21 July 2010

The Super Mario Bros for Plumbers and Authors

Do you think the princess would be my agent?
by Carrie Bailey

Video games are fun.  Books require attention.  That's why more people will read what Toad tells Mario in my cleverly edited graphic before they even take a second look at all this wordy text.  Don't feel bad if you're one of them.  The Mario Bros were top notch Italian authors who got their break during the 1980s.  Plumbing was just their day job.    

What can we learn from Mario and Luigi about writing?

  • Don't explain everything.  Just start the story.  Super Mario Bros opens with Mario being attacked by what else? Mushrooms.  Why?  Nobody knows.
  • Take a break.  Whether you are writing or playing video games, if you don't take a break, you'll get cranky.  You might even get grounded.  Hit that pause button.  Save a the end of the level. Go outside and take a walk.  And don't neglect your friends.
  • You need friends to beat the game.  Other people know the secret clues to get to the next level.  Someone else told them.  No one knows who first figured out where to get the hidden stars or bonus items, but some levels are too hard without them.  Writers need other writers for this same reason.  Whether you know hundreds of writers or just one or two good ones, you will help each other out when you get stuck. 
  • Keep sympathetic.  Mario struggled.  How many times did he die?  From your characters to your own persona as an author, all should be relatable.    
  • Take the money and run.  Before Mario and Luigi started chasing the Princess and gathering gold coins, they had a day job.  And who in their right mind would have financed these working class boys?  Each time they reached the end of the level, they were told, "Sorry but the princess is in another castle."  Writers, gold coins will not be discovered hovering in the air.
  • Focus on one level at a time.  Mario couldn't afford to sit around and day dream about what the Princess would say when he finally got to the right castle and freed her.  From the very beginning, players knew the goal and how many levels there were.  When we write a book, we outline the chapters.  The same method applies to a writing career.  Know your what you want, but also define your short term objectives.  Break it down so you can focus.  You can book tickets to Tahiti later.
  • Focus on the game.  To operate a controller, you must use two hands.  Otherwise Mario walks into a ditch or jumps up and down like a fool.  Keyboards require two hands.  And distractions can be lethal.   
  • Winning is not the point.  Winning disappoints every player.  It's over.  The end.  Playing is the fun part.  Don't worry if you haven't achieved your career goals.  You are achieving them.    

In reality, video games require as much attention as books.  If you've ever played a game with a weak design and a poor writing, you know this.  Super Mario Bros ranks as the most recognized and most popular played game.  It contains many crucial elements that make for a good story.   

Thank You Mario and Luigi!


  1. I love the comparison to video-games. And you're totally right. Sometimes we are so focused on the word count and in how fast we are writing that we forget that to make a quality story we have to enjoy what we are doing. (Or at least that is my opinion.)Overall great advice for new writers...and also for the not so new...

    P.S. How annoying was it to find Toad at the end of every single world? Ungh... >:(

  2. wow, i never finished mario :| but i am not going to finish some of the novels i've kept pending :D

    it's a very refreshing comparison of writing with video games :) big up for ya!


  3. Why thank you! I think it's too easy to dismiss other forms of media as stealing away people who would otherwise be readers.

    But writing appears everywhere, which is why good writing matters everywhere.

  4. awesome post.. things like these keeps us encouraging to write more... and to play more as well ;)

  5. That entry is epic. As a gamer (let's be honest here: as an obsessive gamer) I can really relate what you say here to writing and games. Some of the best games start you in the middle, drag you on a long journey, and then everything really starts to unfold.

    The writing process is exactly the same. How many times does an idea actually start at the same exact point the book SHOULD? Not often.

    And that game at the bottom is way too distracting. XD

    Love it!

  6. I think my obsession with games like World of Warcraft but moreso The Sims (2 and 3) tell a lot about me as a writer. I want to build the story with as little influence as possible. I also don't want to get right to the point... but rather mosey about the characters lives until I find something that interests me, which I'll then harp on for days on end until I find the next thing. I like to take up hobbies within the game that in no way help me reach the next level. Like fishing. Or cooking.


  7. LOL...

    Certainly you cannot learn everything about writing from playing games :).

  8. An excellent allegorical choice through which writers can better understand how to hone their craft, Carrie. What stands out is "You need friends to beat the game". You clearly are one such valued friend. "Winning is not the point" underlies the true writer's goal of telling the story regardless of whether it will be published. The true 'winning' is in the continual stream of literary content that serves to entertain, provoke new thought or promote debate. From the writer for the reader. Therein lies not a feeling of winning but rather a contentment of having done something of a positive nature for others through the meaning within the words.

  9. Terrific post, Carrie--I would've never thought of comparing Mario with writing. You have such a creative mind!

  10. The comparison cracks me up and it's so true! I love this article!

  11. Loved that game too, it's a classic...

  12. I used to play the Legend of Zelda games when I was a kid (I still am at heart).

    Your writing is so amazing.

    Nick OUT!