The Journey of Your First SCP: Part I - Introduction & Ideation
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PART I:
Introduction & Ideation
PART II:
Narrative & Originality
PART III:
Drafting & Critique

Introduction & Disclaimers

Just as 90% of statistics are made up on the spot, 70% of quotes are misattributed.

— Aristotle

What This Guide is For

As a fairly active member in various satellite SCP communities, new authors often come to me for critique on their ideas, drafts or outlines. I've given the same advice countless times, but I often feel like my advice isn't being understood properly. I've written this guide as a resource for new writers and critters like myself who sometimes find it hard to explain what they mean by "Your SCP is a tool" and "It doesn't matter that your concept isn't original".

This guide is geared towards aspiring authors of the SCP Wiki. It describes the approach that I take to writing my own SCPs and the advice I tend to give to new authors. This is, of course, not the only way to do things and by no means the be-all and end-all of writing SCPs. This is merely my writing process that I wish to share with all of you, since I've found success with it.

How To Use This Guide

Originally, this guide was long. To help compensate the length I have split this guide into three sections. All three are not intended to be read in one sitting. By all means, feel free to do so, but this guide is meant to be read as the author progresses down the path of writing their first SCP.


Selecting Your Idea: Depth vs Complexity

Big ideas are usually simple ideas.

— David Ogilvy

Understanding if your idea is any good is hard. Have you ever tried to explain the plot of your favourite movie to a friend, only to realize that in the process you made the movie sound really dumb?

I believe this is what happens when new authors draft their anomalies. They get their idea, contemplate for a while, come to the conclusion that their idea is poor, and then add more stuff. By the end of the process, the author has something that sounds cool on paper but would be exceptionally hard to pull off in reality.

As a reading exercise, pick the highest rated SCP of this week/month/year. Try to explain, in just a few words, the anomaly. Chances are it's not only possible but incredibly easy. Here are a few examples:

In my experience, ideas that are simple to explain to someone but open a wide array of possibilities are usually the most interesting ones. This idea of simplicity vs the number of possibilities is known in game development as depth vs complexity.

It's important to remember that you're writing against three major forces: the reader's ability to understand your work, the reader's suspension of disbelief, and the reader's patience. It's your job as an author to minimise the negative effects of all of these.

Boredom and confusion are the results of overly-complex design. This can occur by appending too many anomalous effects to your item, or by having too contrived an anomaly.

Intriguing ideas that have many ways to expand on them are deep. Depth is fairly easy to understand and comes naturally to most people: low-depth ideas are just plain boring, while high-depth ideas are meaningful and interesting.

Depth arises from emotions such as interest and attachment, while complexity arises from mental fatigue.

Examples

Type 1: Low Complexity, Low Depth (Boring)

An apple that tastes like an orange

The idea is simple and immediately understandable, meaning there is little complexity, but since the idea can't be interestingly developed easily it isn't very deep. If someone had this idea for an article, it would likely be discarded very early in development.

Type 2: High Complexity, Low Depth (Confusing and Boring)

A 4-dimensional apple (which tastes like oranges)

Since understanding this article is no longer intuitive for the average reader, it's significantly more complex than the previous example. It's important to note that the increased complexity doesn't make the underlying concept any more interesting. It's a detail added for the sake of adding detail rather than making the detail necessary to the narrative.

If there was a purpose to the 4-dimensional aspect of the object, it would be more acceptable.

Type 3: High Complexity, High Depth (Interesting but Contrived)

A 4-dimensional apple (which tastes like oranges) allows the user to access other worlds.

"Portals to another world" are cliche, but for good reason. Other worlds are inherently incredibly deep and have a lot of storytelling potential as the world can be explored, mysteries uncovered, etc. The idea is bogged down, however, by needless complexity. One of the first steps to improving this article would be removing the "4-dimensional" and "tastes like oranges "sections. They don't add to the article in any meaningful way outside of flavour1 and they only act to mentally fatigue the reader.

In the words of an author I don't remember: "If it doesn't add to the article, it subtracts."

These articles sometimes manage to slip past critique and onto the mainsite (and with good reason!): they tend to be the classic "good idea, poor execution" low-vote total articles that appear every so often.

Type 4: Low Complexity, High Depth (Interesting)

An apple that transports the user to another world

This idea, while not perfect, may very well become a valid SCP article. It's easy to understand but still provides substantial storytelling material.

Section Summary

  • Not all ideas are created equal. Some ideas are boring, some ideas are interesting. Keep your interesting ideas, discard the rest.

  • Don't try to salvage a poor idea by adding more stuff to it. Interest isn't increased by complexity, it's increased by depth.

  • Keep it simple. Remove unnecessary sections of your idea.


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