I’d say most Magic players (including myself) have/had attended U.S. public schools and, as such, can probably use all the help they can get, when it comes to writing. If your school was like mine, grammar became a thing of the past as early as seventh grade. Though it is a different subject entirely (one which I am not going to deal with, today), I must say that, overall, the American education system needs a lot of work, on multiple fronts, starting with higher salaries for teachers.
First– decide on a topic. What are you going to write? Is it strategy, theory or community related? Of course, before you can even start to think about anything else, you have to choose one of these. The upside is that this is the easiest part. You get to pick anything that interests you. If this is your first article, you’ll want to pick something you know very well and are passionate about discussing.
Pick a length. Typical articles come in five sizes– 200 words (a tidbit), 500 words (small feature), 1000 words (feature length– imagine one page in a magazine), 2000 words (large feature) and many, many words (extended length article). Usually, we go with feature length, on the internet. Any less and it is hard to develop solid points (they are much better applied to news stories) and any more requires a long attention span, on the part of the reader. Aiming for around a thousand is a safe bet– and not too much work.
Make an outline. I cannot stress HOW important it is to do this. Depending on how proficient a writer you are, this can be a very relaxed process, or a rigorous one. When I use the term“outline,” I’m not talking about a highly formal, presentable work of art– I’m talking about a piece of junk paper with enough room to scribble a few sentences. Some writers have advanced to a point where the outline is produced in his or her head, and never even written down. For most of us, a written outline is a powerful tool. I’m currently writing an article reviewing Nemesis for Scrye, so I’ll share my outline for it, to give you an example of how a little, rough sketch can keep you on track.
(review fading/laccolith/new mechanics)
(summary– tag top cards)
(top 10 list)
See? Nothing extravagant, really. Anyone could come up with that outline– it just gives you reference points, while you continue to plug in paragraphs.
Write your article. For the most part, you want to write the way you talk. As a reader, I want to hear the writer’s voice in his or her words, so that when I finally meet them, I won’t be surprised by the way they sound. A bit of caution here: do not sacrifice the overall quality of your writing to make it sound“authentic.” The writer’s voice is a controlled substance– use discretion to judge how much you use. Too little and you sound like a machine (or newspaper journalist), too much and you sound like a local [insert your local equivalent of“hillbilly”]. Develop your ideas in the order you have planned– take your time. 99% of writers are not able to simply spew quality work, one sentence after another. Be patient– if you get stuck, take a break. Come back to it when you’re feeling better.
Spell-check it! If there is any one thing that keeps people from getting articles published, it is their spelling. It isn’t enough to just run the automatic check, either. The auto-checker will tell you that every Magic-related word is misspelled (mine often tells me to replace Negator with Negatron and Urza with Urea). It also misses“wrong-right-spells” like“loose” instead of“lose.”
Proof read it– because you never want to find out how dumb you sound, sometimes. If you don’t proofread, you’re likely to make very minor mistakes that translate into awkward sentences, or misconstrued ideas. Remember John F. Kennedy– double check you spelling, grammar and usage, so that you don’t end up calling yourself a donut! Getting a friend to read your article can prove invaluable. Two pairs of eyes catch more mistakes than one, especially the one who wrote the mistakes. Reading aloud is an acceptable second, if just a poor substitute. If anything sounds strange… or like something you probably wouldn’t say out loud, fix it.
Watch for common mistakes: most people make some/all of these mistakes when writing. Paying attention to them and correcting them goes a long way towards making your writing appear more professional and relaxed:
Write out your numbers: yeah– if you’ve got the number 23,421– spare us. But for five, fifty or five hundred, you can do it. Look at these sample sentences; which of them looks smoother?
I have 3 Juzam Djinns, 49 Dual Lands and 100 Lava Axes.
I have three Juzam Djinns, forty-nine Dual Lands and a hundred Lava Axes.
Numbers look like capital letters, which clutter up writing. Sentences look a lot better without them. Game two, Turn two… it isn’t really that difficult.
Of course, decklists don’t need to be like this. Also, when discussing a specific card choice in a deck, using the numeral is preferred (e.g. I played 4 Ophidian over 4 Whispers of the Muse), as it looks like you just pulled the listing out of the decklist.
Capitalize properly.“I” should always be capitalized. The first word in sentences should, too. I know you know that– just double check yourself. Some handy programs will do the capitalization for you.
Capitalize card titles. Yeah, they’re proper nouns. Make sure to treat them as such.“Nevinyrral’s Disk” should always look that way, never, ever“nevinyrral’s disk” or“NEVINYRRAL’S DISK” or“Nevinyrral’s disk.” As a corollary, whenever you“verb” a proper noun, it needs to be capitalized, too.“I Disked,” never“I disked.”
Don’t abbreviate. Writing out full words goes a long way towards making yourself look competent. Don’t say Appr., when you could say Apprentice. Use discretion, though– there’s no need to type out Internet Relay Chat, if you’re talking about IRC. Think about it; there’s always a correct way to apply this formula. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, which is why it is separate:
Do not use the letter“u” by itself!
Nothing says“internet punk” like the letter“u.” It’s fine for chatting and such, but don’t bring it into formal writing.“U” is the quickest way to get your article disregarded, the quickest way to incredibility (that’s bad) and the quickest way to prove to the world that you don’t know how to write.
I hope you’ll find these tips helpful not only in your Magic writing, but in your day-to-day writing, as well. If you have any questions about anything, feel free to email me.
Remember, Star City welcomes submissions! If you have something to say, say it.
Contributing Editor, Scrye Magazine
“I AM THE WAY INTO THE CITY OF WOE.
I AM THE WAY TO A FORSAKEN PEOPLE.
I AM THE WAY TO ETERNAL SORROW…
ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.
–Inferno C. III, Dante Alighieri
trans. by John Ciardi”
-Should have been the flavor text on Wrath of God.