Avoiding Level Slip

I’m lucky to have friends who will read my text, and even luckier that they’re pretty brutal with their feedback. At least, after a bit of coaxing… in our last reading session, they danced around the issue with a few positive remarks about fairly innocuous details, which meant that the feedback for the text as a whole was going to be less than positive. Eventually, I just asked them to give it to me straight, like a pear cider made from 100% pears.

“What you have here… is level slip.”

She described “level slip” by analogy with tidying a house. Let’s say you’re moving some big pieces of furniture around to do the decorating or hoovering or whatever. When the chaos is at its peak and your house is a mess of piles of books, toys and electrical appliances, it is not the time to suddenly re-organise your CD collection. Your CD collection, untidy as it is, is one self-contained unit; it’s one detail level down from the big picture.

What I’d done with my text is allow low level details to creep into high-level stuff. Game-specific language appeared too early, way before the defining text. Reader focus shifted from high-level structures to street-level details and back again. Huge, huge digressions into detail that simply did not need explaining at that time, and big omissions of details which should have been up front.

The silly thing is, I know all of this. At work I write technical documents with multi-level headings; I’m careful to differentiate between scope and definitions, between results and conclusions. At home it seems I’m allowing my creative writing to make huge digressions into details — important details, true — and scattering that collection of details all over the text.

The answer is simple. I need to apply the same discipline to this text as I do to my day job. This includes:

  1. Identify the high level items and make them top-level headings in your word processor
  2. Define the sub-headings in each section.
  3. Work out when you’re introducing a new technical term. When you do, make sure you define it before you refer to it — or at the very least directly after you introduce it.
  4. Similarly, be clear where you’re introducing new procedures, and the terms used in those procedures.
  5. Write a glossary.
  6. Be clear (in your mind) what words in bold mean, what words in italics mean, and what Capitalised words mean.
  7. Don’t assume your readers will get you. Spell it out.

On that last item… a lot of games rely on the tacit knowledge of experienced gamers when conveying their content. Nothing wrong with that… except when you’re trying to innovate at the gaming table. Games can be difficult and complex, but the procedures in the text must be crystal clear.

One last note to self: stop trying to use Scrivener, it just doesn’t work for you, and it’ll just make the level slipping worse. I know you’re a dirty Mac using hippy and you want to leave Microsoft at work, but that’s what works. Stay in the damn boat, as my wrestling coach once said.


2 thoughts on “Avoiding Level Slip

  1. I usually find it handy to create a glossary while writing the game. I would have to do one sooner or later anyway. I can structure everything in the glossary and throw things around until it fits. It even happens that I question some of the terms I’m using. Do we really need to define d6 when all you use is sixsided dice? Do we need to separate a game master from a player? That’s what I’m doing in my next game, that’s only three pages long (compared to my first published game that reached 112 pages.)

    High level items? How do you know what’s what? In my game, it’s about collaboration between the players and even if I repeat that all over the text, people still miss that it’s a collaboration and not a competition. It could be because I write my game as a gameboard manual, but I think that shouldn’t happen anyway.

    Can you categorize the different kinds of high level items?

    • “High Level” items are major chapter headings like Character, System, etc. In my game the current headings are City, Citizen, Character, System and Play.

      “Low Level” details are things like
      – character class
      – spells
      – specific world details
      – system currencies like Hit Points, etc.
      – technical jargon / specific words

      Obviously the low level details should all fit into the high level boxes and stay there — but I’ve seen the little details creep into what should be high-level, introductory passages. World details and system jargon are especially prone, I think. I’ve seen the same in a lot of technical document writing.

      The glossary is a fine idea. Having a contents page at the front and a glossary at the back should help tame the document.

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