Story-Game Editing; Random Rambling and an Offer to Friends.

Posted: February 18, 2009 by Guy Shalev in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

First, unless I mention you by name, and you think I am talking about you, I’m not. I’ve talked to some friends about these issues, and there is often an aggregate case here.

Second, most of what I write here is ramblings. Opinions that are mine, even if influenced and assented to in general by some friends.

So, some time past there was a discussion (actually plenty) on how some of the games coming out of the Story-Game ovens were half-baked, and looked bad. One response was to begin more heavily using the “Ashcan” route, where you release a game that is playable, done, but not fine-tuned, with the potential buyers knowing that this is the situation, so they could help you fine-tine it.
Another was people deciding to step up and help edit games. So they would be better, not only as games, but as texts, when they came out. As an example the rpgeditors was began. The community is not very active, but some people, notably Adam Dray, did step up, to offer affordable editing to people who wish to release their texts.

Thing is, the indie community had been founded not on any mechanical concept, any theme of an RPG (that that came to the fore is another issue, but I think it’s related to the core issue); it was that there is Creator Control and Ownership. You create the game, and you have absolute command over everything regarding the game.
Now, if I, or others, were to be credited as “Editors” in your game, and then there are horrible blunders in the text, we’ll be held responsible, should we try to use these credits to apply to a work-place. We are editors, but we do not have “Editorial Control”, which is what many people think of. Line editors/book editors at publications, the newspaper editor (chief), etc.

In the end, we’re more like “proofers”, or if you will, we do not edit your text, we provide you “helpful suggestions”, which you are free to disregard at will. Tied to this is the issue of “number of passes”, should an editor tell you to change tone, rewrite a paragraph for clarity, or even if the editor rewrites the section themselves, you can disregard the comment, or change things so the situation is not only better, but worse. This is not that much of an issue, if the editor were to look at the text again, but many times, after the editor’s single pass, the text gets back to the writer/creator, and the next time the editor will see the text, and face the errors, is after the book is out and published, with their name on it.

It also depends on what role the editor plays. If the editor is only there to find grammatical, spelling, and punctuational errors, then you should take their word for it. If you ask the editor to look for tone issues, passive voice, clarity, and other more in-depth things, then there’s a reason you’ve asked for it – you aren’t very good at spotting these issues within yourself. You are also unlikely to be able to see these things when someone else points them out to you. So if you did ask someone to go over these things for you, you should probably err on the side of caution, and take their word when they point things out. Unless you have a compelling reason not to do so, such as when you are adopting a specific tone, or a character that makes mistakes (I doubt any editor would have issues with the latter, unless it seems unintentional).

If you ask me, what Justin Achilli did in the red-lines of Clanbook Tremere (I’ve looked for a copy but couldn’t find any, if anyone has it, please share/email), is a form of editing. He was Line Developer, and he did not address spelling/grammatical issues (IIRC), he addressed where the book was supposed to go, specific terms (which were also issues of), tone, clarity (I think), etc. I have someone on my friend-list who submitted a couple of projects to White-Wolf, he can step in about this. And, if you will open any White-Wolf book, you will see the books also have editors, who address the text itself.

By the by, while I think text-editing is important, especially so an “anal” person like me wouldn’t claw out their eyes when they read your text, and for more people to be able to understand it. I think most people need “Clarity”-Editing. Where the editor tries to tell you when the text isn’t clear, when someone will read the game and leave without a proper understanding of how the game works, if for example he can’t understand what you mean in these two paragraphs about resolution.

Some games have holes, there are mechanics that are not listed anywhere, and when a person will come to the point where they are trying to use them, they won’t know what to do. Playtesting is there to help reduce this bit, by exposing the game to more potential situations which need addressing. Sometimes, and this seems to be the case many times, the rules are there, but they are unclear, or it is implicit, or they expect you to take the knowledge from one case and apply it to another, or to not do that.

Now, this is one reason people appreciate as clarity-editors people who are familiar with RPGs. It’s not just clarity of the voice/text, it’s clarity of the rule-corpus.
Your game needs to get looked at, your game-text needs to be dissected, and by people who have the knowledge to do it. And you need to give them time; if they spot a missing rule, or something that is not written in the manner it should, then you need to re/write what is necessary, and if the rule was not there at all, you need to playtest it. You can’t insert rules into a 95% completed game and hope they’ll work. That’s how you get revisions early and often.

I think in the end it ends with people giving up a measure of control, for higher quality.

Now we move to my offer, which is for friends of mine only, probably. Unless you talk to me nicely and offer my mountains of gold (or turn me into a friend of yours). It grows organically out of the above, but also adds some of my needs, heh.

-I will look at your text, and I will jot down questions. Things I found and had trouble with, found cool, etc. To see what it’s like, look at this thread, or the next/last LJ posts (I’ll try to move it, currently screened for a reason), and see if this is even useful to you. If it’s not, no need to contact me. I will also find typos, which leads to the following item.
-While I can do full tone/grammar/spelling editing, I am too anal for that. I address each and every small bit of the text, and it takes hours off my day, and years off my life, to do it. If you wish me to do this, and your game is more than 6-10k words, you will have to compensate me in a major way and be quite patient. So send me a PDF of your document to go over.
-Since you want me to be able to concentrate and not claw my eyes out, unless your text is a playtest document, I will go over it after someone copy-edited it. It will also have someone go over a mostly corrected test to try and reduce even further the number of typos/errors, rather than two people going over the same text.
-I am not a native English speaker. Some of my grammatical choices are “odd” even if they are not wrong. I have no issues with passive voice in most cases, and I might make some wrong choices with some perfect/progressive tenses. In some cases though, it is a bonus, as I’ve learnt English by the rules, and not from the way it is (often incorrectly) spoken. I have no formal training in editing. If English is not your mother tongue, I could probably help you.
-You should not give me the game if you know you are going to release it as is due to time constraints. If I find a missing rule, an unclear chapter, etc. and you agree that this is an issue, do not release the book as is because you want to hit a specific convention or anything of the sort. You are free to do it with your product, anyone is, but don’t give it to me.
-I sometimes have moods, I often procrastinate. I work better with a deadline. When you give me the text, talk to me and we’ll work out till when the thing will be done. Don’t give me a very short lease, as I’m a full time student, and I am helping you out. Don’t avoid giving me a deadline, cause it won’t get done. Do note that I may end up not doing it, due to moods and such, so another reason to have it be a text you’re relying on. I’m a final QA block, but be prepared to accept that I may not deliver, or deliver partially. It makes me feel ashamed of myself when it happens, but it does happen. Give me word-count.
-I believe it is best I come fresh to the text. So if something is missing, I won’t complete it from prior knowledge (aside from cases of “Accepted Techniques”, which I am very likely to), and so I’d read what is there and not in my memory (like when a rule gets removed). So if possible, only have me look at the final version of the game. I can however, look over a playtesting document, to help see where there are rules that need addressing, to help the playtesting, and potentially shorten the process. If so desired, I will go over both the playtesting document and the final text, but be aware that the quality of the final pass may be reduced.
-After I go over your text, especially if I do go over the text directly, I expect to get the text back and see what changes were accepted and what weren’t. If changes weren’t accepted, I’d probably appreciate talking about why. This is not 100% mandatory, but it’d be polite. It’d also help me decide what kind of credit I want for the game (“proofreader”, “Editor”, or “Contributor”).

What do I want for my help? A print copy of the game, and the credit of my choice. If you ask me to go over a really long text, or go very deeply over the text, or if you just feel like it, you may compensate me with some money.
And, this offer is for friends. I’ll tell you a secret, it’s not exactly “fun” to go over a text and comb it. I do it because you are my friends, and I want your game to be stronger. And also, because I hate reading incomplete games.

I’ve offered it to a bunch of you privately already. Feel free to comment with general questions and comments about editing, or my “offer”.

  1. adamdray says:

    Great post! I linked to it and discussed it over on the RPG Editors community. If you haven’t already joined, please do.

  2. rob_donoghue says:

    Excellent post. It continues to amaze me how many people overlook the incredible positive impact an editor brings to the table.

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