Archive for February, 2011
A friend of mine just now IMed me to ask a question regarding developmental editing, and I realized that I hadn’t yet talked about this here.
How do you politely say “Please go back and take another look at this whole section as I don’t think you’ll be pleased with what you’ll see, and it’s not worth it for me to do more than flag the whole thing as rewrite”?
Well, polite isn’t the point. I’m polite if that’s what I need to be with a writer. I’m crass if that’s what a writer needs. When I make my comments, I seek to make them effective.
That means I don’t just say “Hey, rewrite this.” I see myself as having two options when I run into such a problem:
- Rewrite the text and flag with “I found X, Y & Z problems with this text, so here’s an attempt at rewriting. You should take this and work with it, see if it matches your intent.” I only do that if the gig involves an expectation that I’ll do that from time to time, if the schedule we’re working on allows for that, and it’s actually going back to a writer.
- Make a comment that goes into detail regarding the problems, with specifics. Saying “Rewrite this” is useless. Saying “Rewrite this, the flow isn’t any good.” is useless. Saying “Rewrite this, as it’s confusing” is useless. Explain why the flow is crap, where you’re getting confused as a reader, all the details you can. You’re talking to the person for whom this makes utter sense, which means you need to walk them through your thoughts as a reader and editor.
Let’s focus a little on the latter, since you’re going to run into times where rewriting is either the wrong option (due to time, roles & responsibilites, or situation) or you can’t actually figure out how to do the rewrite. Here’s what I focus on in my comments:
- Name specific issues with the text. Say where the flow or comprehension breaks, or other negative reactions.
- Name why they’re issues. Details, not general rules.
- Suggest what could be done, or be upfront that you have no suggestion.
- Don’t be a dick about it.
Remember, your goal as a developmental editor that’s turning a draft back into the writer is to help them understand why you made the calls you did. (And not just because your writer likely knows where the “Reject Changes” button is.) If you’re too general, at best they’ll be confused and at worst they’ll entirely misinterpret your comment. But don’t be an asshole about it, either–that’ll just undermine all your efforts if they’re cussing you out with every comment.
(Unless, again, you’re working with people who thrive off of that.)
 Hi, Lenny.
 There was one article I was reviewing some time ago where I said “Um…do you realize this reads like it was written by a closet misogynist?” So not all reactions need to be about comprehension.
 See #1
I caught a Twitter exchange this morning between Sage La Torra & Jonathan Walton that made me think about my own early experiences. They were talking about dealing with feedback and worrying that their games aren’t good enough.
Here’s the thing: They never will be.
Seriously. I look back at games I’ve worked on, some published, some not, and see things I wish I had done better. Some critiques for A Penny For My Thoughts that I’ll do are based on what Paul & I wish we’d done better. Definitely little things about Dresden Files RPG, mainly in explanation organization. Know Thyself, my ashcan from 2007, man I wish I hadn’t released that–though I learned a fuckton by doing so, thus making it a worthwhile endeavor. And with the fiction I’ve written & published, I always look back and wince at phrases and transitions, etc.
I’m going to feel that way about Mythender. And every other game I make. I’m going to be disappointed by the playtests that go “meh” more than the ones that go down in flames. But that’ll always be the case. Not every moment in time is a dramatically good or bad one. I console myself with knowing that “meh” moments tests if my game or story is a flash in the pan or not–if I have them and people are still interested to play again, I’m comforted.
So if that’s what’s keeping you from publishing, that’s unfortunate. Because it’s only in getting your work out to other people and seeing how it happens that you grow. And it’s only by closing a project, stop tinkering with it and just get the work done, that you begin to learn how this process works. Your game will never be perfect. Perfect is the enemy of done as it is the enemy of good.
Do the work. Let it breathe. I know it’s hard, but having been on the other end a few times, I can tell you it’s worth it.
 Not that I knew about them until after publishing and seeing so many come into contact with the text…which is the point of this post.
 Yeah, I’m also a short story writer. Bet you didn’t know that. I have a story in an upcoming anthology, Human Tales from Dark Quest Books, edited by Jennifer Brozek.
 Whatever “publishing” means for you, from selling a book to rocking a Lady Blackbird-style PDF and being done with it. That John Harper‘s a fucking master of Being Done.
I used to delay getting lunch. I would think about what I wanted for lunch, and hem & haw over the decision. I would wait a good couple hours after I should have eaten to eat, making those couple hours crappy and not very productive. Then I’d eat.
And I discovered that it didn’t matter what I had for lunch, because a few minutes later I went back to work and didn’t think about it.
So when my phone alarm goes off to eat lunch, I just do it, making whatever and then going back to work. Dinner’s different, because I want to enjoy that. But lunch is just functional.
This blew my mind, because he made me realize that I was the same way. Today, after a brief outing to deal with my mail, I was thinking about lunch. Just getting back from DunDraCon, I had little in my home. I was thinking “hmm, chicken? or chinese? or a burger? or maybe a sandwich? or a burrito…” and was delaying eating because I was pondering options.
I remembered Josh’s wisdom, and just walked to the grocery store (which I needed to do anyway) and bought what I needed for some lunches. He’s right, I don’t really care about what I just had. Back to work. And I’m thankful for his advice, because it’s increased my happiness (as I eat sooner due to not delaying) and helped my pocketbook (as I don’t go out for lunch as much because I know the gratification is very fleeting).
It’s rare that something happens that makes your life better & happier while also costing you less, so here’s my thank-you to Josh. And my passing the thought along to others, who might also see benefit.
 Which deserves its own post, one that’ll likely compare/contrast with OrcCon in LA, the Presidents’ Day con I typically attend.
First of all, I’m swamped with some stuff, so these critiques will come in more of a trickle. Because of that, I’m willing to try this experiment for a couple weeks or so, rather than try to shoot my metaphorical wad in one go. Second, I want to focus on one critique at a time, rather than over-analyze a book. That whole “500 words is awesome” thing I’m rocking, because it helps focus discussion.
With that out of the way, I’m going to talk about VSCA’s Diaspora. Because this is the Internet, I have to start with a couple disclaimers:
- I like Brad Murray, he’s good peeps, and he volunteered Diaspora for this. (Not that that would stop me, to be fair. Everything sold to the public is fair game.)
- I’ve played Diaspora (and, you know, a bit of Fate here and there), and it’s good times
- They deserve the ENnie they won for Best Rules
- I’m not critiquing design. Not the focus here.
The Issue: the Anti-Recommendation
So, let’s talk about what I call the Anti-Recommendation. Here’s the example from Diaspora:
The “Fudge Dice” sidebar at the top catches the eye, so when I look at page, that’s what I see first. I’m reading it, and I get to the second paragraph, quoted below:
The system will work with a different probability curve by rolling two different coloured six-sided dice and subtracting the darker from the lighter. Treating the -5 and 5 results as zero keeps the expected range though with better chances for extreme results, and we do not recommend it.
“…and we do not recommend it.” The moment I read this, I was annoyed. My time was wasted as a reader, and being this early on, I had the reaction of “How many other times in this book are they going to tell me something and then tell me to disregard it?” It colored the rest of the reading of the text. My trust was lost; everything was now suspect.
See, when you tell someone that you don’t recommend something you’ve spent time talking about, you’re establishing that your text was created from a disorganized thought process and then not cleaned up. We all write (or well, many of us) from a stream of consciousness approach. But that’s fine for a conversation where you’re (a) able to engage the other person and (b) it’s clear the medium is one of fluid, unedited thought. But conversations are a very poor method of passive information transfer (like, you know, from a book). Books need to be more to-the-point, with follow-up text supporting and reincorporating. When you instead undermine your text, well, you’re asking your readers to not follow what you’re trying to teach them.
How To Address This
A critique is useless, in my mind, if we can’t talk about how to deal with the issues that come up.
If you find that you’re writing something, and end with talking about it as an anti-recommendation, here are two things to do:
One, if this information absolutely needs to be in the book, lead with the disclaimer. To (very hastily) rewrite the above:
While we don’t recommend it, if you don’t have Fudge dice and the method above seems confusing, you could use the d6-d6 method. The system will work with a different probability curve by rolling two different coloured six-sided dice and subtracting the darker from the lighter. Treating the -5 and 5 results as zero keeps the expected range though with better chances for extreme results.
This also tells us why up-front that you don’t recommend something.
Two, you could cut the text. This falls under “assume your readers are smart and will get clued in to advanced topics if they’re sufficiently interested,” “don’t undermine your text,” and “don’t waste the reader’s time, as it’s a precious resource.” That’s what I would do in this case, looking at the text.
So, here’s the first of many little posts I’ll do for this “Critique RPGs” project. Diaspora’s getting a couple more from me, as are others. But no one is paying me to blog, so back to the salt mines I go!
Rare Sunday post!
I just (at the time of this writing) tried to buy something on e23 because I couldn’t find my copy physically around — GURPS Cabal, by the master of gaming horror, Kenneth Hite. It’s been years since I used my e23 account, so I’ve forgotten my username. Here’s the really crappy user experience I just got to deal with on the login screen:
If you don’t remember your username, or you’ve changed the e-mail address you registered with, please contact us for help.
Which directs me to a form that apparently goes to a human. It’s 1am Sunday morning in Austin. No human’s reading that. Whee.
I used to write this sort of software for a living. It takes, like, 10 minutes of code to add to what they have now. Hell, with rigorous testing, half an hour. And it’s just as secure as the human method–both methods are just going to look up an email address, find the corresponding username, and email it to that same address. So if the email address is compromised, either way that user’s fucked and the other end has no way of knowing.
Which is to say: security is no excuse here. It’s just an oversight, but since e23 has been around for several years, I find it disappointing.
To add to the frustration, the reset password page is misleading:
If you don’t remember your username, please enter your email address below, and we will send you a reminder.
And if I follow those instructions, hey, no dice. I get the joy of this response:
Error – Please enter your username and a valid e-mail address.
How I know this? Because my eyes went to the “reset your password” link before seeing the first text I quoted, and was then frustrated that the page lied to me. Then further frustrated that I have to wait for a human to get back to me so that I might have the privilege of giving that human money.
(That gets into a long lesson about user experience, expectations, and things like that. But that’s a derailment.)
I’ll probably find my copy of GURPS Cabal before then, so it’s doubtful that I’m now going to give that human my money.
[EDIT] Further awesome: It’s nearly 1am on Tuesday and I haven’t received it yet. Yay for human intervention systems.