Writing Basics. Keeping it Short

A LOT of freelance ttRPG writing is paid by the word… sort of. Generally a per-word rate is capped at the assigned wordcount. It’s not really “5 cents a word,” it’s “$50 for 1,000 words, and don’t go too far over or under 1,000 words.” That means that if you overwrite a project, you are getting paid less for your labor, and you’re not doing your developer a favor.

Of course, you can overwrite a project, then trim your writing to come in under wordcount. But then you are doing even MORE labor–both writing more than you need, AND spending additional time trimming it back. While this can potentially lead to more work at higher pay rates in the future if you end up with a really well-written final draft that’s extremely close to wordcount (I prefer to be within 1% of my assigned wordcount), that’s an at-best “maybe,” and there’s no reason you can’t have that same end result by hitting your assigned wordcount in your first draft.
For a lot of people, this is something that gets easier with experience. It can be amazing how fast wordcount goes by sometimes—I know nowadays that if something is supposed to be 100 words long, I have very little room for asides or flowery language to boost the poetry of a phrase. But there are also things you can do to help hitting wordcount on the first draft easier and smoother.

Decide On Your Topics and Their Wordcounts

There’s very little as frustrating as checking to see you’ve used 80% of a project’s wordcount, but only hit 20% of the topics you need to cover. While you may not know everything you need to cover when you start a project, pretty early in the process you should sit down and list out everything you believe you need to spend words on for a given project.

For example, if you are writing up a nation, think about every general description, city, region, ecology, point of interest, and adventure seed you want to cover. You don’t need to go into detail about them at this point, just breakdown what subjects you’ll be writing about, so you can estimate each section’s wordcount. I often find it useful to organize this information by thinking about the headers I’ll use.

This can also be a useful way to decide what’s important. If you have 300 words to describe 6 cities, maybe you want to spend 100 words on the capitol, and just 40 each on the smaller settlements.

Monitor Your Progress

Monitor your total wordcount as your write, as well as how closely you are hitting the wordcount of each topic. If something goes long, you can decide to cut it down immediately, adjust other estimated wordcounts per topic, or even cut topics maybe you didn’t need, adjusting as you go.

Just remember to leave wordcount for an introduction and a wrap-up, if your project needs them. Otherwise, the start and stop can feel very abrupt.

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on June 29, 2021, in Game Design, Writing Basics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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