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The Basics of Good RPG PBeM Writing

Written by Rebecca Tifft-Donovan

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There are two common misconceptions about quality writing; the first is that quality writing can be achieved simply by using good writing techniques and the second is that quality writing can simply be achieved by having an interesting plot. In fact, quality writing can only be achieved when a balance is formed between the two. This basic writing course was made in an attempt to assist new PBeM writers, and perhaps encourage more people to start games of their own.

Before we venture into the depths of proper grammar and punctuation, I have one suggestion to make. Game Masters (GM's) should always write their turns out in a word processor then transfer the text into their email program for delivery to players. This practice not only assists in keeping spelling errors to a minimum, but can also allow the GM to easily correct common grammar problems.

Some word processors like Word 97, for example, have built in routines that check your grammar. To access them (in Word 97) simply click on 'Tools' then 'Options.' Click on the 'Spelling & Grammar' tab. Make sure that there are checks next to 'Check grammar as you type' or 'Check grammar with spelling.' Either way, grammatical errors will appear as a wavy green line either as you are typing or when you spell check your document. You will also have to set the writing style; I suggest 'Formal.' Additionally, you can choose to 'Show readability statistics,' which allows you to see how the computer rates your document. At the end of your spell check the computer will tell you how many words you've used as well as what grade level would be most appropriate for your document based on the length of your words and sentences. You should probably be shooting for a grade level between 5 and 10. It also gives a readability percentage (the Flesch Reading Ease), try to keep that above 75%. Passive voice sentences should be limited though sometimes they work far better than active voice depending on the situation. Keep your passive voice as low as possible, certainly no more than 20%.

Basic Tips to Good Writing

1. Be Consistent

If you use a certain type of speech or slang or certain types of symbols to represent a break in the story, be sure to keep using it throughout the writing. Nothing will confuse a player more than changing dialects or slang terms.

2. Build Continuity

Reread the last turn you sent before writing the next turn. Keep in mind that you said the dragon was to the left, not the right. If the innkeeper's name was Harold two turns ago, it should still be Harold when the PC's return. Unless, of course, Harold died suddenly and his twin brother Arnold took over the family inn. However, if that is the case, make sure you have the heartbroken Arnold inform the players of his brother's untimely death.

3. Know Your World(s) Well

This is a subcategory of being consistent. If you have stated that elves are seven feet tall with snow-white hair and purple eyes, do not allow a player to have a four-foot elf with bright red hair and blue eyes without a good background explanation. Remember that exceptions to the rules you have set for your world are rare. If you accept an exceptional elf into your party, do not have them run into three or four more elves that bend the rules. Likewise do not have the Elite Battle Guard of the Kernoshian Empire arrive in blue power armor one day and red the next unless it is a special holiday that calls for the wearing of red by imperial order.

4. Write Believably

If you want the High Senator of Ackrendar to be from a Celtic-inspired world and speak in an Irish brogue, use the proper grammar, style, and dialect rules. To aid you in your quest of proper dialects, we have developed a few guides for you: Knightly Speech and Scottish/Irish Brogue.

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