Thursday, December 1, 2011
A Hard Proposal
I don't know about the reader, but when I look at my favorite blogs on a given day, I'm never satisfied with just a few hundred words. I want more. I want to be able to sit back and read for a half hour or so. I want the subject to be gotten into in depth and intricately. I see enough bland programming filtered down from sources I have to read in order to have money. When I read something for pleasure, I want lots of it.
Jeez, I love Jon Stewart.
That's not 10,000 blathering words about nothing. I wouldn't think it was that hard to write 10,000 skipping words about your family, or your childhood, or a rambling mess that jumped from topic to topic until coming to the end and announcing, "Well, by my count that's ten thousand words, thanks!"
No, I am proposing 10,000 words written in a tight format, with a beginning and an end, and a circular framework so the whole thing hangs together - and makes a point. Hopefully, so that the whole thing is written in a manner that it can be read comfortably, pleasurably, without noticing the time or feeling exhausted. Obviously, that can't apply to everyone. The world is chock FULL of Herman Cain's. Two paragraphs and they're already bleating, "Get on with it already!"
But seriously, no writer in the world writes for those kind of people. No writer in the world ever has. We writers have a perspective that words are a good thing, and that reading is something we grew up loving to do. We have the patience and the time to swallow four or five pages of introduction (unlike your standard editor), and with age and experience, we gain the patience to swallow a whole lot more. We don't need a murder to take place in the first fifty pages of Anna Karenina (Ha, two mentions in two weeks!) in order to feel its is worth reading. It's okay that Somerset Maugham spends a hundred and fifty pages counting his money and his angst in Of Human Bondage. We're not screaming at him "to get on with it." There's a fundamental principle of life being outlined here, and we're aware of it. We are, in fact, fascinated with it. We don't want it expurgated.
Still, while Maugham had no trouble writing a hundred and fifty thousand words about a young man's struggle with happiness, the question arises: What part of D&D is worth a ten thousand word essay?
Offhand, probably anything if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of it. Problem with that is that many of those ordinary parts of D&D - disliking or liking alignment, treasure distribution, experience gathering, encounter tables, character classes and so on - have been picked to death and most people already have calcified opinions about what is and is not true. You're almost certain to lose your audience - even a bright, interested audience - in the first thousand words.
Upon the second hand there's the prospect of writing 10,000 words on something really new: a combat system, or an elaborate system for carrying forth seagoing, underwater or aerial adventuring. The essay then becomes a systematized list, each section of the post describing this, and then this, and then this. Shipboard things, and then storms, and then combat, and then putting the ship into port, and then probably the Traveller standby of a quick trade system to manage buying and selling. Boom, no problem, 10,000 words.
I've done as much myself. There were six Conflict! posts that I wrote last summer, and if I cobbled them altogether they'd probably top the mark. If not, I could rewrite them now, spend a little more time with examples and previously missed details, or details I glossed over, and bring the whole thing in at 10,000 words or more. But somehow I think that would be cheating. An 'orientation' post is too simple. The work isn't in the writing, its in the game design, and if the game design isn't up to snuff, it doesn't matter how many words you hang on it.
No, for me, it's got to handle three basic principles, the same principles of philosophy: 1) what we ought to know; 2) how ought we to conduct ourselves; 3) and how ought the community to be organized.
I write a lot of posts about these things. Some of these posts are quite probably seen as dusty and dry; some of them I know have proved to be quite popular. I believe myself that these are the most important posts that CAN be written, for at heart I am a philosopher and when all is said and done, when the books are closed and we have settled down for a chat about the subject material, these are the questions that are fundamentally unanswerable.
It is inherent on the net that certain subjects, more mundane subjects as it were, do not have fixed answers, and are subjects for flame wars: "Decker was a Replicant" - "Christopher Nolan is a better director than James Cameron" - "Goodfellas should have won Best Picture" ... and so on. These things represent a sort of philosophy. They propose a picture of the world, namely what everyone 'ought' to know, and the proponents of this or that position being hammering away at the suppositions and core points of the argument until everyone in every part of the world is sick to death of the subject.
Obviously there are a great many who, tired of these arguments, propose that we should never have arguments of this kind, ever again. Art teachers and Literary professors in particular, their places of work being filled with young people unleashed upon a subject with no clear definition of "good" and "bad" - and yet proporting nonetheless to raise their students to some kind of critical standard - are forced eventually to just point and say, "Shut up you nits, it's good because smarter people than you will ever be have said so."
It doesn't really solve the issue, but it brings about some much needed silence.
Because the issue cannot be solved, it is rich with possible angles at which the issue can be viewed. It is rich enough that a single position, reflected upon and argued from all the possible angles, can yield up the necessary 10,000 words. And it is central enough to the position of every living person of this life can relate in some way to the problems therein. If your writer is clear enough, and imaginative enough, even the most neophyte of readers can find themselves drawn into the subject. Remember that Descartes, Locke, Mills, Sartre and god help us even Foucault were popular writers in their day, selling many, many books to young people seeking to grasp the fundamentals of living.
Some groan and look skyward at the mention of philosophy, but we are bound to it whatever our feigned boredom with the topic.
If we will not write a post about ordinary things in the game; and we will not write an elaborate point-by-point tour of a complex element of the game; we are forced to write about the game itself. What do you need to know? How ought players play? How ought a DM manage a game? It doesn't matter that there is no fixed answer to these questions. We want to know anyway.