Content, content everywhere and no one acknowledging the role of writers. That at least seems to be the case regardless of whether you’re a scriptwriter in film or videogames, a journalist or a copywriter.
If people aren’t busy trying to get copywriters to undercut each other with unrealistic pricing for work; film awards by the Guardian ignoring the existence of scriptwriters (the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has formally complained to the Guardian about this last month) or freelance videogame journalists getting paid below minimum wage to review videogames (I too much experience of that)… well, writers do often get a pretty naff deal. In some ways, hopefully the Guardian’s oversight isn’t the start of a new trend, though no mainstream news on this year’s Oscars told me who won best original screenplay, even though without scripts there would have been no films for there to have been awards for.
One conversation that got me thinking about this all is this recent one about narrative development in videogames between Dave Morris, Rhianna Pratchett and Matt Gibbs. There were several tweets that really caught my eye:
@MirabilisDave I think this is partly because writers can often get sidelined & misused (as can their work) rarely do they have hard power.
— Rhianna Pratchett (@rhipratchett) March 2, 2014
— matt gibbs (@matthewgibbs) March 3, 2014
— Rhianna Pratchett (@rhipratchett) March 3, 2014
— Dave Morris (@MirabilisDave) March 3, 2014
Why is it in crisis?
There are other creative roles that can be as equally overlooked, just look at what’s been happening to the VFX industry in Hollywood for years. But when I specifically asked about the issue of writing, on Twitter, my colleague responded:
@ek6891 Writing crises: 1) everything has to be written so fast there’s no time to think and 2) people don’t want to pay for writing.
— Fiona Campbell-Howes (@patroclus) March 3, 2014
Two points I would agree with, but I would add another observation: the more that’s added on top of the writing, in terms of design and/or other multimedia, the more the writer is over shadowed even though without their words the end product wouldn’t exist.
This is why the profile of authors has never been in quite the same doldrums as a scriptwriter or copywriter. Journalism is an odd one – I certainly feel uneasy when I can’t see a byline for a story. But basically writers are often not acknowledged financially or publicly. Directors and actors get all the glory even though they’re working from a script. A story in a videogame is criticised as being not up to scratch after the writers were brought in at a late point in the development process.
And of course all the free content doesn’t exactly help (it’s at this point I look at myself somewhat guiltily).
What can writers do?
Copywriters can try to educate their existing and potential clients about the value of what they do; scriptwriters could try stepping into the directorial shoes a bit more often… but for everyone else, I’m not so sure. Journalism is tough, because the traditional models of funding it have yet to be suitably replaced/modernised. And game writers? I suppose they need to feel empowered enough to pitch their ideas and un-aggressively take the lead on games development projects that they’ve helped to instigate.
Mainly, I think writers need to feel like they have the right to speak loudly about what they do and the value it adds. And then they need to shout about it.