and simple story with three characters that is funny and manages to provide depth?

Well, I’m writing a novel so it’s best I try something complex. But I can learn from Portal. The plot is unique! Fans love this game because there’s nothing like it. It doesn’t compare to 60+ hours of game play for Final Fantasy, but it does revolutionize short and sweet.

What Am I Going To Do?

I don’t want to toss out what I learned from Steve. He showed me how to make a Hero’s Journey based on the way others did it. There’s a great formula there. But Portal teaches me to think outside of the box and make something of my own.

I’ve already outlined New War Order, but I won’t continue writing until I find a balance between these two. I want to merge something old with something new.

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