The General Idea
It seems that some people come to IF mainly from a writing background, and some people come to IF mainly from a programming background: both tend to be excited by the combination of writing and gaming, but are generally more proficient in one than the other; those equally proficient seem to be a talented minority.
I’ve been doing some thinking about how people could share their strengths and support each other’s work, so that writers can become better programmers and programmers can become better writers. At the moment, I’m thinking along the lines of creating a space where writers and programmers can meet up to provide constructive criticism and suggestions for each other’s writing and programming.
I’m starting this thread to throw the idea out there, see how it’s received, and see what will or ideas there might be for taking it forward.
The Personal Background
I’m returning to authoring IF after a couple of years’ absence, though I’ve been playing all that while. As I slowly get reacquainted with Inform, I’m rediscovering something about myself: I am not a natural programmer. I’ve got a logical enough mind to write serviceable code: I can make my game do what I want it to most of the time, and after extensive beta-testing it’s reasonably (though not completely) bug-free. But I know that the code I write is not good: it’s inelegant, generally too complex, doesn’t always grasp the way the central concepts work, is filled with ugly workarounds.
I am, however, I think, a pretty decent writer. It’s part of what I do as a job (of sorts). Another part of what I do is working as an editor and event organiser, so whatever my own writing abilities, I do have an experience of how writing works and a sensitivity to what good writing should do. I spend a lot of my time reading on and commenting on other people’s work, and enjoy that.
I also really believe in collaboration and mutual support. I set very little store by the idea of the heroic lone author, and think that most writers benefit from sharing their work and asking for criticism. One of the lessons of the open source movement seems to be that the same is true of programming.
So, faced with the problem of my weak programming skills, my natural reaction is to seek support and advice: I’d like to find people willing to look over my code and tell me where I’m going wrong. I’m not talking about debugging it or rewriting it for me, but rather look at it and saying “This bit is too complex: have a look at this bit in this manual which will help you rework it”, or “If you use that rule there it’s likely to have impacts later on when you do such-and-such.”, and so on. Not debugging, but helping me improve my style.
But that’s quite a lot to ask, so I started thinking about what I could offer in return. And, just as my code is serviceable but not good, I honestly think that the majority of IF is only serviceably written: the prose tends to do the job, but not much more than that. There’s less understanding around of what makes good writing, of what makes good prose, than there is of what makes good code. There’s a reliance on cliché and stock tropes, there’s inelegant story-telling and poor grammar everywhere, and so on. So now I’m thinking: what if I could offer my services as a critical reader in return?
I run more than one writers’ group where people get together to discuss their works in progress. So I suppose what I’m proposing is an online IF authors’ group where people can share and discuss what they’re working on, and seek criticism, support and advice.
How It Might Work
I can see two main ways of this might work:
There could be a mailing list or forum where people regularly post parts of their game, asking all participants for constructive criticism on the code or the prose. There could be a timetable to this – in one writers’ group I run each writer e-mails a poem every Saturday, and everyone responds with their comments, for example – or it could be open or free-flowing.
There could be a sort of matchmaking service, where people post about their IF and what kind of readers they’re looking for, and people get paired off with each other on the basis of mutually compatible needs. The pairs would then proceed on whatever schedule best suits them.
There are probably other, better ways this might work. I’d love to hear comments on these thoughts and suggestions, other ideas for how this could work, and suggestions for how the whole idea could be moved forward.
what do you think?