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Places: Decorating Ideas

We have all these great tools to make places, and sometimes, well, we can get stumped as to what to DO with all of our newfound building superpowers! Here's some ideas to help you through the writers block. And hopefully beyond.

What I do when I'm trying to write a description that won't come...1) 2)

Thinking about all those things helps me to decide the feel of what I'm going to write, and often suggests some words or phrases to use. You don't have to use any of them, of course; but thinking about the room does help me imagine it more accurately.

Plan the theme and feel of your place

Will you write it in a "you walk into the room and see" style, or a "this room is X" or "there is an X here" style, or what? Whose perspective is the description from? Is it addressed to the character or the narrator? Will this be consistent throughout the entire description, and/or the entire Place?

Will you be doing anything complicated with the formatting - an overall colour, a set of colours, emphasising certain things? Bolds? Italics? Left/right/centre alignment? Paragraph breaks?

What do you see?

Imagine that you (or your character) are standing there, or you just walked in. What is the first impression you get?

"Either-or" questions:

  • Is the room calm, or busy?
  • Small, or large?
  • Tidy, or messy?
  • Smart, or casual?
  • Natural, or artificial?
  • Fun, or functional?
  • Inside or outside? 3)
  • Warm or cool?
  • Or intermediate or dual effect?

Other features:

  • Are there any noticeable smells, or sounds?
  • Is it well lit or dark, and how is it lit?
  • What colours are there?
  • Is it a place to explore from - what areas/doors can you see that invite you onwards?

I find it helpful to ask myself what's the most striking thing about this space, the thing that characterises it above everything else. The thing that I'd remember long after leaving it. Because that's what I'll be aiming to get across to the reader. I often think of this in terms of sensory details - placing myself at the entrance and thinking about what my five senses would detect - and in what order.

How big is it?

Dimensions are useful. Readers need to be oriented to the space, quite early on in the description, so that the details fit into context. It doesn't have to be a detailed blow-by-blow with all the square footage (although it can be handy for you to have thought about the measurements, so that you know what you're trying to convey, and whether your descriptions defy the laws of physics 4)). To help me with this, I sometimes draw maps and floorplans when I'm dreaming up a new space - especially if it's likely to be complicated.

As for communicating dimensions to the reader: sometimes it's enough to just use an adjective like "high" or "wide" - but the risk there is that the reader won't be as convinced as if you give them some concrete "proof". Actual measurements are the simplest (and most prosaic) way to do this, and occasionally that's all you need. But sometimes an indirect approach makes for better reading.

For example:

  • Comparisons to other things ("as big as a cathedral" "the size of a football field" "about head-height" 5), etc)
  • Placing something that's easy-to-picture into the space. (If a very large piece of machinery is dwarfed by the room it stands in, then it will make the room seem big. If a description of a small space is crammed with details of clutter, it will give a sense of crowding)
  • Having the observer move around. (If they can get from end-to-end in a few paces, or keep bumping their head on a rafter, it's probably going to feel small. If they have to hike for ten minutes across a field to read the plaque on the fence, it'll feel a lot bigger)

What can you interact with?

What are the important or useful items in it that a guest would notice and/or want to look at or interact with, that the owner cares about and uses? (Furniture, tools, toys, ornaments, games, food ... )

Are there any occupants - and how will you write them? As an interaction, as a simple indication of their presence, as a choice of different interactions? (A pet, a barman or butler, a guard dog, a random explorer ... )

Which parts of the room description deserve their own Page - and how will you handle it?

  • Will you have a sentence to mention "there is an X here" with a page called "examine the X"; or describe how it appears as you approach it, or just leave the Pagelink enticingly there to click?
  • Will you use a Program to make it appear on command / at random / only from a previous room / only to Kittymorphs / only to previous visitors or something? (Reading the Programming tutorials really really helps.)

Planning the physical structure of your place

Sketching is very useful. I tend to do a plan view, marking out the size and shape of the room, with the locations of doors and windows and furniture.

Sometimes I attempt a doodle of what it looks like from one angle, but it's easy to get bogged down in perspectives and scales. Even if they come out weird, it can still help you to work out sizes, shapes, locations.

You can sketch out each room/area individually; sometimes it also helps to do a quick doodle of the whole Place (or one floor or one area) on one image, working out how it fits together. This can make it clear whether things are on the same or different floors, whether they need steps or a slope or a corridor or a long path to connect them, which directions the windows and views face, whether certain rooms/areas are odd shapes or sizes, etc. 6)

Sketches do not need to be beautiful, accurate, to scale, or tidy. Or even the final version. The important thing is that they have helped you to decide on and imagine the place you are trying to write. Sketching by hand or by tablet is fine; so is doing drawings in e.g. Google Docs, or using 3D imaging software, or making Play-doh or matchstick models or whatever works for you.

Organising your writing

There are several ways you can keep track of what bits you have written, how things fit together, and what still needs writing.

One option is to use a text edit program and have two sections for the place. One bare bones listing every room with every page attached to each room. Then, lower in the document, I have each room title with the bare bones raw description saved below. This makes editing much easier and considering how large my place is, makes navigating to make changes fairly easy. I simply always change my master text document whenever I alter my place. Then I not only have a backup, but I can make tweaks there and save a note to myself to do the work 'in game' later.

Another way is to have a separate plaintext file for every room, or every room-and-its-pages. Naming the files by the room number can help to keep them in order. This can be handy for copy-pasting your room descriptions - ctrl-A, ctrl-C will get exactly what you need and no more.

Or how about a table? In Excel7), or Google Docs, you could have, e.g. columns like Room ID, Room Name, whether/how much it is built and decorated, whether all its pages are built/decorated, how many sleep slots, how many doors etc. Different tabs of the same document can be used to keep track of each category (Rooms, Doors, Pages, Programs etc).

Or a map? Perhaps colour-coded by the theme of the room, or by whether the construction/decoration is done? Bubbl is a free mind-mapping website where you could draw your rooms/pages as named/coloured blobs, and your doors as lines. Google Docs has a nice Draw function; you can either do a simple text-boxes-and-lines schematic, or a shapes-and-sizes-to-scale drawing. See Sketching, above.

On the writing itself

Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck.

Use dictionaries and thesauruses and other dinosaurs.

While it's usually fine to just bash something out, it can also be very satisfying to spend ten minutes hunting down exactly the right word. Careful wording and phrasing and sentence structure can really really improve a description - turning it from a decent description that fairly and accurately sets out what's there, to a memorable story that gives you a real feel for the space and the mood.

The other important thing that I do when I'm trying to improve a description - show your draft to as many people as can stand it. Listen to their comments; even if you don't agree, or they just say "it's fine", then they may have helped you to decide "yes, I do like it this way" or "hmm, yes, maybe that needs emphasising or this needs cutting".

But I'm just stumped! Artistically, EVERYTHING! ARRRGHHHH!

Calm down there, pirate.

I like to look at reference images. I absolutely comb the web for photos and drawings of places that relate to what I'm writing about. I stare and stare and try to absorb as much detail as possible. If you're blocked, one nice exercise is to give yourself a (fixed) period of image-searching, followed by a short, timed writing session (say five minutes) in which you do a very fast first draft, to see what comes up as your first impression.

Reading shedloads of stuff can help. Aside from the sheer pleasure of reading, it's a mine of ideas for how other people describe places. If you read attentively, you might find yourself thinking "hey, that's a neat trick!" or - equally useful - "sheesh, that doesn't work at ALL, if I was writing this I'd do it this way..."

Go places! :) Not always practical, I know - but if you're stuck, it can break the monotony of sitting staring at a blank page, and engage your senses again. Take a notebook with you, maybe a camera too, and trying paying extra attention to the details that strike you while you're out and about. If you can go to somewhere that your description is based on, so much the better. But really, going anywhere can be enriching if you're in a noticing sort of mood.

Related to "show people your draft" - describe the place to someone! Tell them what's important about it, what you're trying to convey. Tell them the tiny details that you're hoping will be noticed. This will help you to decide what needs emphasising, what needs explaining, what needs more detail, what can be cut. Do you need to share the preceding-room description or an outline of the whole Place with them, or does this bit do fine with no context? Note the questions they ask: those are the bits you might need to expand on.

All that said, sometimes room descriptions just won't come if you're not in the mood. Try doing a different one, or go and explore someone else's Place, or just leave it until you are in the mood! You can always set a one-sentence placeholder description for now (or, if it amuses you, a long rambling description about how it's such a mess of construction stuff).

In the end, you can always just describe things with the word "Spartan". That always works.

Tools to help you

I have these bookmarked and use them constantly.

IIsland colour palette (see the text color list for full details) 8)

A Previewer tool to check your descriptions' formatting and colour codes in! By Devin, Beeps and Trowa, hosted by Ebenezer/Escemfer.

And a different Previewer, made and hosted by Rentoraa!

And finally, an official Previewer made and hosted by CMJ himself. Because this uses the Island's own code, not only will it not go away, it will stay current if CMJ changes the RGB values for some of the color codes.

Not only will these keep you in good colors and formatting, but they'll make sure you're not making horrifying mistakes. They are your friends, trust them.

Check that you haven't left any unclosed formatting (bold, italics, colours, alignment) with a keyboardsmash at the end - if it bleeds through in the preview, it will bleed through to chat and navlinks in your Place!

1) Heh heh.
2) Apologies to the Google+ thread that I stole all this from. Feel free to edit, ladies! -Rose
3) Remember, you can use the Open Air feature, now! And the Open Air With Trees Background, in the Master Settings menu.
4) something that should probably not be done accidentally - but bear in mind that this is Improbable Island, so nothing is impossible!
5) bearing in mind, again, that not every character is going to be human-sized or human-shaped!
6) Breaking the laws of physics can be fun, but is better done deliberately than unknowingly or carelessly.
7) or spreadsheet software of your choice
8) for some reason, I can't do internal links in this page! Presumably because it's in the namespace "places:decorating" rather than just "decorating - all the internal links here go to "places:pagename" and I can't figure out how to stop them. - Buddleia
 
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