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Does IF require a different writing style? - Advice wanted from 'proper' writers

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Postby revgiblet » Sat Nov 17, 2007 2:08 am

I'm looking for some writing advice.

You see, I was pretty happy with my writing style. Some of the reviewers for A Fine Day for Reaping also seemed to be happy with it too. But recent events have made me wonder if I should be trying something different.

I sent a piece of prose that I had written to a more gifted friend of mine and he sent it back with a few changes. OK. He butchered it. He cut the word count by over half. And the thing is - it really read much better.

When I'm writing IF I'm very verbose and (as Merk put it) 'metaphor-heavy'. My friend's changes made me wonder if less really is more. I'm just wondering if my IF (which, I guess, relies on descriptive writing more than regular fiction) would work better with less writing.

I know that normally you can use a lack of words to create room for tension and imagination, but doesn't IF require you to fill the spaces with details?

I'm not asking "What do you think of my writing?" I'm asking "Do you guys think that the nature of IF means it requires a different writing style to other prose?" Do room descriptions work better if they're padded out with superfluous detail or is "You're in a large bedroom. You see a double bed and an antique table" the way to go?

At the moment I've concluded that the 'use fewer words' rule works in IF too if you're trying to create space for dramatic or horrific tension, but in more whimsical pieces a higher word count works better. What do you guys think? Is this true?




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Postby KFAdrift » Sat Nov 17, 2007 6:45 am

It is a really difficult argument about whether within a game you should be creating something full of stylish description or should keep it simple. In a way I would say that the bigger the game the tighter the prose need to be.

One thing I would say is that where an item is described in the text it should have an examination description length that reflects its importance within the game. Do not include over extended descriptions of objects within the room description, but adding a few adjectives for the objects is fine.

Within the game play I would be against seeing the more prompt unless while reading a document.
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Postby Ren » Sat Nov 17, 2007 2:04 pm

I think that for writing in general, the aim is always to convey the story effectively in the fewest possible words. That doesn't mean that we need to revert to "You're in a large bedroom. You see a double bed and an antique table" - that is purely functional.

I try and keep my descriptions relatively brief (particularly for non-interactive items), and resist the urge to write long cutscenes. Cutscenes are both the place where excessive writing comes most naturally and where (from experience - I always find myself skim reading text dumps) it is most frustrating to find lengthy wordiness.
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Postby Sprite » Sat Nov 17, 2007 3:40 pm

I think it's entirely down to the individual writer's style. Some people tend naturally towards more lengthy descriptions, and that isn't necessarily bad in moderation.

If you want to try using fewer words, I recommend that as a writing exercise; your writing can only improve from trying it; but don't change your unique style to conform to what you've seen work elsewhere.
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Postby Cannibal » Wed Nov 28, 2007 5:04 pm

I often think less is more but wordy prose has its place is used correctly.

The most important aspect of any writing - IMHO - is that, beyond he mechanics of correct spelling and grammer, is to make certain that it feels right.

If you read something and it seems cramped and awkward or dull as dishwater then, guess what, it will read that way.

Also I would avoid writing when you're bored. An upbeat mood or a foul mood can do wonders for the text you craft but writing when you are bored is never good: the reader will always know!

Beyond that, it's pretty much down to taste.
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Postby J. J. Guest » Sat Dec 01, 2007 12:14 pm

Cannibal wrote:Also I would avoid writing when you're bored. An upbeat mood or a foul mood can do wonders for the text you craft but writing when you are bored is never good: the reader will always know!

That is so true! I don't know how many times I've had a Saturday free and thought to myself, right, I'll spend the whole day writing, and instead I sit down for four hours 'researching' the game on Wikipedia. Procrastinating in other words. Either you're in a creative mood or you're not, you can't force it. Unfortunately my creative moods don't always coincide with my free time.
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Postby Bondo » Sat Dec 08, 2007 10:08 am

Personally, I find that not micro-managing the tasks in a game make it play better, and it tends to read better as well.

Basically, say the player wants a cup of tea. You could do it this way:

You're in the kitchen. There is a kettle, a cup, and a bag of Earl Grey on a wooden table. The sink, the stove and the refrigerator are against the wall.

Take kettle

Taken

Fill kettle with water

How?

Use kettle with sink.

You place the kettle under the spigot and fill it with water from the sink.

Place kettle on stove

You place the kettle on one of the burners on the stove.

Turn on stove.

You turn on the stove.

Wait

Time passes...

The kettle begins to make a high-pitched whistling sound.

Turn off stove.

You turn off the stove.

Take kettle.

You carefully lift the kettle, being careful not to burn yourself.

Put tea bag in cup.

You place the tea bag in the cup.

Use kettle with cup.

You pour the hot water from the kettle over the tea bag in the cup. The water immediately darkens, turning into a nice cup of tea.

Drink tea

You take a drink from the tea cup. It's lovely.

Or, you could do it like this:

You're in the kitchen. There is a kettle, a cup, and a bag of Earl Grey on a wooden table. The sink, the stove and the refrigerator are against the wall.

Make tea

You prepare yourself a nice cup of tea using the Earl Grey and the kettle. As the tea bag seeps into the water, the water darkens, turning into a nice cup of tea.

Drink tea

You take a drink of tea. It's lovely.

In the second example, it's shorter, it's sweeter, and it's easier on both the player and the author. For the author, fewer possibilities have to be taken into account, such as trying to make tea with cold water, or forgetting to add the tea bag, and for the player, he doesn't have to think through each and every step of making a cup of tea. The player knows how to make tea, and he may not want to tell the parser each and every detail required to make it.

Though some may enjoy the first example more, namely the masochistic.




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Postby Lumin » Sat Jan 05, 2008 5:38 am

As with almost any question like this, a lot depends on the specific situation, but as a general rule of thumb I think static fiction and IF are two very different beasts.

With a regular story, less is definitely more. (Typically after I write something, I let it sit for a couple of weeks and them come back with fresh eyes and cringe about how awkwardly written and horrible it is, then try to tighten the wording and cut out as much unnecessary ramble-y stuff as possible.)

Obviously no one wants to read a detailed paragraph about an antique table or whatever unless it's somehow vitally important to the story, but IF by contrast thrives on this stuff. I know tastes differ but I for one like the sense of immersion that reasonably detailed descriptions provide. It's not like I'm demanding an entire novel or anything, but if I were to examine at an antique desk in real life I'd probably notice more than the fact that 'It's an antique desk."

Bondo's post about tea was meant as a gameplay example but it's basically the difference that I'm talking about here too. I've actually seen puzzles like his first one and IMO they're not that out of place in IF, (where often the whole point is to carefully examine objects and then figure out things you can do with them) while the character in a regular story would probably make and drink their lovely tea all in one sentence. Making a cup of tea is one of those mundane-in-real-life actions that could actually make a decent puzzle in the right circumstances but can't exactly carry a story on its own...in static fiction the focus would likely be on something like the conversation the character is happening or what they're thinking about as they make the tea, not the act itself.

So basically what I'm trying to say is that static fiction are plot and character oriented, IF is...object oriented? And that's where the writing for each should generally focus? Argh, actually I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say anymore, it's late and I'm feeling incoherent so I'll stop now...

Also, yay for bumping month old threads! :D




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Postby ralphmerridew » Sat Jan 05, 2008 3:06 pm

The important rule is make it interesting. See the mother's section in Common Ground or the beginning to Fine Tuned.
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Postby Cannibal » Fri Mar 21, 2008 11:15 pm

IF is a very different beast and is often prose heavy, especially adjective heavy. Most IF writers feel that large blocks of text constitute a good and well written game which isn't true (hence the golden era of text adventures when games were challenging and entertaining yet carried terse descriptions).

Never underestimate what the player/reader can invent in their own head when reading something that you have written (IF and regular fiction). You do not need to describe every fine detail and weigh the prose with a million and one adjectives because the player/reader will do it for you.

eg

You drive past a rowdy and dingy council estate feeling your foot easing harder against the accelerator.

That tells you everything you need to know and, to be honest, you've already painted a picture of the scene in your head, but it's a tad basic and could do with a bit more colour.

You drive past a rowdy and dingy council estate - writing scrawled on soot stained brick walls, bins overflowing with cardboard fast food packets - feeling your foot easing harder against the accelerator.

That's more of an IF way of doing it and it's far too wordy.

This is more what I would go for.

You drive past a rowdy council estate - writing scrawled on walls, bins overflowing - and feel your foot easing harder against the accelerator.

None of the descriptions are perfect but each quite different (and the same).




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Postby NickyDude » Sat Mar 22, 2008 4:10 pm

I sent a piece of prose that I had written to a more gifted friend of mine and he sent it back with a few changes. OK. He butchered it. He cut the word count by over half. And the thing is - it really read much better.


If we could, I'd love to see the two versions.
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Postby revgiblet » Sat Mar 22, 2008 9:32 pm

I'll have a look. I think I've only got the original. I might have part of the revised version, so you'll be able to see the comparison.

EDIT:

Here are two extracts - the opening paragraph - of the piece. The first is my original, the second is the suggested revision.

"I saw something very strange the other day. I was with my friends, Apathy and Easy Life, and we were walking home from our daily trip to Vanity Fair. It’s a mostly delightful walk full of beautiful scenery, particularly pleasant on a summer’s day. I say ‘mostly’ because there is one part of the walk that is certainly discomforting. At one point in your journey the road bends round to the left and you walk past a tall, crooked tower. The silent tower is a mishmash of broken and jagged bricks, without windows and with a single, imposing knotted wooden door in the base. It’s a terribly ugly thing and all the worse for being the place where Suffering lives. We often pick up our pace when we approach this monstrosity, and once we are well past it we relax and the jolly banter begins again."

And the revised version...

"I saw something strange today. I was with my friends, Apathy and Easy walking home from a trip to Vanity Fair. It’s a delightful walk on a summer’s day, but there's a bend that I hate, where you walk past a tall, crooked tower. It's a mishmash of broken bricks, with no windows and a gnarled wooden door at the bottom. This is where Suffering lives."

There are a couple of style points here. The original reflects a decision I made to be intentionally verbose and give the impression that the narrator is a little bit flippant and slightly detached from the real world. Furthermore, my critic confessed that his revision reflects his style, preferring to leave the hearer/reader to fill in the gaps. I think his reads better, but what do you all think?

Anyway, that's all I have of the revision. If you want to know how it ends you'll have to make do with my original version. ;)




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Postby djchallis » Mon Mar 31, 2008 10:23 am

I'd say his is too short, but I'd say yours drags a little.
In the end it's down to you and what you want to achieve with the paragraph. As you've pointed out, writing isn't just about communicating what the words overtly say.
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Postby NickyDude » Mon Mar 31, 2008 2:17 pm

Here's my effort:

"As my friends Apathy, Easy Life and I were walking back from our trip to Vanity fair, we came across something strange. The walk is extremely pleasant, especially on a summers day, apart from one point where the road bends taking you past a crooked tower without windows and a single knotted door, Suffering lives here."
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Postby Sprite » Mon Mar 31, 2008 4:51 pm

I think in IF the pauses while you think what to do next allow you to digest the scenery better. In a book, writers have to describe in more detail to stop the reader from skipping through it without really taking it in.

So, be brief, and leave it to the player's imagination. It'll be better for it.
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