Too little VS Too much information

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Gwazi Magnum, Feb 20, 2016.

  1. Basically a question for those of all different writing levels.

    We all know those details people put in posts, they describe all the smaller details. The setting, the textures, the taste of food, the feeling of the wind, how the character responds to everything around them etc.

    But at what point do you find the person is adding too much information for the RP to be enjoyable, and at what point do you find they're not putting in enough information to get you engaged?

    Additionally, what are any advice and tips you would give to someone struggling to either increase or decrease the level of detail and info they put into their posts?
  2. Frankly, I find worrying too much about the specific quantity of words or sentences or whatever that you put into your posts is counter productive. At the end of the day, as long as you feel you've written enough to adequately describe whatever it is that is going on in your post, that should be it. When you get to the point where you're just grasping for something extra to add just to make it look a little bigger, that's when you need to wonder if it's really necessary. You shouldn't have to describe the smell of the room unless it's relevant to what's going on. Perhaps there's something hidden in there, and it stinks, so you describe the smell so other characters can have a cue to work off of themselves. If you're inserting sentences about the wallpaper when the wallpaper has nothing to do with anything, that's what I would call unnecessary.

    Writing too little is basically the same problem from a different angle; you need to think of things related to the situation that you can put in there that will help give others ideas on how they wish to proceed. Imagine some character walks down an alleyway and they encounter a random thug. Does the thug have a weapon? What kind of weapon? Is he brandishing it in the open or concealing it on his person? Is he a big tough guy, or a scrawny looking creep? Is he trying to be subtle about his ill intent, or does he just take aggressive action immediately? Anything that could give someone something to work off of (i.e. their character finds cliche thugs amusing and so can take the opportunity to laugh it up) is something that is worth putting in there. Naturally, you can't account for everything, but if you can think of something that would be relevant, you should put it in there.

    Ultimately, just consider what you're trying to get across and write what you feel is necessary and relevant to understanding that. If you've done your job well, others should have more than enough to work off of to feel engaged.
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  3. Between getting the right tones and atmospheres across, and making the motions a post is meant to make, I find that there is plenty of writing material sitting in wait. When I struggle with writing a bit longer (because I do prefer to at least make an attempt at matching my peers, so as to avoid the common gripes that often plague play-by-post roleplayers), I find it's more for a lack of writing endurance than lack of content.

    Squeezing in excessive details doesn't seem to me to be a valuable (or even common) practice, because I think it's safe to say most writers who bother with longer posts probably take pride in their writing enough that they have learned to avoid boring excess. Sometimes they write extended internal commentary, or describe complex tones which their characters are affected by and visibly react to. Seldom have I seen the sort of drawl that comes out of forcing a paragraph of details nobody will be writing about in reply. Not as a regular trait of a particular writer, anyhow.

    What Saijo writes really jives with me: "At the end of the day, as long as you feel you've written enough to adequately describe whatever it is that is going on in your post, that should be it." Extending or compressing your writing can be a good exercise, but it seems to me to be an academic pursuit rather than a necessary one. And in that respect, my advice is to make changes in your writing habits rather than in how you write, first.

    I find a lot of my writing quality depends on how much effort I'm putting in — because my mood or hormonal state or immediate interest in writing drastically affect my work ethic in this regard — and that time spent can be an equalizer only if I force myself to revise my writing. What I very rarely do is hop around when I'm making a post, checking for sentence ordering or prioritizing details, or really any of the sort of things I should be doing to enforce a quality post. I write from top to bottom, make a quick syntax check to avoid typos and grammatical errors and the like, then hit send (and then check, and re-check the post because I feel the need to confirm to myself that there are, in fact, no more syntactical errors in my post).

    When I bother to do these things (say, writing an intro post, or an OOC primer), I find myself with far more control over my post. When I don't write top-to-bottom, it's very much easier for me to modify my post's length and general tone, and allows me to direct the reader's attention with more precision. And, really, it's the sort of stuff that's taught in most writing curriculums, so the skills are already there. It's just a matter of applying them.

    So I suppose my advice to anybody who feels uncomfortable with the results of their writing is to apply your revision skills, treating your posts like the sort of quality content you'd expect from yourself in an academic context.
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  4. The main goal of your posts should be to set up actions for posts after it. Everything beyond that is atmospheric and prose. Which have a place, don't get me wrong, but their merit is judged differently from player to player. So if you want to go bare minimum on detail, remove everything people cannot react to.

    This isn't cut and dry, mind you. Some people notice and use things others don't. Take your wind for example. Saying there is wind can be relevant if you make it so. However it has to set up an action-reaction chain. Like, maybe the wind blows a pin-up poster in your character's face. Inconsequential, right? But take this. Another character may react to that, perhaps laughing their ass off. Your character can get offended by that, either inviting conflict or setting up a little antagonism for later with repeated incidents. Those little details you can easily work of off. The question is, should you?

    It's trial and error as far as I'm concerned. Observation in this case is more useful and accurate than a thread/poll. See what people react to, try to adjust your level of detail accordingly.
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  5. Talk to your partner/GM/other players and find out the specifics of what they need from you!

    • Do they feel like your lack of attention to setting makes your posts read like they're happening in a vacuum? This is one of the easiest to fix; simply remember the setting and include it as background for your post. Be sure to use your character's five senses to connect your character to the scene. "It was a clear day, and the sun was hot on Jon's back as he walked" is better than "it was a hot and clear sunny day" because it connects to the character.

    • Do they feel ignored because you don't reference the actions of the characters around them? A peculiar convention of roleplaying as opposed to solo creative writing is that players often expect reiteration. For example, if a character has done something noteworthy, you may be expected to include in your post a mention of that character's action, and whether or not your character noticed before moving on to how they did or didn't react to it.

    • Are they stumped because your posts react to what's happening, but don't give other players much to react to, themselves? This is the equivalent of only parrying during a fight; do you need to include more of your characters own actions and further the scene more in their reactions?

    • Is their ability to react hindered because your additional details are visual rather than practical? Sometimes the visual is what characters and players react to, but just as often it's non-visual things which further the scene, and therefore need to be mentioned and called into focus. Conversely, players may be frustrated if you give detail to EVERYTHING, regardless of whether it's important or not. Figure out if characters should be reacting to what they can see, or the implication of what they can see, or whether the thing is parenthetical and doesn't need focus. Let's use an example of a character acquiring a weapon.
      • No detail: Jon picked up the club
        (this tells us only what happened. If the whole post is written this way, we're not sure if it's important. If other parts of the post have detail but not this, we may assume that the club is just a thing he got, and not terribly important to the scene.)

      • Visual detail: Jon bent to pick up the club. It was thick and wooden, About the size of a baseball bat, and looked worn. Leather straps at the base indicated a grip.
        (Now we can visualize what has happened more clearly, but don't know much about it except what it looked like. The extra focus tells us this action needs our attention, but there's still not a lot to react to.)

      • Practical detail: 'Jon picked up the club. It had a decent reach, similar to that of a baseball bat. It felt heavy, too, and had a good grip.'
        (this tells us something important about the club, namely that it is a good weapon. Now we have a little more to react to because we know what's really happened. The meaning of Jon picking up the club is that Jon now has a good weapon. Contextual clues about Jon's mood and his attitude toward other characters work with this to tell players how to REACT to this development.)
    #5 Minibit, Feb 21, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2016
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  6. My advice is: just write what feels natural.

    One thing I've noticed -- especially after I've been RPing with someone for long enough to be familiar with their usual posting style -- is that it's really easy to tell when a post was either padded out for length, or stripped down to the bare essentials so that it could be rushed out as quickly as possible.

    In the case of the former, I often see sentences that really look like they were added just for the sake of length. They could easily be cut out without the rest of the post suffering for it (and usually look like they were added after the post was already 'finished'), and often just seem like they're just grasping at whatever details they can to just pad the post out a bit. Now, that's not to say that every detail-filled post suffers from this. There are plenty of long, detailed posts where every sentence looks like it really does have a purpose (in fact, I often find that these I'm-just-giving-this-more-sentences-so-it's-longer posts are usually shorter than the it's-long-because-there's-a-lot-I-want-to-say posts, because the former usually only happens when someone feels like they need, say, at least one solid paragraph in order for their post to feel long enough, so they feel like they have to pad out what would otherwise be a short but serviceable post). I find that when RPers are actually feeling inspired to write a long post for whatever reason, it works a lot better. Like, maybe you've really been looking forward to this scene and you've let it play out in your head like a movie so many times that you really want to capture every detail from your mental image; maybe you really want to get in all those details because they'll really capture the atmosphere of the scene; maybe you're trying to include some symbolism that relates to what your character is going through; or maybe you're just feeling artsy, and you want to describe things in pretty ways because you thought of artsy ways to say things and you want to make use of them. Whatever the case, it's usually pretty easy to tell whether this person added this level of detail because they wanted to and because they really invested themselves in it, or whether they put all that in because they felt like they needed it and wanted to find some way of making their paragraphs look meatier.

    As for posts that seem shorter than usual -- like I said, they usually just look rushed (which is unsurprising, given the fact that they usually come from players that I've been waiting on for a while). That's not to say that every short post is this way -- just the ones coming from people who usually write a lot more. Additionally, these are posts where it usually seems like there are a lot of things going on in the scene that the character should be reacting to, but the RPer just gets straight to the point and just tells us in one sentence or two what exact action or line of dialogue their own character is adding to the table. I don't mind short posts in principle, but... if you're rushing it, then, these posts just feel so... empty. I'd rather wait a bit longer and get a quality post than have someone rush out a post when they're not feeling it and have that long wait be met with... well, a post that didn't at all feel worth it. :/

    So, in general, I just like it when RPers write whatever feels right to them. Don't pad it out to "match" my post length, don't rush to get it out quickly -- just sit down and write whatever you think flows best. This is especially true for the padded out posts, as I see them most often from players who think that they need to be writing more, and it's kind of saddening to see players fill their posts with clunky and unneeded sentences just to make their paragraphs bigger. Not only are you spending time and effort on something completely unnecessary, but your posts would actually have been better beforehand. :/

    Besides, if you write based on emotion and inspiration as opposed to trying to meet some arbitrary length every time, then the long posts are a lot more meaningful. Then, long posts will be as detail-filled as they are because you're putting a lot of investment and emotion to it -- which really shows in the case of, say, emotional scenes that you were really looking forward to writing. There's just so much more soul in it than a post that's only long because it was padded out. It makes these posts much more of a joy to read, and it makes me much more eager when I see a long (or at least, longer than usual) post, because I know I'm in for something good. ^^
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