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Strategic Writing

April 9, 2010

A couple of years back, I was asked about techniques for clear writing on gaming.

Roleplaying is a weird thing to write about – you have to write some things like a technical manual, as a lot of rules or techniques are procedure based, and you also have to write some things as a primer to recognizing abstractions- how to identify forming story structures, seeing social interactions, etc.

That said, I usually focus on three things when I want to write clearly:

Short Attention Spans

A lot of ideas only work when you have the full picture of how they fit together. Which is hard when you’re talking about abstract stuff like playing in a different style, or seeing a large behavior pattern. You need to be able to introduce A and still have it in mind when you get to Z.

I usually break things up into sections. Bold, Italics, or numbering them to make it simple and digestible.

I keep ideas in short paragraphs. 1-3 sentences, usually. Mostly because I’m writing online, and large text is more intimidating on the screen than on paper, but still, short, easy to read sections.

I use reminders. If it’s a complicated process, I’ll introduce the ideas at the beginning, and give each it’s own section. I might have a summary of steps at the end. Having clear titles to sections serve as reminders.

Avoid Over-explanation

Clear, strong basic ideas, give people the basics to run with.

You can deal with edge cases later or in sub-sections. If you spiral off into special cases before people have grasped the basic picture, they’re likely to get lost and confused.

Sadly, it’s really easy to get caught in the details.

A lot of traditional texts tend to be chock-full of weird rambles in unexpected places. We’re also used to having to defend what game we’re playing, so overall, the culture is built around not just explaining how, but also having to explain “why” against hypothetical detractors. Which leads to having to write for, and defend against, every possible edge case.

Instead, cover the core concepts. Consider tacking on edge cases in sub-sections or later on in your article or game.

Don’t write for Morons

You’ll discover that, even when you make things abundantly clear, there’s a great number of people who are impatient and poor readers – from their initial responses, you very often see they didn’t read to begin with.

If someone doesn’t grasp the basics, there’s no point in trying to answer advanced questions. I’ll often only address a single question or point, even if someone has several, if it seems that they have yet to get the core concept. (IF you can’t deal with one idea, giving you three more, is really not going to help)

There’s also a number of people who simply want attention and make endless demands for handholding or people who only know how to argue for arguing sake.

The common factor between these folks is that they’re not actually interested in playing or designing games- so anything you’re writing about either topic isn’t actually of value to them, except in that it gives them an excuse to engage in the thing they’re already determined to do.

Once you stop giving them space and opportunity, they leave.

Aside from not wanting to waste your own time on them, they also confuse the issue for other people. The initial writing, and the subsequent petty derails, become mixed in folks’ head.

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