Writing Fu!

As of five minutes ago, I passed the 20,000 word mark on my writing assignment. Between losing words and a complicated editing process, I probably wrote around 30,000 words over the last two weeks.

Oh, and I think I wrote close to 6,000 words today.

This means 1) I’m really tired and I’m about to go to bed; and 2) tomorrow, instead of being a panicked race to the end, is going to be a relatively leisurely once-or-twice through the text, cleaning up sentences and paragraphs, removing unnecessary words, and adding in a few bits of text I forgot to write during the first draft.

For those what are interested, writing for RPGs, in my experience, is a two-step process for the company you write for. Yet it’s also necessary to do a five or six-step process for you, the author. I’ll briefly outline them below.

1. Read the Bible.
No, I don’t mean the Bible, I mean the developer’s instructions. It’s your Bible until you submit your second draft and you’re done with everything but waiting for your three copies and your paycheck. The developer sends you a very clear set of expectations. Follow them (Bruce Baugh’s advice). The first time I did this, I deviated largely from the outline, and I got my brain reamed during the second part of the company’s process. Know what they’re asking for.

2. Do your Research.
Read the game, if it already exists. Read the supplements. Re-read them ALL even if you’ve read them a dozen time already. Make notes and figure out what it is that you’re going to need to include in the piece you’re expanding on. If it’s a new game, go read some relevant source material. You can’t write game material from just your head; it’s got to be based in something that’s going to resonate. Lord of the Rings would suck rotten, diarrheic eggs if JRRT hadn’t read Beowulf every so often (Tolkien’s advice, actually).

3. Outline, Outline, Outline.
Outline the bejezus out of what you’re going to write (Geoff Grabowski’s advice). Usually you get 10,000 words, 15,000 words, 20,000 words… whatever it is. Plan at least three levels of detail: general paragraphs, deeper themes, core details. Every sentence should have a plot point for hanging a game session plot on. That means a paragraph needs between three and six such plot points. Put enough bullets in your outline, or enough A.B.C.s, that you know what every paragraph is supposed to do or say to the reader.

4. Don’t write crap, and stick to a schedule.
That’s Harlan Ellison’s advice. It’s good advice. Write clearly and succinctly, and that’s less revision you have to do the second time around. In most of the timeframes for writing I’ve been given, I need to write 2,000 or more words a day. Miss your personal deadlines and you will miss your employer’s deadlines. They will give your work to someone else, and they will not call you again. Reward yourself at certain milestones (Rich Dansky’s advice), and remember to save early and often with backups.

5. Revise your First Draft before you send it.
Plan your writing schedule to complete your wordcount a day or so before your manuscript deadline. Go through the draft with a spellcheck, both manual and computer-controlled. Go through your first draft, and eliminate useless words: prevarication, definite and indefinite articles where possible, and any unnecessary that or and or thus or so it came to pass. Rewrite those 800 words you just took out, and give your readers some meat and potatoes with extra gravy. Read through it again, and kill all your Mary Sou “isn’t this character wonderful?” NPCs. Rewrite any sentence without a plot point so it has at least half a plot-point. All this takes less time than you think, provided that you’re ruthless.

6. Attack your redlines with gusto.
Your editor will send back your perfect first draft filled with red marks, complaints and requests for corrections. Do what he wants to the best of your ability, and get it back to him. He is paying for your work, and — and this is the tricky bit — the more time you spend bitching about your editor’s complaints about your perfect text, the less you are making on this writing project, because it’s costing you time. Send your redlines back with time to spare on the deadline if you possibly can.

7. Shut off your computer and get out of the house.
Go have a beer, a cannoli, a kiss. Celebrate a little. This isn’t really part of the writing instructions, but unless you’re one of those who can make a living from your writing, and do, put your first-draft paycheck in a savings account or something until the publication-date paycheck comes along. With luck, you’ll have a nice, tidy little sum to do something interesting and fun. Take a vacation. Buy a kilt, or a bicycle, or a kayak. Contribute to a political party or your favorite charity. Because nothing that’s in the gaming books you were thinking about buying with the cash will make you as good a game-setting writer as going outside and enjoying life a little more. That’s where all the stories are.

I wrote this mostly to keep my own process in mind, but also to make sure that I remember to do step 5 tomorrow morning when I get up, first thing.

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7 comments

  1. I’m also lazy. If I get the guts of the project right the first time, there’s a lot less rewriting to do later on. So, it pays to ask the developer lots of questions and make sure you’re on the right wavelength, as you said 🙂

  2. Amen, Brother Andrew 🙂

    The only one of those I didn’t do so well on when I was writing a lot of RPG material was number 3. I struggled a lot as a result.

    But I absolutely believe in the rest, and I believe because of that, I kept getting more work as a result.

  3. Re: You’re welcome.

    No – I knew a guy who was pretty heavily into them at one point, but he got seriously burned out by it. I don’t think huge multi-player games like that are particularly conducive to Exalted.

  4. You’re welcome.

    You’re welcome. One of these days, I’d love to post the pieces of one of these assignments on-line, showing the Bible, my bibliography, and the subsequent Outline, the writing in process, the finished first draft, the redlines, and the final draft, as well as the final text post-copyediting, and the final text with art-in-place.

    But I suspect — I know, actually — that it’s all covered by NDA, and it’s copyrighted material, so you can’t post it. Unfortunate, because it’s a great teaching tool for teaching writing, I suspect.

  5. And bookmarked. Thanks for outlining that – it’s mostly stuff I’ve heard before, but it never hurts to have common sense clearly and concisely formatted 🙂

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