Painting with words

 
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HaiWolfe



Joined: 13 May 2005
Posts: 15
Location: Boston

PostPosted: Sat May 14, 2005 1:38 am    Post subject: Painting with words Reply with quote

Everyone knows the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It's the reverse of this, painting a picture using only words, that is possibly not only the greatest challenge, but the greatest joy of building.

Of the three basic description types--rooms, mobiles, and objects--I've always found that rooms are the hardest to write. Done well, a vivid room description can engage the senses and immerse readers in the world, making them feel as if they're standing right there. Otherwise, all you have is text on a screen.

These are just some parts of the process I go through when writing a room description:
  • The first line is used to describe the first thing someone is likely to notice upon entering the room. Are you in a loud and crowded tavern? Are you surrounded by tree trunks and the aroma of fresh pine needles? Are you standing before a towering monument? Put the most obvious characteristic of the room up front and let the details of the image build upon that.

  • How the rest of the description unfolds is largely up to personal preference, though I often go from near to far and top to bottom, the way someone might take in a room with a sweep of his or her eyes. That is, I might first write about the ornate chandelier hanging from the ceiling, then the couches and armchairs arranged across the floor beneath it, then the bookcases standing against the walls, and finally a bay window in the far wall opposite the room's entrance.

  • I try to vary the length and meter of the sentences to avoid monotony. One of the fastest ways to kill an image before it can be formed is to start every sentence with 'there is' or a similar phrase. "There is this. There is that. There are these other things here." Or "To the north is this. To the east is that." Instead, try a mixture of active and passive voice, succinct statements and longer explanations.

  • Even the length of the room description itself can play an important role. If you're standing in a cramped, narrow alleyway, a sparse 4-line paragraph will probably serve better than an elaborate 12-liner. On the other hand, save those long and busy descriptions for places like the bustling main gate of a city to create an impression of size.
I'm far from an expert in this craft, so these are simply notes of my own building habits. I'd love to learn about how others approach the challenge, and the methods you use. Maybe if we gather enough tips together, we can compile an entire article on the subject of word-painting. Smile
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
Posts: 88
Location: Prague

PostPosted: Sat May 14, 2005 3:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sometimes, text is worth a thousand pictures! Exotic words can evoke atmosphere not just with their meaning, but with the way they sound as well. A scene can be alive with smells and sounds and even taste or touch. Dynamic descriptions can make the scene look different for different characters. And you can paint images with words that no picture could ever convey.

Some things I like to do:

  • When I first start planning the area, I create an "inspiration" file or excel spreadsheet, where I put all the less usual or evocative words for my theme as I think of them or find them in reference sources. This is especially important for me, since I'm not a native speaker. I usually categorise these, so for my oriental themed area I might have something like this. This also helps me later at any time I feel uninspired, and makes it easier for me to use words I might not think of as I write.

  • I try to cater to all senses when writing the description. The actual approach to this would differ depending on how dynamic the mud is and whether it has special commands/descriptions for listening, smelling etc. Even assuming a mostly static description, this is a great way to make the scene evocative and pull the reader right in.

  • Dynamic descriptions and interactivity are always a plus! I try to cover at least the most obvious actions - if the room has a river, the player should be able to at least try swimming, without getting a "You can't do that." One trick that should be obvious, but is not used often enough (at least in my experience) is making even the actions that don't do anything seem like they do. So if a player decides to climb a tree, don't tell them "You don't feel like climbing trees right now.", when you can tell them "You climb the tree and take a look around, but see nothing of importance. You climb back down again."


I sometimes like to put things that cannot be graphicised into my descriptions... but that might perhaps deserve its own thread. Hmm. Maybe at some point in the future.
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HaiWolfe



Joined: 13 May 2005
Posts: 15
Location: Boston

PostPosted: Sat May 14, 2005 4:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alayla wrote:
When I first start planning the area, I create an "inspiration" file or excel spreadsheet, where I put all the less usual or evocative words for my theme as I think of them or find them in reference sources.

This is a great idea! Many a time I'll be reading and come across a great word or phrase that can't be found by plain thesaurus-hopping, and try to make a mental note to use it in future building. Trouble is, unless I built it right away, I'd end up forgetting after a few weeks or months and the words would be lost. Gathering them up in a single place is the perfect way to preserve the ideas -- I'll have to try it for the next area I tackle.
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