Writing good RPG material combines both technical writing and prose writing, with one or the other taking precedence depending on whether you are writing “crunch” (rule mechanics) or “flavour” (things like a monster’s background or a village write-up).
Additionally, writers must normally adhere to word counts. As well as helping a publisher plan his book, word counts help parse a writer’s ideas down to the absolute essentials. Utilizing a hybrid writing style while keeping to a tight word counts means every word is valuable.
Earlier in my freelance career, one of my publishers pointed out to me a simple trick to excise some of the “flab” from my writing; it was regarding the word “that.” “That” has many meanings and uses in the English language. Some are as follows:
- Pronoun: “that” as a pronoun often indicates a thing (person, place, idea, etc.). Example: I am going to attack that troll.
- Adjective: “that” is used to indicate a person, place, thing, etc. mentioned before, present, or as a well-known characteristic. Example: That dwarf is my friend.
- Adverb: “that” is often used to quantify extent. Example: I saw a dragon that big.
Because “that” is used so prevalently in speaking and writing, it innocuously slips its way in. However, it typically adds no value to your writing and increases word count. Most of the time you can remove “that” and save yourself a word. Here are some examples:
- The boulders that the catapult fired smashed through the castle’s walls. Instead write: The boulders the catapult fired smashed through the castle’s walls.
- I saw a monster that had two heads. Instead write this: I saw a monster with two heads.
- The gold glowed so brightly that it hurt my eyes. Instead write this: The gold glowed so brightly it hurt my eyes.
- The kraken was so large that it filled the whole cave. Instead write this: The kraken was so large it filled the whole cave.
Some tips for expunging “that”:
- Do a word search to find “that” in your document. I don’t know how times “that” crept crept in to my material.
- If you find an instance of “that,” consider whether you need it. The easiest thing to do is remove the word from the sentence and see if it still makes sense. If it does, you don’t need that!
- Remember, not all “thats” are bad, but they should be seen as a red flag indicating your writing might be getting bloated.
Concise + precise = tight writing. Reducing unnecessary words helps you achieve this, a necessary component for a successful RPG writing career.
Special thanks to Steve Russell (of Rite Publishing) for the tip and Kristy Erickson for editing this article.
John’s 100% correct about the evil word bloat of “that”. All the writing advice in this document can also be applied to my other evil nemesis—“will”—which rears its ugly head in many turnovers.
For more advice on writing, I highly recommend The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. This deceptively small book is packed with excellent writing advice; read it, practise its contents and you’ll become a much better, more proficient writer.
Finally, thanks very much John for taking the time to share your turnover tips with other freelancers!