*Work in progress*
There has been a lot of talent around the TWC AAR sections in the past years. There is no shortage of AARs either with new ones starting at every 2-3 days. Many AARs, however, end prematurely for various reasons, while at the same time a huge amount of collective wisdom has been accumulated by veteran writers.
To help new writers (and maybe veteran ones too) and elevate the profile of the Writers' Lounge, I thought it would be a good idea to start a thread where all the experiences, wisdom and ideas about writing AARs is collected. Well, maybe not all, but at least what has been published in a structured form, for example as articles in the Critic's Quill. There are FAQ threads for the main AAR genres: TW Eras, MTW II, Empire and Napoleon. The TW Eras and MTW II FAQs give further genre-specific links too. There is no reason to reproduce those here, but a thread which is easy to update could be useful for the community, and that is my goal with this. Thus, I will post here various bits and pieces posted earlier elsewhere on TWC, always indicating who the original author was to make sure that credit goes where it should go.
How can you contribute?
- You can post your AAR experience in this thread. It could be as simple as a short post, or as big as a more structured opinion like those in the Critic's Quill. You can PM me stuff too if you want.
- You can let me know if you have read some really great stuff. I'm not looking for adding links to great/epic AARs here (there are too many), rather finding those that have some unique trick, creative design or extra work. Basically anything which is that "extra mile" beyond writing. I read a lot of AARs, but I can of course miss things. Just send me a link, and I'll post it here.
The three main sections:
1. Tips and thoughts
2. AARtistry in action (when something unique was done - in terms of AAR mechanics)
3. About the writers (interviews, self-confessions) [in the next post]
You probably already know where to look for AARs, but I especially encourage everybody to visit the Scriptorium where many completed AARs can be found nicely edited, and to take a look at the Critic's Quill which offers a great sample of reviews and advices. Also, the Tale of the Week section offers writing corners (separate threads) to writers who would like to collect their own work - check out some of the great examples.
Tips and thoughts I.
The AAR Criteria by Nazgûl Killer (Critic's Quill #8)
The AAR Criteria
By request and by volunteering, I have decided to write my "AAR Criteria". Yet, before I do so, I would like to declare that I am no official nor am I an expert, yet, I am, from what others have told me, a good reviewer of AARs and I am a constant reader of AARs, I have read well over a hundred AARs and I know what (my) criteria are.
Most AARs today have a very strong illness, either too little text and too many pictures or too little pictures and too much text, both of these illnesses have unwanted results; The readers who much prefer 'action' in their AAR, more fighting and less talking, would skip the AARs without pictures and the others, who prefer plot over 'action', would much rather read the ones with more text. This forces most AAR readers and writers to find a very delicate balance between the two and with that offer little diversity at times.
For me, the basic guidelines of an AAR should be proper grammar, a proper plot and some action, meaning that I would much rather to read an interesting plot than blankly stare at pictures of the game, instead of simply right clicking on its icon and playing it myself.
The pros of an AAR with a plot is that it allows your imagination to flow and yourself to 'lie' a bit, as my good friend once said in response to one of my oldest AARs. What I mean by this is that you can, instead of sticking directly to gaming events, simply start inventing conversations between your characters, allow your imagination to take over battles as you inflate the deeds of your soldiers in combat just a tad bit, instead of simply sticking to the facts and... Basically, reporting after your action.
The definition of the AAR is actually an "After Action Report", meaning you simply tell the story of what you have done, meaning that the AARs with more pictures and less text usually live up to this standard, yet, those with less pictures and more text would much better be counted as stories and tales instead of AARs, and there is nothing wrong with either of those.
However, instead of picking one of these, most players would much rather find the delicate balance between the two, and oftenly (Sadly), fail, causing in lack of interest from both sides of the readers, both those who much rather a plot and those who much rather action, thus creating dead AARs by the dozens.
I urge all AAR readers out there to not judge an AAR just by briefly looking at it, read it, look at the pictures, at least read two updates before deciding your opinion, as I myself were surprised by an or two before which had very little text and an immense amount of pictures, however, was one of the funniest AARs I have ever read, or, no pictures and all text, which turned out to be one of the best stories I have ever read. This is why I urge you, do not judge a book by its cover.
I also urge all AAR writers, do not fear your style! Write what you feel is right and what you want to write, listening to popular demand and going against what you want to do/write will oftenly cause in you losing interest in your AAR and abandoning it, or a complete lack of interest by others as you do not seem to really be investing in said AAR.
In addition, I will add that humorous AARs are probably the best and most successful AARs, however, there is also a delicate balance there between funny and downright apalling, most humorous AARs fail to find this balance and tend to fail, however, this doesn't mean you should give up! The more subtle the humor, the funnier the AAR will be, the more blunt and obvious the humor, the less successful the AAR will be, keep that in mind when writing your own.
I will say this, as my conclusion and final words: Writers - Do not give up and do not change your style, if the public demands you do, the public doesn't deserve to read your style. Readers - Be a bit more patient, read the AAR, don't just look at it and decide randomly if it's good or not, this will discourage all the writers and eventually you will see the downfall of the AAR community alltogether if you do that.
Those were my two cents of wisdom... Heed or disregard this, this is your choice indeed, however, I speak from experience, experience you just might find useful.
The Origin of Stories: The Evolution of AARs by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #9)
The Origin of Stories: The Evolution of AARs
Some people would simply believe that writing an AAR is completely straightforward. Come up with plot, story, characters etc, write, publish, done. Certainly I myself was almost so naïve as this when I first began writing my first (and only) AAR, ‘Rí Inse Ghall‘. But I was to find that, like other stories, it doesn’t stay consistent throughout the writing, and I end up writing several very different chapters on the same plot… let me explain.
When I first began writing my AAR it was hesitant, not fluent, and many of my phrases were very blunt, very simple and unpolished. As a result, I saw a story that was alright, but certainly not very good. Still, at the time it was the best that I could do. However, I learned that your writing style changes as the AAR continues. Certainly no AAR I have ever seen has changed for the worse over time in terms of a changing writing style, so it’s fair to say that your author’s abilities will always improve. This is easy enough to discern - as I said earlier, this happens in other stories. But I also want to demonstrate the other ways that AARs change and adapt to the requirements they must meet.
Firstly, plot. No AARtist I have ever seen can hold their head high and truthfully say that they thought of a plot, then wrote it down to the letter. I personally have rewritten my plot 3 times, and I have heard similar experiences from others. A plot does not have to be faulty from the start, but other than greater detail, people invent new features, often changing the direction of the AAR completely. Some are deliberately thought out, but others are spontaneous. That’s the main paradox that I love about the way AARs evolve - you can try and plan as hard as you want, but the story will always have a life of its own.
The audience is also a key factor. The main difference between an AAR and a book is that the AAR is released a chapter or so at a time. You have to wait for the next one, and not only does this increase suspense but more importantly it means that the readers can tell the author what they liked and didn’t like about the last chapter. As a result, a lot of experimentation takes place within AARs, leading to secure and confident writers much more quickly than any standard author.
The more simple features like layout/presentation etc. also change. Personally I have changed the font and colour of my work as well as centring it, making for a much easier read. Some people can even get away with a crap font (Antiochos, I’m looking at you! ), but mostly people try different formats to see which one works for their kind of story. I would like to cite the beginning of ReD_OcToBeR’s Ishtar Gate to Alexandria as a good example. At the beginning, he used large, bright titles, (size 16-20 fonts, etc.) and blocks of text, put together with pictures in a single piece - thus the whole update was just on one big picture; as he said, ‘like Sunbird Alkibijad’s AAR’, which is another good example. However, he quickly changed this within the first few chapters, simply putting framed pictures between lumps of text… I say lumps, which is an unworthy description of that text, but that’s beside the point .
Finally, the last way an AAR can renew itself is in terms of its goal, it’s direction. there is always a summary or a finale to every plot, a grand climax… that is, to every GOOD plot. However, I see sometimes that people realise that they have made errors in their planning. They might not have realised the potential of a character, or the positive effect that such and such event would have on the reader, thus wanting to repeat it. So this does not change the story, but more points the AARtist on a different heading, giving them a different goal to aim for.
I think that the most important point here that you should not miss is that there is almost some kind of mind in the AAR itself… it does have a will of it’s own. I just talked about the AAR pointing the writer to a different goal - who’s doing the pointing? The story itself, that’s what. AARs somehow gain a personality - in their layout and style, their gait, dress and accent are put on display. The way that they perfect themselves, learning and gaining experience is what sets AARs apart from… other kinds of story.
That’s my observation.
Characterisation in AARs by Juvenal (Critic's Quill #10)
Characterisation in AARs
I hope that everyone would agree that interesting and believable characters are a vital part of AARs. You can write them without characters, and this is a perfectly valid form, but it does limit the viewpoint to just that of the player. In my experience even in this type of AAR authors often still find themselves starting to refer to their generals as if they had a semi-independent existence.
A wonderful thing about Total War games is that they provide you with so much material to fill out your characters in the form of pictures, abilities, ancillaries and traits. But this is a two-edged sword, as anyone who has tried to use traits in an AAR can testify. Strict adherence to traits is just too constraining to the story. You really need the freedom to create dynamic tension and have satisfying conclusions to sub-plots. So I think the best approach is to treat this bounty of traits and ancillaries from the game as a resource from which to pick only the ideas that fit the tale you are trying to weave.
So, you want to write a character-based AAR? Well, those characters are going to have to be interesting otherwise your story will remain unloved by the fickle masses of TWC. The first question is - which characters to include? Many writers don't even consider this. The games presents you with a faction leader and a family tree. The family members will be leading your armies, so it is entirely natural to write a story consisting entirely of them, with a few bland interchangeable subordinates, and a faceless mass of loyal soldiers ready to die for some as yet undefined goal. Doing this creates a kind of frame that constrains the possibilities for your story. It also creates practical difficulties, an army often has only one family member (the commander), so there is no one interesting for him to talk to when describing battles.
If you want to write something a bit different from the run-of-the-mill, then strong characters are a good way to break free from just describing the gameplay.
An AAR can either follow the campaign, or it can be a free-standing story using the game merely to provide illustrations. With this latter form, you are completely free to create whatever characters are required for the plot, but you also bear the responsibility for creating a good plot in the first place. It would be wise to prepare your cast in advance by writing profiles for them. These people have to be interesting and distinct. They need motivation and goals. They need different relationships, fears, hopes.
Making Characters Interesting
I must admit that I haven't yet been brave enough to write in this way. I play the campaign and meditate on what is going on “under the covers”. My own characters start simple and gradually acquire depth through my description of the campaign events and from the inspiration I get from my “detective” work.
Try assigning roles to your characters to make writing easier: Hero, villain, protagonist, antagonist, family, rival. Also give them some primary emotion: jealousy, love, loyalty, honour, weakness, obsession, nobility, duty. Creating a profile makes your character distinct and also helps to keep them consistent during the long period during which you are likely to be writing your AAR.
There are two types of character: major and incidental. I think you would do well to have something in the game that represents each major character. They don't all have to be family members. They could be ancillaries or agents, or even tied to particular military units (say a Centurian, or even a common soldier or camp-follower). Incidental characters are created as needed to fill out an episode. They often appear only once and are never referred to again.
I think that choosing the right characters is a great way to reduce the scope of your story from an epic world-spanning multi-volume history of the (ancient) world, down to something of more human proportions. It is entirely possible to write a whole AAR focussing on a single army, while leaving the rest of the campaign undescribed. Writing the whole campaign is a great temptation (one that I have succumbed to myself), but again it steers you into writing a “standard” AAR, much like many others already published.
Point of View
Having created some characters, you then have to decide how to write about them. There are three choices: First Person, Third Person, and Objective.
First person narratives are incredibly useful. The reader gets strong identification with the character. You can use this in several ways. The character can make unwise choices, raising tension as the reader wills them to do the right thing. The character can perform evil acts, making the reader angry at their unwilling complicity in the crimes. Finally, the character can lie to the reader (or at least be mistaken). Revealing the lie later in the narrative can create great scenes, the stuff of a famous AAR.
If you want your viewpoint to skip around, then Third-Person is best. But why not consider the Objective viewpoint, it is still Third-Person, but leaves out the thoughts of the character. This helps bring back some of the uncertainty you can get with First-Person. Your characters become enigmatic and you can spring plot surprises when their true motivations are revealed.
I hope I have given you something to think about. Experiment with the different modes I have described above. It will help increase your arsenal of writing skills for tacking future projects. With writing, the more you learn, the more there is to learn. At every stage more possibilities become apparent, each one an opportunities for future study.
My Thoughts on AARs by Junius (Critic's Quill #10) My Thoughts on AARs
One of the things that I have learnt over the course of writing for the Critic's Quill is what a person needs to be a good reviewer. That was perhaps my main reasoning for asking for this series of articles, so that you, the reader, as well as the reviewers themselves, knew what it was that they wanted. A reviewer needs to know what they want. They need to be on the lookout for several things which they feel make a good AAR, or anything really. It is different for different people, that is why you may favour one reviewers opinion over the other. A reviewer cannot be like a child at Christmas, wanting everything (I want a bike, roller skates, PS3, puppy, etc.), so they have to know what is more important and what is less important.
For me the most important thing is story and plot. Story and plot are similar, yet distinct. The plot is the series of events, which can be summarised without needing to refer to specifics. For example, the resurrection of the Roman Empire would be a plot. The story is the specific characters and events. So, a plot point could be a battle, and the story could be how King Phillip won the battle by using his calvary to out flank his enemy. A strong plot is key for me, it gives the AAR a rhythm and intent which keeps it moving along, while also containing a strong sense of coherency. It isn't hard to come up with a plot, and stick to it, so I find it almost unforgivable to see an AAR which is meandering and has no course.
I find a story keeps the reader more interested. While a plot can exist without a story, 'Taking Europe back from the Timmy's' is an example, a story cannot exist without a plot. A story holds a reader, it creates characters which we can relate to, either hating or liking. A good story needs investment, on both the reader and writer's parts. I can, and will, read an AAR without a story, but it doesn't grab me the same way a story does.
Pictures aren't as important to me as they are to others. While I appreciate them, and realise that they are a big draw for some people, a good AAR can exist, at least for me, without pictures. If the writer decides to include them, I want to see interesting and informative pictures, which compliment the writing instead of replacing it. Editing of pictures is a must. Seeing the whole campaign map, when the writer only wants you to focus on the character sheet, or seeing the battle map and UI during a battle scene really breaks the immersion and the flow of an AAR for me.
I like things to be different. One of the best recent AARs I have read was 'In Hoc Signes Vinco', which I reviewed for the CQ in issue 8. It followed the Crusader States as they tried to conquer Britain, it still is being written. What made it really interesting was that it started with the Crusaders already in an established position, in Northern France, which was different from what you find at the start of a regular game. This new starting situation, and what could result from it, was what really grabbed me, and kept me interested before TemplarLord developed his story. Story and plot do not need to be excessively unique, but they have to be different. There used to be a glut of Byzantine AARs, with each having the same goal in mind. Though the writing may have been interesting, the central premise made for boring reading. This was not the fault of any individual writer, but was caused by the similarity of the AARs.
AARs are different from regular short stories, or historical fiction. Though they are primarily written to follow the rise, or fall, of a particular faction in a particular game, that does not mean that they should be limited to that. It serves as a useful, and interesting, starting point that will certainly keep people reading and win the writer some fans, but it can be used as a backdrop for an even more interesting story. My current AAR, 'The Kingdom', which I have written keeping in mind all the things I have learnt reviewing for the CQ, uses that as a central premise. Not to advertise it too much (I like to think I can be afforded a small degree of self promotion), I have tried to stick to the things I have found which I like in AARs, while trying to eliminate those that bug me.
Though AARs have a narrow scope, they are constrained by the game after all, they do allow for some great stories. It is those writers which manage to give us an AAR, that would be thrilling just on it's own, with an enthralling story, interesting characters and a unique style, that keep me coming back and reading more. There are several promising new writers, as well as the old stalwarts, that make me look forward to reading many more.
AAR Writing Tips by Juvenal (Critic's Quill #11)
In this article I am going to talk about things I do to improve my AARs. It is not prescriptive, you can produce good work without doing all of the things I describe. Indeed my methods may not even suite your writing style. Nevertheless, I hope you will find some of these things helpful in your own work.
As I explained in a previous article, you will almost certainly need an interesting cast of characters for a successful AAR. Since it is an AAR, these characters will have to have some connection with the game-play. The easiest thing is to use the Faction leader and Royal Family, but I like to utilise ancillaries and agents as well in order to get different viewpoints of the action. I often make up characters who are tied to particular armies, such as a master of horse, or even a unit commander.
AARs are written in episodes, just like serials in magazines. Since episodes are going to be read individually with substantial gaps between them, it is important that each one can stand alone. I believe that an episode should have a single main subject. There should be an introduction or setup, a main body and, most importantly, a conclusion of some kind. It is perfectly OK (and fun) to create cliff-hanger endings, which leave the reader desperate to learn the conclusion, but even these must still function as a valid ending to the arc of the episode.
An AAR can consist solely of the text of the story. Personally I am perfectly happy with this, but the wider readership will be expecting battle pictures. I think that it is important for pictures to support the text. This requires the meaning of the picture within the context of that story to be clear. I have seen a lot of screen-shots in AARs where I just couldn't work out who was who or what part of the story was being depicted. My own system is to write battle narratives from the pictures, so hopefully I will always get a good match-up. Another trick is to put captions on the pictures. I try to make my captions act as comments on the action rather than just repeating the text. In this way they hopefully complement the story as well as tying the picture to the appropriate event within it. In exceptional cases I will even annotate a picture, writing commander's names and showing lines of march.
Personally I like to add non-battle pictures to help add flavour to the story. In particular I have collected portraits to help bring my characters to life. I think that a portrait is a powerful factor in helping the reader identify with a character. If you can make them care about the character, then the events of the story will have a much greater impact.
As an additional decoration, I put a quote at the start of each episode. I carefully select my quotes to be relevant to the story - indeed, sometimes I actually have to alter an episode to better fit the quote! My purpose with quotes is to provide the ultimate summary. If you have already read an episode, then the quote provides a cue to help you remember what it was about without having to read the whole thing through again.
The Art of Writing Prose
Everyone has their own style, but there are still some important points which I think are applicable to everyone's writing. Firstly, if you write an AAR consisting entirely of battle descriptions or campaign decisions, then readers are likely to tire of it. You need to have changes of pace. The contrast between calm and hectic passages enhances the special flavour of each. Secondly, think about tenses - yes I know it's boring, but random use of tenses will give the reader a vague sense of dissatisfaction which may prompt them to abandon your AAR entirely, putting it down to poor writing. Thirdly, it is good to spice up your narrative with contrasting viewpoints (unless it is first-person of course). Rather than having everything fully described, it is nice to introduce a little ambiguity by means of different characters having contrasting views of the action. Fourthly, it is difficult to tell a story entirely through dialogue without the reader getting bored. Given my own level of skill, I use dialogue sparingly with exposition setting the context and much of the dialogue merely implied from the description.
After you have written your latest masterpiece of sparkling wit and gut-wrenching action, don't post it straight away. Leave it awhile and then come back later and read it through carefully. The first thing you should look for is spelling mistakes and missing words. Even with a spelling checker, you can still easily use the wrong word (I constantly write Their instead of There and often forget to include connecting words between phrases). The second thing to look for is bad flow, something that sounded fine to the mind's ear while writing may turn out to be horribly awkward on second reading. Try reading the story out loud, flow problems should quickly become apparent, and they can usually be fixed quite easily with a bit of rearrangement and minor changes of wording.
I am just an amateur writer, my tips and insights coming from experience, and a lot of reading. If you disagree with anything I've said, or think I've missed something important, then by all means please post your thoughts. I am always looking for ways to improve my writing, and I think that talking about it is one of the best methods for finding both weaknesses and new ideas. Happy writing everyone!
How do AARtists choose what to write about? by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #13)
It's so often overlooked, yet surely the most basic part of an AAR. It must also be the first thing the writer thinks about when they write an AAR - what's it going to be about? And it is crucially important, yet some people clearly don't give it much thought.
The sub-title says it all really: Rome. The most commonly used topic for AARs on the RTW sub-forum is that of the Roman Empire itself. In a sense this is pretty likely - Rome is one of the few factions that features in every single mod (but not Vanilla ironically enough, if you know what I mean). But really it is mostly lack of originality. I'd say almost half of RTW AARs are Rome based. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't limit the AAR - look at AustenBin's legendary Pontic Expedition, an AAR like any other Rome based one - that is, in terms of plot base. However, it's easy to see why so many rubbish Rome AARs clog up the forum when you compare them to this particular example. They simply either show the expansion of Rome as happened in history, the 2nd Punic war, or a particular campaign in some country. The last one often works well, as AustenBin showed, but of course, initial ideas aren't everything. But more on that later.
Other popular choices of RTW AAR include Greek factions, including Macedonia and the Diadochi (Seleucids, Ptolemaics, etc.). These are slightly more varied, and it's easier to see the AARtist themselves coming through because of the more original storyline base. But even though I seem to see a Mediterranean monopoly emerging, Carthage, Iberia, Lusotannan (depending on mod) rarely get a look in. And when writers do stray north of the seas, more often than not the Getae/Dacians are the source of their creativity. Although that last topic has not been... worn out anywhere near as thoroughly as the southern choices. Barbarian AARs are quite rare, the only one springing to mind being JerichoOnlyFan's.
If new writers want ideas, then for this area I'd suggest: DON'T do Rome, or if you do, make it specific and provide some in-depth characters. Greek factions - brink-of-defeat is not a bad idea here, as would an AAR that went north or west instead of staying and fighting other Greeks... maybe after killing them all ?
Now obviously I'm not going to go into quite so much depth here, as I am less knowledgeable on the subject. But whilst I look around at the moment, I see that Eastern Fever clearly reigns quite a bit here too, although the other main focus for AARs either seems to be Spain or factions from the British Isles, although Venice also seems to be popular (a bit). I think the British focus comes from the fact that in ancient times Britain was either similar to the rest of Northern Europe, or Roman. In MT2W / SS, not only are conflicts between the english and other parts of Britain 'available', but the idea of crusades, knights and a format that can relate much more closely to modern England than before.
The Eastern faction's frequency surely stems from the fact that this is the era of knights in armour, crusades, and of course, the Muslim caliphates. In fact, it seems to me to be a similar mind frame to the Diadochi wars almost, although there is no concept there of two religions, two blocks of powers that are certainly separate but united against the Christians/Muslims. To me, there is a lot more room here for creativity and inventive ideas for AAR factions to use - Portugal and most Central European factions seem rarely used, and like the Getae in RTW, the Italian principalities are commonly used and liked, but not yet exhausted and overused.
Empire Total War
Now I know even less about ETW, but that doesn't make me blind. Funnily enough, I am witnessing the opposite here, although it is to expected. As you saw going from RTW to M2TW, what factions people tend to choose often depends on historically, 'where the war was' - where the centre of the world was, economically and politically. As the balance shifts from Egypt/the Middle East to Western/Central Europe, so people choose different factions in ETW.
There are a good deal of Prussian AARs, and many British too. Very few, as I said, are from the East, now poorer than the rest of Europe. Many focus on America and India, as would be expected with the new inflated map system of ETW. I am pleased to see a great deal more of AARs which are breaking the mould - one about Malta here, one about Greece there (common in RTW, but SO different in the 17th century (it is 17th right?)).
A Central Character?
Of course, choosing an interesting faction to play as isn't everything. One of the key things is characters. Some AARs pivot around a single person - some involve a few people central to the plot, a group, or, in a sense none - AARs where the events of a campaign/faction are displayed but are no characters or events are dwelled upon before moving on to the next event.
The other factor that has always been in people's minds is the status of their character. Now as soon as anyone thinks characters, social status, AARs, many will shout 'SHARPE!' and leave immediately. Personally, I think of the Lausard series by Richard Howard (Read them! they are ten times better than rubbish old Sharpe), but the point is that many will turn into a God-Bless-America, Disney style he fights on in the face of adversity and wins morally despite everything... fest.
Many portray the fates of Kings, or rising princes... others choose to champion the ordinary man and watch him as he fights heroically without gaining notoriety. A frequent case, as with Sharpe is the peasant-becomes-the-leader-of-a-Legion idea - low man goes high. It can be a bit samey, but it can be done right, as the great Saienga proved with his AAR The Balance of Vengeance and Honor.
My conclusion is this: to the AARtist looking for inspiration, be UNIQUE. Instead of trawling the forums and looking for what IS there, look for what ISN'T there. Fixiwee did this, producing new ideas in the form of his AAR (the only AAR I can think of to try and represent the history of men over several mods, also introducing the Multi-AAR concept), and now, after much hard work, he has reached the top of the MAARC (we eagerly await the tie-breaker results!).
Yes, browse and learn how to write well and to layout well, etc, but don't copy everyone else - you must retain your own style. That's how the great AARtists have become great. As I thought through when I examined factions, look for what's missing. People will be attracted to it - it's new, it's different, it raises eyebrows. When people see another RS Rome AAR, they often simply say 'Oh, not another one.' and forget about it altogether.
The Code of the Order of AAR writers by Kallum (Critic's Quill #13)
In my opinion an anniversary issue must hold something unique, something that doesn’t return every month. Therefore I’ve decided to make a list, since we all love lists (the list of all the goodies of Dominion of the Sword, the list of improvements that hopefully the next sequel in the TW genre will possess) and this one contains tips and rules that should be considered by any AAR writer of this site who wants to improve his or her AAR. Hopefully you’ll enjoy my little effort, I’m sure I did when I thought about it.
1) One writes with the intention to entertain not to gain rep or any other form of reward.
2) The greatest story is written under the greatest stress, so if you are angry with your teacher or parents and you want to punch a hole in the wall, don’t. Physiological studies revealed that the creative centre of our brain has a peak when being in an intense emotional state, so if you want to grab the next MAARC prize, you know what to do when you are feeling down or hurt again.
3) if you are uncertain about your writing skills go write in the TOTW first! There you can sharpen your skills and learn techniques and tactics that will help you in your further career as a writer!
4) Don’t copy the exact outline of someone else’s story, always ask for permission if you want to use something from another’s story.
5) 7 Days a month you are competitors, those other three weeks you are silent worshippers of each other’s work. If you are stuck on your story don’t be to hesitant to ask someone’s help, it’s a recognition of his or her work and a way of socializing.
6) When you are stuck on a certain point and you don’t know what your main character should do next, you must leave your work! Go jogging or cycling or in the worst case do homework, anything that makes you focus on something else then your update. When you force yourself to write no good will come out of it. It’ll never be excellent only mediocre at best and that’s not what you want (RULE ONE!!!!!!)
7) Time for a cliché: always try to be original, the more original you are the more entertaining your story is and the more admiration and thereby rep will fill your account.
8) When you receive criticism don’t be to arrogant to point your mouse immediately to the “report post” button. Sometimes their opinions are supported by a lot of readers and then you must do something about it!
9) When you decide to make an AAR and want to give it a real authentic feel, make sure you learn a bit about the faction’s history, learn some key military commands in the native language and learn some titles or offices. These small changes are the things that separate excellent AARs from mediocre or good AARs. The best way to learn about a nation is the thema devia in my opinion. Here you can find those patriotic national language only groups, who will be more then helpful to help you creating an AAR which makes their country shine like the brightest star.
10) A special tip for comedy AAR writers: make sure you aren’t repetitive. Look we have heard those epic one liners from 300 far to many times now! Surprise us with something new, perhaps a quote from the latest C-show that your female relatives are watching lately. And never be to shy to think of something funny yourself! There are 6 billion people breathing just like you, there must be someone there that also shares your sense of humor.
11) Don’t make deadlines or if you have to don’t throw them out in public. Chances are that you don’t make them and why should the reader pay attention to your goods when the delivery date is a lie.
12) Make sure your story has depth! When a story shows intriguing plots combined with all the shady figures that comes with it, I found that most readers don’t even notice the grammar and spelling mistakes you as a non English make.
13) If you do want to make sure that your story has a minimum amount of faults then I suggest that you write in MS Word. Word has a grammer and vocab check that you can easily switch on and of. That way you’ll slightly improve your English which isn’t only handy here at TWC but also in RL at school or in a later career.
14) Another cliché: Make sure that the faction you plan to follow through your campaign is one of your favourite factions. That way you won’t lose interest and that will make the story also a lot prettier to read as a whole
Fourteen rules and tips for you new AAR writers. Of course there are many more but I leave those open for you to fill in. If you can’t make a good story whilst following these rules then or you didn’t understood the meaning of these sentences or you are not destined to achieve greatness via the path of the AAR world. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these rules, some are old and common but I hope that others are new but more importantly I hope you take your advantage from them.
Writing the Game by Ariovistus Maximus (Critic's Quill #15)
Hey all! Ariovistus Maximus here wishing you a Happy Holidays!
As you know, there is always a close tie between the AAR and the game we use as a platform. That’s the whole point, right? Well, of course I agree, but I would suggest to you that this relationship is often over-emphasized. In short, the game does not make the AAR, and I’d like to explain that a little bit.
All too often, writers suffer from tunnel vision. When you think of your AAR as a reflection of the game, it’s easy to unconsciously turn your story into a simple reflection of the Total War game of your choice. Now, that’s interesting if you have a REALLY good campaign going (the psychotic Timurid AARs come to mind), but I think we all know that the TW series has its limits.
Thus, many AARs are limited because they do not go beyond the game. They simply write the game. And, to be honest, that doesn’t make for particularly great storytelling. If we just want the game, we can play it ourselves, right? But we don’t read AARs for the game itself.
There are a few major elements to the AAR. The game is an important element, for sure. You probably enjoy reading historical fiction, but the AAR is special because it gives you a taste of the game you enjoy so much. The other elements are common to any story: plot, characters, setting… you know the drill.
So the game is certainly a big part of the story, but there needs to be a balance. If you ignore the game entirely, you will lose an important element. Like I said, people enjoy the connection between your story and the game they like so well. However, if everything is a reference to the game, or a simple report on your campaign progress, the AAR will lack depth; there won’t be any story to keep people coming back for more.
There is a degree of excitement to a string of battle reports, but it gets old pretty fast. Truth be told, it’s already been done quite a few times. See, a battle can be interesting, but without a story, it’s just an isolated incident without any real significance. You need to give each battle and campaign a context and an underlying storyline.
To illustrate my point, let’s create a miniature little tale, starting with a campaign from Medieval 2: Total War.
“The French fought the Spanish. Swish swish, clang clang. AAAIIIIEEEEEEE!!!”
Okay, that’s a start. Why did the French fight the Spanish?
“One day, the Spanish invaded!”
Oh; so the erratic AI decided to bother you. Well, there’s not much of a story to that. Let’s see if we can’t roleplay that a little bit.
“The Spanish were worried that I was getting too powerful, I guess.”
All right; now you have a motive. Let’s embellish it a little, shall we?
“A jealous monarch sits upon the Spanish throne, his dreams of glory and empire frustrated at every turn. Disaster has befallen the Reconquiesta; hordes of Muslim fanatics pour across the Straits of Gibraltar. But now the King of Spain sets his greedy eye upon the fertile plains of Southern France: a land unscathed by the war that has plagued his people for decades.
'Perhaps that is the answer', he thinks. 'Perhaps…'”
Hmmmm… starting to look like a story, isn’t it? And that’s just scratching the surface. The more you experiment and flex your creative muscles, the more your story-telling skills will grow!
Also, you may have noticed that the more effort you put into your story, the deeper it becomes. In the beginning, we were just talking about France. Now we realize that we need to develop our secondary characters as well, and create a background for the events we portray. Before you know it, you’ll dedicate chapters and chapters to expanding on the story you’ve created. Your product will be a deep, satisfying narrative. It won’t rely on the game to make sense, but the game will amplify the plot you’ve woven.
They key lies in your focus. Does your AAR reflect the game, or does the game reflect your AAR?
This is where planning comes in, and that’s another article in itself. You see, if you plan out your story from the beginning, you can bend the game to your will, so to speak. Consider our example above. If you just write the story as you play your AAR, you might roleplay, and you might be able to embellish the story, but the AI will still do strange, nonsensical things that interrupt the flow of your story.
However, if you plan your story out from the beginning, and have a direction in which you want it to flow, your narrative will be much more fluid, and won’t be thrown off course by crazy AI plays.
To expand on that concept, remember that your story is not tied to the game. If your campaign doesn’t make for great storytelling, guess what? Nobody needs to know! It’s your story, after all. You can very conveniently exclude any information you wish from your story; no one will be the wiser.
I find that new writers often feel that they MUST report the game at all costs. I hope that now you can see that you don’t need to be dictated by the game. You can take your story wherever you like. I have attempted here to come at the subject from multiple angles; I hope you find it helpful as you explore the wide, wonderful world of AARtistry.
In conclusion, remember that the game should supplement the story, not control it. Remember, this is your story; the possibilities are endless! Once you realize this, then the excitement really begins.
Thanks for reading, and have a great Holiday season!
Planning Your AAR by Ariovistus Maximus (Critic's Quill #16)
Hi there! Last issue, I gave some thoughts on how people tend to cling to games as they write AARs. This habit, which does take practice to overcome, really limits your writing potential. But I won’t rehash that here. Now that we’ve talked about one of the more prevalent hang-ups in plot development, let’s talk about something that will make your story better.
Planning is an essential element of a good story, and one that is tied to your ability to bend the game to your will, so to speak. If your story simply reflects the game, as discussed in the last issue, then your story will revolve around in-game events. If that’s the case, you certainly can’t plan what you don’t know.
Why is planning important? Planning has a major effect upon the story’s flow. I’m sure every writer can remember a time when he had a BRILLIANT idea – but it came too late to fit into the story. Usually, you can’t just inject a major character or development into the story; an important development requires foreshadowing and build-up to make any sense.
So suppose that you’re writing a story about a medieval kingdom. For the last few chapters, you’ve been developing a nobleman who is plotting to seize the throne. Then, one day, you have a magnificent idea! The King will die of a serious illness, leaving the crown within your character’s grasp.
You go to your computer and write it up. Bam! The King died of the plague!
But… since when was there a plague running through the land? And who knew the King had it? And why is that important again?
It might have been a clever idea, but it came so suddenly that it merely interrupts your storyline. It would flow much better if you had planned it from the beginning, or at least looked a few chapters ahead.
And that’s a pretty simplistic example, but you get the idea. It’s happened to me many times, that I wanted to add a neat piece of information, but I couldn’t because it would be too abrupt to make any sense.
There is one other issue that arises from lack of planning. If you are writing an AAR involving your game campaign, you have to be prepared for the AI. They do some pretty bizarre things, but if you have your story planned out, you can avoid those problems. Otherwise, the AI will mess up your plotline, you’ll have to rush to fit their move into the story, and it will all come across as a game play-by-play, which isn’t especially interesting.
That’s why it’s important to reflect on your story idea before you actually begin. What is your story’s focal point? From what point of view will you write? Where and when will the story take place? What is the theme of your story?
For each person, the answers to those questions will be different. But planning your story will enhance each of them. There are a few ways to plan your story.
Before you begin, you should know more than the faction, perspective, and setting of your story. You should have at least an outline of how you want the story to proceed. This will vastly improve your story’s flow. For myself, I found that letting my ideas sit in the back of my mind for a few days was quite helpful. I’d toss around different ideas from time to time, until my AAR gradually came together.
Another method is to write a few chapters ahead. That is, write up several chapters before you begin to post them online, and try to keep a few ahead. Often your train of thought as you write a story will give you all kinds of ideas. If you are writing ahead, you will still have time to implement your ideas in previous chapters, and the story will flow perfectly.
A third thing that can be of great help is to read other people’s work. Certainly you don’t want to copy anything, but I’ve found that reading other AAR’s has helped me understand the nuts and bolts of AARtistry. Other AARs can teach you a lot about plot and character development, style, and form.
Now, I know it can be tough to keep up on these things; especially writing a few chapters ahead. I wouldn’t think of it as a strict regimen to which you MUST adhere; it’s just a few points that can help you, especially as you start out.
If you keep in mind the importance of planning and act accordingly, you will be rewarded with a seamless product. And it just gets better; that’s what makes writing fun!
My Ten Rules for Writing an AAR by Skantarios (Critic's Quill #18)
1. Be passionate about what you write. You have to really want to write about the subject. If you don't feel passion for your character/faction/story, you will procrastinate doing updates and soon enough, you will have lost the bubble and be so far behind that you just don't want to start again. Also, know up front that this endeavour is going to take a lot of time. Take your worst estimate and then triple it and you will probably be getting close. For myself, I easily spend three hours writing and editing for every hour of actual playing. If you don't really want to write the story for its own sake, you won't.
2. Define the scope. You can define it by the conquest of a certain number of provinces, the destruction of an opposing faction, the capture of a specific city, or whatever. If you decide to change your mind later on, no worries. For my own AAR, I have limited it to the life of one character. Whereas this has made the scope larger and longer than I had originally thought, it does give a definite end time to the AAR. Just having a defined end to the work is liberating in and of itself.
3. Be realistic about what you can do. If you aren't going to have the time to post in the next week, just accept that and make an appointment to get back to it when you can. It also helps your readers to not get antsy waiting for you to update. If you do have a long break, make sure you commit to doing it at a defined point in the future or you will find it very hard to start again.
4. Try to define a format early for how you want to present your information. How will you present the battles? What information will you include? Will you post maps every time? Are you going to have dialog? If so, when will you include it. Do a test post where you present a single chapter/turn/campaign and then go back and edit it again and again until you are satisfied with the presentation. That way, you can use it for every future post and know the areas that you need to address for every post to follow. The format is not a rule but will be a helpful guideline. It will probably evolve as you go along but it helps to have something done up front to serve as your guide.
5. Take notes. I keep a separate document where I make short notes about what happened each turn. That way, when my game play gets ahead of the story, I can go back and know how the exact sequence of things happened. It helps with the flow of the story and to keep you on track. Also, if you happen to have a great idea that goes along with something that just happened, write it down before you forget about it; because you probably will.
6. Back up your files! Make a save for every turn or every 2-3 turns. When you get to a certain point (every ten turns or so), make a separate backup folder of your saves in another location (or better yet, another drive) so that if the file gets corrupted, you can reload. I have seen a lot of AARs die an untimely death because someone lost the save game file and can't recreate it (at least that was their story). The whole process takes about five minutes and can save you untold hours (or the whole AAR) trying to get back to where you left off.
7. Review and spell check. Having simple errors in the wording or sequence can really take away from the "punch" of the update. Make yourself re-read the entire post before submitting; that is what the "Preview Post" is all about. Better yet, copy the whole thing into a Word document and then let the automatic spell check catch your errors. It is another simple thing that can save a lot of "edit post"-ing later on.
8. Save your post to a Word document before you submit. Often times, it can take so long to get a post together that when you hit "Submit" you have timed out of the login and the forum rejects the post. Hit the "Back" button and you will find that you have lost the entire thing. Again, this is a simple process that can save you hours and hours of recreating your work. For myself, I have gone one step further and just before I hit submit, I will "select all" and then "copy" the update into a separate post (but not submit it) just in case this happens - because it will; and you will hate it.
9. If you can't finish it, be honest. If for some reason you have decided to end the AAR, just say so. It happens; people will understand. I have seen a lot of lame excuses about losing files or hardware glitches when people begin to complain about no updates. Just let people know the AAR is over and be done with it. Don't drag it out if you really have no intention of keeping going.
10. Don't get discouraged. You are going to have problems and setbacks - accept that. You won't get a lot of replies at first - don't worry about it. Write the AAR for yourself and don't worry about who has or hasn't written you back. The AARs that are well done can take weeks or even months to catch on. Just know that going in and keep going. As I said in my first rule, you have to be passionate about what you are writing for its own sake - not for the comments or rep you get.
Still Pictures In AAR Writing: A Current State Of Affairs by The Nanny (Critic's Quill #19)
Any avid reader of AARs here at TWC has long ago noticed the increasing popularity of using still pictures and other media to augment their AARs. Purists may shudder at the notion of non-written input being used extensively, seeing (perhaps in cases justifiably) these techniques as a crutch to compensate for a lack of literary abilities.
If one looks carefully, however, one may find that in these pictures are used strategically, thoughtfully, and with different purposes in mind. And contrary to being used as a crutch, in the right hands, they draw further attention to the written elements.
"I constantly look back at the pictures from the battle stored on my computer in order to get that much needed inspiration about what exactly to write," states LuckyLewis, the author of the epic Liberation. He freely admits that writing is not his primary forte, but that the writing experience of Liberation has improved his skill.Many authors agree that the pictures are not really used to progress the story as much as to help readers visualize key aspects of the AAR's battle sequence. "During battles, I find that a good photo can really help show what the effects of a 'devastating charge' were", states Skantarios of I am Skantarios! Rebirth of the Eastern Empire fame. Dignan, author of A Cold Defeat, further explains his rationale: "I go through the replay again and try to capture screen-shots that are artistic, captivating and 'active'". These sentiments are echoed by Fixiwee, author of History of Men."During battles, I find that a good photo can really help show what the effects of a 'devastating charge' were"
These pictures are used not solely for the reader's benefit, but also for the author's. Skantarios explains that the pictures assist him greatly in the writing process: "I will write the battle using the pictures to prompt me on how the sequence of the battle progressed and make for an accurate retelling,".
PICTURE SELECTION AND PRESENTATION
When deciding which pictures to use, and how to present them, nearly as much time and thought is spent as on writing the AAR itself. Every detail is considered, even the season in which the battle is being fought. "I probably prefer battles taking place in August and the warmer southern European climates," states LuckyLewis, "I love taking pictures in autumn as the battlefields aren’t completely covered by snow yet...you still regularly get that essence of dark and disturbing parts of war,".
While conceding that most AAR writers prefer autumn and summer pictures, Dignan points out that the benefits of winter shots are sometimes overlooked. "Actually, I think the winter colors combined with some of the uniform mods look good". In A Cold Defeat, "the sun was low in the sky with overcast conditions which softened the normally harsh looking winter maps,".
Spoiler Alert, click show to read:
There is a common consensus that picture cropping, and editing out the HUDs and UI is a basic must, explains Fixiwee.From there, however, personal styles and preferences take over. Picture size and dimensions vary. Skantarios is very conscious of pictures that are too large, and threaten to distract the reader from the story. LuckyLewis applies extensive use of panoramic shots, although he admits that it started accidentally during the cropping process. Now, however, the continuation of that format is deliberate. "I wanted to put emphasis on the action within the battle....If I uploaded the pictures as they were from the game, I think they would bore people quickly,". These pictures, added in sequence, give the reader the impression of a moving film of glimpses into the battle."I (added effects) at the beginning, but I thought that it looked cheesy...nearly all pictures are unedited."
Spoiler Alert, click show to read:
There is no standard approach to the application of effects on pictures in AARs. Fixiwee reflects that "I (added effects) at the beginning, but I thought that it looked cheesy...nearly all pictures are unedited." Dignan believes in a tempered approach to effects: "Sometimes I apply a simple color correction filter to give colors a more washed out look but usually my pictures are straight out of the game, unaltered". Skantarios admits that his limited application of effects is due "more to my lack of knowledge on how to do this effectively as well as the greater time commitment required to do so...If I had more time and skill, I would definitely do more to make the pictures better".
Many AAR authors shared their thoughts on how they may use pictures in the future. LuckyLewis sees his style of pictures as a key to keeping his AARs unique, but admits that in future, "If anything, I’d probably take fewer and concentrate more on the writing...I don't want my AAR to become dependent on pictures to say the least...less is more,".
Skantarios explains that his AAR was a great learning experience, and that his use of pictures in future would reflect those lessons learned. "I might also try to add in some other historical art shots that aren’t part of the game and bring in some graphic detail from outside to make the story better. The game gives you a lot of material to work with but there are still some elements that could be made better to show some of the items not covered in the battle.". He goes on to state "I have at times overused the pictures...I would make a more judicious use of them rather than throwing in all the 'good' ones and going from there...Also, I would probably incorporate more map screens to show the progress of the campaigns and to show the mid- and long-term objectives...I have done this to a certain extent but not as much as I would have wanted to.".
For Dignan, his thoughts of future direction when using pictures take a very creative turn. "I actually toyed with the idea of doing an AAR using exclusively screen-shots, something in-between a motion picture and a text AAR...imagine a PowerPoint presentation with pictures that flip about every three seconds with fades, wipes and slow zooms...almost like a History Channel documentary with still photos".
An interesting idea indeed.
Skantarios' I am Skantarios! Rebirth of the Eastern Empire
Dignan's A Cold Defeat,
Fixiwee's History of Men
Creative Writing - ‘All for one, and one for all‘! by SonOfAlexander (Critic's Quill #22)
It is almost as if people are born with a set level of creativity, with some drowning under the influence of as many ideas as there are birds in the sky while others struggle but can never quite rely on the fickle muses to do their bidding. They can hide it too, and some are just better at expressing it. Different writing styles aren’t the only way writers differ - their attitude to writing is important as well.
We all know that starting a story is always the hardest part, but too many people are being put off writing of any sort, no matter how talented they may be, for whatever reason. There have been several articles in the CQ to encourage would-be writers, but I have another idea for those still to timid to reach for the proverbial quill and parchment, à la Harry Potter. Join a Creative Writing group!
‘Oh my god, lock him up!’ you shout. If I'm too embarrassed to have a go at home, then how’s sitting around with a group of random people going to help my anxiety?! Well, the most obvious solution to any self-consciousness has already been posed by Juvenal and the CQ writers: through TWC is an excellent way to go. You get (mostly ) intelligent critiques, sub-forums which let’s you be sure only people who are going to want to read your sort of story will do so, and the anonymity of sitting at your computer and being completely removed from any overdone banter such as you might receive in school. But actually, clubbing together in a group with other writers can be another great way to get scribbling, especially in another light.
After warming up on TWC, critiquing many AARs and writing ‘Caelus Morsus Luminius’, I joined a writer’s group at my new 6th form school about a month ago. First of all, like most things, it was good for getting me out of my little niche in writing historical fiction, and focus more on overall skills. But after the first two slightly uneasy session, even for one as reserved as myself, it became much more relaxed, not the Alcoholics Anonymous style meeting I had dreaded. It’s also great for picking up nifty little tricks and tips other writers around you use, and exposes you to a lot more ways to write.
It helps to focus creative ideas as well: every time I’ve been, I’ve listened to a song (often from Rattle & Hum/Achtung Baby/Joshua Tree, massive U2 fan!) and it clicked an idea in my head, so I wrote a piece for next week inspired by that. Also, these groups are much more practical in the long term (not just because all the good looking girls in my year go ) but because they often have a view to publishing publicly. In my case, a new teacher at my school who attends an adult version of such a group (but is the only ‘un-published’ one..) which has produced writers whose works have sold very respectably. Although Lulu.com, the free online publisher is a great way to publish, as with ‘Sword of Neamha’ (direct from TWC!) and Saienga’s ‘The Balance of Vengeance and Honour’, these groups can often be at least as productive, if not more so than this independent method: more people to tell you what you’re doing wrong at each stage of the process.
So if you’re looking to emerge from your shell and take up the writer’s mantle, then as well as TWC writing forums and Lulu, creative writing groups are an excellent way to go. As long as you aren’t immature about it, you can mix it with the best of them relatively regardless of age, gender, race, general differences, etc., and you’d be amazed how many of the more bluff, outwardly uncaring individuals around you are more interested in writing their own stories. I certainly was.
Characters and Time Period: the Bad and the Ugly by dezikeizer (Critic's Quill #24)
Most people probably know me for my helping with spelling and grammar errors, but in the time I’ve done that I’ve also read plenty of AARs. Along the way I’ve noticed something of a trend.
Some people seem to prefer to go the honorable and just route with characters in their AARs in Rome Total War and Medieval 2. In fact, at times it leaves me feeling that too many AARs are disneyesque, with the side of good always winning in the end. History was different, and many times ruthlessness and distasteful actions were necessary to succeed. For example, a supposedly honorable ruler, Philip Augustus of France after returning to France attacked the lands of Richard the Lionhearted while Richard was still off on crusade.
Now, I’m not saying that there wasn’t considerable honor and justice during these periods, but the truth was probably much closer to somewhere in-between this and the opposite end of the spectrum. As such, incorporating this into AARs can add considerable authenticity, making it seem more like the time period the story takes place in. In ancient and medieval times life was often brutish, nasty, and short, with life expectancy around 30-35. People died often quite young, and many times of diseases easily treatable today.
Furthermore, it was customary even in ancient Greek and Roman armies that if a city resisted siege it would be sacked or worse exterminated. Carthage in 146 BC is only the most famous example, but there are plenty of others, such as that of Jerusalem in AD 70, or Corinth in 146 BC. Among barbarians and nomads it was even more common. Medieval armies were never particularly well trained and there are plenty of sackings and massacres of cities there too. So again, doing so in your AARs adds authenticity for those time periods.
This grittiness and nature of life for people during ancient and medieval times certainly shaped the people of the time period, and not necessarily for the better. In a harsh world, men often had to be ruthless to survive and less than savoury characters did quite well. It would only be fitting then, to sometimes have less than savory characters conquer empires, and succeed. It only adds to the flavor of the story and the time period, where truly ruthless men like Genghis Khan conquered empires.
That is part of why I liked I Am Skantarios so much, that what war can do to a person is shown, and that one doesn’t have to necessary be the most moral ruler to succeed. Now you may be thinking that I’m saying that it’s acceptable for rulers to act like that. I’m not approving of the actions they took from a moral standpoint, merely a practical standpoint. I wouldn’t do such thing if I were in their position, but that’s often how things were done back then. However, writers often write about good characters, perhaps out of the influence of today’s standards and norms, and or that they identify with honorable actions. These can make it hard to identify and connect with the way things were during those time periods, but in my opinion, one should still do their utmost to connect even with these elements. Doing so adds in your AAR adds a certain flavor and uniqueness to the story, as it goes against the grain, and shows the realities of war, of leading a nation, and again of the time period.
You may be wondering, then, about how to use darker characters in AARs besides as the antagonist, but instead as the protagonist or supporters of the protagonist. Well one thing to note is that they don’t have to be out to conquer the world, instead they can be reacting to threats to their power or even their life. In this case, they may merely be accumulating power to make sure that they are safe from being killed or losing their position. One way to get in that mindset is to think of how someone who is very suspicious of others. There is also the possibility that they after sufficient hardship and warfare became dark, ruthless, and perhaps even cruel. This would be similar to Emperor Skantarios in I Am Skantarios.
There are plenty more possibilities to types of darker characters that can be used, and which type they are definitely has an effect on how a writer would use them in a story.
After all, if you’re going to roleplay as you play the game that goes with the aar, then the nature of the main character affects what you do. In case of darker characters this can determine things like how aggressive they are in pursuit of power, and in starting wars. Using and understanding their mindset, even if it’s very different from your own, dramatically effects what you do in your AAR.
I hope this has been helpful and provided food for thought for immersion in the time period and using darker characters in AARs. Perhaps more such characters will be present in AARs soon.
Experiences of a first-time AARtist by Boustrophedon (Critic's Quill #25)
1. General outline
In this article for the Critic’s Quill I will try and offer some advice to fellow AAR writers as well as discuss some of the ups and downs I’ve experienced and the tricks and traps I’ve encountered while writing my very own first attempt to an AAR. This is by no means a manual to writing an AAR nor does it attempt to be one rather it is a personal journey I wish to share with you.
Who might be interested in this article?
Aspiring writers who are thinking of writing an AAR but are somewhat intimidated by the process of writing, and uploading pictures etc. might take courage at my bad and good experiences and those too shy to publish their work might be tempted to post it on the boards now. Experienced writers on the other hand might recognize some of the issues I raise and are invited to post their own thoughts on my experiences and opinions.
2. Technical aspect
I would first like to talk about the technical side of writing an AAR. This aspect should never be underestimated as it is rather important to the process of writing chapters and sharing your story with the community at TWC.[/FONT]
While it may seem like a simple enough task of writing a story, several technical hiccups might stand in the way of your next update.
Although there are quite a few AARs consisting almost entirely out of text, most writers utilize pictures to enhance their storytelling. When I started my AAR I used photobucket to upload my pictures and although it is a reliable website I found that it would sometimes cut my pictures down in size. I only noticed this when they were already uploaded in the chapter and so my pictures in the story were stretched or incomplete. I’m sure other aspiring AARtists with a widescreen monitor have experienced the same thing in the beginning. The advice I got was to upload them to imageshack which is an equally reliable website and keeps your pictures in the original size. It’s not that easy to find the right picture size for your story so trial-and-error will have to guide your way here.
When I commence writing on a new chapter I first write the entire text in a word processor (MS Word, Open Office…) with remarks outside of the storyline concerning the adding of pictures, specific fonts or a special lay-out. I have gathered the pictures I want to use in a single map, easy to locate and upload them to the image hosting website.
Spoiler Alert, click show to read:
The advantage of my approach is that you are safe against power fluctuations which tend to happen a lot in certain countries, safe against internet troubles when uploading it to TWC (disconnection, software malfunctioning,…) and you already have an idea of how your text will look like. This approach might take up more time than directly uploading it to your thread but you don't want to lose hours of work because of a technical glitch. This way you have a safety net.
I've found a new friend in the edit button. He allows you to correct your grammar mistakes and typos (for the writers who don't have English as a first language), he allows you to update a post with new information for readers and so much more. Use it wisely and you will organize your AAR so much better.
Like every other artist an AARtist appreciates feedback, even bad feedback as long as it's constructive criticism. He thrives on feedback and the readers' input.
In my opinion experienced writers have usually found a way to keep themselves motivated and do not rely as much on feedback as the aspiring writers do to keep them interested in the story. They have also often found a certain rhythm in updating their story (e.g. one chapter/week). The aspiring writer wants to know what the reader likes and doesn't like, what he thinks of the characters, if the lay-out appeals to the public or not... We want to know what the readers think, but how to get people to leave their feedback?
Here are some ways that I found will get your AAR noticed and inspire people to leave their comments.
- Quid pro quo, my friends! Want writers and readers to visit your AAR and leave a comment? Why would they do that when they don't know you? Look up the major contributions on TWC (AARs or picture contests or any other type of content) and comment on them. Always be friendly and encourage your fellow forum members in their own projects. Provide a link to your own AAR and there will always be some who visit and comment. It's a beautiful synergy and you may meet interesting people.
- Enter your work in a competition or at least visit the entries here. Not only does it encourage competitiveness among the writers, it also forces them to step up their game and improve on their skills. You will also be confronted with other writing styles and other stories, which might in turn enrich your own narration.
- Visit the mod forum if you are using a mod and participate in the discussions going on there. Chances are higher you will find people who will be interested in your writing. A player of Europa Barbarorum is more likely to read a story with EB in it than read a story about Napoleon and his grand armée in Russia.
As a new writer you also have to keep in mind that there are many people viewing the forums as visitors. This means they are not a member and so cannot post their comments or leave rep/feedback. I'm afraid we writers will never know what they think since TWC does not allow visitors to post a message. Many views does not mean many members have read your story but did not leave a comment. I found this frustrating in the beginning as I had 1000 views but only 25 or so comments until I found out that TWC garners much attention from non-members. Don't let this demotivate you!
On a final note there is a special type reader who will follow your AAR avidly but not leave any comments. I received quite some rep from this kind of reader and I'm sure I'm not the only writer who experienced this.
A last suggestion I have for the aspiring writers is to interact with your readers. Involve them in the story, answer their questions and make them feel like a part of the future of the AAR. Without your readers the story is just text on a screen so appreciate them like I do.
Stories need to grow just like trees. They need a root (setting stage of your AAR), they need water and sunlight (new chapters) and they eventually die (conclusion of a story). Think of your characters as people and the story will easily come to you. A prince whose father died might be in need of a father figure? An heir who was disinherited might feel resentment towards the leader (good for a background story)? Your empire could become corrupt when your treasury is over a million. Incorporate these details from your campaign into your story and you can invent the rest from then on...the sky is the limit!
You only stand out in a crowd if you're different. The same can be said of writing AARs and I've found some ways to obtain a kind of originality which my readers seemed to appreciate. I made some custom ancillaries to better represent the specific roles the characters have. You don't have to look back to read what this general was doing again because you can just look at his ancillary and you see "ah this man is the commander of Judaeans". It was quite the trial-and-error before I got them up and running but I feel they add a unique feel to the AAR, something which I suspect will garner you much praise and attention from your readers. Always strive to try something different from the mainstream writing.
6. Maintaining interest
How to keep the literary flame burning? How to keep going with your AAR and maybe finish it one day? Many AARs have been started but they often don't get further than four-five updates. The writers usually lose interest in the story or the mod/game they are playing.
I'm no different and have thought a few times about abandoning my AAR altogether. How to avoid losing interest?
- I never write a new chapter when I don't want to. You can't write a good chapter if you'd rather be doing something else.
- I write down good ideas I get during the day (when away from computer) and develop them later.
- I look up some history on my mod/time period to keep the interest alive. I have been playing as the Ptolemaic kingdom and I found that many civil wars were fought between family members and even siblings. I included a little conflict in my AAR, which one reader found entertaining as it was historically justified.
- I engage in other areas than writing. When taking the pictures for your AAR, edit them a bit and upload them in a "Post your picture"-thread. See if people like it and if they offer advise on how to improve them. This kind of feedback will inspire you to carry on with the AAR.
I hope this little article of mine has inspired people a bit. I wrote mainly from a personal experience and I wanted to portray the difficulties and joys of writing an AAR for the first time. More experienced writers are invited to comment on it or even refute everything I've said I hope you found this an interesting read and with that I conclude my humble contribution to the Critic's Quill.
Regaining the Drive to Write by Thokran (Critic's Quill #26)
Before I begin, I’d like to introduce you to a certain scene in Black Hawk Down. A battalion of Army Rangers were sent on a mission to extract a group of important Somali officials deep within a hostile district in the capital city of Mogadishu. The Rangers used surprise and speed to their advantage, catching the Somali militias off guard and using the momentum of their attack to make a quick extraction. Then, just as the mission starts coming to a close, a Black Hawk helicopter is shot down, and the Rangers are now tasked with a rescue mission to save those aboard the fallen helicopter. By this point, the militias are aware of the attack, and are ready to provide heavy resistance. General Garrison, the commander in charge of the mission grimaces. He sighs in resignation and makes a clear statement.
“We’ve lost the initiative.”
Initiative is what drives AARtists to start writing in the first place. It’s what motivates and drives them to provide a solid start to what they hope is going to be a great story. But what happens when that initiative is lost and you find yourself bogged down by a lack of will and time? Like a train derailed, it falls to you to find out how to get back on the tracks.
Losing the initiative happens to the best of us. Whether it’s writer’s block or just a stressful workload that keeps you busy for a few weeks, it is inevitable that your AAR will hit some sort of speed bump along the way that halts its progress. Losing the initiative can lead to a lack of motivation to continue the AAR, and this is how many stories meet their untimely end. So then, how can you will yourself to continue on with this AAR you were once really pumped up about? How do you regain the motivation you once had to write? How do you get back on the tracks? Below are a few tips that you may find useful in keeping your AARs alive.
1. Re-read your AAR: Sometimes it is easy for us to lose track of what we originally set out to do by writing our AARs. In such times, re-reading your AAR has many benefits to helping you get back on track. Reading through your own work helps jog your memory of what you’ve written so far, and provides you with an urge to finish or continue what you started with. Re-reading is also helpful in that it provides you another opportunity to look over any spelling or grammar mistakes you may have made the first time around, in essence giving your AAR an extra coat of polish and shine.
2. Think of your Readers: Every established AAR has some sort of following, no matter how big or small. Readers are very important in that they provide you with the support and feedback that AARtists use to continuously use to improve upon their own work. If you have many readers, keep them in mind. In the end, it’s your AAR and only you can motivate yourself to write – but knowing that you have a good following of readers who enjoy your work really helps you to get that motivation going.
3. Change the Pace: Sometimes a change of pace is the best thing you can do to reinvigorate your will to write. If you have writer’s block, try working on a different side story as a way to get you back in the mood to write again. Beer Money did just that not too long ago when he wrote A Man Possessed: A Fallout AAR. He himself admitted how that story helped him get back on track in writing his Hungary AAR, which he’s been working on for well over a year now. Sometimes a change of pace in updates is all that’s needed. Perhaps you’re no longer able to update bi-weekly as you used to do so before. That’s ok, your readers will understand if real-life obligations keep you from updating so often. AARs are meant to be flexible, so there tends to be no problem if bi-weekly updates turn into weekly or monthly updates.
4. Take a Break: Again, life has a way of burning even the best of us out. That’s perfectly fine. Sometimes, the best course of action is to simply take a break from writing altogether and focus on other pursuits. You may find that by doing so, you start regaining the urge to write you once had. Breaks, just like changes of pace, are normal within an AAR and do not necessarily spell death for your AAR.
5. Self-Motivation: So what do you do if you don’t have many followers, or you just can’t seem to get back into your story, even after having re-read it? What if changing the pace or taking a break just doesn’t seem to work? At that point, you have to consider just how much you want to continue your AAR or not. This is where your own self motivation comes into play. After all, it is YOUR story – it is up to you to determine whether a story is worth finishing or not. I myself had that issue early in my writing career with my second AAR, Heaven’s Descent. I was ultimately unable to continue with the story due to having lost the game files, but I perpetually suffered from a lack of will throughout that story’s short lifespan. There may be times where you feel that it’s better to cut your losses and start anew. That too is alright. A story can’t be forced out all the time, lest you want the quality to suffer. In the end, you are the author of your own story, and you are the one in charge of evaluating whether or not a story has both the promise and determination of its author needed to keep it going strong.
The above were just a few tips commonly used to keep an AAR going strong, even when initiative, drive and motivation are at an all time low. They are by no means the only ones, but they are definitely some of the most commonly used methods, and are definitely worth keeping in mind. The great thing about these pointers is that they are all interrelated. Tip 4 has an effect on your readers, which in turn affects how you go about Tip 2. In essence, all these pointers are all part of a greater state of mind that all writers go through when they think about how to go about continuing their story.
Remember that in the end, it is ultimately you who determines the future of your story. As the author, you’re the one who gets to decide whether or not continuing an AAR is worth it or even possible, given the circumstances you’re put into. I hope that by identifying these factors, this article can provide some sort of guidelines for AARtists who may have lost their way and are unsure of the fate of their story. Thank you for reading, and I wish all of you the best with your AARs!
The character limit has been reached, which is a good thing as it shows that many people write about writing. The second part of "Tips and thoughts" can be found here. The third part is here.