Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Writing better battle reports – Part 1 of 2 - Perspective

Unfortunately I’m on site at the moment and cannot play out the next lot of events on Day 5 of the All Things Zombie campaign so I thought I’d do something a bit different.
Recently I started thinking about how to improve my writing style, so I read a couple of books on how to write better stories and novels. This is the first of a two part summary on what I’ve learned so far.
One of those books has a section on the difference between writing a story and writing a report and that got me thinking. My All Things Zombie Day 2 journal was written over four sessions and during those sessions I changed the way it was written quite a lot. As a result, it suffered from being disjointed and inconsistent. I know now if I am going to improve my future All Things Zombie journal entries I need to put more thought into the way I’m going to write them.
The Pathfinder journals I’d previously written are half way between a story and a report. The battles themselves are documented in a matter of fact way, technical and tactical, very report like. The journal entries between the battle reports are more like a story. I’m happy with they way they turned out as I think that format works quite well for a D&D style campaign journal.
But for a horror RPG, which is more about survival than heroics, I believe a journal with more emphasis on story and feelings rather than a report of the facts, will be more atmospheric and tense, more in line with the genre.
That got me to thinking about perspective. If I am going to improve the form of my journals, the place to start is to pick a perspective and try to stick to it. There are two main types of perspective, first and third.
First Person Perspective. Written directly from the perspective of the main character of the story. It uses the “I” narrator. For example, “I saw this”, “I did that”. Only what the main character sees or does is reported.
Third Person Perspective. Written from the perspective that the writer can go anywhere and can report anything. It uses the “he/she/it” narrator. The writer can get inside the head of those in the story and describe how they are feeling as well as what they are seeing and doing. For example, “She saw that”, “He feels that”. There are three main sub-categories of third person perspective:
·        Omniscient Third Person Perspective: The writer may go anywhere and get into the head of any character. This is the most god like of all the third person perspective. The writer knows everything.
·        Limited Third Person Perspective. The writer may still go anywhere but now may enter the head of a limited number of characters. This style has retained most of the flexibility of the omniscient style but this style provides for greater focus. The story will be concentrated on a relatively small number of characters and their endeavours.  
·        Sole Third Person Perspective. The writer may still go anywhere but is restrained to getting into the head of only one character. This works well where the story is predominantly focused on one character or where the characters in the story tend to stay together.
First person perspective feels too restrictive for my All Things Zombie campaign. I want to be able to describe events outside of the direct visibility of the main character and what to write about what the main character is feeling. If I used this perspective, the story will end up being very one dimensional and all too focused on the main character. I want something a little broader, with more flexibility and with the ability to describe the feelings of the main character as well as what he and others see and do.
The campaign is very personal with many of the characters being people I know. Amanda, my missus, Dave, her brother, Steve, a friend and Officer Girle, who was unfortunately killed on Day 2, are all real people. I don’t think I can effectively write what they are feeling on their behalf. I also think that I need to keep the story relatively fast paced and dealing with the feelings of multiple characters will slow the story down.
I’ve decided to use Sole Third Person Perspective. This will enable me to directly write about the feelings of the main protagonist, ie me, without trying to directly write about what others are thinking. I can still ‘show’ what they are thinking but I’ll do that through the characters actions rather than through their thoughts.
In the next summary, I’ll conclude with some of the techniques that I’ve read about and how I’m going to apply them.


  1. This is a fascinating post, Tim, and I can totally get why you want to change your writing style. Your Pathfinder articles are very well written and the style you've chosen for them suits them fine. But I agree that ATZ requires a different style of writing.

    When I began my "The Ace of Spades Campaign" for my WOIN blog, I thought long and hard about how to present it. In the end I went with your Omniscient Third Person Perspective because I was dealing with a cast of 13 PCs who tend to split up and go off in different directions. I could have focussed solely on Kimberley because she is the captain and the main character but that felt wrong to me. Making the campaign with a narrative driven focus made it feel more like writing a sci-fi novel and I think that approach works well for it.

    For an ATZ campaign where you're playing a character based on yourself then the best options are either the First Person Perspective or the Limited Third Person Perspective. Either one would work.

    It is really good to see you giving this so much thought. It is so rare to see such thought provoking articles as this one and I'm very glad to see you sharing your thought processes with us. Many thanks.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Bryan. Your Ace of Spades Campaign is huge and, in my opinion, you're right to use the Omniscient Third Person Perspective. So many opportunities for you to explore a lot of interesting situations and characters.

      I'm putting together the next article at the moment. It'll probably take a few days to finish off but hopefully you find that interesting too

      It's such a rich medium that we work with by using a blog. It's semi interactive with the audience, there is a combination of pictures and text but no motion nor sound. I'm really enjoying the experience of trying to get the most out of the medium.

      It's a great way to connect with like minded people and to share stuff.

  2. I can only agree with Bryan's comments Tim, and add my thanks for writing the post!
    I'll be totally honest and admit that I just haven't given a moments thought to the subject, obviously I've read lots of other gamer's AAR's and batreps, and subconsciously imitated them (or elements from them) - AND IT SHOWS!
    You've really set me to thinking seriously about this topic, and I WILL be making more of an effort with my future reports, and for that sir, I thank you!

    1. Hahaha that's alright Greg, it was your ATZ campaign that got me re-thinking about what I could do with my blog and the limited time. It was your blog along with Zomtober that re-kindled my interest in ATZ. I've read your campaign journal a couple of times and have stolen....err been inspired by some of your techniques. I hope that's ok.

  3. DEW, what a very thoughtful post that has mademerefelcton how I writemy own action reports (though there have been so few of late).
    I must admit not to lking 'hearing' what the various charcters say in the various desiptions of play, probably mostly because I'm not a big fan of prose nor am I any good at it!
    I like reading aars as reports, staing charcaters action rather than their motives (other than tactical perhaps)
    I'll have to think more on this very though-provoking post for a while yet though.

    1. Thanks Joe. One of the things that I really enjoyed about the Pathfinder/D&D campaign journal was the tactical write ups. It was a hell of a lot of fun playing those combats out blow by blow and recording it with as much graphical richness that I could muster and then supporting it with a tactical description.

      I really enjoy old school D&D modules to do that with because, back in the day, there wasn't a great sense of the individual characters needing to survive to get through the module but rather the challenge was to get the party through. Deaths were expected. And that, in my opinion, makes it exciting both as a player and as a reader.