I just sent in my second draft of a White Wolf assignment that was supposed to be complete on 18 April 2005, but because of delays with redlining was re-set to 30 April 2005. I asked for an extension until Tuesday, 3 May 2005, which was granted.
I am now finished.
Some observations on the process of writing setting material for RPGs:
1) Build some characters first. They take a long time, and you need places to ‘plug them into’ in order to have an idea of the region’s storyline. It wasn’t until I was two-thirds of the way through the first draft that I thought to include the X Exalts — even though they clearly fit, and had to fit. So they wound up being grafted onto the first draft as an afterthought, and only loosely woven into the second draft. Writing two types of Exalts into the setting was hard, and I should have thought it through at the beginning rather than the end.
2) There’s a lot to be learned from revising sentences. I wound up cutting almost 2500 words from my document, 10% of the whole, to make room for NPCs at the end. I only cut one 114-word paragraph entirely; I scalpeled away the rest by going sentence-by-sentence through the rest. Constructions like “of the American Republic” got replaced first with “of the Republic”, then with “the Republic’s” and finally with “American.” Writing for poetic form encourages awareness of these kinds of constructions; writing for word-count actually discourages using any but the last two. You cram more actual information into the whole document with fewer formal constructions and more ‘s possessives or adjectives.
3) References to obscure information got eliminated. Unlike, say, World of Darkness where one wishes to hint at menace or problems of perception — who is really doing what around here, anyway? — Exalted has gods, spirits, monsters and others who have been around for hundreds of years: it’s possible to find someone to ask about “long ago”; there’s less reason to fudge information. Hence, there’s less need for moderating adjectives.
4) Lots of other phrasologies got eliminated as well. It wasn’t necessary to speak about “many of the more astute senators realize” when I could simply say, “some senators realize” — the rest of the sentence had to explain what astute political observers would already know. Besides, what senators aren’t politically astute? OK, there are some, I grant you… but the “some senators realize…” construction indicates that not all of the senators have basic political realities in their heads.
5) Outlining is vital. I had a four or five page outline for this almost-fifty-page project, and it could have/should have been about five pages longer before I started writing. If it’s detailed down to the level of paragraphs, that saves some difficulty later on; you can figure out what to eliminate more easily if you have at least one level-1 header for every two thousand words, and two level-2 headers for every thousand words, and three level-3 headers for every every five hundred words. It breaks the text up concretely, and teaches you to write to specific writing goals. I blew my writing budget on every single section this time around, and it cost me a lot of editing time. Planning ahead is easier than correcting mistakes.
6) Don’t restate information several different ways. The goal is that every sentence should have a story hook or potential plot point or opposition in it. If you keep restating information, you’re always going to be behind the curve on helping Storytellers develop stories. Ideally, each paragraph could have five sentences, four possible storylines that YOU can see, and a possible character for PCs to interact with.