Title: Advanced Writing Guide
Posted: May 05, 2006 (07:04 AM)
You will get the most out of this guide if your writing is at the point where you can make what's right even more right. But don't let that stop you. Everyone can grab something here (and I continually read it over to remind myself of effective writing techniques):
Adapted with excerpts from "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser (hint, hint, buy this book):
To say why you think a game is good or bad, in words that don't sound banal and boring, is one of the hardest chores in reviewing.
Hold the reader's attention. Use different structures. Use different punctuation. Use different lengths, not only of sentences, but also of paragraphs. Use parallel structures for dramatic effect. Emphasize a point with a fragment, a command, or a crisp sentence. Be humorous. Be vivid. In other words, don't be boring. Take a look at your work and see if it tends to fall into a pattern and work to break through them.
You'll find just how strong your voice can come through.
Start with a bang. Be the bullet. Sharp and concrete. If your very first words don't capture your reader, they may be your last. Don't write something cliche like "This game is the best RPGs of all time" or "I was walking into GameStop and I saw the game lying on the shelf." This counts for the heading and the title.
Be as broad and specific as you can. It can be long - "Despite a snoozefest of a storyline, this game's exquisite graphics will win you over." Or it can be like a dagger - "This game inspires hatred." You can even start extremely specific, pinpointing that one brilliant or annoying part of the game that exemplifies its worth and ultimate score.
Moreover, by the end of the first paragraph, I should get a overall sense of how you feel about the game. If you start out negative, don't end positive. Or vice versa. [Unless it's delivered with brilliant execution.]
Don't count on the reader to be interested in your review. Make them be interested. Hook them in and don't let them go.
Use specific detail. Nouns and verbs should be your focus. Never run on adjectives and adverbs. Avoid dealing in generalities, which, being generalities, mean nothing. "Enthralling. Luminous." - Great adjectives but what do you mean? "The graphics are amazing" - How amazing? Your idea of amazing is different from someone else's. Cite an example and let your readers weigh them on their own "amazing" scale. "Clear water drips off Samus' visor." "Winding canyons plunder green pastures." "The soundtrack is like Marilyn Manson but on even more acid." Get the picture?
Flow. Nearly every review can work on flow. Do the sentences weave and connect from one to the next? Or does it chop the reader to death? Can I see how you got from one sentence to the next? One paragraph to the next? Do your best not to repeat words or phrases unless it's much too unclear without doing so. Also, don't be afraid to use "But" and "And" as the first word in a sentence. If you have learned not to do this in school, unlearn it.
Focus. Don't pile everything into one paragraph and call it a day. Stick with one main idea and stay on topic. Encapsulate your paragraphs. Just because you're talking about gameplay doesn't mean you can cram every gameplay criticism into one. Either separate them or look for a way to seemlessly include multiple points into one paragarph. If you start wandering off the page, I'm going to start wandering off the review. What are you trying to say? Surprisingly often, writers don't know.
"It won't do to say that the reader is too dumb or too lazy to keep pace with the train of thought. If the reader is lost, it's usually because the writer hasn't been careful enough. That carelessness can take any number of forms. Perhaps a sentence is so excessively cluttered that the reader, hacking through the verbiage, simply doesn't know what it means. Perhaps a sentence has been so shoddily constructed that the reader loses track of who is talking or when the action took place. Perhaps Sentence B is not a logical sequel to Sentence A; the writer, in whose head the connection is clear, hasn't bothered to provide the missing link. Perhaps the writer has used a word incorrectly by not taking the trouble to look it up. The reader can only infer what the writer is trying to imply.
Faced with such obstacles, readers are at first tenacious. They blame themselves - they obviously missed something, and they go back over the mystifying sentence, or over the whole paragraph, piecing it out like an ancient rune, making guesses and moving on. But they won't do that for long. The writer is making the reader work too hard."
Simplicity. Fight the clutter. If you find yourself writing a long sentence, chances are that you are trying to say too much. Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose, especially "little qualifiers" that dilute your style and persuasiveness: "personal", "at this point in time", "sort of", "kind of", "a lot of", "a bit", "quite", "very", "pretty much", "in a sense", "really", and so on and so forth. If you can remove a word without damaging the sentence, do so.
Reexamine every sentence. Is every word doing new work? (or are you just repeating what you already said one sentence or four paragraphs ago? Are you blabbing off into space?) Can any thought be expressed in fewer words? (like, say, half the words) Is anything pompous, pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless because you're afraid? ("It's worth mentioning that...", "It's interesting to note that...", "This is just my opinion, so...") Or because you think it's beautiful? (But it's so poetic and heartfelt...)
"Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style and how it obstructs what they are trying to say. If you give me an eight-page article and I tell you to cut it to four pages, you'll howl and say it can't be done. Then you'll go home and do it and it will be much better. After that comes the hard part: cutting it to three."
You are the deputy for the average man and woman. After every sentence, ask "Does the reader really need to know this?" and "What does the reader want to know now?" It has been my experience that writers feel that everything is relevant (especially if it comes out of their mouth). That's great as a first draft but take the time to edit things that aren't important to the reader. Don't hang on to something for the sake of hanging on to it. Unless it's deeply personal or something that you feel confident about including, let it go.
End with a bang. Finish what you started but don't grudge through your concluding paragraph. Maintain the strength of your voice.
"Most of us are still prisoners of the lesson pounded into us by the composition teachers of our youth... We can still visualize the outline, with its Roman numerals (I, II, III), which staked out the road we would faithfully trudge, and its subnumerals (IIa and IIb) denoting lesser paths down which we would briefly poke. But we always promised to get back to III and summarize our journey.
That's all right for elementary and high school students uncertain of their ground. It forces them to see that every piece of writing should have a logical design... But if you're going to write good [reviews], you must wriggle out of III's dread grip.
...You see emerging on your screen a sentence that begins, "In sum...", "Overall...", "In conclusion..." These are signals that you are about to repeat in compressed form what you have already said in detail. The reader's interest begins to falter. The tension you have built begins to sag. Yet you will be true to Miss Potter, your teacher, who made you swear fealty to the holy outline.
But your readers hear the laborious sound of cranking. They notice what you are doing and how bored you are by it.... Why didn't you give more thought to how you were going to wind this thing up? Or are you summarizing because you think they're too dumb to get the point? Still, you keep cranking. But the readers have another option. They quit.
The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right. We are startled to find the scene over, and then delighted by the aptness of how it ended. For the reviewer, the simplest way of putting into a rule is : when you're ready to stop, stop. If you have presented all the facts and made your point you want to make, look for the nearest exit.
Look for a sentence that completes the review but is also surprising. If something surprises you, it will also surprise - and delight - the reader, especially as you conclude your story and send them on their way."
Stylish. Allusive. Disturbing. This is criticism at its best. It jogs a set of beliefs and forces us to reexamine them. Does your review do this?
Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in times of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard.
Posted: May 05, 2006 (07:46 AM)
Heh, I read this book before. ^_^
Thanks for putting this up, though.
Posted: May 05, 2006 (09:18 AM)
That post makes a lot of good points that I already keep in mind each time I write precisely because I write a lot. I agree with every point but I don't necessarily follow each one all the time. You can tell when I'm not doing so because my writing is typically weaker for it. I would encourage anyone who has trouble writing reviews to print this out and keep it nearby, just as I would encourage people to remember that ultimately the list is just a bunch of guidelines that come to exciting fruition not through rote memorization, but through regular application.
Posted: May 05, 2006 (01:00 PM)
Can this be summed up in under 25 words or less?
Posted: May 05, 2006 (03:59 PM)
Summary: "Stop sucking, EmP."