[bookclub] Prose style in 'Losing Your Grip'

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Nick Montfort

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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This is a rather lengthy and detailed discussion of the writing
in Losing Your Grip, this month's IF Book Club selection. It's
focused on a small amount of text in the first fit, in the belief
that close reading is important and that the very beginning of a
work is a critical part.

Discussion on r.a.i-f is largely about programming and issues of
puzzle and interactivity design. This makes sense, given that
these are issues specific to IF. The writing in IF is very
important, however. IF can be viewed as primarily a reading and
writing experience -- the player or interactor reads the text
that is presented and writes something (short) in reply,
continuing a sort of written conversation. From this perspective,
the quality of prose is a work is a fundamental issue. From any
perspective, it is an important aspect of IF.

Even the best works of IF feature some slipshod writing. Infocom
games are no exception. Showing off Nord and Bert to some writers
yesterday, we spotted a glaring grammatical error, very early on,
that no proofreader should have let pass. It's not just better
proofreading that's needed, though. Many aspects of good writing
apply across genres and forms. Then there are elements of
traditional prose style that apply particularly to IF, and others
that may be more of less native to the form. Without detailed
critiques of writing, it will be difficult to advance the state
of the IF writing art.

My attempt here is to call attention to things I liked about the
writing in Losing Your Grip, and constructively suggest (for
those writing works now and in the future) how to improve on
things I saw as problematic. I'm not going to mince words
regarding the many problems I did see in the writing. That said,
Losing Your Grip is an excellent and ambitious work of IF from
many perspectives -- if I didn't like some things about it, I
wouldn't bother critiquing it. So I hope my criticisms don't
offend the author. They are intended to open a constructive
discussion on writing in IF in general, to benefit all IF authors
-- myself and Steven Granade included. Because of my goal of
engaging authors in discussion about creating IF, I'm
crossposting to r.a.i-f.

There are glimpses of excellence in the writing, but --
particularly when compared to the elaborate puzzle craft and
overall structural innovations -- it is very rough. To begin
looking at specifics: One sentence of description from the
first interlude illustrates the potential that Granade's
writing has, and how that potential isn't realized: "To your
left, monitors softly wheep in response to signals from the
leads attached to you."

The word "wheep," and the idea that medical monitors wheep in
response to electrical signals, is wonderful. This combination of
onomatopoeia and metaphor could have been developed further,
though. Syntactically, the sentence is cumbersome, with too many
short prepositional phrases shoved together. And of course there
is no way to know, perceptually, for an observer to know that
signals are traveling along the leads -- except by reference to
the wheeping of the monitors. This line of description could have
become something like "Electrical leads run from you to boxy
beige monitors nearby. Signals are no doubt traveling invisibly
along the leads, for green lines undulate on the glass eyes of
the monitors. They wheep with each pulse." Or it could become
something better. As is, it's just a difficult sentence with the
beginnings of a nice idea.

The incipit -- by which I mean the first few sentences that
appear, previous to the first prompt -- is compelling.

>Rain and mud.
>
>Those are your first solid memories. Rain pouring down on
>your head, filling your eyes. Mud beneath your feet,
>filling your shoes. Other details slowly filter in. The trees
>surrounding you. The leaden skies above. The chill wind
>cutting through your clothes with ease.
>
>Shelter would be a good beginning.
>
>[Banner]
>
>Fit the First: Replevin
>
>"Rain rain on my face/It hasn't stopped raining for days"
> -- Jars of Clay
>
>[First Room Description]

The text, although not highly polished, provokes curiosity, while
at the same time creating a very visceral sense of the main
character's surroundings. It is appropriately "objective," in a
certain sense: Although closely tied to the main character's
perceptions, it doesn't describe how the main character felt or
try to get inside that character's mind, past the senses. It
describes what is sensed and lets those perceptions speak for
themselves, evoking the emotional state of the character
indirectly. With that in mind, it seems that "Shelter would be a
good beginning" is some odd sort of authorial advice to the
player that doesn't really fit in. Isn't the suggestion obvious,
also? The epigraph doesn't fit, either, although it does add some
sense of duration to the opening.

Early on, there is throw-away prose that doesn't describe, set
the mood, or mention objects in the surroundings. For instance:

>Muddy Field
> Once the field might have been covered in grass. Now the
>grass is but a memory. Mud covers the ground in its place, fed
>by the constant rain.

Although brief, this muddy description is muddled. The first
sentence says that grass might or might not have been here in the
past. Then the second and third sentences say that grass was in
fact here, contradicting the first. Whose memory was the grass?
How is it evident that grass was here? Why mention the absent
grass at all? Admittedly, such commentary does contribute to an
atmosphere of loss. But, aside from being confused, it strays
from the earlier objective voice. A simple barren plain of mud
evokes emotion appropriately, in this case.

>>examine the head
>Other than being buried in mud to his chin, the head is
>reassuringly normal. His hair and mustache are a matted brown,
>perhaps from genetics, perhaps from mud. Rivulets of water run
>down his creased face.

In this case, a little less of an objective voice is called for.
The main character is examining the head for a reason -- there's
some reason for this action within the context of the narrative.
Determining the reason for every possible action is difficult,
but it's a challenge IF authors should try to face.

If a head in the mud addresses you familiarly, why examine it? To
see if it's wet? To see what color its hair is? The obvious and
critical question that isn't answered by this text is whether or
not the main character *recognizes* the head. (The incipit to
Rod Smith's Breakers, Broderbund/Synapse 1986, achieves added
power and mystery by answering this question, mentioning that the
apparition of a golden face is vaguely familiar in the course of
describing it.) From the response, one presumes he (or she, at
this point the gender of the main character hasn't been revealed
and "examine me" doesn't explain) doesn't, but it's not certain.
If the issue of familiarity has to be dodged for story reasons,
the text could at least indicate that it is "strangely familiar."
"Perhaps from genetics" is a poor cluster of words, not redeemed
by the clever parallel phrase following it. If the hair color is
mentioned, why not the color of the eyes? ("Examine hair" isn't
implemented, which is fine, although a "you don't need to refer
to hair" would be nice.) The face is creased, but why? Is it an
extremely old face, or a young one worn from rough outside work?
The detail of the ears turning red after the main character
attempts to pull the head out of the mud is nice. There's another
thing the main character would care very much to know: What
expression is on that face? (The expression is also described in
the incipit to Breakers.) The "examine head" response doesn't
say, but fortunately the text which appears each turn answers
that question very well as an appropriately bewildering monologue
is delivered.

>Cramped Office
> Shadows crowd the room, strengthened by the unlit ceiling
>light which is canted at a strange angle. A scarred mahogany
>desk is crammed into one corner of the room, facing the
>doorway and the clock above it. The room is small enough that
>the light switch beside the door is within arms reach of the
>desk.

Here there's a good sense of claustrophobia, provided by the
description of what is present and how it is placed. But there's
still much room for improvement in these cramped phrases.
"Crammed" could be profitably left out; the crammed condition of
the place would still be evident. The personified shadows
wouldn't, as personalities, be "strengthened" by the lack of
light. A lack doesn't really strengthen anyone or anything. They
could be, for instance, "emboldened." The phrase "unlit ceiling
light ... canted at a strange angle" sounds more unwieldy than
the fixture, unfortunately. Something like "the skewed fixture
above is dark" would work better. "Within arms reach" is
redundant -- "within reach" works fine. Finally, "small enough"
doesn't need to be said explicitly.

Other writing problems that crop up are very widespread in IF.
The interior place descriptions give the sense of being at a
vertex on a graph, not in a building, because compass directions
are mentioned with unnecessary frequency.

Rather than go on (and into other fits), I'll ask if there is
anyone else who sees writing issues like these as real and
important, and deserving of greatly heightened attention? Is my
suggestion of a more objective voice -- sensitive to the
narrative purpose of the player's actions -- appropriate?

I'm hopeful that it will be fruitful to look at the writing in
specific works like Losing Your Grip in this way, and to focus
on important questions about writing by using the example of
texts in successful IF works.

-Nick M.


Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Before you buy.

J.D. Berry

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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In article <87a244$u21$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,

Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
>
> Other writing problems that crop up are very widespread in IF.
> The interior place descriptions give the sense of being at a
> vertex on a graph, not in a building, because compass directions
> are mentioned with unnecessary frequency.
>
> Rather than go on (and into other fits), I'll ask if there is
> anyone else who sees writing issues like these as real and
> important, and deserving of greatly heightened attention? Is my
> suggestion of a more objective voice -- sensitive to the
> narrative purpose of the player's actions -- appropriate?
>
> I'm hopeful that it will be fruitful to look at the writing in
> specific works like Losing Your Grip in this way, and to focus
> on important questions about writing by using the example of
> texts in successful IF works.
>

I'm torn on this. Improving the writing aspect of IF as art through
critical analysis seems a worthwhile endeavor in some cases.
I'm worried, though, that excessive attention to ANY element may
discourage rather than improve authors weak in that given element.

Also a consideration is the "what is 'good' art" issue?
Hemingway? Crude? Bold?
Proust? Run-on or stream of consciousness?
Van Gogh? Hey, you left the brush strokes on!
Rap music? Noise? Powerful?
eecummings can't find a turabian manual

Of course there's the Bensen counter, "I was a personal friend of
Hemingway, and YOU are no Hemingway." ;-D

Anyway, I'm certainly not trying to solve that question...

With the exception of the professional and/or truly gifted writers
here, how much better are the rest of us going to get with criticism if
this is but a hobby? A little better, perhaps, but I think effort
and natural ability are the largest parts of the success equation.

I'd hate to think an otherwise fine author (produces "fun" games)
would shy away from creating a game because people were going to
nitpick his style (which is highly subjective in the first place.)

Then again, it just may be helpful to have different perspectives on
why things "worked" and others didn't. But I said I was torn in the
beginning!

Jim

Nick Montfort

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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In article <87a6os$1uj$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,

J.D. Berry <jdb...@my-deja.com> wrote:
> In article <87a244$u21$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,
> Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
> >
> > I'll ask if there is
> > anyone else who sees writing issues like these as real and
> > important, and deserving of greatly heightened attention?

> Also a consideration is the "what is 'good' art" issue?


> Hemingway? Crude? Bold?
> Proust? Run-on or stream of consciousness?
> Van Gogh? Hey, you left the brush strokes on!
> Rap music? Noise? Powerful?
> eecummings can't find a turabian manual

> [...]


> Anyway, I'm certainly not trying to solve that question...

First of all, no one complains about discussing why some puzzles work
better than others, and are more interesting and engaging. Why not
focus discussion on writing, too?

Second, I'm not suggesting that we try to develop a complete aesthetic
on r.a.i-f. In more of a workshop mode, discussion can help IF authors
to achieve their goals, even without completely tacking the question of
what good art is.

Writing that provokes, that comes across with power and brings to life
the simulated world I've tried to create - that's what I think of as
good, and what I want to accomplish. I think many IF authors have a
close enough idea of good writing that discussion is worthwhile.

> With the exception of the professional and/or truly gifted writers
> here, how much better are the rest of us going to get with criticism
> if this is but a hobby?

Wallace Stevens was an insurance salesman and poetry hobbyist. William
Carlos Williams was a pediatrician and poetry hobbyist. Linus Torvalds
writes operating system kernels for a hobby. If one is a serious enough
hobbyist who puts effort into creating a work of IF -- learning Inform,
going through the complicated process of setting and puzzle design,
testing the work thoroughly, reading newsgroups to improve one's level
of craft, etc. -- than *I* think that author should care about how
well-written the work is, and be willing to participate in discussion
that is focused on writing.

> I'd hate to think an otherwise fine author (produces "fun" games)
> would shy away from creating a game because people were going to
> nitpick his style (which is highly subjective in the first place.)

If a critique like this has such an effect, then, no, r.a.i-f / r.g.i-f
isn't an appropriate place for the discussion. The outcome should be
improved IF, not fear of nitpicking. (Just to nitpick, by the way, I
consider my earlier post to be a "detailed and constructive critique"
rather than an example of "nitpicking.") I certainly hope the
discussion has a place somewhere, though. I hoped the Book Club would
be, among other things, one such place.

Nick Montfort

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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In article <87aa3r$4oe$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,
Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:

> hobbyist who puts effort into creating a work of IF --
> learning Inform,

Sigh, let me see what other part of the IF community I can offend and
alienate. I meant to write "learning the IF programming language of
your choice."

Stephen Granade

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Feb 2, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/2/00
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J.D. Berry <jdb...@my-deja.com> writes:

> I'm torn on this. Improving the writing aspect of IF as art through
> critical analysis seems a worthwhile endeavor in some cases.
> I'm worried, though, that excessive attention to ANY element may
> discourage rather than improve authors weak in that given element.

I think that's a danger with any critical analysis, though, be it (in
an IF context) writing, puzzles, or coding.

> With the exception of the professional and/or truly gifted writers
> here, how much better are the rest of us going to get with criticism if

> this is but a hobby? A little better, perhaps, but I think effort
> and natural ability are the largest parts of the success equation.

I pretty much consider myself a poster child for the "You Can Get
Better With Practice" movement. I don't claim to be the end product of
IF author evolution by any means, but I think that anyone who plays my
first game (Waystation) and compares it to my later ones will see that
I'm improving. And I doubt I'm the only one who wants to get better,
even if this is "but a hobby".

That said, you've got to have a reasonably thick skin to see your
works of creative genius dissected under a microscope. I like to see
my games discussed like that, but I could understand people not
wanting to go through the process.

Stephen

--
Stephen Granade | Interested in adventure games?
sgra...@phy.duke.edu | Visit About.com's IF Page
Duke University, Physics Dept | http://interactfiction.about.com

J.D. Berry

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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In article <87aa3r$4oe$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,
Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:
> In article <87a6os$1uj$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,

>
> First of all, no one complains about discussing why some puzzles work
> better than others, and are more interesting and engaging. Why not
> focus discussion on writing, too?
>

Discuss, discuss. I tried not to be negative, I was just listing some
reasons why not along with the why to.

My take on puzzles is that 1) people don't take criticism of
their puzzles as personally as their writing and 2) puzzles MAY be MORE
of an objective thing to discuss.

> Second, I'm not suggesting that we try to develop a complete aesthetic
> on r.a.i-f. In more of a workshop mode, discussion can help IF authors
> to achieve their goals, even without completely tacking the question
>of what good art is.
>

As long as it can come across as constructive, there should be no
problems. I just wonder if it can. There seem to be fine lines
among "matter of taste", "possible changes" and "needs to be
corrected."

What do you think of when you see a book "how to be a "good"
writer" or a workshop of such. Mediocrity comes to mind when I see
"writing by committee."

I do think it would be interesting to read peoples thoughts on IF
writing. And one never knows how one little point may make another's
creativity blossom.

> Writing that provokes, that comes across with power and brings to life
> the simulated world I've tried to create - that's what I think of as
> good, and what I want to accomplish. I think many IF authors have a
> close enough idea of good writing that discussion is worthwhile.
>

Agreed in general. There are many different ways to breathe life
into things.

> Wallace Stevens was an insurance salesman and poetry hobbyist. William
> Carlos Williams was a pediatrician and poetry hobbyist. Linus Torvalds
> writes operating system kernels for a hobby. If one is a serious

> enough hobbyist who puts effort into creating a work of IF -- learning
> [An IF language!],


> going through the complicated process of setting and puzzle design,
> testing the work thoroughly, reading newsgroups to improve one's level
> of craft, etc. -- than *I* think that author should care about how
> well-written the work is, and be willing to participate in discussion
> that is focused on writing.
>

Did said talents go to workshops? I'm not being a wise-guy, I want to
know! I'm certain they worked diligently on their crafts. Is writing
something that someone else can help you improve?

I'm paraphrasing Adam Cadre quoting someone else whose name eludes me
for the moment, but that the first million words most authors write are
crap. So does that mean one has to learn for oneself?

Eric Mayer told me that some people praised his recent book,
others hated it. And I'm sure this happens to all authors. Where
and how do you get better through others' criticisms when such things
are so largely subjective?

Again, I'd like to know, being a fledgling and very part time IF author
myself! All of my opinions in this post are just that. Any
disagreement is mostly for argument's sake and certainly with no
credentials in the literature world (obviously!) ;-)

>
> If a critique like this has such an effect, then, no, r.a.i-f /
r.g.i-f
> isn't an appropriate place for the discussion. The outcome should be
> improved IF, not fear of nitpicking. (Just to nitpick, by the way, I
> consider my earlier post to be a "detailed and constructive critique"
> rather than an example of "nitpicking.") I certainly hope the
> discussion has a place somewhere, though. I hoped the Book Club would
> be, among other things, one such place.
>

I'm sure it can be. Just bringing up concerns, 'sall.

Jim

J.D. Berry

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
to
In article <jdhffr2...@lepton.phy.duke.edu>,

Stephen Granade <sgra...@lepton.phy.duke.edu> wrote:
>
> > With the exception of the professional and/or truly gifted writers
> > here, how much better are the rest of us going to get with
criticism if
> > this is but a hobby? A little better, perhaps, but I think effort
> > and natural ability are the largest parts of the success equation.
>
> I pretty much consider myself a poster child for the "You Can Get
> Better With Practice" movement. I don't claim to be the end product of
> IF author evolution by any means, but I think that anyone who plays my
> first game (Waystation) and compares it to my later ones will see that
> I'm improving. And I doubt I'm the only one who wants to get better,
> even if this is "but a hobby".
>

Oops. Critical analysis suggests my word "but" should be omitted. ;-)

I did see your poster on e-bay. "My writing was weak, but
through your help I got better. Now won't you help others?" They
wanted too much for it, though.

> That said, you've got to have a reasonably thick skin to see your
> works of creative genius dissected under a microscope. I like to see
> my games discussed like that, but I could understand people not
> wanting to go through the process.
>

Well, regarding LYG, I was able only to get through 1 1/2 fits.
The prose worked fine for me. Nothing "got in the way," meaning
there was no confusion about situations and my imagination link to
your world was never disrupted because of clumsy writing.

I like the mircoscope analogy, though. Is there a point of diminishing
returns when you magnify to certain levels? Like Nick's dislike of
your word "cram?"


Jim

Nick Montfort

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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In article <87c2t7$bdj$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>, J.D. Berry
<jdb...@my-deja.com> wrote:

> Well, regarding LYG, I was able only to get through 1 1/2 fits.
> The prose worked fine for me. Nothing "got in the way," meaning
> there was no confusion about situations and my imagination link to
> your world was never disrupted because of clumsy writing.

The idea that the writing shouldn't "get in the way" is an interesting
one in this discussion. In a certain sense that should hold true for
any good work -- writing should facilitate rather than obstruct what it
is intended to communicate. I put a bit of a heavier requirement on
fiction writing, though. It should be exemplary, motivating the reader
to get through the work, enjoy it, be engaged by it, and be provoked by
it. Great writing should -- I think -- provoke the reader to think
about the world in a new way, and consider perspectives never throught
about before. At least the writing should amuse, which is more commonly
accomplished in IF. But that's not the only worthwhile mode.

Faulkner doesn't just provide writing that "doesn't get in the way,"
for instance, in The Sound and The Fury. His writing grabs the reader
and forces the reader to understand words and sentences in a different
way. And, let's face it, however serious or skilled we might be, IF
authors are in the same boat with Faulkner, who wrote the sections of
his novel from the perspective of four different characters, as if
calling ChangePlayer.

> Is there a point of diminishing
> returns when you magnify to certain levels? Like Nick's dislike of
> your word "cram?"

I'll admit there is -- and there's a point of negative returns, too. My
critique might have gone beyond one or both of these. Usually this type
of critique isn't very helpful unless the author is trying to revise an
unpublished work, and is looking for advice. But since there's been no
discussion about prose style in IF, I thought it would be best to try
to begin concretely by looking at the Book Club selection.

Nick Montfort

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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In article <87apnv$fub$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>, J.D. Berry
<jdb...@my-deja.com> wrote:

> What do you think of when you see a book "how to be a "good"
> writer" or a workshop of such. Mediocrity comes to mind when I see
> "writing by committee."

A book on how to write can be good (I think Natalie Goldberg's Writing
Down the Bones is worth a read, for instance) but it's a different sort
of creature than is a workshop. I'm not talking about a commercial
venture of a workshop when I use the term. I use 'workshop' to mean
authors getting around to talk about their writing. The "Turkey City"
science fiction meetings in Austin (which were attended by Bruce
Sterling, Howard Waldrop, and Chad Oliver among others) would be one
example that has a name I can recall. These aren't committees -- at
best, they are groups of serious artists who help each other improve
their art by critiquing each other's work, discussing, disagreeing, and
arguing.

> > Wallace Stevens [...] William Carlos Williams [...] Linus
> > Torvalds

> Did said talents go to workshops?

Of the sort I'm talking about, I feel comfortable in saying yes without
consulting any biographies -- in that they all recieved critiques on
their work. I *know* Linus gets plenty of constructive critiques of his
kernel programming, from all over the world.

> Is writing
> something that someone else can help you improve?

I can't speak for others, but I think my writing has been greatly
improved based on advice from both teachers and peers. Critique is just
one element -- reading powerful writing, writing a lot, working with
editors, revising one's own work, and even collaborating with other
writers are also all invovled in making improvements, at least for me.

Stephen Granade

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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J.D. Berry <jdb...@my-deja.com> writes:

> In article <jdhffr2...@lepton.phy.duke.edu>,
> Stephen Granade <sgra...@lepton.phy.duke.edu> wrote:
>
> > That said, you've got to have a reasonably thick skin to see your
> > works of creative genius dissected under a microscope. I like to see
> > my games discussed like that, but I could understand people not
> > wanting to go through the process.
>

> Well, regarding LYG, I was able only to get through 1 1/2 fits.
> The prose worked fine for me. Nothing "got in the way," meaning
> there was no confusion about situations and my imagination link to
> your world was never disrupted because of clumsy writing.
>

> I like the mircoscope analogy, though. Is there a point of diminishing


> returns when you magnify to certain levels? Like Nick's dislike of
> your word "cram?"

As Nick pointed out, going through an entire game like _Grip_ line by
line will get very tiresome very quickly. But he made some good points
about the weakness of certain passages. I may disagree with his
reasoning or with his suggested changes, but I'm glad to find out
where my prose worked for him and where it didn't. (The "Muddy Field"
description is an excellent case in point -- clearly it needed a few
more passes through the ol' Rewrite Machine.) The word-by-word
dissection of the "Cramped Office" is interesting, though at that
level I believe it becomes an issue of personal style, and thus less
generally applicable.

Dan Schmidt

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> writes:

| One sentence of description from the first interlude illustrates the
| potential that Granade's writing has, and how that potential isn't
| realized: "To your left, monitors softly wheep in response to
| signals from the leads attached to you."
|

| ...


|
| This line of description could have become something like
| "Electrical leads run from you to boxy beige monitors
| nearby. Signals are no doubt traveling invisibly along the leads,
| for green lines undulate on the glass eyes of the monitors. They
| wheep with each pulse."

I hate to respond to a 200-line post with a single comment, but I just
wanted to say that I, personally, like the original text significantly
more than the revision given here.

--
Dan Schmidt | http://www.dfan.org

Brad O'Donnell

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
to
J.D. Berry wrote:

>
> I'm torn on this. Improving the writing aspect of IF as art through
> critical analysis seems a worthwhile endeavor in some cases.
> I'm worried, though, that excessive attention to ANY element may
> discourage rather than improve authors weak in that given element.
>

A near-comprehensive discussion about the aesthetics of IF is long
overdue. The closest things we get to get to this are the "What
percentage of the IF audience would burn me at the stake if I did X?"
posts, where X is usually some puzzle or some bent parser convention.

I see two (extreme) schools of thought on the desired qualities of IF
presentation: The first seeks IF which reads as much like a book as
possible, and the second demands some distinct (perhaps even optimal)
ordering of important information available to the player (at all
times.)

I think the main reason these ideas (paricularly the second) are
not discussed much is because we like to have examples to back up the
ideas; preferably good, popular, successful examples. And it's
rarely worth going to the trouble of making a good, successful game
just to prove a point about an ideal. No examples, so no discussion.


--
Brad O'Donnell

Adam Cadre

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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Brad O'Donnell wrote:
> And it's rarely worth going to the trouble of making a good,
> successful game just to prove a point about an ideal.

Wow, I just could not disagree more. I was hoping that with 9:05
I could nudge people in the direction of actually writing short games
to illustrate their points rather than just posting "what about a game
that did this?" messages to the newsgroup. I hate those like little
else.

-----
Adam Cadre, Sammamish, WA
http://adamcadre.ac

Iain Merrick

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
to
(Warning: this is a mild rant about one section of Nick's post which
happened to disagree with me. Apply 'IMHO' on affected areas; if chafing
persists after three days, consult your GP. Safe when used as directed.)

Nick Montfort wrote:
[...]


> One sentence of description from the
> first interlude illustrates the potential that Granade's
> writing has, and how that potential isn't realized: "To your
> left, monitors softly wheep in response to signals from the
> leads attached to you."
>
> The word "wheep," and the idea that medical monitors wheep in
> response to electrical signals, is wonderful.

I certainly agree with that.

> This combination of onomatopoeia and metaphor could have been
> developed further, though.

But I'm not sure about that. I think we're a long way past 'good' and
'bad' and deep inside the realm of differing taste here.

> Syntactically, the sentence is cumbersome, with too many
> short prepositional phrases shoved together. And of course there
> is no way to know, perceptually, for an observer to know that
> signals are traveling along the leads -- except by reference to
> the wheeping of the monitors. This line of description could have
> become something like "Electrical leads run from you to boxy
> beige monitors nearby. Signals are no doubt traveling invisibly
> along the leads, for green lines undulate on the glass eyes of
> the monitors. They wheep with each pulse."

Arrrgh! That's _awful_! Okay, I think we just zoomed right through the
realm of differing taste and out the other side, back into the Dominion
of Extreme Clunkiness.

Where to start? Okay: you've turned one sentence into three, and doubled
the word count. You can argue it either way, of course, but to me that
just smacks of overwriting. Reading long paragraphs on a computer screen
is hard on the eyes; I don't want to waste time with 'boxy beige
monitors' which have 'glass eyes'. Come on, I _know_ what a monitor
looks like!

And I really don't see why you've put so much emphasis on exactly how
the signals travel along the wires, and exactly what the monitors do in
response. Anyone who's been in a hospital, or even just seen a few
episodes of _ER_, already knows exactly what's going on -- unless your
more-complicated revision confuses them.

Let me put it more positively: there's absolutely nothing _misleading_
about the original sentence. For me, the words 'medical' and 'wheep'
conjure up all the information you've crammed into your revision.

I think the original is more stylish, too. You don't want purple prose
at this point in the game. The PC has just woken up in strange, spartan
surroundings; doesn't it make sense for the room description to be
similarly stark and spare?

If you want to really over-analyse things -- which you do, apparently --
look at how the various components of the sentence are ordered: left /
monitors / wheep / leads. Isn't that exactly the order in which one
_would_ notice things, in that situation? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't
start musing on whether the wheeping derives from invisible signals
pulsating through the wires, at least.

> Or it could become something better. As is, it's just a difficult
> sentence with the beginnings of a nice idea.

No, it's a perfectly nice sentence with a clever idea. Which would be
killed stone dead if too much extraneous detail were added to it.

Now, you can take everything I've said above with a pinch of salt; I
don't think the original sentence is _amazing_, I just think it's pretty
good. More to the point, I don't think it would be as easy to improve it
as you seem to think.

--
Iain Merrick
i...@cs.york.ac.uk

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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In rec.arts.int-fiction Brad O'Donnell <s7...@unb.ca> wrote:
> I think the main reason these ideas (paricularly the second) are
> not discussed much is because we like to have examples to back up the
> ideas; preferably good, popular, successful examples. And it's
> rarely worth going to the trouble of making a good, successful game
> just to prove a point about an ideal. No examples, so no discussion.

Speaking just for myself, it's been tremendously worthwhile to write a
game just to prove a point about an ideal. Particularly when the point is
aesthetic.

I've gotten an IFComp top prize and a stack of XYZZYs out of it, for a
start.

(Even "Lists", which was written to prove a purely *technical* point, has
been quite satisfying in terms of user feedback, not to mention pure geek
points.)

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
borogoves..."

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
to
In rec.arts.int-fiction Adam Cadre <a...@adamcadre.ac> wrote:

> Brad O'Donnell wrote:
>> And it's rarely worth going to the trouble of making a good,
>> successful game just to prove a point about an ideal.
>
> Wow, I just could not disagree more. I was hoping that with 9:05
> I could nudge people in the direction of actually writing short games
> to illustrate their points rather than just posting "what about a game
> that did this?" messages to the newsgroup.

And, indeed, when I played _9:05_, my first response was "This illustrates
its point so well that there's no need for any discussion about it."

Stephen Granade

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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Brad O'Donnell <s7...@unb.ca> writes:

> J.D. Berry wrote:
>
> I think the main reason these ideas (paricularly the second) are
> not discussed much is because we like to have examples to back up the

> ideas; preferably good, popular, successful examples. And it's

> rarely worth going to the trouble of making a good, successful game

> just to prove a point about an ideal. No examples, so no discussion.

Huh. I think it's well worth the time to write a short, hopefully
successful game to prove a point about an ideal. But then, I've
written two of them.

Brandon Allen

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
to
>
>
> No, it's a perfectly nice sentence with a clever idea. Which would be
> killed stone dead if too much extraneous detail were added to it.

I agree, I think the original sentence was better than the re-write
proposed. But, for the sake of discussion, I'll offer a revision of my own,
leaving out the whole issue of exactly what the leads are conveying:

"To your left, a bank of monitors wheep monotonously in response to the
tangle of leads and sensors attatched to your skin."

Now, _I_ like that better. (I'm positive that plenty of others disagree) I
suppose that this serves to highlight what seems to be the emerging theme of
this discussion, that it's all a matter of personal taste, and the prose
reflects the individuality of the author. I agree with the point of the
original posting though - the overall quality of IF prose could definitely
improve (esp. my own). I additionally think that evaluating selections of
prose in great detail is a useful exercise. A general concensus on what is
"good writing" will probably never be reached, but it is worthwhile to look
at a few test pieces now and then, and apply the insights gained to our own
writing.

Brandon Allen


Winthir

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
to

J.D. Berry schrieb in Nachricht <87apnv$fub$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>...

>
>My take on puzzles is that 1) people don't take criticism of
>their puzzles as personally as their writing and 2) puzzles MAY be MORE
>of an objective thing to discuss.


From my point of view, the first is right, the second wrong. Let me explain,
please.

Ad 1. The problem is that people think of personal style is the mirror of
their soul. If you criticize their writing, you'll criticize them
personally. That's a real problem when you're a magazine editor (which I
happen to be). Either be honest with some freelancers, and they'll hate you,
or flatter them unduly and get bad articles from them.

Writing is a craft like any other. You're never finished learning it. And
your personal style is not diminished when you learn to write, it is
improved.

Ad 2. Because writing is a craft, it can be objectively discussed. I am
certainly able to discuss writing more objectively than puzzle design. Sure,
I do have an opinion about a puzzle I have or haven't solved. But I've never
given puzzles per se much thought. I never can give more than a personal
opinion on puzzles, which of course is the opposite of objectivity.

When I talk about writing, I have a hundred rules (and counter-rules) and
thousands of examples in the back of my mind. (Well, in German, I do.) I
know a few tricks. I have applied these rules to all texts I've read in
years. I usually know when it's better to stick to the rules to achieve a
certain effect. I often can guess where I might impress the reader by
digressing from the beaten path. (And sometimes I utterly fail.)

I'm not saying that I'm a good, an accomplished writer. I'm saying I'm a
practised writer and editor. Practise, in a craft, is worth far more than
talent. Practise needs criticism, or at least, criticism allows the craft to
develop more quickly.

That's why I think that criticism is more than valid in this Newsgroup.
There's no need to be embarrassed when someone tells you how you could have
expressed yourself better than you did. It's something you have to get used
to when you want to improve.

*After* that, there's still personal preference to be discussed. As in "I'm
bad at solving puzzles, I didn't like the Babel fish episode in that game".
That's valid, too, though less useful.

By the way, the average work of Interactive Fiction is quite well-written, I
think. So why feel insulted when someone tells you which adjective might
have been more effective in the third paragraph of your work? Just treat it
like a bug report.

Florian Edlbauer

Eric Mayer

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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On Wed, 02 Feb 2000 19:55:50 GMT, Nick Montfort
<nickmo...@my-deja.com> wrote:

>This is a rather lengthy and detailed discussion of the writing
>in Losing Your Grip, this month's IF Book Club selection. It's
>focused on a small amount of text in the first fit, in the belief
>that close reading is important and that the very beginning of a
>work is a critical part.


Just a general comment on all this -- if I gave any thought to one
tenth of the stuff mentioned here I'd never get a word written.

I'm not saying that there isn't any legitimacy to anything said, or
that there aren't some interesting talking points and matters on which
people might compare opinions, but effective fiction just simply isn't
written at the level of the preposition. The ideas, the characters,
the overall structure, is far more important for the vast majority of
fiction than the individual words chosen and my feeling is that
there's little to be gained and a lot of spontaneity to be lost in
this sort of intricate dissection.

Writing has to be clear enough to express what the writer wants
expressed -- period.

If writing is also nicely polished, that's an extra, but as soon as
you get into matters of style, anything beyond whether the words
express what they're intended to express, you're in the realm of pure
opinion and what one person likes someone else won't. There aren't any
rules, no right or wrong way, despite what some might tell you. .And I
guess I would be a little put off by opinions of style presented as
anything more than opinions.

Anyway, although there's sure to be an exception somewhere, writers
generally aren't thinking about prepositional phrases when they're
writing. If they are they might as well toss it in.

I've only started Losing Your Grip, by the way, and I found it well
written. Again, a couple points made may have some validity, once your
attention is drawn to them, but I never noticed them while actually
reading. And that is what counts - the overall effect, not the
individual words and phrases.


--
Eric Mayer
Web Site: <http://home.epix.net/~maywrite>

"The map is not the territory." -- Alfred Korzybski

Eric Mayer

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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On Thu, 03 Feb 2000 02:38:55 GMT, J.D. Berry <jdb...@my-deja.com>
wrote:


>Did said talents go to workshops? I'm not being a wise-guy, I want to

>know! I'm certain they worked diligently on their crafts. Is writing


>something that someone else can help you improve?
>

My opinion -- only to some extent. My wife Mary and I have been
co-writing fiction and I think I have learned from talking about
stories and writing techniques with her in the context of actually
working together on stories. I believe we also learned a lot by going
over our initial manuscript of our first novel with our editor and in
some instances taking her suggestions to try and make things work
better. However, this was all in the context of actual writing and
with the idea of producing something for publication. What I was
learning was making something more publishable. Even that is a matter
of opinion but an editor who has had some experience of how readers
generally tend to react at least has some empirical basis to advise
introducing characters one at a time rather than en masse, for
example. But as to being helped by anybody who has general aesthetic
opinions -- and who doesn't? -- I don't think that's going to work.

>I'm paraphrasing Adam Cadre quoting someone else whose name eludes me
>for the moment, but that the first million words most authors write are
>crap. So does that mean one has to learn for oneself?
>

My next opinion, I think so. I don't have much talent. It's taken me a
looong time to learn by endless writing. You can pick up occassional
pointers, maybe get some advice on glaring mistakes, but mostly you
just keep writing. Things like writing workshops can be valuable, I
think, mostly for forcing one to actually write rather than just
thinking about it.

>Eric Mayer told me that some people praised his recent book,
>others hated it. And I'm sure this happens to all authors. Where
>and how do you get better through others' criticisms when such things
>are so largely subjective?
>

You have to try and profit from the criticisms you feel are legitimate
and totally ignore the criticism that you don't find useful. Of
course, you also have to hope you choose the right stuff to pay
attention to and the right stuff to ignore! One way to sort it out is
to consider the source of the criticism and the attitude of the
critic. If the critic hates bestsellers on principal and you're aiming
for a bestseller, then the advice isn't going to be of much value. But
if the critic seems to have similar ideas as you about what writing is
about then the criticism might be useful.

Brad O'Donnell

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
to
Adam Cadre wrote:
>
> Brad O'Donnell wrote:
> > And it's rarely worth going to the trouble of making a good,
> > successful game just to prove a point about an ideal.
>
> Wow, I just could not disagree more. I was hoping that with 9:05
> I could nudge people in the direction of actually writing short games
> to illustrate their points rather than just posting "what about a game
> that did this?" messages to the newsgroup. I hate those like little
> else.


Two replies talk about the popularity of writing "short"
games to prove a point, and I agree; in fact "+=3" and "aisle" came
to mind as excellent examples of games which do cool stuff. (So why
didn't I mention them?)

I love small games, particularly ones that experiment; I just think
that there's a difference between a game which applies cool techniques
to one or two situations, and a game which shows that same cool
technique can be applied over the length of a longer game. (After +=3
came out, did we see a bucketload of full-length games with puzzles
which were completely sensible but impossible for the experienced IF
player? It can jokingly be argued that we did, but if we did, was it
deliberate?)

If a particular "cool thing" required the wholesale gutting and
restoration of the library, or the creation of an entirely new
IF system, would it still be worth it, for one example? Your answer
depends on your priorities, but I would want to make the
framework of the example suitable for use in larger games; and that
can mean a lot more work, sometimes.

I can think of a quite a few games which show that cool techniques
can be applied to the IF aesthetic, (All of Adam Cadre & Zarf's games,
for instance) but where is the repository of things that have been
learned from these games about IF as a medium? Should there be such
a collection of information? or should all aspiring IF writers play
all the games they can, and piece together what they can from that?


--
Brad O'Donnell

tv's Spatch

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Feb 3, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/3/00
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What would Nick Montfort <nickmo...@my-deja.com> do?

>The word "wheep," and the idea that medical monitors wheep in
>response to electrical signals, is wonderful. This combination of
>onomatopoeia and metaphor could have been developed further,
>though. Syntactically, the sentence is cumbersome, with too many
>short prepositional phrases shoved together. And of course there
>is no way to know, perceptually, for an observer to know that
>signals are traveling along the leads -- except by reference to
>the wheeping of the monitors. This line of description could have
>become something like "Electrical leads run from you to boxy
>beige monitors nearby. Signals are no doubt traveling invisibly
>along the leads, for green lines undulate on the glass eyes of
>the monitors. They wheep with each pulse." Or it could become
>something better. As is, it's just a difficult sentence with the
>beginnings of a nice idea.

Mr. Montfort, we've never met, but already I await your complete
rewrite of the game, surely entitled "The Grip Which You're Losing".
Godspeed and good luck.

--
der Spatchel R. Noyes
Reading, MA 01867
http://spatch.ne.mediaone.net/ Turn the ! upside down to reply.

Get Catatonic! http://www.catatonic-comix.com

Adam J. Thornton

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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In article <jdhffr2...@lepton.phy.duke.edu>,
Stephen Granade <sgra...@lepton.phy.duke.edu> wrote:
>That said, you've got to have a reasonably thick skin to see your
>works of creative genius dissected under a microscope. I like to see
>my games discussed like that, but I could understand people not
>wanting to go through the process.

Or a thick skull, so it doesn't implode like an eggshell under the heavy
weight of the Critical Foot.

Kicking Heads Since 1986,
Adam
--
ad...@princeton.edu
"My eyes say their prayers to her / Sailors ring her bell / Like a moth
mistakes a light bulb / For the moon and goes to hell." -- Tom Waits

Neil Cerutti

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
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In article <3899DADE...@health.missouri.edu>,

Brandon Allen <all...@health.missouri.edu> wrote:
> > No, it's a perfectly nice sentence with a clever idea.
> > Which would be killed stone dead if too much extraneous
> > detail were added to it.
>
> I agree, I think the original sentence was better than the
> re-write proposed. But, for the sake of discussion, I'll
> offer a revision of my own, leaving out the whole issue of
> exactly what the leads are conveying:
>
> "To your left, a bank of monitors wheep monotonously in
> response to the tangle of leads and sensors attatched to
> your skin."

I still like the original more than your revision.

Agreement: "... a bank of monitors wheeps...."

"Monotonous" doesn't improve the "wheeping" metaphor. I've
never heard monotonous wheeping. But it's an interesting
juxtaposition.

Why "leads and sensors"? Use only the best word to make the
sentence more graceful.

> Now, _I_ like that better. (I'm positive that plenty of
> others disagree) I suppose that this serves to highlight what
> seems to be the emerging theme of this discussion, that it's
> all a matter of personal taste, and the prose reflects the
> individuality of the author.

I think it shows that a sentence that includes many details
often has less punch than one that is short and brutal.

So how is an IF author to decide which details are the most
relevant? That is a question more pertinent to IF than a
question of writing style, which is after all the topic
of other newsgroups.

--
Neil Cerutti (ne...@norwich.edu)

ical...@my-deja.com

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
In article <87enfn$6in$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,
Neil Cerutti <ne...@norwich.edu> wrote:

> So how is an IF author to decide which details are the most
> relevant? That is a question more pertinent to IF than a
> question of writing style, which is after all the topic
> of other newsgroups.

Now *this* is something I'd like to know, since any little detail
I mention in a description is probably going to end up as an object
in the game. I have a terrible time writing descriptions for i-f,
because in the back of my mind a little voice is always whispering,
"Don't mention the cables or you'll have to CODE them!"

The question is: do I write the description as best I can and get
docked for not implementing every object mentioned in it, or do
I limit the description to objects I can code and get docked for
not providing rich descriptive text? It's very difficult to strike
a balance between these two extremes, and I'm *very* interested in
how other i-f authors handle it.

irene

Nick Montfort

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
For me, at least, picking at the original LYG sentence and the
alternate sentences offered has offered some interesting insights,
maybe even the beginnings of some principles of prose style for IF.

Iain Merrick <i...@cs.york.ac.uk> wrote (in reply to my rewrite):

> Okay: you've turned one sentence into three, and doubled the word
> count. You can argue it either way, of course, but to me that just
> smacks of overwriting. Reading long paragraphs on a computer screen
> is hard on the eyes; I don't want to waste time with 'boxy beige
> monitors' which have 'glass eyes'. Come on, I _know_ what a monitor
> looks like!

Although my rewrite provides a contrary example, I tend to prefer
descriptive texts that are brief and direct. A thoughtful critic noted
that my latest IF work was not particularly literary in style, in fact,
becuase "The location descriptions are in the laconic style of
traditional IF games." Aside from the particular issues of this text --
and the fact that settings vary in complexity -- is there a
"good length" that seems the right average for room descriptions, I
wonder? The similar question has been asked about lexia in the context
of hypertext fiction. The "right length" may apply only in the context
of a work, of course. But I think brevity, even extreme brevity, is a
virtue.

> You don't want purple prose at this point in the game. The PC has
> just woken up in strange, spartan surroundings; doesn't it make sense
> for the room description to be
> similarly stark and spare?

Maybe. Perhaps it makes sense for the description to be similarly
strange, with monitors that have "glass eyes."

> look at how the various components of the sentence are ordered: left
> / monitors / wheep / leads. Isn't that exactly the order in
> which one _would_ notice things, in that situation?

Excellent point! The narration should follow the perceptions of the
main character - I think that technique can be widely used to great
effect. That's one of the things that makes the incipit so nice: the
first sensations, then the other ones filtering in.

But why have "left" in there at all? (Probably the only thing that's
gone from my rewrite and present in all the other texts.) It's *true*
that the monitors are on the left, but not important within the
narrative. Although this text doesn't include a compass-direction, it,
like so many objects in IF, has its particular situation described in
excessive detail.

Neil Cerutti <ne...@norwich.edu> wrote (in reply to Brandon's rewrite):


> Why "leads and sensors"? Use only the best word to make the
> sentence more graceful.

That's a good principle, I think, but you might be genuinely dealing
with two different things that it makes sense to distinguish. In this
case I agree, and prefer just "leads" or even the more common "wires"
here.

> I think it shows that a sentence that includes many details
> often has less punch than one that is short and brutal.

True, and the short sentence often has less room for subtlety. Making
the right choice is important for each point in the narrative.

> So how is an IF author to decide which details are the most
> relevant? That is a question more pertinent to IF than a
> question of writing style, which is after all the topic
> of other newsgroups.

Yes, a critical question! Whether or not this is an issue of prose
style (I think it is) it's certainly worth discussion.

(The discussion about prose style in other newsgroups is not in the
context of IF, by the way. Learning about prose style someone else
won't hurt, but it doesn't fit IF exactly, any more than you could
consult the Associated Press style guide to learn everything there is
to learn about novel-writing prose style. If there are particular
principles of writing IF, which IF authors find commonly to be of
benefit, they won't be discovered elsewhere.)

To begin, I think the details mentioned should situate the interactor
in the narrative world. Since the important things about that world are
how it differs from the everyday world - your cubicle or dorm room -
the details that are unusual for the interactor's perspectives
should be one focus of description. Additionally, the main character's
perceptions are being "modeled" in a certain way by the descriptive
text. So those things which are unusual or particularly noticeable to
the main character should also be focused upon.

This doesn't apply to settings that have completely ordinary
surroundings for both interactor and main character, but perhaps it's a
start.

-Nick M.

Philip Goetz

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
Brad O'Donnell <s7...@unb.ca> wrote in message news:3899FA...@unb.ca...

> I can think of a quite a few games which show that cool techniques
> can be applied to the IF aesthetic, (All of Adam Cadre & Zarf's games,
> for instance) but where is the repository of things that have been
> learned from these games about IF as a medium? Should there be such
> a collection of information? or should all aspiring IF writers play

> all the games they can, and piece together what they can from that?
>
> Brad O'Donnell

I've thought for years about trying to write such a review.
I'll do it just as soon as I win the lottery and retire...
Too bad I don't play the lottery. Any other volunteers?

Phil


Nick Montfort

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
In article <87f3sp$gge$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>, irene <ical...@my-deja.com>
wrote:

> The question is: do I write the description as best I can and get
> docked for not implementing every object mentioned in it, or do
> I limit the description to objects I can code and get docked for
> not providing rich descriptive text? It's very difficult to strike
> a balance between these two extremes, and I'm *very* interested in
> how other i-f authors handle it.

I find it very difficult, too. I've tried to allow the interactor to
"drill down" through all the objects mentioned -- chairs and tables in
a coffeehouse, and the counter and the espresso machine, and light
fixtures hanging from the ceiling, for instance. We don't say anything
about the legs, back, and seat of the chair, so those aren't defined. I
stop at the level of materials. If the counter (which one can place
things upon and try to sit upon) is made of wood, one can't "examine
the wood." Even this is a plausible thing for an architecturally-minded
character to do, though! So it's a failing, from a certain perspective.

It seems that everything mentioned should be defined as an object,
unless something meaningless has been mentioned. On the other hand, it
does make sense to describe things for atmospheric reasons, rather than
becuase everything needs to be manipulated. So the question is real,
for all varieties of IF. Is there a middle ground between "you don't
need to refer to that" and full-fledged object-hood?

This problem -- how deep to go in description and definition of objects
-- is exacerbated by the autistic/kleptomaniacal perspective of
adventure games, in which everything must be looked under and all
takeable objects must be picked up. But the fundamental interesting
thing about IF (to me) is that it simulates a narrative world beneath
the layer of text that appears. Doing this does involve using
abstractions like distinct parts of the setting ("rooms") and objects,
even if the "examine all" mode of adventuring isn't used. So this
question is, I think, fundamental.

J.D. Berry

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
In article <87f3sp$gge$1...@nnrp1.deja.com>,

ical...@my-deja.com wrote:
>
> Now *this* is something I'd like to know, since any little detail
> I mention in a description is probably going to end up as an object
> in the game. I have a terrible time writing descriptions for i-f,
> because in the back of my mind a little voice is always whispering,
> "Don't mention the cables or you'll have to CODE them!"
>

:-D

> The question is: do I write the description as best I can and get
> docked for not implementing every object mentioned in it, or do
> I limit the description to objects I can code and get docked for
> not providing rich descriptive text? It's very difficult to strike
> a balance between these two extremes, and I'm *very* interested in
> how other i-f authors handle it.
>

Well, there's the old "a list of things is mentioned, but
examining any particular one just prints out the overall description
again" trick. The author knows those "things" by themselves aren't
pertinent to the story beyond setting the scene. The player realizes
through the repeating nature, their relevance to the story.

This is fine until...

Out of frustration from lack of good ideas and solutions, I, the player,
start grasping at the straws of scenery. "Maybe with I can make
a suit of armor out of the lint if it's the right KIND of lint!"

> x lint

"There's a lot of junk in the old pants pocket, lint, fuzz and of
course dirt."

> get lint

"You can't have the junk."

"Arggh!" says the player now out of even remotely possible ideas.

I think an author can get away with a "filler" trick like the above, if
there are many other "real" things to worry about. Take the focus
off scenery via opportunities.

Just a thought,
Jim

Paul O'Brian

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
On Fri, 4 Feb 2000 ical...@my-deja.com wrote:
>
> The question is: do I write the description as best I can and get
> docked for not implementing every object mentioned in it, or do
> I limit the description to objects I can code and get docked for
> not providing rich descriptive text? It's very difficult to strike
> a balance between these two extremes, and I'm *very* interested in
> how other i-f authors handle it.

Two principles can ease the burden here:

1) Aliasing. Say you're describing a computer, with a keyboard, monitor,
CPU, mouse, cables, CD-ROM drive, etc. Creating one object whose names
include "drive", "CD-ROM", "computer", "keyboard", "mouse", "cables",
"monitor", "CPU", and "screen" allows you to mention lots of things in
descriptions, all of which refer to the same one object. The nice thing
about this compromise is that not only does it escape the appearance of
failing to code objects, but it also gives the savvy player a hint that it
won't be important to do anything with, for example, the cables
specifically. Of course, the granularity with which you employ this
technique depends a lot on what level of detail you want to implement --
like many things, it can be taken too far.

2) Implication. Sometimes you can just imply the existence of things
without mentioning them, and thereby avoiding the necessity of coding
them. For example, you might say "The computer is attached to a monitor
and keyboard." The word "attached" clearly implies the existence of
cables, etc., but since you don't mention the cables, it's unlikely the
player will go looking for them. By the same token, if the computer is
turned on, the player will fill in the notion of a power cord, which
implies a wall outlet, which implies a fuse box, which implies a voltage
meter, etc. etc. Simple words carry a great weight of implication with
them, and the IF author can use this to her advantage. That's how you can
mention a keyboard and not have to code 100 different objects for "The 'A'
key", "The 'B' Key", "The 'Escape' key" and so on.

--
Paul O'Brian obr...@colorado.edu http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~obrian
SPAG #19 is here, featuring reviews of 1999 IF competition games and
interviews with the winners, along with news, scoreboard, and more!
Find it at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag


Second April

unread,
Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to
On Fri, 4 Feb 2000, Paul O'Brian wrote:

> On Fri, 4 Feb 2000 ical...@my-deja.com wrote:
> >
> > The question is: do I write the description as best I can and get
> > docked for not implementing every object mentioned in it, or do
> > I limit the description to objects I can code and get docked for
> > not providing rich descriptive text? It's very difficult to strike
> > a balance between these two extremes, and I'm *very* interested in
> > how other i-f authors handle it.
>
> Two principles can ease the burden here:
>
> 1) Aliasing. Say you're describing a computer, with a keyboard, monitor,
> CPU, mouse, cables, CD-ROM drive, etc. Creating one object whose names
> include "drive", "CD-ROM", "computer", "keyboard", "mouse", "cables",
> "monitor", "CPU", and "screen" allows you to mention lots of things in
> descriptions, all of which refer to the same one object. The nice thing
> about this compromise is that not only does it escape the appearance of
> failing to code objects, but it also gives the savvy player a hint that it
> won't be important to do anything with, for example, the cables
> specifically. Of course, the granularity with which you employ this
> technique depends a lot on what level of detail you want to implement --
> like many things, it can be taken too far.

In general, this is a good idea and it works well. There are some games
out there, however, that give a general alias but still expect you to look
at the component parts. I-0 is the one that comes to mind, since the
player was asked to infer most of the internals of the car--and with all
respect to Adam and to I-0, this drives me nuts. The virtue of the usual
convention "if it's not mentioned in the room description, it's not there"
(unless of course it's nested in something else) is that it allows the
player to know when she's checked out everything relevant in a given
room--whereas X DRIVER'S SEAT, X PASSENGER'S SEAT, X GLOVE COMPARTMENT, X
TAPE DECK, X STEERING WHEEL, X REAR VIEW MIRROR, X DASHBOARD, X DRIVER'S
SIDE WINDOW, X PASSENGER'S SIDE WINDOW, X DRIVER'S SIDE DOOR, X
PASSENGER'S SIDE DOOR...well, you see what I mean. That Adam was
thoughtful enough to code a lot of this stuff in I-0 just raised the
uncertainty level--okay, if the interior of this car is this exhaustively
detailed, there must be something more here.

Admittedly, the problem is including the relevant pieces in a reasonably
interesting room description, and there generally isn't a lot to say about
a glove compartment and a passenger's seat. But frankly I think that's
better than the alternative.

Duncan Stevens
dns...@merle.acns.nwu.edu

But buy me a singer to sing one song--
Song about nothing--song about sheep--
Over and over, all day long;
Patch me again my thread-bare sleep.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Brandon Allen, M.D.

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Feb 4, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/4/00
to

Second April wrote:

Provided there actually is something interesting to be discovered in the
THOROUGHLY detailed auto. If not, it's just a big waste of time, and would make
a game confusing to play - if all locations were equally well fleshed-out. The
player may waste so much time with >X PASSENGER SIDE COAT HOOK (and similar)
that they don't notice the really important bit.

Personally, I think that if it's mentioned in the description it must be coded,
but it pretty much ends there, unless there is some good, logical reason -
which should be apparent to the player.

- Brandon


Nik Anderson

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Feb 5, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/5/00
to
> The interior place descriptions give the sense of being at a
> vertex on a graph, not in a building, because compass directions
> are mentioned with unnecessary frequency.
>

This is one point that I agree with to a large degree. The problem is that
the 8 supported compass directions along with up and down are the primary
supported directions. For outdoor spaces, there is really no other choice,
because we are to be funneled in one way or another and compass directions
are the most easily concieved orientation clues. The only way around this
is perhaps to use street names or some other local convention (but you'd
still need north, south, etc.) or to have very dense landscape that has
visable and namable suroundings. Otherwise you're just saying "Go over
there."

Indoors, it would be pretty easy to name rooms and spaces and then refer to
them by those names (go to kitchen), but there are problems if you don't
know what is behind a closed door, for instance, and have never been there.
What if I enter a room I've never been in through one door and there are 3
other closed doors exiting to other new locations? Some sort of arbitrary
differentiation is necessary, and compass directions work well for this,
unless you like coloring each door in a room a different color.

Left and right are right out. Being that the player has no body and
therefore no orientation, these words are meaningless unless used in
conjunction with something that can only be approached from one direction
(like a window on the second floor).

What do y'all think?

Magnus Olsson

unread,
Feb 6, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/6/00
to
In article <389c...@dnews.reed.edu>, Nik Anderson <nand...@reed.edu> wrote:
>> The interior place descriptions give the sense of being at a
>> vertex on a graph, not in a building, because compass directions
>> are mentioned with unnecessary frequency.
>
>This is one point that I agree with to a large degree.

Indeed. It's a big problem - how do you get the prose in a room
description to flow nicely when you have to list six exits and
how to reach them?

>The problem is that
>the 8 supported compass directions along with up and down are the primary
>supported directions.

(...)


>The only way around this
>is perhaps to use street names or some other local convention (but you'd
>still need north, south, etc.) or to have very dense landscape that has
>visable and namable suroundings. Otherwise you're just saying "Go over
>there."
>
>Indoors, it would be pretty easy to name rooms and spaces and then refer to
>them by those names (go to kitchen),

I don't think the use of compass directions is the big problem. It
aggravates it, but the big problem as I see it is having to list all
the places you can go from here in every room description. It won't
help much if you can say "go to kitchen" or "enter blue door" if you
still have to list the eight other rooms or the eight different
doorways you can access.

Sometimes I wonder if the best way isn't simply to move the list of
exits out of the room description altogehter, and simply put it
in a separate window or on a line below the description proper, like
you do with movable objects:

| Witch's Kitchen
|
| This is a dark, gloomy room with cobewebs hanging down from the
| rafters.
| (Insert 15 lines of atmospheric description here)
| A large pot filled with a greenish liquid is simmering over the
| open fire.
|
| Exits lead north to the bedroom, east to the garden and down
| to the cellar.
|
| You can see a large rusty knife, a keyring and a human femur
| here.

But what if youwant to describe, say, one of the doors in more detail?

And I always thought that these lists of things after the room
description tend to break the fourth wall.

>Left and right are right out.

I take it you haven't played _Hunter, in Darkness_? You definitely
should, not just for the use of "left" and "right".
--
Magnus Olsson (m...@df.lth.se, zeb...@pobox.com)
------ http://www.pobox.com/~zebulon ------

Eric Mayer

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Feb 6, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/6/00
to

>Sometimes I wonder if the best way isn't simply to move the list of
>exits out of the room description altogehter, and simply put it
>in a separate window or on a line below the description proper, like
>you do with movable objects:
>
>| Witch's Kitchen
>|
>| This is a dark, gloomy room with cobewebs hanging down from the
>| rafters.
>| (Insert 15 lines of atmospheric description here)
>| A large pot filled with a greenish liquid is simmering over the
>| open fire.
>|
>| Exits lead north to the bedroom, east to the garden and down
>| to the cellar.


I like this solution. The reason it is hard and awkward to fit compass
directions into descriptions is because it is an artiificial
convention but one which is pretty much necessary for IF. You have to
have some way to identify a handful of predetermined directions in
which you can move. In my one experience writing IF I really struggled
tring to make this seem natural and I don't think you can because it
isn't. Simply breaking the exits out of the description would free the
writer to just worry about the description.Thanks for jogging my brain
on this!

(I suppose if you wanted to hide the directions entirely you could add
a command to the game to show directions and not display them
otherwise)

Banichi

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Feb 7, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/7/00
to
On 6 Feb 2000 12:32:37 +0100, m...@bartlet.df.lth.se (Magnus Olsson)
wrote:

>Sometimes I wonder if the best way isn't simply to move the list of
>exits out of the room description altogehter, and simply put it
>in a separate window or on a line below the description proper, like
>you do with movable objects:
>
>| Witch's Kitchen
>|
>| This is a dark, gloomy room with cobewebs hanging down from the
>| rafters.
>| (Insert 15 lines of atmospheric description here)
>| A large pot filled with a greenish liquid is simmering over the
>| open fire.
>|
>| Exits lead north to the bedroom, east to the garden and down
>| to the cellar.
>|

>| You can see a large rusty knife, a keyring and a human femur
>| here.
>

I've seen this before, in some game(s) somewhere. Is this the style of
different game engines than Inform or TADS? Or is it a custom thing
that is done because a particular designer put the work into it?


>But what if youwant to describe, say, one of the doors in more detail?
>
>And I always thought that these lists of things after the room
>description tend to break the fourth wall.
>

'fourth wall'?


But, yes, I like this style. I'm wondering if it would be done in a
controlled way in Inform with some base classes and things.


edr...@my-deja.com

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Feb 7, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/7/00
to
In article <3899FA...@unb.ca>,

Brad O'Donnell <s7...@unb.ca> wrote:

> or should all aspiring IF writers play
> all the games they can, and piece together what they can from that?
>

Sure; that's what fiction writers do, after all.

-M.

David Picton

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Feb 7, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/7/00
to
In article <389c...@dnews.reed.edu>,
"Nik Anderson" <nand...@reed.edu> wrote:
> > The interior place descriptions give the sense of being at a
> > vertex on a graph, not in a building, because compass directions
> > are mentioned with unnecessary frequency.
> >
>
> This is one point that I agree with to a large degree. The problem is

that
> the 8 supported compass directions along with up and down are the
primary
> supported directions. For outdoor spaces, there is really no other
choice,
> because we are to be funneled in one way or another and compass
directions
> are the most easily concieved orientation clues. The only way around

this
> is perhaps to use street names or some other local convention (but
you'd
> still need north, south, etc.) or to have very dense landscape that
has
> visable and namable suroundings. Otherwise you're just saying "Go
over
> there."

Personally, I'm quite happy to sacrifice brevity for the sake of
clear information about exits.

The clutter can be alleviated somewhat by putting details about exits in
a separate paragraph, e.g.

You are in a cramped sitting room, with a couch in the center and
a television in one corner.

Doors lead east to the kitchen, north to the hallway and south to
the bedroom.

>
> Indoors, it would be pretty easy to name rooms and spaces and then
refer to

> them by those names (go to kitchen), but there are problems if you
don't
> know what is behind a closed door, for instance, and have never been
there.
> What if I enter a room I've never been in through one door and there
are 3
> other closed doors exiting to other new locations?

In this case, the exit list could read like this, with destinations
named only when rooms have been seen:

Doors lead north (to the great hall), east, southwest
and northeast.

> Some sort of arbitrary
> differentiation is necessary, and compass directions work well for
this,
> unless you like coloring each door in a room a different color.

Compass directions are also useful because:

They usually have abbreviations of only 1 or 2 letters - it's much
easier to type 'E' than 'GO TO KITCHEN'.

They enable the player to draw a map of the room layout.

>
> Left and right are right out. Being that the player has no body and
> therefore no orientation, these words are meaningless unless used in
> conjunction with something that can only be approached from one
direction
> (like a window on the second floor).

I don't fully agree with that. There's no reason why a game can't
keep track of the direction in which a player is facing. I recall an
old game called Battlestar which used left/right/ahead/back navigation.
The direction of motion determined the direction in which the player
was facing.

However, I did think that this navigation system was rather confusing.
In particular, the room directions would depend on which entrance I
had used, making it hard to find my way around at junctions. The
use of compass directions may not be realistic, but it's certainly
much more user-friendly.

--
David Picton, University of Birmingham, England
pict...@my-deja.com, da...@aps5.ph.bham.ac.uk

Joe Mason

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
David Picton <pict...@my-deja.com> wrote:
>Personally, I'm quite happy to sacrifice brevity for the sake of
>clear information about exits.
>
>The clutter can be alleviated somewhat by putting details about exits in
>a separate paragraph, e.g.
>
>You are in a cramped sitting room, with a couch in the center and
>a television in one corner.
>
>Doors lead east to the kitchen, north to the hallway and south to
>the bedroom.

In my WIP, there's an 'exits' command which will list the current exits from
the room. There's also an option to automatically print the command's output
after every room description. Works quite well, I think.

Joe

ical...@my-deja.com

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
In article <vrJn4.16710$45.8...@news2.rdc1.on.home.com>,
jcm...@uwaterloo.ca (Joe Mason) wrote:

> David Picton <pict...@my-deja.com> wrote:
> >You are in a cramped sitting room, with a couch in the center and
> >a television in one corner.
> >
> >Doors lead east to the kitchen, north to the hallway and south to
> >the bedroom.
>
> In my WIP, there's an 'exits' command which will list the current
> exits from the room. There's also an option to automatically print
> the command's output after every room description. Works quite well,
> I think.

Just curious...does your "exits" command print the rooms where the
exits lead? Or does it simply say, "You can go east and north."?
My room descriptions tend to say things like, "An open door to the
north leads into the kitchen" rather than "There is a door to the
north."

irene

Iain Merrick

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
> jcm...@uwaterloo.ca wrote:
>
> > In my WIP, there's an 'exits' command which will list the current
> > exits from the room. There's also an option to automatically print
> > the command's output after every room description. Works quite well,
> > I think.

I take it you also print the exits when the player tries to travel in
one of the unavailable directions? Something like this:

>S
You can only go east to the Ballroom, or north to the North Hall.

If you've gone to the trouble of implementing an 'exits' command in the
first, I'd say this is pretty essential.

ical...@my-deja.com wrote:

> Just curious...does your "exits" command print the rooms where the
> exits lead? Or does it simply say, "You can go east and north."?
> My room descriptions tend to say things like, "An open door to the
> north leads into the kitchen" rather than "There is a door to the
> north."

Why not make it customisable? EXITS LONG, anyone?

--
Iain Merrik
i...@cs.york.ac.uk

beck...@heath.missouri.edu

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to

Banichi wrote:

>
>
> 'fourth wall'?
>

If I'm not mistaken, that was a reference to the 'fourth wall' in theater,
the imaginary/invisible wall that separates the the audience from the world
on stage. It is the 'wall' through which you are looking when you watch a
play that takes place indoors. Breaking the fourth wall would refer to the
imaginary world on stage interacting directly with the mundane,
uninteresting world of the audience (i.e. having to explicitly list the
directions a player can use, rather than having them artfully expressed in
colorful and engaging prose).

Correct me if I'm wrong.

Brandon


Joe Mason

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
ical...@my-deja.com <ical...@my-deja.com> wrote:
>> In my WIP, there's an 'exits' command which will list the current
>> exits from the room. There's also an option to automatically print
>> the command's output after every room description. Works quite well,
>> I think.
>
>Just curious...does your "exits" command print the rooms where the
>exits lead? Or does it simply say, "You can go east and north."?
>My room descriptions tend to say things like, "An open door to the
>north leads into the kitchen" rather than "There is a door to the

Uh... no. Neither. That's kind of a trick question. Knew I shouldn't have
said anything, cause I was't going to go into any detail on this game 'till
it's done.

If I were to use a normal compass-based movement system, it'd be the second.
Actually, it'd say "You can go north." if you'd never been to the kitchen, and
"You can go north (to the kitchen)." if you had. Or something like that.

Joe

edr...@my-deja.com

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
In article <38997d50...@newsserver.epix.net>,

emay...@epix.net (Eric Mayer) wrote:
>
> Writing has to be clear enough to express what the writer wants
> expressed -- period.

I must fervently and respectfully disagree with this -- or at least,
with the last word of it.

Again:

> Writing has to be clear enough to express what the writer wants
> expressed -- period.

Sure, when the writer's *only* goal is to express herself clearly --
period. It's a good philosophy for writing newspaper headlines, or
interoffice memos.

> If writing is also nicely polished, that's an extra

It is not an extra, it is a necessity -- if your goal is to produce
polished writing.

, but as soon as
> you get into matters of style, anything beyond whether the words
> express what they're intended to express, you're in the realm of pure
> opinion and what one person likes someone else won't. There aren't any
> rules, no right or wrong way, despite what some might tell you.

Personal taste is certainly involved, but that doesn't mean the entire
field of literature is utterly devoid of any aesthetic compass. There
are indeed rules -- or "guidelines," if you prefer. Part of the craft
of writing is an understanding of the guidelines, and part is also a
keen intuition of when and where and how to most effectively depart
from them. The latter can't be taught, but it can be illustrated, and
discussed. And even critiqued.

> Anyway, although there's sure to be an exception somewhere, writers
> generally aren't thinking about prepositional phrases when they're
> writing. If they are they might as well toss it in.

You'd be surprised. Although there are obviously talented authors who
have made names for themselves with largely intuitive, Jackson Pollack-
esque styles of composition, there is also plenty of great literature
out there that was crafted sentence by painstaking sentence. James
Joyce, to pull one oft-cited example, allegedly spent days agonizing
over a single word.

> And that is what counts - the overall effect, not the
> individual words and phrases.

If your bricks are made of shoddy material, the overall effect is that
your house will fall down. It is the meticulous selection of words and
the careful placement of phrases that creates effective sentences; it
is the combination of effective sentences that creates memorable
paragraphs; it is the procession of memorable paragraphs that creates a
polished and possibly brilliant piece of prose.

It's a common enough misconception that within this philosophy there is
no room for individual expression, but this simply isn't true. In fact,
it is the mistaken impression that one cannot learn anything from the
efforts of others that prevents many beginning writers from rising
above hackneyed, derivative mediocrity.

-M.

Eric Mayer

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Feb 8, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/8/00
to
On Tue, 08 Feb 2000 18:24:51 GMT, edr...@my-deja.com wrote:

>In article <38997d50...@newsserver.epix.net>,
> emay...@epix.net (Eric Mayer) wrote:
>>
>> Writing has to be clear enough to express what the writer wants
>> expressed -- period.
>
>I must fervently and respectfully disagree with this -- or at least,
>with the last word of it.
>
>Again:
>
>> Writing has to be clear enough to express what the writer wants
>> expressed -- period.
>
>Sure, when the writer's *only* goal is to express herself clearly --
>period. It's a good philosophy for writing newspaper headlines, or
>interoffice memos.
>

Also a good philosphy for writing publishable short stories and
novels, from my own limited personal experience.

Too often beginning writers are thinking about polishing their words
(the "artistic" part) before they think about making them clear. Often
writers mistakenly think their words are clear when they are not and
quite often, the difficult task of making the words clear renders them
polished.

>> If writing is also nicely polished, that's an extra
>
>It is not an extra, it is a necessity -- if your goal is to produce
>polished writing.
>
>, but as soon as
>> you get into matters of style, anything beyond whether the words
>> express what they're intended to express, you're in the realm of pure
>> opinion and what one person likes someone else won't. There aren't any
>> rules, no right or wrong way, despite what some might tell you.
>
>Personal taste is certainly involved, but that doesn't mean the entire
>field of literature is utterly devoid of any aesthetic compass. There
>are indeed rules -- or "guidelines,"

Indeed? And who dictates them? The Board of Writing Standards?

Any "rules" arise simply from the writer's intended audience. If you
want to satisfy an audience of college literature professors then you
probably should consider what prevailing opinions are among college
literature professors, although the only penalty for not doing so will
be the disapproval of the professors.

In my case I do consider certain "rules" in the sense that mystery
editors and readers by and large have their own range of expectations
and preferences. It is probably easier to sell stuff and satisfy the
average mystery reader by paying attention to these preferences, but
it is really incorrect to refer to the preferences as "rules" since
it is perfectly possible to flout them and succeed-- just a little
more difficult.

>of writing is an understanding of the guidelines, and part is also a
>keen intuition of when and where and how to most effectively depart
>from them. The latter can't be taught, but it can be illustrated, and
>discussed. And even critiqued.
>

Sure, but it is just a matter of opinion, not rules or even
guidelines. Unfortunately, critics with strong opinions often mistake
them for rules.

Learning rules is useless. Rules, after all, are supposed to be
followed. That's the definition of the word. What can be taught are
techniques, ways to manipulate words that others have found successful
and that you may or may not find useful in your own work.


<snip>


>> And that is what counts - the overall effect, not the
>> individual words and phrases.
>
>If your bricks are made of shoddy material, the overall effect is that
>your house will fall down. It is the meticulous selection of words and
>the careful placement of phrases that creates effective sentences; it
>is the combination of effective sentences that creates memorable
>paragraphs; it is the procession of memorable paragraphs that creates a
>polished and possibly brilliant piece of prose.
>

You avoid shoddy material by using words that clearly express what you
mean. The strength of the material lies in its clarity, not its
polishing.

>It's a common enough misconception that within this philosophy there is
>no room for individual expression, but this simply isn't true. In fact,
>it is the mistaken impression that one cannot learn anything from the
>efforts of others that prevents many beginning writers from rising
>above hackneyed, derivative mediocrity.
>

It is a long jump from learning from the efforts of others to "rules"
and "guidelines." In fact writers always learn from the "efforts" of
others, but they do not learn from "rules" and "guidelines"
promulgated by others - especially since the others who promulgate
rules and guidelines are rarely writers.

Of course, as I tried to make clear in my original post, I realize
that every writer has to take his or her own approach and what works
for one person won't work for everyone. I offered my original post as
a former English Lit major who took a very long time figuring out how
to write for a general readership. The approach I talked about worked
for me.

edr...@my-deja.com

unread,
Feb 9, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/9/00
to
In article <38a048cf...@newsserver.epix.net>,

emay...@epix.net (Eric Mayer) wrote:
> On Tue, 08 Feb 2000 18:24:51 GMT, edr...@my-deja.com wrote:
>
> >of writing is an understanding of the guidelines, and part is also a
> >keen intuition of when and where and how to most effectively depart
> >from them. The latter can't be taught, but it can be illustrated, and
> >discussed. And even critiqued.
> >
>
> Sure, but it is just a matter of opinion, not rules or even
> guidelines. Unfortunately, critics with strong opinions often mistake
> them for rules.
>
> Learning rules is useless. Rules, after all, are supposed to be
> followed. That's the definition of the word. What can be taught are
> techniques, ways to manipulate words that others have found successful
> and that you may or may not find useful in your own work.

I think you're getting hung up on semantics, here. "Techniques,"
interestingly, was the word I almost used in my last post, but I went
with "guidelines" instead. Perhaps I shouldn't have.

Obviously, the techniques you use will be dictated by your own personal
goals in writing; by contrast the techniques that sell stories will
largely be dictated by the expectations of the publisher, your
audience, and the conventions of the genre you're writing in. You'd
probably want to strike a balance somewhere in between the two, I'd
imagine, although precisely where would again be a matter of your
personal preferences. But you are still making this judgement based on
your understanding of these techniques and conventions, and on your
intuition of how to depart from those techniques to the greatest effect.

These techniques can be taught and studied, and their effective use and
misuse can be evaluated -- not on any absolute scale, obviously, but
certainly in a way that can provide useful feedback to the author.

Techniques can also be learned on one's own, through trial and error
and lots and lots of reading. This fact does not render the previous
paragraph false, however.

>
> You avoid shoddy material by using words that clearly express what you
> mean. The strength of the material lies in its clarity, not its
> polishing.

In your original post you said (or implied) that individual words don't
count, and that good writing is not done on the level of the
prepositional phrase. Now this statement seems to be imply that that's
not what you meant. Can you clarify?

> It is a long jump from learning from the efforts of others to "rules"
> and "guidelines." In fact writers always learn from the "efforts" of
> others, but they do not learn from "rules" and "guidelines"
> promulgated by others - especially since the others who promulgate
> rules and guidelines are rarely writers.

A good critique (or at least, what *I* consider to be a good critique)
asks: what were you trying to accomplish? did the techniques you used
accomplish it effectively? and why or why not? To interpret that
as "Here are some rules; if you don't follow them, your writing is
poor," is to misunderstand the purpose of the critique (or, perhaps,
you just have a poor critic on your hands).

The main point I was trying to respond to was the contention
that "polish" and a careful attention to word choice is an unnecessary
component of the writing process. From this:

> Too often beginning writers are thinking about polishing their words
> (the "artistic" part) before they think about making them clear.

...I wonder if you thought by "polish" I meant excess or fancy
verbiage; this couldn't be farther from the truth. By "polish" I mean
careful and precise choice of words, the craft of creating well-made
sentences -- so that you can *most effectively convey* the larger
issues such as plot, theme, characterization, and so forth -- attention
to detail on both the large and small scales, essentially. Perhaps this
is what you meant by "clarity"; in which case, my apologies for arguing
at cross-purposes.

Eric Mayer

unread,
Feb 9, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/9/00
to
On Wed, 09 Feb 2000 15:19:25 GMT, edr...@my-deja.com wrote:

>>
>> Learning rules is useless. Rules, after all, are supposed to be
>> followed. That's the definition of the word. What can be taught are
>> techniques, ways to manipulate words that others have found successful
>> and that you may or may not find useful in your own work.
>

>I think you're getting hung up on semantics, here.

That is quite possible.

>"Techniques,"
>interestingly, was the word I almost used in my last post, but I went
>with "guidelines" instead. Perhaps I shouldn't have.
>
>Obviously, the techniques you use will be dictated by your own personal
>goals in writing; by contrast the techniques that sell stories will
>largely be dictated by the expectations of the publisher, your
>audience, and the conventions of the genre you're writing in. You'd
>probably want to strike a balance somewhere in between the two, I'd
>imagine, although precisely where would again be a matter of your
>personal preferences. But you are still making this judgement based on
>your understanding of these techniques and conventions, and on your
>intuition of how to depart from those techniques to the greatest effect.
>
>These techniques can be taught and studied, and their effective use and
>misuse can be evaluated -- not on any absolute scale, obviously, but
>certainly in a way that can provide useful feedback to the author.
>
>Techniques can also be learned on one's own, through trial and error
>and lots and lots of reading. This fact does not render the previous
>paragraph false, however.
>

I would agree with that.

>>
>> You avoid shoddy material by using words that clearly express what you
>> mean. The strength of the material lies in its clarity, not its
>> polishing.
>

>In your original post you said (or implied) that individual words don't
>count, and that good writing is not done on the level of the
>prepositional phrase. Now this statement seems to be imply that that's
>not what you meant. Can you clarify?
>

I think too many beginning writers get hung up on Flaubert's "Le mot
juste" (spelling?) idea. That's okay maybe if you're a genius but for
most writers, trying to pick the perfect word every time (say for 80
thousand words in a row) is overwhelming not to say impossible. I
think overall organization of the writer's ideas is of primary
importance, figuring out exactly what you want to say (and don't want
to say) and the basic order in which you want to present your
thoughts, the outline of your story as it were. If the framework is
clear then you have some freedom to manuevre with the individual words
and sentences. That is to say a poorly constructed sentence here or
there or a few lousy word choices won't harm the story very much -
practically any book you read is filled with less than perfect choices
and a lot of writers (unfortunately, yes) seem to neglect any
semblence of polished style at all. So, I guess what I was trying to
say is that in my opinion good fiction is written at the level of the
overall structure, rather than the level of the words and phrases,
simply in the sense that the structure is more important and should
be developed first. To go with the bricks analogy, if you build a well
designed bridge with shoddy bricks it will fall down because the
bricks are no good, but even if you use good bricks, if the design is
faulty, the bridge will still fall down.


>> It is a long jump from learning from the efforts of others to "rules"
>> and "guidelines." In fact writers always learn from the "efforts" of
>> others, but they do not learn from "rules" and "guidelines"
>> promulgated by others - especially since the others who promulgate
>> rules and guidelines are rarely writers.
>

>A good critique (or at least, what *I* consider to be a good critique)
>asks: what were you trying to accomplish? did the techniques you used
>accomplish it effectively? and why or why not? To interpret that
>as "Here are some rules; if you don't follow them, your writing is
>poor," is to misunderstand the purpose of the critique (or, perhaps,
>you just have a poor critic on your hands).
>

Agreed. My experience has been that too often critics insist on
critiquing in terms of "This is the rule and every good writer does it
this way" rather than in terms of "here's a technique some writers
have used."

>The main point I was trying to respond to was the contention
>that "polish" and a careful attention to word choice is an unnecessary
>component of the writing process. From this:
>

>> Too often beginning writers are thinking about polishing their words
>> (the "artistic" part) before they think about making them clear.
>

>...I wonder if you thought by "polish" I meant excess or fancy
>verbiage; this couldn't be farther from the truth. By "polish" I mean
>careful and precise choice of words, the craft of creating well-made
>sentences -- so that you can *most effectively convey* the larger
>issues such as plot, theme, characterization, and so forth -- attention
>to detail on both the large and small scales, essentially. Perhaps this
>is what you meant by "clarity"; in which case, my apologies for arguing
>at cross-purposes.
>

I agree with this also.

The main point of my original post in reply to Nick's critique was
probably the first sentence and maybe I should have just left it at
that -- to reiterate, kind of, I , personally, would never get a thing
written if I were trying to analyse everything I was doing at that
sort of depth - even if I had the critical vocabulary to do so which I
luckily don't.

There is a benefit to be had from just doing the writing and,
especially, finishing it and moving on to the next piece, and I've
seen too many would-be writers, such as the one sitting behind the
keyboard right here, get so hung up thinking about too much stuff
(valid or not) that they never get anything done. It is very tempting
to begin overanalysing and thinking rather than writing -- in case you
didn't notice I am not immune to this tendency!

Eric Mayer

unread,
Feb 9, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/9/00
to
An addendum here. In talking about critiquing I am looking at it from
the point of view of trying to write for mass market publication. I
have managed that to a very very modest extent. (Especially modest
since I've been co-authoring with my wife) Simply put, academic-style
criticism is just not very useful in that setting. I finally got
published when I set aside a lot of what I'd learned as an English Lit
major. Now, if you are aiming for an academic audience, a university
press, literary magazines, then academic style criticism may be very
helpful. I've never aspired to be a literary-type writer so I really
can't say.

What I basically learned on the road to getting published is that in
some ways it is more difficult than I ever imagined but as to what
works for prose-style it is a lot easier than I would've guessed. All
of the better writers I've read games by in this group would not only
be perfectly capable of professional prose but would be above average
prose stlylists.

J Walrus

unread,
Feb 9, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/9/00
to

David Picton <pict...@my-deja.com> wrote in message
news:87mi3m$hel$1...@nnrp1.deja.com...

> I don't fully agree with that. There's no reason why a game can't
> keep track of the direction in which a player is facing. I recall an
> old game called Battlestar which used left/right/ahead/back
navigation.
> The direction of motion determined the direction in which the player
> was facing.
>
> However, I did think that this navigation system was rather confusing.
> In particular, the room directions would depend on which entrance I
> had used, making it hard to find my way around at junctions. The
> use of compass directions may not be realistic, but it's certainly
> much more user-friendly.

I agree. Also, if the player had to remember which direction they had
entered the room from, I imagine it would make the game feel much more
awkward. Instead of walking through the dining room into the kitchen,
looking around you and noticing details of the surroundings, you'd be
walking forward twenty metres, turning 90 degrees to your left, and then
walking forward another twenty metres, like a robot.


JW

Joe Mason

unread,
Feb 9, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/9/00
to
J Walrus <abilt...@bigfoot.NOHORMELPRODUCTS.com> wrote:
>> In particular, the room directions would depend on which entrance I
>> had used, making it hard to find my way around at junctions. The
>> use of compass directions may not be realistic, but it's certainly
>> much more user-friendly.
>
>I agree. Also, if the player had to remember which direction they had
>entered the room from, I imagine it would make the game feel much more
>awkward. Instead of walking through the dining room into the kitchen,
>looking around you and noticing details of the surroundings, you'd be
>walking forward twenty metres, turning 90 degrees to your left, and then
>walking forward another twenty metres, like a robot.

It is possible to use "left" and "right" if they're always from the point of
view of the room, rather than the player. For instance:

Foyer

The entrance to the house is a wide, airy room. Across from the massive front
doors is a broad, curved stairway which rises to the second floor. There are
smaller doors to the left and right of the stairway.

The two doors can now be described simply as "left door" and "right door" with
no confusion, since the stairway is a major "landmark" and the game can
automatically assume the player is orienting from it each time the room is
entered.

Joe

J Walrus

unread,
Feb 10, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/10/00
to

Joe Mason <jcm...@uwaterloo.ca> wrote in message
news:q8lo4.22863$45.14...@news2.rdc1.on.home.com...

This works well in this example, since you can use the stairway as a
reference point. However, if you automatically use this in other rooms,
you will prevent the player from feeling immersed in the game in a
similar way to that of before, since it seems like each room is a
'picture', seen from one direction only, rather than a real environment
which you can interact with.


JW

Stuart Adair

unread,
Feb 13, 2000, 3:00:00 AM2/13/00
to
<beck...@heath.missouri.edu> wrote in message
news:38A0246E...@heath.missouri.edu...

The fourth wall in pantomime, for example, would be virtually non-existant.

--
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___/_ ___:____ \\ stuart adair v21 beta 4 // swap @ and . to mail me \
) ) / __ )> http://stu042.cjb.net // mailto:stu042.bigfoot@com >
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