Thursday, February 23, 2012

Clarity

I am simply not happy with yesterday's post.  It is a difficult thing to discuss clarity.  I allowed myself to be distracted by the issue of suspension of disbelief, and I do not believe that I managed the subject of clarity with clarity; and so I shall try again.

A common error, one I make myself, particularly in speaking, is to give too much information that is not relevant to the presentation of the world.  In giving too much information, you will bore your audience.

If your audience is in a tavern, it is good to know the name of the tavern.  It is perhaps good to know the name of the bartender, if it is your intention as DM to have that person deliver more to the party than only drinks.  It is good to know the number of persons present, and what sort of social status is represented.  It may be pleasant to suggest that there is a fire, or a storyteller, or that the chairs are well-crafted or the tavern of ancient construction.  But there are details that can be left out.  It does not matter what street the tavern is on.  It does not matter in what year the tavern was built or its dimensions (unless you plan to fight there, in which case they can be given when it matters).  It does not matter how many rooms there are.  Oh, of course someone may ask - but unless they ask, leave the matter lay.  It is a tavern.  That is usually enough.

If your audience is upon a road, it is good to know where the road is going, or how smooth a road it is.  But the details beyond that hardly matter.

If your audience is attending a town festival, do not spend paragraphs describing how the festival came to occur.  If your audience cares, they will ask.  Concentrate upon what they see, and if there is free ale, and if there are women.  But most of all, concentrate on what might matter for the adventure at hand, and save the long-winded storytelling.  If your audience cares, they will ask.

If you will be clear, I suggest you be succinct.

You are in a wood.  There are trees.  The sun is shining.  It is morning.  The woods are quiet.  You hear a maid singing.  She is young.  She sits with three lambs.  She continues singing as you approach.

Simple.  Direct.  To the point.

There is no long winded tale of how the woods reach into the hills or mountains beyond.  There is no long description of the thirty kinds of tree in the forest.  The sun need not be defined by how high it is in the sky, so long as the party knows it is not afternoon or evening.  The hundreds of tiny sounds the woods make do not need to be catalogued.  The maid's song does not need lyrics.  Her exact age is not important.  If the lambs are only lambs, than no more information is of interest.  That she sings even as the party approaches shows as much about her character than insightful comments, by you, describing her as fearless or haughty or indifferent.  The party will fill in these details.  It matters most that they have met a girl and that she sits.  The party will inquire further into what they need to know.  Do not bludgeon them endlessly with things that do not matter.

What matters, that is what I attempted with the last post to explain.  I hope that this, with that, will clarify the issue.

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