If there's one thing that sets the community blogs of Destructoid apart from any other gaming site to me, it's a demand for excellence in writing. It's part of what drew me to stay, knowing that just participating in the cblogs was going to help me become a better writer.
Getting better at any craft is at least a moderately painful process; it involves receiving large amounts of criticism and incorporating what you can use, which can be difficult. We all want our posts to be loved and appreciated and carried down the streets on the shoulders of an adoring crowd. Facing up to where we are weak and growing from it takes courage and dilligence.
Dtoiders can be quite blunt in communicating dissatisfaction with the quality of cblogs -- it's common to hear about in the forums, on podcasts, and even from those who regularly participate in the cblogs by writing or commenting.
This is a good thing. It should challenge and inspire all of us to raise our game, whether we are writing on a serious topic, just for the lulz, or any point in-between.
The one thing that I feel is currently missing from the equation, however, is the ability to make our criticism constructive rather than a mere expression of frustration. We can't just point out that something doesn't meet our standards. For newer writers and lifers alike, we need to spell out what those standards are and then provide feedback which helps writers meet them.
This is our space to read and write about our passion for games; no-one is going to make it better except for us. We must all be stewards of anti-suckage.
With that in mind, this blog series is about providing tips and tricks for making our cblog writing more engaging, more effective, and hopefully more fun as well. Let me be clear -- I don't claim to know everything about games writing. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my skills, and I hope that you all add to what I plan to share so that I can take some new ideas back to strengthen my creative process.
I can get away with a long intro in this installment since we aren't covering economy of language, but I think I've labored the point enough. Future installments will get directly to the specifics. For now, let's jump in and discuss the topic of substance!
Your blog! It's-a-so skinny!
Rule #1 : Where's the Beef?
The most common pitfall that a cblog can stumble into is lack of content. If you keep up with the Cblog Recaps (shame on you if you don't), then you'll notice a trend. Nothing pushes a blog into Failtoid faster than a blog that looks like you were tweeting on the crapper.
There's no hard and fast rule or word count minimum that I can point you towards, but if it's something you could or would post on Twitter, it's a safe bet that it has no frakking business taking up cblog space.
If someone is taking the time to check out what's in your store, the best way to ensure they'll never come back is to have no product on display. Better to err on the side of generating too much content at first; you can always trim a piece easier than you can add to it.
Sometimes a short post is found in the cblogs that is of genuine merit, and is designed to provoke discussion. Might I suggest taking such conversation-oriented pieces to our excellent forums where they can get the response they deserve?
Keep the quality high, as the forum crowd is even more harsh on sub-standard posts, and I don't want to be accused of throwing cblog trash into our neighbors' lawn. They blast their music at all hours, but they're generally good people.
Eureka! I have disproved the Virtual Boy!
Rule # 2 : Show Your Math
Opinions in blogs are slippery eels. While our reasons for taking a particular stance may be obvious to us, they aren't necessarily to those reading. Part of what makes overly short blogs fail so often is that it makes the writer's feelings about a topic appear horribly uninformed or ill-founded.
Why do you have the opinion you have? Have you noticed a trend, or do you have examples from previous games? Have you read about an interesting statistic or bit of information that supports your point? What logic are you drawing on that leads you to make the statement that such-and-such rules (or sucks balls)?
A great way to add substance to your posts is to fully explain the reasoning that supports your opinion. It also prevent readers from filling in those blanks for you and labelling you as a fanboy or an idiot.
Google searches -- like dissertation research, except the exact opposite.
Rule # 3 : Do Your Homework
If you're going to follow the internet trend of pontificating and making absolute statements, for the love of god, please do some fact checking!
You're already on the internet if you're writing a blog; how hard is it to bring up a second browser and do a little research to make sure that your position has some basis in reality? I've scrapped or redirected entire articles after finding information that invalidated my point.
Get the names of developers, designers, publishers, games, and companies correct. Look at more than one source to ensure that you're not just regurgitating someone else's false statement or speculation. If you're feeling uber-nerdy, you can link or site your sources.
It's inconvenient and it takes some time, I know, but it also keeps you from looking like a knuckle-dragging nimrod with nothing to say worth listening to. If you want others to trust your opinion, you'd better ensure that it is rooted firmly in fact and not in your fevered imagination. Substance means not only having an opinion, but a reliable basis for that opinion.
The plus is that you'll learn tons about the industry, developers, game design, and the history of games along the way!
None of this is to say that a blog's quality or value is directly proportional to its length. That argument doesn't fly for video games, and it doesn't apply to writing either. However, length can be one indicator of substance; while there are exceptions to every rule, it's safe to say that the majority of super short blogs really shouldn't be getting put out there.
Even if you're breaking news, which doesn't require an essay to discuss, you can still add substance to your post by discussing your thoughts on the news. Do you think it will have an impact on the industry? Is it a gimmick that will fade away? Are you super squeeeeeee excited for it? Why or why not?
Give us something to chew on, and we'll come back for another meal. If not, enjoy the view from Failtoid.