Kai NRG

GoH Writing Guide

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I don’t know about you but when I think GoH, I think castle, I think great LEGO builds, and I think stories.  Because what separates this forum from the history forum is the fun we all have telling our own unique stories in a shared world.

Our builds tell stories all on their own.  And some of the most powerful stories don’t need words.  But there are definitely times when we want to know what the characters said, what they thought, what came before and what came after.  So the question is: how do I say that without boring myself and boring my reader?

It’s a lot like photography: you’ve built a great MOC but if you can’t take a good picture we can’t see it.  So similarly, you’ve built a great scene but if you can’t explain the before and after we don’t know what we’re looking at.  But somehow there’ve been lots of photography tutorials, but precious little about writing your LEGO creation’s story.  This is an attempt to drop a few bricks into that gap.

It’s been a long time now since I volunteered to do this, I know.  So I guess it’d better be good.  Anyway, as an introduction to why I volunteered to write about writing: I’m not a bestselling author yet, but you might want to get my autograph anyway if you have a chance, because when my books start hitting shelves…  No seriously, I love to write, so what could be better than writing about writing?

 

I’ve divided this guide into three sections.

Story: brainstorming, structure, and character

Style: writing beautifully

Grammar: writing well

 

I. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a lot like sacking a castle.  You want the treasure and they’ve hid it.  So you grab ahold of a scullion’s collar and you brandish your spear an inch from his nose and you scream: “Where did you put the silverware??”

In other words, ask your brain questions.

Who is this story about?  What are they doing?  Why are they doing it?

Find out what it is you don’t know and ask questions about that.  Where did Queen Ylspeth’s strange counselor come from?  Why is he here?  What does he tell her?  (Or was it a she?  I’ve forgotten…)

If you’ve already built something, or already know what you’re going to build, that’s a great springboard.  If I’m building a castle I’ll ask questions like, “How long has this been here?  Who lives in it?  What tempts him to leave?  What makes him stay?”  This is a great dialogue to have with yourself while you’re building.  All those little details that make your build come to life can make your story come to life too.  Just keep asking yourself why they’re there.

Then take those questions and use them as background for your story.  Once you’ve found out the answer, hold it out like a carrot on a stick for your (hopefully vegan) reader.

This is a step you can come back to again and again.  When you’re stuck don’t stare at a blank paper, but write down questions and answers.  Act like it’s someone else’s story and you’re trying to squeeze it out of them.  Questions will have you using writers’ block as a diving board.

 

II. Structure

The amount of structure you need depends on how long your story is.  Obviously you don’t need three stories of scaffolding to build a mud hut.  So if it’s just about one build, pick one subject, stick with one or two characters, and make it fun.

But if you’re carrying across multiple builds, writing a whole tale in fact, an outline could help keep you from getting stuck.  Especially if you pick some scenes you really are looking forward to and put them toward the end.  Otherwise, when you have to get inspired both for the next build and for the next piece of your story, chances are it’ll just peter out.

An outline of a story is basically a timeline.  First the Queen came to power, then she celebrated, then there was some discontent and rebellion, then – you get the picture.  If it’s a mystery then you may want to move some scenes out of chronological order, and an outline will really help you keep track of that.

So sit down and write an outline the same way you’d write a to-do list for your day.

An outline can help you build suspense.  Like the carrot on the stick we mentioned above.  When you know what’s coming you can kinda wink at your reader every now and then.  Plus, you can hint at themes and motifs from the end of your story at the beginning.

However, while there’s lots to be said for an outline, in an RPG setting where you’re going to want your story to be flexible and accommodate other people’s stories and the challenges, deciding to just go build by build – building whatever inspires you and fitting it into a story later – can work better.  In fact, if you are going to use an outline, I suggest keeping the story arc tight and short so you don’t get burned out or distracted before it ends.

 

III. Characters

In an RPG like this, the odds are most people won’t remember the details of what happened in your last story.  But if you create a great character, they’ll remember that character and it will make them want to read your next story.

Full disclosure: back when I wrote GoH stories I didn’t really think about that.  My characters were pretty boring and unlively.  I did better in BoBS.

So how do you create a great character?  Again, you have an advantage as a LEGO builder.  You can build your character and then look at him/her.  What is he wearing?  What kind of facial expression is his norm?  This can help you get started.

Get to know your character by placing him in dangerous or awkward situations.  Make him sweat.  Readers will enjoy this too.

Take inspiration from people you enjoy being around in real life.  Most likely, your main goal with a story like this is to have a good time, so a friendly, quirky, funny character is probably going to be a bigger hit than a super complex, struggling character who needs a whole novel in order to properly develop himself.

My advice is: resist the temptation to start with your character in his or her everyday life.  That’s really tough to pull off.  Only once you’ve gotten to know his extremes are you ready to figure out what he acts like every day and still make it interesting.  And don’t forget that awkward is just as good a way to test your character development as danger.  The bonus for awkward is, you can incorporate that into the most generic of builds!

 

IV. Style

Variety is the spice of life.  Here are the rules on variety:

Don’t use the same key word twice in two lines of text.
Don’t start two sentences in a row with the same word.
Don’t use the same sentence structure twice in a row.  (Unfortunately it started to rain.  Angrily the baker threw out his soggy bread.)
Don’t use a person’s name twice in a row.
Don’t use pronouns more than three times in a row.
Don’t start two paragraphs in a row with the same word.

Remember those rules.  Know them.  Internalize them.  Follow them.  Then when they become a part of yourself, break them.  But don’t ever, ever, break the rules without knowing it!

Variety in word use comes from a wide vocabulary.  So read!  Look up words you don’t know and try to get a feel for them.  If you’ve used the same word twice, take the time to look up synonyms.

Sentence structure is another, often overlooked, place where variety is essential.  Most sentences start with the subject.  White colored pencils are a gimmick.  A notebook is a tablet whose battery never dies.  I’m always surprised when I open a can of evaporated milk and there’s actually something inside.

So change it up.  Start with a preposition.  Underneath the table, he shivered with fright.  Start with a participle (that’s a verb that ends in -ing).  Slashing furiously, she destroyed the piñata.  Start with a clause.  When it started snowing, Alaric realized that today wasn’t the best day for a smoothie.

Vary the way you end your sentences, too.  And the middle.  Pay attention to where your commas are going.  They shouldn’t always be in the same place.

The goal is to create a mental picture.  As a builder, you have the advantage of already presenting your reader with a visual image, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use some description in your writing.  And the whole point of a picture is that it’s a riot of color and shape.  It’s not uniform.  It’s varied.

Other stylistic techniques include parallelism, alliteration, similes, metaphors, questions, and quotations.  Let’s take those in order. 

When the lightning flashed and the thunder rumbled, he knew it was time to take shelter.  Parallelism is huge and awesome.  You can parallel anything from a word to a sentence to a paragraph to an entire chapter.  And a good triple is like a grand slam.

He looked at her as if she were a hat rack.  That’s a simile – a comparison.  Try to avoid cliché’s, but good similes are powerful.

This paperwork was a hurdle he couldn’t jump.  This one’s a metaphor – a simile that doesn’t explain itself.  No “like” or “as if.”

Why was the floor stained red?  Questions make your writing more personal.  Get your reader involved!

“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!”  Quotations are a chance to show off your Shakespeare.

Again, we’re trying to create a picture in the reader’s mind.  When was the last time you got a mental picture out of a textbook?  So don’t write like a textbook.  Write like a symphony.

 

V. Grammar

Bet I know what you’re all thinking: “Oh look, she saved the best for last!” :tongue:  Don’t worry, I’m just going to run over a few common errors to look out for.  By no means an exhaustive list!

They’re, their, there.  The terrible triplets.  They’re is they are.  Read it like that when you proofread and you’ll never get it wrong.  Their is possessive.  Their book, their pen, their funeral.  There is location.

Your vs. you’re.  Again, read you’re like you are and you won’t get it wrong.

The boys’, the boy’s… where exactly does that ‘postrophe go?  Think of it without the apostrophe.  Does the toy belong to the boys or the boy?  If it belongs to the boy, then it’s the boy’s.  If it belongs to the boys then it’s the boys’.

Me and I.  Lord Gideon and I are going shopping in Barqa.  Lord Gideon and me are going shopping in Barqa.  Which is it?  Get rid of Lord Gideon and you’ll see.  I am going shopping in Barqa, or me am going shopping in Barqa?  Oh, duh…  How about this: De Gothia met Lord Gideon and I while we were shopping in Barqa, or De Gothia met Lord Gideon and me while we were shopping in Barqa?  Try getting rid of Lord Gideon again.  Here’s a tricky one: Barqa is a place where Lord Gideon and I like to go shopping, or Barqa is a place where Lord Gideon and me like to go shopping?
Note that the pronoun (I, me) always goes after the name(s).

Two, too, to.  The number two has a w, too has too many o’s, and to… well, it’s short, sweet, and to the point.

Affect vs. effect.  The effects of the Black Spire’s demise affected me.

Its vs. it’s.  Read it’s as it is, a contraction.  Its is possessive.  A possessive without an apostrophe.  No wonder it’s confusing.

Peak and peek vs. pique.  Peak is a jutting rock or mountain top, peek is when you stick your head out from around the peak to catch sight of someone, and pique is the disgruntled feeling you get because the person you expected to peek around the peak didn’t do it.

Who, whom, whose, and who’s.  Okay, deep breath.  Who is about he or she.  Whom is about him or her.  Who was messing with my LEGO?  She was.  Whom should I attack for destroying my MOC?  I should attack her.  (But sometimes whom just sounds wrong, even though it may be grammatically correct.  Those are the moments you have to pick… will you be a scientist or an artist?)
Whose and who’s is the contraction thing again.  Who’s = who is.  Whose is possessive.  “Whose was this MOC?” she asked.  “Who’s the one who needs a taste of my blade?” I retorted.

Alot.  Which is not a word, even though it gets used a lot.

Than vs. then.  Than is a comparison.  A sauna is better than living on the sun.  Because if you lived on the sun, then you would burn up.

Should of should’ve been should have.

Complement vs. compliment.  I was going to say that you could compliment someone regarding their ability to complement you but then I realized that you could kind of do that either way.  But a compliment is something you say and complement is something you do, or something you put on a hot dog.

Farther vs. further.  Farther is strictly referring to distance.  Otherwise, use further.

The dangling -ing.  Running full speed, the table broke in pieces when Sally made impact.  Last I heard, tables couldn’t run despite their four legs.  Just remember this: the thing right after the comma must be the subject, i.e. the person doing the -inging.

Except vs. accept.  Except is about taking something out.  Accept is about bringing it in.

Breath vs. breathe.  When you breathe you take a breath.

Run-on sentences.  Some people just keep writing, no periods, there really should be periods, new sentences should be starting, you can’t just join two sentences with a comma, it’s not proper gwammar.

Fragments.  An incomplete sentence.  A sentence without a verb.  All fragments.  Fragments are not bad, they’re stylistic.  But only when they’re intentional.  It’s the difference between accidentally forgetting to stick two bricks completely together and purposefully leaving a crack between them.

There are more, but I’ll stop with this: by far the most common error is not proofreading.  So please, proofread.  I mean seriously now, if you’re not willing to read your own story over, who do you expect to read it?  (Whom do you expect to read it?  Nah, sorry, artist here…)

 

So there you have it – five writing tools to hang in your arsenal next to those photography tips and SNOT techniques.  Hopefully they were helpful or at least entertaining.  If you’ve got some expertise in this area by all means share it!  This is far from the writing guide to end all writing guides – it’s more like the writing guide to begin ‘em.

And a shout out to those of you who’ve been writing GoH stories for years, you’ve given the guilds the restful feel of an old library.  There’s so much here and it’s a pleasure just to look around.  Keep telling those brick inspired stories!

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I read this with pleasure, great work, Kai! Another valuable contribution to the meta of GoH! I've written a lot for my personal saga, but I didn't have any writing-technical theory to guide me, so now I'm quite curious how I did back then. Guess I'll read it from the beginning once I continue the the story. 

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Thank you so much! This will be a great reference post. As a non-native English speaker, I'm especially keen on your "structure" paragraph : sometimes, text structures that "naturally" sound great in my native language sound odd in English. So it's nice to have some universal basics and examples!  :excited:

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know weigh am eye ever going too reed awl this howl dew eye no ewe no what your talking about :tongue:

Actually, I did read it. I think this is a very good guide for anyone interested in RPG writing. :thumbup: And yes, ewe saved the best four last. :grin:

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Kai, what an exemplary contribution. 

Just as a few others among us, I'm not a native English speaker, and I really wish to improve my writing. GoH proves to be an outstanding way to do so and to enhance creative thinking.
Your guidelines came in truly handy, and I'll make sure to come back to them every so often. 

As always, your tips both for building and writing are essential for all of us to grow as builders and storytellers.

Thanks, Kai!

 

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Thanks everyone!  Really glad you're finding it useful.

On 12/6/2019 at 12:25 PM, Aurore said:

Thank you so much! This will be a great reference post. As a non-native English speaker, I'm especially keen on your "structure" paragraph : sometimes, text structures that "naturally" sound great in my native language sound odd in English. So it's nice to have some universal basics and examples!  :excited:

Thanks Aurore!  Actually, in terms of sentence structure, I addressed that more under style and grammar (the structure section is more about structuring a story).  But I didn't get into formal details.  English is somewhat irregular in terms of sentence structure and while I could tell you in a second whether any given sentence is right or wrong I'm sure I'd miss something if I tried to write a comprehensive set of rules!

On 12/6/2019 at 2:54 PM, Captain Dee said:

know weigh am eye ever going too reed awl this howl dew eye no ewe no what your talking about :tongue:

Actually, I did read it. I think this is a very good guide for anyone interested in RPG writing. :thumbup: And yes, ewe saved the best four last. :grin:

Oww, my eyes! :enough: :tongue:

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Thank you so much for this post! I'm working on backstories for some of my characters, and I had hit writers block before reading your post. Your tips are really helpful!

Edited by socalbricks

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On 12/11/2019 at 10:01 PM, socalbricks said:

Thank you so much for this post! I'm working on backstories for some of my characters, and I had hit writers block before reading your post. Your tips are really helpful!

You're welcome!  Glad it helped you out!

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