I am not going to focus on spelling and grammar in this writing guide. This is something most education systems in counties with standard access to the internet usually provide at a sufficient level, and for those of you who write in English as your second language, if you're the sort to seek out these sorts of games you're usually on par or better than the average native speaker anyways. Don't hesitate to ask for help with metaphors though, those are insane because English is insane.
Instead, my goal with this writing guide is to focus on the details: things like formatting advice, how to write actively and entertainingly. We have two goals in this game: have fun writing about our characters, and provide others enjoyment when they read about our exploits.
One point of etiquette before we get started: while I personally appreciate when people help me out when I include an errant word or make a typo when tagging, especially since my spelling is atrocious and I'm often tagging from my phone (where swiftkey is my only spell check), it's generally not advised to correct things in other players' contributions to the log without discussing it with them first. Someone I've developed a rapport with, I will often give them blanket permission to fix typos and punctuation for me, but someone I'm still getting a feel for their writing style I would prefer they check in with me before they make corrections. (Though if I misspell your character's name, jump in and fix it, though if you draw my attention to it, I'm less likely to do it again.) Also be mindful of which dialect of English they speak and write in — wars have been started over things less than the frequent or infrequent use of letters like u and z, so make sure you're using the correct spell check dictionary for the writer before you accuse them of making a typo. Friendly joking in the chat about who's version of English is correct is fine, Bugs Bunny vs Daffy Duck level typo correction over the word 'color' vs 'colour' in a log is not.
What makes a good tag, all things considered? At minimum, it can be reduced to this basic concept: have you responded to what your writing partner/s contributed since you last tagged, and have you given them something they can respond to in their next? This is the foundation of moving the log forward. Writing based RP is a collaborative process, and it can quickly sour if one person feels like all effort to move the plot forward comes down to them.
When you write your tag, ask yourself two questions:
- Has my character responded to what's happening around them? If not, is there an in character reason for it, and can I acknowledge that reason with internal dialog or in some other manner?
- Have I written anything that affects others in the log, and therefore given them something to write about in their next tags? If not, consider talking to your writing partner/s to make sure there's a mutual goal for the log and brain storm on how to make sure you're helping move towards it.
Less Is More
I have been involved in RPs and sims where the popular opinion among the crew is that those who write more are better writers. However, while some people can write an amazing amount and you'll feel satisfied when you're finished reading, there are also people who can write an amazing amount about absolutely nothing. Everyone's been there: you've been waiting for your writing partner to hit you back, finally they've had a chance to tag, and you read what they wrote and you just die — they gave you nothing to respond to because they spent 500 words inside their character's head, thinking about something that happened when they were a teenager. Even though I tend towards verbose naturally, I have the utmost respect for those who can get their thoughts across effectively and quickly. This is part of the reason why we don't have a word count rule, I feel that forcing people who are otherwise succinct to expand to meet a particular threshold is just as destructive having someone who writes long and flowery (though info packed) prose try to cut themselves back. We provide a word count tool in our editor only to give you an idea of when a single log is getting long enough that it might be worth splitting into multiple parts for easier reading.
Regardless if you're succinct or verbose, the tips in this medium post can help you punch up your writing: The Two Minutes It Takes To Read This Will Improve Your Writing Forever. Also some great advice: I Smell Your Rookie Move, New Writers, hitting on things like what's important to describe and what's not, the fine art of dialog, and other things that are commonly done wrong by most inexperienced writers. I admit that I catch myself doing some of these things, and they certainly are common occurrences in most writing based role plays.
Being focused on Intelligence field work, and other tropes common of spy and noir genres, we're going to have action and excitement. The art of writing a good fight or chase scene is one that takes a lot of practice to master. To help you start down the path to success, take a moment to read these 6 Tips for Writing a Knockout Fight Scene A lot of this advice ties into the advice above about Less is More, so certainly consider how the two work together.
Most of that advice is geared towards someone writing alone for fiction, but still apply to role play game writing. Mix them with the following to take your fight scenes to the next level: A fight scene will typically be more exciting when written collaboratively, especially since both writers will bring differing perspectives for their respective characters. If you're going to encounter an NPC during a mission, consider asking one of your crew mates to write the NPC for you. However, to avoid spinning wheels, it's a good idea to discuss before you start who's going to win in the end... that way you won't have both players fighting to outdo the other. Working together to craft an interesting scene and knowing what resolution is desired to further the plot, even if your characters hate each other and both have motivation to win, makes for a better log.
Think Outside the Box
Tropes exist for a reason: they provide familiar concepts used as building blocks for stories which allow for quicker movement into the telling of the story itself. Instead of having to spend time establishing a minor character and their motivation, they can walk into the story actualized enough that a reader can go 'ah-ha, I know what he's likely to do' and stay focused on your protagonist's actions instead. However, when they're overused they get tired, they get dull, and they can even be offensive — especially when they're based on overbroad generalizations. To some extent, inexperienced writers can lean heavily on tropes like a crutch. This is why it's good to examine the tropes you use, consider carefully why you're using them, and even explore if there's a way to improve or subvert them while still reaching the same goal.
Likewise, there are a lot of rules spoken and unspoken, that guide us in writing. Rules formed by people who've learned by trial and error, rules formed by what's been accepted popularly within a genre or a setting. I prefer to try to learn why a rule exists before I attempt breaking it, and I recognized that same message within the subtext of this article: 10 Writing "Rules" We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break. Not all of these apply to us, both as writers in a sim and as specifically a science fiction setting, but the article certainly provides some food for thought and is worth a read.
Do keep in mind as you start bucking convention, subverting tropes, and challenging the rules: they exist for a reason. The reason may not always be a good one, and breaking the rule might give you a good story or character, but straying too far from what your readers expect can also lead to more work to get a good story. More effort is needed to convince people that your character has reason to behave so different than they expect, more time will need to be spent establishing their motivations and convincing readers they should care about the character. Consider the trade of effort to sell your broken rule or subverted trope versus the pay off in the story, sometimes the extra effort can make the payout worth it and other times it is just a lot of build up for little payoff.
Mentioned as one of the points in the Rookie Mistakes blog post was dialog. Over my years of RP, I have seen it presented so many ways it makes my head spin. Odd punctuation, not making it clear who's speaking, sometimes even multiple people's dialog in the same paragraph. I don't know about everyone else, but I don't actually remember a teacher taking the time to tell me how to write dialog, I just sort of picked it up because I read so much. So even if you think you know how to write dialog, do yourself a favor and go back to Chuck Wendig's blog post and review the dialog section. Brownie points if you already write your dialog that way, level up if you didn't but will now.
Once you're formatting your dialog correctly, there's another things you can do to make sure your reader stays in the flow of things, by carefully handling languages other than the one you're primarily writing in. I spend a little time discussing Language in the linked article already, but the long and short of it? Do whatever you can to avoid disrupting the flow for your reader by keeping foreign words to a minimum. Make sure it's forwarding the story you want to tell, not just gratuitously showing off your knowledge, if you elect to include them, and make sure you provide a translation (recommended html code to do so in the linked article).
Star Trek is centuries in the future, medicine is super advanced, and doctors can do amazing things. But writing all that jargon for your medical character can be challenging. Obviously Memory Alpha will be your friend, checking out what things we've seen in canon, but ScriptMedic can be a big help too. Sadly, she didn't have the time to keep the blog up and running, but she has well tagged past questions, as well as her master posts, and you can find information about a lot of things by looking through those tags. The medical tech in Star Trek may have changed a lot, but the underlying human anatomy really hasn't. Carefully mixed with what we've seen on screen, her information can help you write a better informed medical character.
Push Your Limits
One bit of feedback I get regularly from new players is it's kinda intimidating to write with us. We all seem to know what we're going, what our characters want, and how to best use their skills. While I greatly appreciate the complement folded into comments of this nature, it also tells me that the people saying as much need a boost to their confidence. Here's a little tip: every writer has that insecurity, every writer looks at someone else's writing and wishes they could write more like that. The difference is, some people let themselves be stopped by these thoughts because they're afraid they'll never measure up, and the rest of us roll up our sleeves and get to writing anyways.
The only way you get better is with practice. As Charlie Jane Anders tells us in her article, Putting Your Worst Foot Forward: Why You Should Play to Your Weaknesses as an Author, you really should push yourself out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to try things that you haven't before, or work on what you aren't as secure in. So explore what you're not confident at, find friends and fellow writers who can give you constructive feedback on your efforts, and learn by trying.