I posted last Friday about how I was going to write a 5,000-word adventure over the weekend. How did it go? Somewhere right between "okay" and "good." Here's the rundown.

As I mentioned, I knew that the introduction would be about 500 words (it's 430) and the final ambush encounter would be about 1,000 words (it's 1,130). On Saturday, I wrote all of that, then I started writing in more detail about the ogre keep. (Remember, the middle part of my adventure was divided up into "ogre keep" and "subterranean rooms"). By the time I turned in on Saturday, I had written all the ogre keep material. That seemed pretty good to me: introduction, ogre keep, and ambush conclusion. I had about 6 encounter areas in the middle still to write. I checked before signing off and had....5,000 words. Yikes. My word count was already up, and I wasn't done! By my best estimate, I was 75% done, but had no more space for words.

So, I thought on this overnight. What went wrong? Three things: 

Map Too Complicated. My map had too many encounter areas in it. Even those areas that don't have a fight or anything still eat up words to describe them and add an interesting thing or two. I should have had about 10 total areas, not 14. Those would include about 7 experience-generating encounters, instead of the 9 or so I have. 

Stats Too Many. In Paizo products, we don't include stat blocks for monsters out of the Bestiaries. You can just say, "it's a wraith, see page XX of the Bestiary" and call it good. But for third-party press (3PP) projects, I include all the stat blocks for every monster; it makes it easier to run, and research seems to bear out that the fans like it. Since many of my encounters were "here's an ogre and a winter wolf" or "here's an ogre and his assistant ogre and an elemental lackey he summoned," the stats added up fast and ate heavily into my word count.

Failure to Watch. I didn't actually look at my word count until I signed off on Saturday, which is a mistake. I should have been keeping an eye on this as I went along.

On Sunday, I was determined to finish. I spent most of the morning and early afternoon building a chicken coop (which I'd planned on doing that morning, but woodworking projects, like writing, always take longer than expected!), so I didn't settle in to work until about 4 pm. The first thing I did was to draw the final map. I really wanted to dig into the writing, because I knew it was a problem, but I knew that rushing the map would be a mistake. I dedicated an hour-plus for it. I collapsed a few rooms together to try to minimize the first problem I'd made myself, above, but I didn't do it enough. Here's what my final map looks like:

(The top of that map isn't accidentally cut off; it's intentionally cut off, since that's where I have the map title with some project-identifying information I'd prefer not to share.)

But, once the map was done, I still had to write up several more rooms and didn't have any words to do it with. I first shrunk down my plans for the subterranean encounters to just the bare basics: there are two groups of xorns (one hostile, one peaceful), and the peaceful group can help out with the ambush if the heroes fetch some gems they haven't been able to get for themselves. This required another fight; it seemed that, if it didn't, then the xorns wouldn't need the heroes. Finally, I had a rickety rope bridge on the map that really needed to do something, so I made it a simple trap. Finally, I'd written the ambush encounter with a sliding scale of successes with the xorns to help topple boulders and stuff. I needed to set all that up in the peaceful xorns encounter, too. 

But writing this all succinctly still meant writing it. By late Sunday evening, I was done with the writing, but my adventure was pushing close to 7,000 words. It was hopelessly overwritten. I did a few things to scale it back by eliminating some combatants and combining others, but it wasn't at all enough. My problems from Saturday were really coming back to bite me.

I turned it over to my wife for her skillful editing, and I asked her to cut down about a thousand words if she could. My prose tends to be overwritten a bit anyway, but not that overwritten. Her first suggestion was to cut the entire "xorn subsystem" about earning their aid, and just make it a flat Diplomacy check. That reminded me that I'd told myself I wouldn't have space for any Victory Point-style system here, but I didn't listen to my own advice. I cut that, and a few other things, and pruned it back below 6,000 words. That's still overwritten, and I'll tinker with it a bit more. But I've got until tomorrow, which is the deadline for it. 

What can I learn from this? I thought I might have some advice about this in prior blogs. I searched my archives and came up with this one, which is...not helpful. But it's eerie to think that, 4-1/2 years ago, I had a different 5,000-word assignment for which I'd written 7,000 words. So I haven't learned much in the past 4-1/2 years, is perhaps the advice I should take from myself.