The SolAARium: Discuss the craft of writing - Alphabetical Index in the 1st Post

Norgesvenn

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What does "less is more" mean?

Since I mentioned this before, I thought I'd elaborate on the subject.

"Less is more" is much advocated by those who primarily write for the web. Writing for the web is in this context looked upon as different from other media.

Why?

First of all, usability research shows that readers are impatient. Therefore, Jacob Nielsen advocates that writers should get to the main point already within the frame of the first sentences. Thereafter, writing should be kept short, in order to provide better readability and scanability.

Research shows that readers scan rather than read texts on the web, unless they're particularly interested.

Now, interest would of course be a prerequisite to read an AAR, and most of the research done on web writing has been done with one thing in mind: to write better commercial texts. The intention? To sell. With the dotcom failure, we might suspect that these theses have been rendered obsolete.

I'm afraid not.

However, even as a copywriter, I see a huge difference in the approach between an AAR forum and a website set up to punt records, books, DVDs, shampoo or whatever else you might want to sell.

When you're out to purchase, you want as few clicks as possible to get to the product, a to-the-point description, pay and go.

Literature simply doesn't work the same ways. And, most of the AARs in this forum are, by definition, literature. So, why apply the "less is more" maxim?

I write copy when I write AARs. I try to keep the "unecessary" sentences and words out of it. Why? Hopefully, it makes the writing more accesible. Even journos like Hemingway managed to get people to read his books by doing so, and was even hailed as a writer revolutionising the styles of writing.

I do, however, see that this isn't suitable to most people. I'm no writer. I'm a copywriter. Plotlines are important, as they are a way of conveying the main points of the author. In our case, how the English beat us down in our socks or whatever.

I admire those who can make interesting twists to such banal references.

My recommendation is therefore, screw the "less is more" unless you feel comfortable at writing minimalist tales, and concentrate on what you feel is suitable for you.

One thing, though. Use spacing frequently. A well-spaced article, AAR or whatever is much more accessible than a densely typed old-fashioned book on the web.

Cheers,
Tomas
:)
 

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I concur with you one one point. Spacing is vitally important to making it easy to read on the actual AAR.

My question is why are short, widely spaced paragraphs easier to read when posting on the forum, and why do I want a big, thick, juicy paragraph when I sit down with Tolkien?
 
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Bismarck

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Secret Master,

I has to do with the nature of the light you are using to read said passages....

Computer/Television screens are projected light, and a bit hard on the eyes, while books and magazines are reflected light, and thus, much easier on the eyes... and if push came to shove, it is a lot easier to change the lighting while reading print materials than web ones.

M
 

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At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I think there is a problem with the initial premise here. If I want to read a book I sit down for an hour at a time and devote my full attention to it. If I'm on the net I might spend 15-20 minutes scanning the forums for a good title. Afterwards, if the story is good I'll log back in to see if there is an update. But I'm not looking for a novel, more a two column article in a newspaper.

If AAR writers concentrate on structure, characterisation and period detail can they really produce the goods at the rate the average board reader wants. If the AARs are posted in larger chunks then will the readers be hooked into reading the next episode.

I'm all for good writing but I'm not sure that a game forum is the best place to publish it.
 

Norgesvenn

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I'm just sharing from what I know is a good guidline to writing on the web.

As long as I live, I'll hope that Jacob Nielsen is wrong. It's just that experiences on this board shows that short pieces will get more feedback as they are more accesible. Thus, longer pieces will get less feedback, although the writer (like the Genoa AAR) has made more of an effort while producing the piece.

The web just isn't a fair medium.

MrT has made story text Acrobat printer friendly documents of some of his AARs.

This is a very good idea.

Bismarck, you're right on target here. Please make an Acrobat document of your Cyprus AAR as well. Please? :)
 

Derek Pullem

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Originally posted by Bismarck
I would... but I don't have Acrobat... just the reader....

M

You get a small logo at the bottom of each page if you don't buy it but try this

pdf factory
 

Secret Master

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Originally posted by Derek Pullem
I'm all for good writing but I'm not sure that a game forum is the best place to publish it.


You have a valid point, Derek. This also relates to something I mentioned to LD the other day. Since this is a gaming forum, and not a literature society, quality writing and popular writing will not be the same. Thus, we might have a conflict between what is a good writing habit, and what makes for accessibility to forum readers. If the two conflict, we may hurt ourselves in the long run by developing bad habits.

On the other hand, there is nothing that says shorter paragraphs make for bad writing. It may just be what is appropriate in this medium. Medium is always important to writing. Novels could never have been written in the modern way 1000, 2000, or even 10,000 years ago. Why? Because in the old days, when it was very special to have just one person who was literate in an entire town, literature was in the form of lengthy poetry. You did not have to be able to read and write to compose and tell epic poems. In fact, the rhyming in old poetry is as much of a memory tool as it is a literary one. But when you have a printing press, and mass literacy, it becomes feasible to write something on the scale of modern novels. The medium makes it both possible and mandatory. You could never recite a novel like you could an epic poem. But epic poetry lacks something when it comes to being mass produced for everyone to read. Thus, we have no contemporary writers who write books of epic poetry. The medium is not suited to the form of literature.

This begs a question, which is admittedly tangent to the ones currently proposed, but is writing shorter paragraphs a natural part of writing in this medium, or is it only a commercial requirement, not a literary one?
 

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I haven't really changed my writing style to fit this medium... perhaps that is a problem... then again, I do get what I feel to be a more than healthy amount of readers... so perhaps there is a middle ground between quality and popular writing, and I think you, Secret Master, also fall within this category, so it seems interesting that you bring up the disparity between popular and quality literature.

M
 

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Since this is a gaming forum, and not a literature society, quality writing and popular writing will not be the same.

so perhaps there is a middle ground between quality and popular writing, and I think you, Secret Master, also fall within this category, so it seems interesting that you bring up the disparity between popular and quality literature.

Actually, Bismark, I used bad language here. What I should have said was this:

Since this is a gaming forum, not a literature society, quality writing and popular writing may not always go hand in hand.


This states my case much better. For example, I view LD's writing to be generally better than mine. I also think his Portugal AAR is more popular than my current project with Castile. On the other hand, if you ask him, LD was really fond of the work he did with Genoa. (And, having been poking around in it, I agree it is some really good writing.) But the Genoa AAR had almost no readership. Thus, popular and quality are two independant qualities with regards to writing on this forum. (And, arguably, with regards to bestsellers, but that is a different debate....)
 

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First off, Secret Master, nice discussion of the changing nature of the medium and its effects on the message and its form.

Mr T has said numerous times that his Rivers Run Red reads very differently depending on whether you read the posted version on the threads compared to the pdf version. Having originally read it in the pdf version (as printed hard copy in a nice binder :D ), I tend to agree strongly. There is a choppiness to it that you don't really pick up when you're reading the thread online. Admittedly, his writing is so good (and so long) that the choppiness isn't nearly as pronounced as it has been with some other authors whose work I've also printed and bound.

Second, regarding making PDFs. As Derek Pullem pointed out, there are alternatives on the web. There are also at least two different no-frills low-cost PDF-makers I've run into. Both are in the $30-$50 range. I haven't used either yet, so I won't give them a plug here. Here's a link to one of them: PDF The same company also gives away a free "office suite" (WP, spreadsheet, etc).

Third:

Originally posted by Secret Master

This begs a question, which is admittedly tangent to the ones currently proposed, but is writing shorter paragraphs a natural part of writing in this medium, or is it only a commercial requirement, not a literary one?

This isn't a strongly held opinion, but I think part of the reason AARs tend to look/read better with shorter paragraphs is the nature of the information imparted. If a paragraph is designed to be a self-contained parcel delivering a single unified idea, then many AARs which tend to be event-driven and log-based will naturally have short paragraphs. There's a few sentences about X and then a few sentences about Y. They aren't really sticking with one long idea X.

The other reason that I think short paragraphs look better on-screen is that the size and resolution of most people's screens and software are set such that a paragraph of equal total length will take up far fewer total lines. (Because the onscreen "page" is so much wider.) When I copy AARs to Word for printing, I usually reduce the font size to 10 point and eliminate almost all margins, and that still barely brings the printed version down to a comparable line count.
 

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Originally posted by Secret Master


Since this is a gaming forum, not a literature society, quality writing and popular writing may not always go hand in hand.
I think that point goes without saying, and has rather sadly been proven several times over. My Portugal may be more popular, SM, but I think Castile, the Palatinat and Cyprus, to name a few, are much superior pieces of work. Thank you all the same.

However, just because this is a gaming forum doesn't mean we have to act like its a gaming forum. Maybe there are inherent problems with post length and attention span, but that shouldn't deny us the chance to utilise this medium to the best of our ability, nor hinder us from writing the material that we want to write.

Face it, this is the closest 99% of the people on the board will ever get to being published. We have an on-line forum that caters to history (very, very rare, if you read my take next door in the bAAR), a chance to write, a medium to place it on, and above all, an audience. The audience may prefer fast food over steak, but for the steak lovers it's a very good opportunity to practice and receive feedback from other steak lovers.

There lies the beauty of this forum. Where else, other than University Workshops, local writing clubs, or getting mom, dad, and the dog, will you have a chance to create and display your ideas with others who have the same love for history?
 

Secret Master

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Speaking of our love of history, I do have a related question.

I know that it has been spoken of before, in hushed tones over at the bAAR, but what are the advantages and disadvantages to writing a bit of prose based on 400 years of gameplay, versus doing a bit of prose based of something shorter?

Advantages of 400 years:

Lots and lots to write about. The ability to telescope into small detail for a few years, then telescope out to looking at the really big picture for a while.

The ability to do "family" pieces. That is, you can create a family to follow with your writing and trace generation after generation through history. With 400 years to play with, you can really play up the "Sins of the Father" aspect.

Also, 400 years allows for verbose writing. Something a few of us in here might know a tad bit about... :D

Advantages of shorter timespans:

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Rather than slaving over one post and realizing you have 1200 more to go, you know you have a limited time span to cover, so it does not feel as intimidating.

It allows for a continous focus on small details. You can really get into the nit and grit of setting if you keep it in one small span of time. That is a damn near impossible task for doing all 400 years.

Keeps reader interest up. If it looks like it will be shorter (regardless of whether it is or not), it will be less intimidating to readers, therefore making it more accessible. After all, War and Peace written as an AAR, even with quality writing, would be be daunting to the best of us.


These are just my observations, and maybe I am completely wrong. Either way, it aught to provoke a lively discussion.
 

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Many thanks for this discussion on spacing; I've been going back through my own upcoming AAR, "As the Sprit Moves Me", with the ENTER key firmly under hand.

And - ahem - chopping verbiage to make room for the extra spaces. To paraphrase English composer Gustav Holst, "First draft I write, second draft I erase all that is not absolutely necessary." My hero!

I've been wondering - Well, OK, I need some pot - I mean PLOT, yeah, PLOT help.

I've gotten my hero into a bit of a fix, which I can't talk about for spoiler reasons. He's looking for an item; how might he find out where that item is?

He has time - he's dead, and it's only 1700, and he can have all the resources of the English kingdom - but it's neither a common nor a really spectacular item.

Too bad he can't just ask you guys!

Don't mean to hijack - if I need to take this somewhere else, let me know.
 

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Secret Master,

I like the freedom that 400+ years gives me to explore trends and ideas, as well as figures, something you just can't do with a shorter span of time. What I lack in depth, I make up for in breadth(sp?), for I can show a lot wider variety of experiences and people the way I write... and if I get bored with something, well, I can just quietly eliminate that aspect....

I have a wide framework to weave a story around too.... so I can find myself surprised with some of the twists myself... I know how it happened in the game, but when I get down to writing, I have only a basic understanding of how it is going to turn out... it reminds me of those actors who improvise in scenes, knowing that there are a few pieces of information which need to be conveyed, but otherwise, they get to play it by ear... that's how it is with me. I didn't know that a character I introduced early on would be the patriarch of the current royal family... it just sort of happened... but that's what I love about 400 years... anything is possible...

My motto is we may not stop to really look at every place along the tour, but you basically get to see everything.

I would feel cramped if I was trying to do an AAR based on a really short period of time. I would have to know everything ahead of time, and then I'd get bored while I was writing it... and it would show... so I have stayed away from that so far. That's not to say that I don't have some of this nature in my future... I know I do.... but on my terms...

Oh and Director, if you PM me, maybe I can come up with something... I am good with that sort of thing...

M
 

Storey

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Originally posted by Bismarck


I know how it happened in the game, but when I get down to writing, I have only a basic understanding of how it is going to turn out... it reminds me of those actors who improvise in scenes, knowing that there are a few pieces of information which need to be conveyed, but otherwise, they get to play it by ear... that's how it is with me. I didn't know that a character I introduced early on would be the patriarch of the current royal family... it just sort of happened... but that's what I love about 400 years... anything is possible...
M

I'm wondering how much of the story is scripted out before anyone here starts writing? Since I stay with the shorter game time span I have the general plot laid out but hardly any of the details. An example is when I did the murder mystery I knew who was killed and who did it and the most general details of what happened. I had this idea and started writing and fleshed out the story as I went along. I can't count the number of rewrites the story had since it was almost continuously happening. The characters started with a name and grew from there, as did their actions. It's not that they wrote themselves it’s more like I worked it out in my head before I put it to paper or computer screen. Is this different when writing for 400 years or for 4 years?

Joe
 

Craig Ashley

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400 year AARs are in my humble opinion a real task. Both of my AARs will most likely end well before 1819. The advantages are pretty well listed here. The whole idea of "the sins of the father" is something I never thought of. Shorter time spans allow for more detail and exploration. You just can't detail the thoughts and feelings of several people for 400 years. The AAR would be bigger than an encyclopedia.

Going back to the previous topic. My own two AARs are definately formatted for the forum. The Pope's Basement with it's short entries is a little like visual popcorn. This makes it more diofficult to convey deeper conflicts and/or emotions. In A Pawn No Longer I sort of just use "snapshots." It allows me to go into some depth with my characters but doesn't cover the day to day lives. Part of the reason I choose these paticular formats, is because I knew I would be covering a significant amount of time. At this point in my development as a writer, I'm not ready to convey the day to day lives of anyone. At least not make it interesting. Down the road, I would like to do something more along the lines of RRR.

LD: How deeply do I imerse myself in a book? If the characters are well written and fleshed out, very much so. I almost get annoyed if the description of them doesn't match how I have been picturing them. However, what is a guarenteed way to snap me out of any level of imersion? A legthy passage about the setting. A page or two is just too much to read about setting. I much prefer it if the writer works it into the action, similar to how you worked the description of Father Tarantella into your post in From the Pope's Basement.
 

unmerged(4007)

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LD,

How deeply do I immerse myself in a book?

If its quality, incredibly. I can quote vast sections of LoTR and the Silmarillion from memory. Shogun is a work that I know very well, Winds of War and War and Remembrance are works I still can recall the details of. I nearly threw the book across the room in disgust (at the character) when Natalie gets off the boat at the beginning of War and Remembrance. But then I thought it was a cheat of her character when she didn't go with Byron in Marseilles.

But others I can gloss. When an author becomes repetitive, I lose interest. That's just me. If I wanted dry reading I'd pull out one of my theology textbooks or a commentary. Fiction should not be so lacking in imagination and creativity as to confuse one with a textbook, IMHO. When it does so, I tune it out and go into speed reading mode (if I decide to finish it at all).
 

Director

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Immersion in a book is what I read for, if it's a work of fiction
( and if I'm reading for knowledge and the author can hold me spellbound, so much the better - John Keegan, James McPherson, Shelby Foote for instance ).

I'm on my first AAR, and that one not completed, but I can say I've gained an appreciation of the work and thought that goes into all of them, no matter whether short or long.

And on that length issue - in a shorter timespan, I expect deep detail and attention to characterization. Over 400 years, there's just no way to continuously drill down to a detail level. Notice I said continuously - bringing the epic down to human scale every once in a while is essential if you want to keep my interest. But 400 years of in-depth description and your work will be longer than an encyclopedia.

Two things I really enjoy are:
1) the author taking a routine or obscure announcement and weaving it into the story
( see Bismarck’ s Cyprus - The Last Crusade if you haven’t already )
2) the appearance of historic events and characters but in hidden or changed form
( Prufrock451’s adaptation of Johan DeWitt in Shawng1’s “The Trouble With The Neighbors” is great )
 

Norgesvenn

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I immerse myself in a book to quite a considerable degree. Of course, and this probably is a really obvious point, it depends on the quality of the writing and the subject.

Books that have captured me often include small subplots and/or obscure stories. I enjoy the rather verbose writing of John Irving, at least until "A Son of The Circus". I also enjoy the to-the-point writing of cult hero Charles Bukowski, a man who wasn't published until he was over fifty. By the way, his novel "Hollywood" reminds me a lot of your Portugal AAR, LD. I recommend that book. :)

I can't really point to what makes a novel worthwhile. Swedish novelist and journalist Jan Guillou wrote some spy novels during the 80s and 90s. One was quite good, the rest... awful. I was therefore a sure sceptic when he decided to go ahead and write books about Medieval Scandinavia and the Templars. But, I read them not only with great interest, but they obsessed me to quite a degree. And it wasn't because his writing had improved...


I've read "The Clash of Civili(s)zations and The Remaking Of World Order" by Samuel P. Huntington. His writing is clearly aimed at fairly educated readers (I'm "fairly educated", although I may have fooled you), and is academic in its form, and I strongly disagree with his "realist" positions, but all the same I found the book very worthwhile. I've even read biographies by and about people and politicians (there's a subtle distinction there) that I absolutely loathe, but still enjoyed the books, even when they did not confirm my prejudices.

Oh... loong post. I'll quit now that I'm ahead. :)
 

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Immersion in biographies is always an enjoyable thing. I love Gilbert's bios of Chruchill. Well done, detailed, and yet they are quite capable of making you imagine that you are there hearing the words of one of the greatest orators of the 20th century.

The Shelby Foote Civil War Trilogy is perhaps, to me, the most immersive history I've read since I was a teen. The scope and accuracy are remarkable, and yet Foote paints the scenes with the love of the fiction writer he is. Typical is when Lee looks out across the battlefield before Fredericksburg and he sees the house he courted his wife in being used as the Union HQ. The eye for details and when to use them.

I'm not against details at all. But the good author, IMHO, knows when they have effect and when they're just a frill. Foote, IMHO, does this exceedingly well troughout the Trilogy.