By Steve Hatherley
Note - this was written after I edited The Highgate Club following Peaky 2010. It probably also applies following any playtest.
Here's the post-Peaky writing process as I see it.
- Collect all feedback
- Agree workload
- Improve game
- Go through the feedback and beef up the existing plots
- Create new plots
- Enhance the weaker characters
- Create new characters
- Proofread plots
- Assemble character sheets and other files
- Playtest again!
1 Collect all the feedback
This usually consists of a mixture of run-time notes, and direct feedback from players. If you're lucky, players will email you with their thoughts.
As far as Peaky goes, the best place for getting some of that feedback is simply talking to people on the Sunday evening.
2 Agree workload and decide how you're going to manage the files
Before you can start improving the game, you need to agree who is going to do what. Who is going to tackle which plots or characters? You also need to decide who is going to resolve any disagreements. At some point you will disagree, and if you can't come to some kind of amicable arrangement then someone needs to have the authority to decide.
In my experience, what tends to happen is that one person will take the lead on improving the game and they will drive in the process. They then become the de facto leader.
(If you're not going to get involved in the post-writing process, you must let go. If you're not putting the effort in to improve the game, you don't have a right to criticise if the game moves away from your vision. It's bound to change - that's the nature of the rewrite.)
If you're doing this as a group, you'll need some sort of collaborative working tool. There are lots of options - from wikis to googledocs to hosting shared files. Just choose something that you're happy with as a group. You will need some kind of collaborative working tool because as you edit one plot, you'll realise that you also need to make an amendment to another plot - which means you'll need easy access to the files.
The other thing that's really, really useful is some kind of deadline. If you don't have a deadline, it's easy to put everything off. But having a deadline for when the game needs to be ready (such as an upcoming convention you've committed to) really, really helps.
And with a deadline, I put in place a series of milestones by when things needed to be completed by, so that we knew we were making progress.
As far as The Highgate Club goes, I took the lead. We used Googledocs, although that wasn't perfect (one of the writers had to create a new account just for The Highgate Club as his existing account didn't work for some reason). Our deadline was Consequences, about 6 months after Peaky (so we had to get a move on).
3 Improve game
If you have followed the Freeform Writing Process http://www.flar.demon.co.uk/freeform/article-freeform-writing-process.html in creating your freeform, then I recommend going back to the plots. I find it much easier to improve a game and plug the holes by working on the plots rather than tinkering directly with the characters. Amending the plots makes it much easier to make large changes to characters - and it also makes it easy to weave new characters into the game.
(Note - if you didn't use freeform writing process, this might not work. I'd love to hear about your approach!)
Change log: I also recommend encouraging that everyone follows the discipline of updating a change log - a journal of the amendments made as the rewriting progresses. This is because it's not always clear what changes have been made, nor why. At Peaky you can just shout across the room to find out why someone has made a particular change - that's not so easy post-Peaky, and a change log is one way of managing changes.
Here's an example of one I set up for The Highgate Club.
|6 June 2010||Steve||Edited plot 2||Gave the inner circles more responsibilities. so moved a couple of characters around. Added a schedule for when elections happen. In part addressing some of the comments in the feedback. I've also added some ritual/ceremony to the proceedings|
|26 May 2010||Steve||Amended the intro text on setting to make it clearer that everyone is weird (or "special") somehow.||See Kath's feedback (also some of Helen's).|
I've split the different types of improvement into four:
3a Beef up the existing plots
3b Create new plots
3c Enhance the weaker characters
3d Create new characters
They can happen in any order (and probably take place at the same time).
3a Beef up the existing plots
It's a rare plot written at Peaky that doesn't need some kind of beefing up or expanding. The approach I take is covered in my Expanding Plots article.
You can use the feedback to identify weak areas in plots as well - but do treat any feedback with caution. Just because something didn't turn out as expected doesn't mean that it was badly written - it may just have been how that game was played.
3b New plots
Sometimes need to add a new plot, sometimes because things become obvious as the re-write progresses. For example, in The Highgate Club it made sense to have a joining-the-club plot to cover when people joined and how they joined, and another plot for where the club's collection of weird artefacts was held.
New plots are written in the same way that the original plots were.
3c Weaker characters
Something I rarely have time to address at Peaky is sorting out the weaker characters. Post-Peaky, there's no excuse.
For The Highgate Club we've been using the trusty plot matrix. You can read more about the plot matrix http://www.flar.demon.co.uk/freeform/article-freeform-writing-process.html
3d New characters
It's always easiest to add new characters at the plot-writing stage when they can be incorporated into the existing plots in the same way as the other characters.
We added one new character in The Highgate Club. There were lots of ideas for adding more, but we ran out of time before the next run.
(An aside, my experience from The Highgate Club is that if you let just one person do most of the work, it's then very hard for others to contribute meaningfully as they don't know what's going on in that person's head. Even with the change log, it's not easy. So you may need to accept that one person is going to do most of the work and live with it. If you can't accept that, then you need to make sure that you're actively contributing so that you don't get left behind.)
4 Proofread plots
Once the plots are complete, they need proofreading. Here are some tips for this:
- Proofreading needs to be done by other people - it's very difficult to proofread your own work.
- As the proofreaders will often have been on the original writing team, they should expect changes. During editing it is inevitable that the plots will twist and turn away from the original work (hopefully whilst retaining the original intent).
- If a proofreader spots a small or obvious mistake, they should just correct it. (If you're using some kind of collaborative tool then you can track those changes anyway.)
- If a proofreader spots something tricker, then they should go back to the author and ask.
This stage doesn't have to take too long - we allowed a week for The Highgate Club.
(And I have to say at this point Googledocs was brilliant for this.)
5 Assemble characters and other files
Once proofreading is complete, then you can start assembling characters and other files. This is done exactly as in Peaky - copy the relevant section from the plot file and paste it into the appropriate file (character file, or contingency envelope file, or whatever).
(It's a bit of a drag to this - I look forward to the day that someone knocks together something that will do this bit for me!)
Once that's done, review each character to make sure that their character sheet flows properly. You may find that a little bit of rewriting is needed to make the character sheet flow. You may also find that plot information is contradictory (eg a character may need to be in two places at the same time for two different plots). As a result, you may need to revisit the plots to sort out any inconsistencies.
(It's best to do this now, while you remember. Otherwise you run the risk of forgetting to amend the plots with the result that for the next iteration of the game, you have the same problem.)
Once you've assembled the characters, another round of proofreading doesn't hurt.
For The Highgate Club, this is the list of files we had
- Character sheets
- Information sheets (of different sorts)
- The cast list
- Contingency envelopes
- GM Handouts
- GM plot summaries
- Name badges
One of the nice things about Googledocs is that you can print directly from it. It's fine for most purposes. If you need complex layout, or weird fonts, then you'll have to export everything into some other software. But for most freeforms, Googledocs should be fine.
The only things that didn't work were the item cards and name badges - so they had to be sorted out outside.
7 Playtest again
As I'm not attending Consequences (I will get there one year, I promise), I handed over the files to those that were running the game.
But, once we get feedback then we'll return to step 1 and start the process again.
Article by Steve Hatherley.