My appeal for respect for writers, editors, and the art and craft of storytelling.

Not much to ask, is it?

But too often in the workplace, and not just in corporate America, but at companies across the spectrum, respect for what different people bring to the table—respect for different skill sets—can be hard to come by.

I know this happens across a broad spectrum, but I’m a writer and editor, so let me get some things off my chest and in the process, maybe win a modicum of respect for my specific skill set.

If I sent you my resume looking for a job as a user interface designer, I bet you wouldn’t hire me. Why not? I’ve played video games for years on multiple platforms and have very strong opinions about what makes a good UI—what I like and don’t like about the UI in games I’ve played over the years. My resume will show you all sorts of detailed examples of my work as an author and editor of fiction, and specifically game tie-in fiction, but no, there’s not a moment spent as a UI designer. I also went to film school, emphasizing writing, so yeah, no classes on any level in UI design or any sort of programming at all, but again, I’ve played games and thought about it a little. So, what? No UI designer job for me?

Well, of course not.

And yet, time and again I’ve been passed over for jobs I can do, because—I’m just going to come right out and say it—a programmer has been hired to write and edit stories. And if you look on their resumes, I bet you see no education or experience in the written word—any more than I have UI design education or experience. Surely everyone would agree that I shouldn’t be hired as a UI designer, then why is there this pervasive misconception—like some kind of mass delusion—that anyone can write a story, write scripts for cinematics, create compelling characters that can carry over from episode to episode then on into the transmedia spectrum?

Have you ever said or even thought something like: “I took English like everyone else. I read books all the time. I have very strong opinions about stories and characters. I’ll be the writer!”

That really is precisely like me saying, “I took algebra like everyone else. I play games all the time. I have very strong opinions about UI design. I’ll be the UI designer!”

No I can’t be, and neither can you.

Is it your life’s work to tell stories? Have you studied the language beyond a few required courses? Have you spent any appreciable time interacting with the written word other than as a reader? If so, then take no offense at this post.

If that honestly doesn’t describe you, and you’re still taking on that responsibility, you’re not only denying a decent job to someone who I assure you will be better at it than you—and that person isn’t me, I don’t want to make it that personal—but you’re saddling your game with a crappy story badly told. And as many crappy video game stories as there are out there, and how crappily they’re told, you know I’m right. And please don’t dismiss me by opening my argument up too much. There are a great many games with brilliant storylines, impeccable worldbuilding, and fascinating characters. And some of those are created by the occasional multi-talented auteur who can both write and code—but those people and their games are the exceptions that prove the rule.

If you need a UI designer, hired a skilled UI designer.

If you need a story and characters, hire an experienced writer.

If you want that story to be coherent, readable, and portable across media, hire an editor.

Just like UI design, these are not skills everyone has.

And yes, it does personally piss me off when people think otherwise.


—Philip Athans

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