Friday, February 15, 2013

Look! More Natalie Portman's Navel!

So I see by the old clock on the wall that I now have 18 followers. At this rate, we won't be able to take over a 7-Eleven, much less the world. However, we're the perfect size to survive a zombie apocalypse. I've been away for a few days, doing what game designers do. Which is watching a lot of old, bad TV shows and playing games on Facebook. Those things are addictive. 

I promised to continue my journal on the work going on with Torn: Armor, and using it as a teaching tool for you aspiring game designers out there. We're up to the point where I need to discuss the importance of writing an outline. As I said, it's hard to come up with anything more than "it's important." Perhaps I should outline this article... Be right back.

To recap: The folks over at Torn Limited or Torn Publishing or whatever -- Alyssa and Jack -- have sent me what they think are "rules." They want me to get onto reviewing the material, making suggestions, plugging holes, and writing stuff. To which I reply "where are the rules?" Then, Alyssa flips out. 

During this conversation, where I talk Alyssa off the ledge, it comes out that they've actually been playing this game at home. That's a good thing. That means that the information is stuck in someone's head, and they're just having a hard time getting it on the page. Remember, Jack was writing this material with the rulebook to another game sitting next to him. He was trying to make his work "look like" their work. That's always a bad thing, first of all because that material has been edited and developed (which means at least three pairs of eyes have gone over it), and second it's all laid out nice and neat on a page. I can't tell you the number of aspiring designers who send me Word files with the tables all laid out with the shaded lines and whatnot. (Seriously, stop doing that.)

Jack needs an outline. But he's never written one. So I call him up, and talk to him for about two hours about outlines, and why they're important (as well as looking at his work as a finished product that others would have to use). 

I'll be honest, I'm guilty of this, too. I get all excited about the work and I dive right in. I start typing away. And I quickly get lost. I end up writing four pages of history, when only two will do. I repeat myself. I discover that I never did write that section that explains the zombies are actually aliens, or whatever -- that section with the key piece of information that links everything together. I'm just writing. 

That's when an outline comes in handy. 

First of all, you can chart the flow of information. Is your setting chapter going to start off with history, then geography, then countries? Are you going to discuss religion? Maybe that chapter on character creation would be better as chapter three instead of chapter two. With an outline, you have a sense of how the information is going to flow in your document. 

Second, you can fill in your outline at your leisure. Word has something called "outline view" and I find it invaluable. I've tried other programs, and they just don't have this functionality. Admittedly, I was being cheap, and downloaded Open Office. So there may be other programs out there that do this, but I don't know about them. If there are, you should use it. One of the great things about it is that as you fill in the information that goes under the heading, Word shows you which headings have text under it and which do not. So you can fill in your history section (because you're feeling historical that day), and write the material on economics some other time. You can see what you've done, and what's left to be done. 

I could teach a class about how to use outline view in Word. 

Third, even if you're not using Word, even if you're using old-fashioned pen-and-paper, the outline tells you what you need to write. It's like a giant "to do" list. For example, you might need to write all the skills for your game. You have a list of skills you want to include. You know you still have to do that. You have that coming up, so you can start thinking about it. Moreover, you know what goes where. That skill you're writing might actually be a spell description, for example. Or you might right a great paragraph in the rules section that goes better in the setting's history. 

And it doesn't even have to be that detailed. You could just outline the high points -- the level one headings. If your history section needs to be broken down into periods or particular events, you can always add those level two headings while you write. 

There is one pitfall I've found with outlines. I tend to end up filling in the information -- actually writing the game -- when I should be outlining. Under those headings, you're going to be putting some notes. What kind of information are you going to add later? The kind of information that you'd put in bullet points; that's all you should be doing now. You're going to come back later, once the outline is done, and fill in that material. This is especially true if you're going to be handing this outline to someone else. You want to give them an idea of what goes under the heading; you don't want to write it for them. I made this mistake recently. I sent an "outline" to a writer only to discover I'd written half the chapter in the outline

Thus, the outline tells you how the information is going to flow, what you've done and what needs to be written, where that information should go, and what you should be working on. It's an invaluable tool. Especially since the thing you're writing is long and complicated, and it's easy to get lost. 

I totally lied about Natalie Portman's navel, by the way. I knew the only way to get you people to read this thing was to trick you. So you can stop looking. 


  1. That half-chapter was pretty good, though.

  2. Yeah, I was disappointed, too ... so here it is for all of you who got to the end without the goods being delivered:

  3. Why thank you Paul. Maybe someday, someone will ask me to write for them.

    And seriously, Alyssa?! You spammed my site with a picture of Natalie Portman?