It’s all in the Details

A recent addition to my responsibilities as producer is to help guide and determine the content for Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Thus, I’m going to spend a little time this week discussing what kind of writing and design impresses me.

Creativity is important, but it’s not the first trait I look for in game design. I come from an editing background, and as an editor, I appreciate when designers get the details right. Put another way: It’s a lot easier to foster creativity than writing skills. You’d be surprised how many people don’t review their writing before turning it over. The simple step of taking a few extra hours to review what you wrote has immense value.

Pro Tip: If you’re working on a Mac, you can go into system preferences, select text to voice, and set up a shortcut that enables the computer to read back text to you. Although the computer’s voice is jarring, this tool is a great way to reveal errors or redundancies in your writing.

I realize freelance writers and game designers don’t always have the luxury of waiting a few days after writing something before submitting it. However, giving yourself time to come back and review a piece of work with fresh eyes is another invaluable technique for catching errors. You’ll catch writing that is unclear and overly verbose.

Ultimately, in my mind, what distinguishes a good designer from a great one is his or her ability to get the details right. I work in an industry with amazingly creative people. I’m exposed to fantastic ideas on a daily basis. Your pitch might be creative, but so are those of the other half-dozen people submitting pitches that day. If you really want to impress and set yourself apart, make sure your writing is succinct and without error.

And I know what you might be thinking: “But slowing down to finesse my writing stymies the creative process!” Sure, you’re right. As a writer, I understand that sometimes, you just need to plow through a few pages without regard for dotting the Is or crossing the Ts. Still, that doesn’t excuse not going back to review and self-edit.

Paying attention to the details is a simple precaution to ensure your writing gets noticed. Given the choice between two really creative pieces, I’ll always go with the one without grammatical and formatting mistakes. If you’re ever in doubt on how to format an item, a monster stat block or a feat, go look it up. We have plenty of reference material! The D&D Compendium is a great tool for checking to make sure you’re following our existing styles (use recent releases for reference, such as Monster Vault, Player’s Handbook 3, or Heroes of the Fallen Lands). Pay attention to the way we word powers and feats—if you’ve ever looked in on the character optimization forums, you know that wording matters—a lot.

It sounds intimidating, but writing for this game can be a lot like coding. A single line of code that’s incorrect can cause a hiccup in the program (in this case, the game). Writing for D&D might actually be harder, since you also have to make sure that what you’re writing has a compelling story.

Now admittedly, part of the onus is on us, members of R&D, to provide writers with the best guidelines and templates we can. And I try to do that. However, for a new designer breaking in to the industry, you might not have all these faculties at your disposal, so you have to make use of what you’ve got, and usually, that’s a subscription to D&D Insider, a few RPG books, a blank word document, and, hopefully, a sharp mind.

Greg’s List of Game Writing Tips

  1. Get the details right. Pay attention to formatting and wording. The more stuff you get right, the less time we have to spend teaching it to you.
  2. Be succinct. We might pay by the word, but we know when writing is artificially inflated. If it requires a lot of work for us to distill the writing down, we won’t want to hire you in the future.
  3. Be creative. This one is a no-brainer, but here it is anyway: We want to see original ideas that put a unique spin on D&D while remaining true to its essential nature. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your creativity and brilliance will make us ignore mistakes in your writing.
  4. Be specific. Don’t shy away from providing detail. Sometimes there’s an assumption that game writing should be vague and open-ended so anyone can use it. However, with the amount of game writing available, anyone can find just about anything. We want to provide the details that will fuel readers’ imaginations.
  5. Be consistent. Make sure that your specifics are consistent. There are few things that discourage me more than a writer who spells the same name two different ways in a 1,000-word article.
  6. Revise, Revise, Revise. In other parts of the publishing industry, writers trying to break-in spend a majority of their time outlining, self-editing, and rewriting. The game industry should be no different, given the scrutiny and intelligence of our readers. Take the time to review your writing. We’ll know if you don’t.
  7. Read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Go, do it. Now. I started as an editor in R&D, and I owe it almost entirely to this book.

7 thoughts on “It’s all in the Details

  1. He means everything he says. The more you adhere to the details, the less I hassle Greg and Co., the less Greg and Co. have to hassle you. This translates to better opinions about you and your work. “Attention to detail” is a trait that you want to have associated with your name.

  2. We might pay by the word, but we know when writing is artificially inflated. If it requires a lot of work for us to dilute the writing down, we won’t want to hire you in the future.

    I think artificially inflated writing is already diluted down, since there’s less of the good stuff in the same mass. To get the good stuff back out, you would have to distill the writing out, or some other metaphor like that.

  3. One technique I use as a DM is using a voice effects procesor through a P.A. System we have set up around the room. I have a card that tells me which effect is best used for what type of creature. Anything from Elves, to Kobolds, to Giants and Ogers. As well as an effect for spirits, and mechanical beasts. You often have to speak slower than normal and reall enusiate with some of the more complicated voice effects, but so far it’s been pretty cool. I use the effect which sounds like Alvin (from Alvin and the chipmunks) for tiny fey like creatures too. That usually gets a smile goin on peoples faces. But the MONSTER2 setting is always reserved for Dragons and Demons! That always gets a reaction too!

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