No writer of interactive fiction should use the genre as a gimmick to excuse bad writing. Creating smooth and clear prose is not a matter of style, but the result of techniques and fundamentals. Luckily for the amateur writer like myself, there are decades of eternal teachers out there in print.
Beware of the ‘bad fanfic effect’: where readers willfully ignore poor writing out of sheer love for the characters. Because of this I decided to spend this summer in training—after which I’ll emerge as a half-hearted yet doubly-sober Hemingway!
In all seriousness, I know I can improve. So to start my training I wanted to learn the tools of the trade, and I came across Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. I can’t explain the benefit of implementing each tool, but I can show you:
Tool 1: Branch to the Right
(Clarify subject and verb first for clarity and narrative energy!)
Tool 2: Use Strong Verbs
(Active verbs create action and save words!)
He paused, but didn’t quake in fear. As a veteran soldier he saved his trembles for after the battle was won, giving no thought to the other outcome.
Tool 3: Beware of Adverbs
(Don’t use an adverb when the sentence implies it!)
The ninja stalked atop the rooftops.
Tool 4: Period As a Stop Sign
(The slight pause magnifies the first and last words of a sentence; hide the less-important ones in the middle!)
Tool 5: Observe Word Territory
(Give key words their space and don’t repeat them!)
(However: repetition has it’s use and foundation words like ‘said’ or ‘that’ are often the best to use!)
She discovered an unmistakable sight—the ruins of a forgotten people.
Tool 6: Play with Words
(Don’t be afraid to use words that are known by readers but avoided by most writers!)
Tool 7: Dig for the Concrete and Specific
(Don’t be vague! Write details that make your reader see!)
Tool 8!!!: Seek Original Images
(Using cliches is a substitute for thinking!)
A vision of mine this sweet was destined to turn bitter.
This dream was ruled by my imagination, and I had run out of pleasant thoughts.
Tool 9: Prefer Simple to Technical
(Complicated ideas don’t need to be communicated in complicated prose!)
Tool 10: Recognize the Roots of Stories
(Identify and utilize narrative archetypes, but don’t get consumed by them!)
Tool 11!!!: Back Off or Show Off
(Resist the urge to show off how clever you are when serious or dramatic things are happening! = UNDERSTATEMENT)
(You can show off more during less crucial moments! = OVERSTATEMENT)
OVERSTATEMENT: His yellowed nails were sharpened like daggers, though no knife could etch red ink half so well. Recovery was a hope as dashed as a hoed rice paddy.
Tool 12: Control the Pace
(Shorter sentences = more periods = slower pace = clarity + suspense + emotion!)
(Longer sentences = less periods = faster pace = builds energy + gives imagery + metaphors!)
Tool 13: Show and Tell
(Use levels of abstraction: low when appealing to senses, high when appealing to intellect!)
Tool 14: Interesting Names
(Writers and readers are attracted to interesting names, make them fit!)
Her name was Koko Jo, called Kojo by her friends and coo-coo by everyone else.
Tool 15: Reveal Character Traits
(Use scenes, details and dialogue to give the reader evidence of character traits!)
Tool 16: Odd and Interesting Things
(Ironic juxtaposition: when two things, at odds with eachother, are placed side by side and compliment each other!)
Tool 17: The Number of Elements
(Count your elements: one for power, two for comparison, three for wholeness and four for listing!)
Momoko was quiet and focused.
Momoko was quiet, focused and determined.
Momoko was quiet, focused, determined and altogether preoccupied.
Tool 18: Internal Cliffhangers
(Place dramatic elements right before a break in action to create a page-turner!)
Tool 19: Tune Your Voice
(Be authentic as hell and read your writing out loud!)
I couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. There was a bounty out for ronin, and its numbers ran high.
Tool 20: Narrative Opportunities
(Who = Character, What = Action, Where = Setting, When = Chronology, Why = Motivation, How = Process!)
Tool 21: Quotes and Dialogue
(Quotes are heard by the reader, while dialogue is overheard and more intimate!)
DIALOGUE: “Done some bad things, myself,” I comforted her. Put my hand on her shoulder, then clamped down. “But I’ve never tried to pawn off katana blades. You see, battlefield looters,” I smiled, “are maggots to be stepped on.”
Tool 22: Get Ready
(Get as much information as you can before writing!)
WHAT I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT: arena fighting, body language, combat-desirable physical features, fuedal Japanese weapons, traditions and ceremonies
Tool 23: Place Gold Coins Along the Path
(Give the reader small rewards to motivate them forward! Don’t make everything serious and grim!)
I held back a gulp. I wasn’t fearless—my foot had fallen asleep.
Tool 24: Name the Big Parts
(Naming your chapters is important, make sure you can recall all major plot events just from their names!)
Chapter 1: The Emperor’s Decree
Chapter 2: Maritime Madness
Chapter 3: Operation Sea Lion
Chapter 4: Lost In Translation
Chapter 5: The Shugenja and the Magician
Tool 25: Repeat
(Repetition of key words and phrases creates a rhythm and pace—don’t let it overpower but don’t be afraid of it!)
Tool 26: Fear Not the Long Sentence
(Long sentences are great for describing long things and in chonological order!)
Tool 27: Riffing for Originality
(All new knowledge derives from old wisdom! Collect and adapt colorful phrases and metaphors!)
ADAPTION: The drunken boxer shuffled about in a delirious dance, wild yet choreographed, with movements precisely as vague as he intended.
Tool 28: Writing Cinematically
(Think and write in terms of camera angles, and shift focus throughout a scene!)
(Camera angles: Aerial view, Establishing shot, Middle distance, Close-up, Extreme close-up!)
Tool 29: Report for Scenes
(A writer must be a reporter for reader immersion! Give readers an experience!)
Tool 30: Write Endings to Lock the Box
(There are many ways to end: the time frame, the payoff, the epilogue, the apt quote, looking to the future and more!)
Tool 31: Parallel Lines
(Single words should be balanced with single words, phrases with phrases, clauses with clauses!)
(Violate the pattern at the end to make emphasis!)
Tool 32: Let It Flow
(“Why should I get writer’s block? My father never got truck driver’s block.” – Roger Simon)
Tool 33: Rehearsal
(Think ahead of what you’re going to write before you write it!)
Tool 34!!!: Cut Big, Then Small
(There should be no unnecessary words in your sentences and no unnecessary sentences in your paragraphs!)
Tool 35: Use Punctuation
(Use punctuation to help pace and space words! Comma, semicolon, parentheses, dash, colon!)
Tool 36: Write A Mission Statement for Your Story
(Every writer has some vague aspiration for their work, some lasting effect—write your hopes down!)
Tool 37: Long Projects
(Break long stories into chapters = running 26 miles is easy if ran over the span of 52 days!)
Tool 38: Polish Your Jewels
(Brevity is a virtue, creating opportunity for wit and revealing the luster of the language!)
I plopped down against a nearby rock. Mossy and slick and uncomfortable, it serviced as a seat for my next decision.
Tool 39: The Voice of Verbs
(Active verbs draw attention to the actors, while passive verbs draw attention to the ones acted upon!)
PASSIVE: The wind was buffeting against Masami’s tiny frame, strong enough to knock her around so that she would wobble.
(The Actor = the wind, The Acted Upon = Masami)
Tool 40!!!: The Broken Line
(Narrative and analysis can be mixed to great effect, but too much analysis will starve the reader!)
I slid open the door.
Tool 41: X-Ray Reading
(Be alert to the points of a story that make you eager to read on! Take note and reflect on those techniques!)
Tool 42: Paragraphs
(Vary the length of your paragraphs! Each should be a contained, single thought or sequence!)
Forget saké. I’d have given anything for cold barley tea.
Our tea leaves had ran out a week prior, though our teamaker was more tenacious. Toshio, while forgoing the ceremony, grew creative with all manner of leaves and twigs. ‘Herbs’, he referred to them, though I grew to prefer boiled water to steamed dandelions.
Tool 43: Self-criticism
(Self-criticism is best left alone during writing and let loose during revision!)
Tool 44: Save String
(Declare your interests and you will notice and store things about them over time!)
“A Scandal in Bohemia”, Sherlock Holmes finds a photograph by faking a house fire.
“Liar Game”, a safe is opened by it’s owner, having assumed it’s contents were somehow stolen.
Tool 45: Foreshadow
(In your initial descriptions of people and places use words that come to life later!)
Tool 46: Storytellers, Start Your Engines
(Good questions drive good stories!)
How does one overcome an obsession over the past? (MC and Junko/Jun)
What does it mean to dedicate yourself to a cause? (MC and Toshie/Toshio)
What are the dynamics and bonds of manly friendship? (MC and Hatch)
What does it mean to be dangerous to those who care for you? (MC and Momoko)
Tool 47: Collaboration
(Take an interest in the roles and the people that support your work!)
Tool 48: Create An Editing Support Group
(Form a group of friends, colleagues and experts who can give you feedback!)
Tool 49: Learn From Criticism
(Tolerate even unreasonable criticism by transforming debate into conversation!)
Tool 50: The Writing Process
(Writing isn’t wizardry! Sniff, Explore, Collect, Focus, Select, Order, Draft, Revise!)
The Mission Statement Process: Condense your collection of ideas to find the essence of your story!
The Outlining Process: Order the major events and drama moments, the choices and their branches!
The Writing Process: Draft without the desire to be perfect; capture onto ideas that spring forth while typing!
The Editing Process: Overlook your own work, read it out loud and make it clearer. Enlist others to do the same!
The Scripting Process: Put the words into choicescript, making branches and variables from the notations you made back in the Writing Process!
The Playtesting Process: Load your game up in a browser. Inspect the ‘look’ of your paragraphs for size, see when a page is too long or short. You’ve still got a ton of mistakes at this point that your proofreaders will help you find!