Writing with Style by Ray Vallese is a short PDF packed with advice for RPG creators. It’s written from the perspective of an editor who has more than twenty years of experience. The focus of the book is on clarity in writing and executing words in a manner that will allow for the proper expression of ideas from the creator to the reader. This book assumes the creator is crafting a role playing game and that the readers are players or game masters. However, anyone who slings words in a professional manner can benefit from this book.
Break the Rules
One of the greatest pieces of advice in this book can be found at the top of page four. The advice is, “Do you have to follow all of these tips all the time? Nope. It’s fine to break them to add variety to your writing. In fact, you should. Don’t hammer all the flavor or voice out of your text to rigidly adhere to guidelines. Just be sure you understand the rules before you break them.” This is classic advice that should be required at the start of any writing seminar, class, or panel at a conference. There are few absolutes in writing, but the key thing to remember is that you must first know the rules. This will allow you to know why they are there and what intent to use when breaking them on purpose.
One of the reasons I stepped up to review this book when it was presented to us is that I’m in the final stages of polishing up my own role playing game. I wanted to see what kind of nuggets of gold I could glean from the pages. I must say that I found quite a few shiny tidbits within the pages. I thought about listing them out here, but I soon realized that I’d be touching on almost every section of the book. Most of the advice that I found was on target, succinctly stated, and clearly described to me. There were a few items
I read through the book twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and at the end of the second read, I found myself to be quite impressed by the large number of areas covered in a mere 44 pages. The book contains a great balance of general writing tips that can be applied in any situation and tips that are specific to RPG publishing.
Quite a few conferences and conventions exist for teaching writing, support gaming, and overlap those two areas a small amount, but I’ve never seen someone put these two areas together as well as Ray has here. If there is a class on tabletop game creation somewhere (and I’m sure there is, but I’m not aware of it), then this should be an introductory textbook for that class.
Outside the “learn the rules before breaking the rules” section, I want to call out two important sections of the book.
The first is the section about creating and using style guides. If you’re working with a team of creators, this is vital to keep everyone on the same page and expressing different ideas in a consistent manner. If your team doesn’t have a style guide, it would be wise to pause the creation of words for a day or three until a starter style guide is created. One thing I didn’t see in Writing with Style was the mention that a style guide should be considered a living document, not one that is etched in stone and forever treated like a holy text.
The second section is a painfully hilarious section called, “Fear the Dawizard.” In this section Ray recounts an instance where someone did a search-and-replace for “mage” to change it to “wizard” everywhere . . . and then clicked the “replace all” button without selecting “whole word match.” This, unfortunately, changed “damage” to “dawizard” and similar goofs. The reason I find it hilarious is because I’ve been there, done that, and have the t-shirt to prove it. I think anyone that’s worked on a reasonably lengthy work has encountered this disaster. The moral of this story is that while technology is a great lever to get things done more efficiently, it can also be a force multiplier for mistakes.
This book focused on the use of words in a role playing game, but I’d love to see if Ray (or someone he’s worked with) would produce a similar book that focuses on layout. I don’t mean the specifics of how to use certain software, but the styles, guides, “do this,” “don’t do this,” and other advice on how to format a book for both print and PDF consumption. While I’m talking about layout, it’s very clear that the layout person (Lj Stephens according to the credits page) knows what they are doing with this book. The headers are clear, the callout text blocks are easy to read, and the font choices make it easy on the eyes to read. In addition to the functional pieces of the layout, everything runs together smoothly and is appealing to the eye at the same time.
If you’re a writer, this is an excellent investment of $4.95. If you’re thinking about creating role playing materials (adventures, rules, setting books, anything else), then this is a great expenditure of $4.95 for the PDF. If you happen to be doing both, like I am, then you owe it to yourself to pick this book up.