Friday, May 24, 2013

Editing Out In The Open #2 - Game Flavor Text

Continuing our discussion from yesterday, here's more Editing In the Open. Today we look at the flavor text of a 4E adventure, written by and shared with the permission of Jeff Dougan. And just like yesterday, the inline edits will be red, and my comments will be blue.


At the end of the Dawn War, the gods sat back to observe the world they had created. (Remember, you can frequently eliminate the had in 2-verb construction and stick with the second verb.) Khala’s power was tied to the cold, but as the goddess of winter, wherever water traveled, she was able to observe the world. she could observe wherever water traveled. Traveling (the problem with this verb is that it suggests the sentence is going to be about how she got to the glacier, when in fact the sentence is about what she did once she got there, we can therefore just have her at the glacier.) to From the largest glacier at the heart of the winter, she removed took ice a slice as thick as her hand, bound it in silver, and polished it with snowflakes until it shone like a mirror (you can make an argument that mirrors don't shine, they reflect). Laid on its side, it seemed to be a frozen lake on the valley floor.(Why do I need to know this sentence? It doesn't  do anything other than take up space.) As Khala wove the words of power to enchant the mirror (wasn't it already enchanted, what with being wrapped in silver, etc etc?), a tendril reached out from the Chained God, unnoticed by the lady of winter (how come Chained God gets capitalized and 'lady of winter' doesn't?) . His touch disrupted on the magic caused causing the mirror to distort what she saw, so that she only perceived perceiving only the worst of anything reflected in the mirror. but it It also amplified the spell beyond Khala’s intent, granting the mirror the power to bend those reflected in it to her will.

When forced to surrender her power to the usurping death goddess (who's the death goddess, why is she not capitalized and is she different than the Chained God?), Khala’s last act of spite (were there other acts of spite? Else it was just her last act.) was to break the great scrying crystal, (what's wrong with calling it a mirror? And are you sure it's clear enough that the purpose of the mirror was to scry? This is the first instance of that phrase.) shattering the ice and sending shards flying off in all directions. Unknown to her, these shards still bore the taint of the Chained God. Magically interconnected to each other, the shards of the mirror make those who are touched by them more vulnerable to the mirror’s power. Even worse Worse, when while under the mirror’s influence they are open to the Chained God’s touch, if he should should he chance to reach out, and those who dare to use the mirror are even more vulnerable. ('Even more vulnerable' suggests that there are more things the user is vulnerable to, although you haven't mentioned them.)

Greatest of Khala’s retainers (whoa, we're switching hard and fast away from the mirror to retainers. This is a jarring transition) was the exarch known as the Snow Queen, who spread the snows as winter approached and guided their retreat as spring approached. (Are we not capitalizing the seasons?) When the Raven Queen assumed control of the winter snows, the Snow Queen herself refused to bow to the goddess she saw as a usurper (Are you saying the Raven Queen is a goddess? That's really unclear - you haven't really named or established who are and aren't gods, even if everyone named is a god, albeit one with a royal name). Absconding with the largest fragment of Khala’s Mirror, (how did she get it? what does the mirror have to do with this response? why is the Raven Queen important if we spent 2 paragraphs talking about a mirror?) she retreated not to the Shadowfell where Nerull’s bride kept her abode, but instead to the coldest reaches of the Feywild. (Why start the sentence by telling me where she didn't go? Why not just tell me where she did go, and let the sentence be short?)  Some suspect her influence in transforming the Sun Prince into the mighty fey being known as the Prince of Frost. Certainly, her snowflake retainers can sometimes be seen as honored guests inside the Fortress of Frozen Tears. (Are these last two sentences enough of an implication that Sun Prince -> Prince of Frost? And are you sure that you're making this connection clearer simply by mentioning her retainers? I thought this intrigue centered on the Prince's change, so why bring up retainers at all? This paragraph screams for a rewrite)


    Hard of heart herself, the Snow Queen now roams the world and the Feywild, although her dislike of the Raven Queen keeps her far away from the walls of Letherna. (So you've got the Raven Queen in Letherna, and the Snow Queen is everywhere else. But weren't we just talking about the Prince, and before that Khala and her mirror? Why are we jumping around from person to person and getting further away from the mirror, in the adventure that features the mirror?) She occasionally spots a mortal to whom she takes catches her a capricious fancy, and may transport that individual off to the Heart of Winter for a time, until that mortal freezes to death despite the gifts she bestows. (If the above information isn't a plot hook for PCs, it can be cut. It doesn't have relevance on the mirror) She can otherwise be found anyplace where there is water, for all water has the potential to become snow and ice. When her ire is roused, expect a blizzard to ravage the area. (Isn't that a little cliche? Or at least obvious that a snow-person makes snow when angry?)

    Only rarely does the Snow Queen leave her palace without being accompanied by many of her retainers. Often, they may be present in lighter snowstorms, even when their monarch herself has not chosen to venture forth from the Heart of Winter. Serving as her eyes and ears, they are quick to advance, quick to retreat, and ride the winds with unmatched skill. Bitter foes of the Sorrowsworn, they will often summon reinforcements and swarm the Raven Queen’s servants who venture out of the realms of the Shadowfell. (This whole paragraph does what now? If the Snow Queen is roaming around, why is it rare that she leaves the palace, with or without retainers? That's unclear. And are you suggesting the Queen can create snowstorms she can't endure? That seems ... problematic for a god with powers. And if the retainers do have unmatched skill, why wouldn't they be equipped/capable enough to endure any strength storm? Rewrite this paragraph, find a focus for it, likely blend it into the above paragraph if ANY of this information is truly vital to the PCs)

    At times, the Show Queen appears to seek to reassemble all the lost fragments of Khala’s great mirror. If she did so, it is entirely possible that she could challenge the Raven Queen herself, especially if the Prince of Frost were to ride forth at her side. (AHA! Now we come back to the mirror. Why did you stray so far from it for so long? And if you're calling the mirror "the main plot" is the Prince-slash-the Raven Queen the subplot? What exactly do you want the players to do? What information here is player-facing?)

***

Here's what the email would look like:

Jeff,

Attached please find the edited excerpt. Not a lot of inline edits, but there are a number of comments that need addressing. Here are the key ones I'd immediately address:

1. Who reads this whole text? Is it flavor or foreknowledge for the GM? It seems nicely fantasy, but I don't know who gets to appreciate it.

2. What exactly do you want the players to do? It reads like you don't have a whole lot of avenues for play - are they getting the mirror on behalf of the Queen? Are they keeping it from her? Do they rescue/deal with the Prince? What's the hook, or ideally, what are the hookS?

3. The text is ... a little heavy on the purple. Again, I don't know who gets to read it, but if it's not flavor text, then the presentation may lead to some head scratching. Not that you need to pare it back to a minimalist vibe, but you may want to relax the construction and application of long adjective phrases and insert stronger verbs to prompt pro-active reader response rather than a passive appreciation of "oh that's a pretty sentence"

I look forward to seeing version 2. Talk soon,

John

***

Flavor text is a difficult edit, because so often there are expectations the text has to deliver along with whatever facts the player(s) need to know. Sometimes, in the absence of flavor, there's just an encyclopedia entry of basic material, without connection or investment of feeling. Sometimes, there's too much flavor and big flourishes of adjectives and purple prose that although people can get swept up in the emotion and the bells and whistles, no one walks away with a clear idea of what they're supposed to do.

So what can be done? Where's the balance? It's not like there's one balance for all of writing, as each project it different, aimed at different audience and tasked with different goals (no matter how similar the goals may be when compared to other scenarios, settings, modules or whatever). There's also an element of how the writer composes the words, since each writer has their own strengths and style to account for when constructing something to be read by other people. We'll likely talk about that one later.

It's Memorial Day weekend, a three-day weekend for many of you, and I have two favors to ask in closing.

First, I want you to tell the people you care about that you love them. I don't just mean show them you love them by taking out the trash, putting the toilet seat down, or not quibbling over who took the last drink out of the fridge, I mean really sit down with them, maybe hold their hand, look them in the eye and tell them that you love them, that your life is made better by their presence and you love to see them smile. Tell them that they make you want to be better people, all the time, and that you treasure their support, faith, trust and encouragement. And that you'll do everything in your power to help them be happy, if they ever ask. Can you do that for me?

Second, and yes, you've heard this before, I have this GoFundMe campaign running. And while I'm some ways off from the target goal, there's still time to get me to the first goal of $2k. If I can reach $2k by June 17, I'll extend the campaign another week and make a big push to end strong. But first that means getting 2k. And I need your help. Even if that help is a dollar or five dollars or six dollars and seventy-three cents. Any amount helps. Please. This money goes toward paying bills (like phone, internet, groceries) and medical expenses (pills and therapy). Without the 2k, I can't even begin to focus on fun things like travel expenses, relationship budgeting or random amusements. Really, any amount helps. If everyone reading this gives two dollars...

Enjoy your holiday weekend. We'll talk next week (I'm thinking Tuesday). Happy writing.