When I first started writing my Sims stories, I had no idea what I was doing and there weren’t a lot of easily-accessible resources back then to help a newbie Sims storyteller. For the most part, I went in blind and spent years slowly acquiring the knowledge, skills, and techniques to write the kinds of stories I do now. While my formal post-secondary education in English Studies certainly has contributed to the writing I do, a lot of the visual components of my stories were self-taught.
So I’m here today sharing a few tricks and tools of the trade to help you tell amazing, immersive stories that are visually appealing and draw people in!
Cheats are Your Friend
If you’re telling a story that’s integrated into a challenge you’re playing, you might not be able to use a lot of cheats if you’re complying with the rules of the challenge. However, there are a few small cheats I love to use to get better shots and set things up the way I need them that don’t interfere with most challenge gameplay at all.
headlineeffects off/on: Being able to toggle headline effects off and on is a life saver! This nifty cheat will get rid of all those annoying bubbles and whatnot floating above Sims’ heads that completely break the immersion of your story when they end up in your screenshots. It will even remove that eyesore of a plumbob on top of your active Sim! The only caveat with this cheat is that it also removes tooltips so you won’t be able to see how your garden is doing or check your hamster’s hunger level. Turn headline effects off when you want a beautiful shot and turn it back on when you need to see that kind of info.
cas.fulleditmode: I like to use this cheat when I need to quickly set relationships with some of my background characters. I can easily make Sims married, give them children, etc, without having to spend a lot of time playing that household in order to make all those changes. You can of course use this cheat to change your Sims’ physical features and “fix” a Sim that was born unfortunate-looking but I don’t typically do this in my game. I like the diversity in my Sims’ appearances.
freerealestate on: This cheat may not comply with the rules of some challenges but I don’t usually use it for my main Sims I’m playing out a challenge with. I do use it a lot to move out the extended family and other background characters somewhere a tad nicer than a ramshackle garden shed, though.
bb.enablefreebuild: This is a life saver for posed shots on most lots where it ordinarily wouldn’t be possible to place down a teleporter. For example, when my Sims are on vacation and staying in a rental property, I can use this cheat to access Build/Buy and place down anything I might need to tell my story, from teleporters to props.
Don’t Waste Time Building What You Don’t Need
Have you ever wondered how your favourite storytellers have the time to build all those elaborate sets for their stories? Well the truth is most of them don’t. What you see in screenshots is very different from how the lot actually looks in the game while the storyteller is shooting that scene. In reality, it looks more like a film set, with different stages set up in a studio-like environment and off-camera stage lights setting the ambiance.
If you’re writing a story about a group of high school kids but you only have scenes in the gym and the cafeteria, why would you build an entire school from the ground up? You don’t need all that extra stuff. It’s just going to eat up time you could have spent working on your story. Build only what you need to save time and energy.
If you’re not so great a builder, I have some pre-built storytelling sets in my Gallery. They’re all CC-free. Look up the ID SnarkyWitch and grab whatever inspires you!
While it’s totally possible to tell a great story without any mods or cheats at all, things like custom poses can really enhance your scenes and deliver the kind of emotion the in-game animations can’t always achieve. In fact, I became so passionate about storytelling that I learned how to make my own custom poses so that I could bring the exact vision I had in my head to life in my story scenes.
But you don’t need to know how to make custom poses to use them in your stories! There are lots of amazing storytellers who share the poses they make for their own stories with the rest of the community! The best place to look for custom poses to download is ts4-poses on tumblr.
Check out the video below to learn how to use custom poses if you’re not familiar with how they work in your game!
TAB Mode is Best for Screenshots
Even though you can just hit the C key while you’re playing to generate a screenshot in your Sims 4 folder, you aren’t going to get those cinematic shots that really immerse the reader in your story. To get those intense close-ups of an anguished expression on a Sim’s face or a low to the ground angle for a cool action shot, you’ll have to learn to master cameraman mode. Or as I usually call it, TAB mode.
Hitting the TAB key while playing will take you into camera mode. This mode removes the UI and opens up advanced camera controls so you can get the best screenshots possible with professional-looking cinematic angles and viewpoints. Mastering the controls takes time, patience, and a lot of practice but here are some basic controls to get you started with it.
- +/– (or) Z/X: Zoom in and out
- Directional Arrows: Pan the camera around
- Mouse Movement: Pitch the camera at the desired angle
- A/D (or) </>: Rotate the camera
Play around with these controls and you’ll eventually become so comfortable with them that they’ll become second nature to you. Once you’ve gotten the shot you want, hit the C key to generate a screenshot in your Sims 4 folder.
Photo Edits Make Stories Pop
There are many ways to edit your screenshots to make them prettier, brighter, or darker, depending on the kind of story you’re telling and no storyteller edits their screenshots the exact same way. Some use a photo editing software like Photoshop or a free alternative. Others use a lighting mod called Reshade. Some storytellers use a combination of the two.
Because I’m lazy and don’t want to spend hours in Photoshop editing my screenshots (and because I’m a terrible photo editor), I rely on Reshade to do all the hard work for me. Reshade is a mod that works with many different games, including The Sims 3 and The Sims 4, that will change the lighting, colours, and shading directly in the game for you so that when you snap a screenshot, you’re snapping a fully edited photo without any Photoshop skills required.
Reshade is a bit tricky to install since it’s not installed the same way other mods for The Sims 4 are, so here’s a video tutorial for you to check out if you’re interested.
And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of presets available to install for Reshade as well but if you want the one I use in my screenshots, you can find it here. Be aware this preset only works with Reshade 3.0.8 so you will have to install an earlier version of Reshade in order for it to work properly.
Finally… Write a Good Story
I’ve given you some tricks of the trade to help you get incredible screenshots to accompany your stories but none of it will matter if the writing itself is not good. There’s no easy trick to good writing. There are no shortcuts or tried-and-true formulas that work 100% of the time. Writing is a skill that takes years and years of studying and practice to master and you’re always learning no matter how good at it you become.
I only have two tips that can help you with this part:
- Read a lot of books and watch a lot of fiction. The more you read, the more you will pick up on good writing form and the more fiction you watch on TV, the more ideas you’ll get for some epic storylines. You’ll also pick up on what cinematic angles look best for which type of scenes.
- Character development is everything. You could have the most amazing, fleshed out plot in the entire universe and the best screenshots with the most incredible sets… and no one will care if they don’t care about your characters. The best characters have flaws and struggle with contradicting personality traits. They screw up, they don’t always make the right choices, but they are always motivated by a desire to do better. Even most villains believe they are the good guys and aspire to be good in some way, even if their idea of being the best is actually bad.
So those are some tips and tricks to help you take your storytelling to new heights! Although all this can seem overwhelming to a newbie, please remember that I’m coming from an extensive academic background in language and literature and have decades of experience writing both Sims and non-Sims fiction. My tips might seem intense but the most important thing is to have fun. If you’re having fun, people will notice and want to have fun with you, so use what you find helpful and disregard anything that isn’t working for you.