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Developer Emeritus
22 Jan 2006

This topic attempts to describe the sort of texts TR can currently use and to give a description of how (I believe) this type of text is created and what it looks and sounds like. For more technical, grammatical or stylistic advice, please check some of the other stickied topics on this board.

What role does “literature” play in an Elder Scrolls game?

When talking about the place books have in Tamriel Rebuilt, we are really asking what they do in an Elder Scrolls game, because in the end that is what we are making. Books have a role to play because they carry an enormous potential to build a world beyond the several gigabytes that constitute the game. They can establish things that are far beyond the budget, time limit or skill of any development team (including us) and can often plainly do things that are impossible to describe otherwise. They are necessary, because to some extent they save the fictional world we can portray through our game engine from becoming a facade, transitory and ultimately meaningless.

Keeping the above in mind, it becomes obvious that books, far more than a source of information, are tools. Any worthwhile book seeks to do something; it takes the world as we imagine it and builds upon it, deconstructs it, reconstructs it, changes it, nuances it, … Books always have hidden agendas.

How do I write something like that?

There are many ways to pull it off, not in the least because “it” is a very broad topic to begin with.

First and foremost: start with the why. Figure out what is the point of you writing this. Regardless of whether it's a dry Imperial socio-historic treatise or a weird Dunmer fable, there must always be at least one motivation from your side of the fourth wall, one thing you want to do with the fictional world at your disposal. When put into words, this mission statement probably includes at least one of the following: establish, nuance, dispel, deconstruct, cover up, complicate, ridicule, ... Texts never stand on their own. They always somehow relate to previously existing information (not necessarily books), unless when they establish entirely new material, in which case they relate to the previous lack of information. If you conclude that what you are writing is just information or just a story, and nothing but that, it probably needs a rethink.

Once you have decided what the hidden agenda of your text is, figure out how you are going to accomplish it. Everything is free game: vocabulary, style, naming, language, artwork... Nothing is out of bounds as long as it is deliberate. If, for example, you write an incredibly boring text, that is fine if you made the conscious decision that the reader should remember that this particular subject is extremely boring. If you wrote something really weird, that is fine if you felt that the topic was too boring and straightforward in its current state.

The trite high school adage applies: show, don't tell. Do not try to tell us how bizarre, how wonderful, how cruel something is. Mention it in passing; the casualness will only highlight it more. As with all guidelines, this can be broken when the alternative has more potential.

Finally: discuss! Don't write an entire text, post it and then ask what people think. Take that route if you're very certain about yourself, but brace yourself for criticism. However, most texts start from a tiny idea, a little kernel of inspiration that will often develop a lot better in discussion. Even if you don't quite feel up to writing things yourself, you might well have some valuable ideas to contribute.

Things to write and things not to write

Unfortunately, certain texts are a lot easier to put to work in the way described above than others.

Right off the bat, I'm going to say that the very, very hardest text to do right is straightforward fiction, i. e. a story about some characters doing something, going somewhere, learning something... The closer to a real world story, the harder it will be for you to do something with it. The reason this is so hard to do, I think, is because you are not just writing a fictional story, but you are also writing a fictional writer, which is a daunting task for anyone not currently buried at a cemetery in Geneva. No matter how much effort you pour into the story proper, the story you should actually be concerned with is that of the world in which its fictional author lives. It's not Huck Finn you should worry about, but what Huck teaches you about the world Mark Twain lived in.

A second argument against novella-style adventure stories is that they they tend to fit poorly into Tamriel to begin with, which is the same as saying they would probably fit into many settings to some degree. A quick and dirty test I do is replacing the main character by Han Solo. Barring any technological discrepancies, if you can insert Han Solo and are left with largely the same story, you're doing it wrong.

So what can you write? In short: anything not the above. I often summarize it as “non-fiction”, but that is really far too narrow a description. It can be anything as long as it does something: a manual on skrem farming, a treatise on literary form in late-2nd Era Dunmer poetry, the basics of Dunmer algebra, How To Tune Your Hoom: A Guide (yearly folklore festival in backwards Velothi mountains towns), Dunmer ontology and epistemology,... Just go into a library, find a random shelf and a random book and then tell us what that books reads like in Morrowind. Remember, they always do something different. Remember you are allowed, nay, required to make stuff up. This is not against lore. Lore is taste, not rules and regulations.

Of course, you aren't restricted to Morrowind stuff. We also need things from other provinces, though in the near future we should figure out exactly what sort of Morrowind/non-Morrowind ratio we want.

Some quick, concrete things you should probably not write

- Do not write journals, diaries, logs, or anything similar. It's easy to be lured into writing them, because they superficially solve a number of things that are more problematic in other types of text: time passing, motivation, thought processes. On the other hand, they make pretty much anything else impossible, to the point where journals that try to tell a story almost always turn out exceedingly stilted. It is almost impossible to put any sort of excitement in your text, because everything is written in hindsight. It is almost impossible to put any other characters in your text, because this is a very intimate sort of writing (and as such you should probably question why this person is writing a journal in the first place). The list goes on. Most of all, though, these things are incredibly clichéd. Don't do it.

- Do not write (about) “adventures” and for God's sake do not use the word “adventure”, “adventurer” or something similar. The reason for this is very simple: although the game you play is an adventure to you, the world it is set was never created with the express purpose of accommodating “adventures”. Similarly, “adventurer” is not a profession, but a word for a character without motivations.

- Do not write about thieves, assassins, werewolves or vampires, unless you really, really know what you are doing (the four topics there are ordered depending on how much you'd need to know in order to know what you are doing). Really, these topics are clichéd, unimaginative, and more often than not just an excuse to write cool, dark, or edgy characters.

- Do not write poetry. Just don't. Unless there's something really bizarre about it, where the point of the text is more in the weirdness than the text itself. Then we can talk, maybe.

- Do not write overviews, compilations, studies or any other sort of text that is in essence just a bunch of game data with some padding prose. For example, don't write a guide to the “Flora of the Grazelands” that is just a long list of alchemy ingredients with their assigned effects. Don't write a “Study On Dreugh”, detailing AI behavior in the game.

- Remember that gameplay limitations are not game world limitations. Writing down an account of things you’ve been doing in the game is absolutely the worst way to come up with a decent text. Surely, there is a time and place for gameplay hints in certain texts, but they don’t work everywhere and require a good deal of judgment.
Post Mon Feb 04, 2013 9:38 pm Send private message             Reply with quote                   up  
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