Lessons from writing the warlock column

CFN-style (first draft) because why not.

So the long story short is Alternative Chat suggested Blizzard Watch do some “how to play your class/spec” class columns and I said “yeah ok but you’d do better to go to the Wowhead guides for that info than looking in a class column.”

I figured I was OK saying this as I’ve written several versions of a class guide. I’ve done it in a class column, I’ve done the Wowhead bullet-y style one, and I’ve done the official strategy guide one. I’ve learned since then that Wowhead/Icy Veins, or the longform bullet-y or entirely in-depth guide, is the way to go for most people.

Alt Chat’s argument for class columns was because they felt different. I’m assuming she speaks to the spirit of the class column, because the column writers typically play that class and their enthusiasm shows through their writing.

Yes…and no. Writing a class column is not so simple as stuffing information into 1500 correct words. And learning how to love your class of choice isn’t just about how to mechanically play it.

Class guides are massive

So back up the Twitter feed, I was talking with @Sveltekumquat about saving all your writing ideas and I linked a screenshot of my warlocks binder of Scrivener. Scrivener is the writing software I primarily use because I love it because it caters to my organizational needs without being a complete pain in the ass to maintain. So @Tikari joins in about how I have “inspiration from Arielle” in my trash, which has been there since I got to write the Wowhead boost 90 warlock guide (which became the 100 warlock guide when Warlords of Draenor launched).

So one of the rules guidelines about getting better at writing is to read everything. Read for pleasure, read for interest, read for being informed, but also read to see what both crap writing and brilliant writing look like.

So, I wanna write guides? I read guides. I read all the class guides, whether or not I have a toon capable of raiding or PvPing or whatever. When we came back to redo level 100 Wowhead guides, I had read all of the other class guides & their comments, because I wanted to see what information they included, how they organized the info, did they use full prose or did they stick to sentence fragments, did they use info for the average player or is this straight from BiS sims, what is this. I read Wowhead guides, I read non-Wowhead guides that were on Wowhead, I read Icy Veins, I read Icy Veins forum guides, I read blog guides. I read pet battle guides, I read SC2 guides, I read LoL guides, I read GW2 guides, I read textbooks, I read WikiHow guides, …

I won’t say I’ve read every guide there ever was, but I read guides so I can write guides. I am also the daughter of teachers (who are themselves the children of teachers) so I just have in my DNA I guess to explain things to people in such a way that said things are no longer intimidating and look actually possible if not enjoyable to do.

“Inspiration from Arielle” is a notes-y kind of text file where I have comments on Arielle’s TiB bear forum guide. Why? Because it’s one of my favorite guides when I look for elements of guide writing that I like. It’s neat, it’s clean, it’s compact as far as not rambling around like I tend to do, it’s informative, it’s in-depth, it’s…maaaaaaaaaan, I love this guide.

So from reading all this stuff, especially when I read different guides of the same stupid topic, I learn that there’s a lot of ways to organize things differently. One way isn’t correct all the time, and when it comes to online stuff at least, it generally depends on the format the guide comes in rather than what the guide is on.

When I first got to write the Wowhead warlock guide, it was the first time I’d write a whole class guide. I mean, I’d attempted to write parts of a guide on my own blog, but I never got around to finishing anything, so this was my first complete class guide.

I felt incredibly overwhelmed for a lot of the time I tried to write that guide. I felt like I wasn’t going to do a good job, that I was missing something, that I wasn’t going BiS enough, that I was going TOO BiS, that I wasn’t organizing it correctly, how can like Arielle & Theck & others do these things, the fuck, I’m so terrible. All those things down the rabbit hole. It wasn’t until I was doing the theorycrafting homework with Theck’s Theorycrafting 101 that I realized part of my feeling overwhelmed problem.

Most of the guides that I really admire for guide construction come from hybrid class writers. Which makes a little bit of a difference because they are usually covering a single spec whereas I was trying to cover three.

That’s one of the things that many hybrid mains miss about pure DPS classes, I feel. Pure DPS can’t really be competitive as just one spec. You have to learn all three, or at least two, and you need to be able to do both/all competently if not very well. There’s overlap because it’s the same class and therefore we get the united class feeling — though, less so for warlocks. The core abilities or cooldowns of a rogue may share across specs, but since warlocks have that weird thing of three completely separate resource systems, we actually have zero overlap except for Corruption (aff & demo) and pets.

But pure DPS are weird — we have different specs, but the same role. So you need to explain three different ways of executing the same role. Most people think this is “well, you press 222222222 and stuff dies and then you WIN how hard can it be?” Or the “well EVERYONE plays DPS, how hard can it be?”

OK, baseline DPS is not that hard. But good DPS, excellent DPS, DPS that inspires? That’s a little bit more ambiguous.

The three different ways is a lot easier to lay out & explain than the overarching concept of “here’s how to generally go about DPSing so you can figure out what spec works better when.” Tanks and healers get the hard-to-explain “meters are kinda crap for judging us” that’s pretty obvious, and generally pride themselves on having to know an encounter to get their job done rather than just pushing buttons in a specific order. DPS get the “I have to figure out which of my specs is better for this particular situation so I can figure out which of the three rotations I should be doing.”

So I’m trying to write a unified guide of three totally different specs, but put it in the space where one-spec guides go. Holy unrealistic expectations, Batman.

My Wowhead guide is about 3,000 words, give or take. Bullet/sentence fragment style, intended audience is fresh L100 alts.

My official Draenor Strategy Guide section was just under 10,000 words. Prose style with spell tables, intended audience is newbie players.

Arielle’s guide is about 6,000 words, prose/bullet style, I’m guessing intended for raiding bears, whether new or old.

Class columns are 1000 words minimum (to be justified by what you get paid for them) to 1500 words max.

Why 1500 words? Blizzard Watch Editor-in-Chief (& co-owner) Alex Ziebart actually explains this on the Blizzard Watch podcast Episode #1. Too long; didn’t listen? — It’s a general reading attention span thing. If you for some reason think this is a horseshit explanation for us to continue doing an old constraint, you can go look at what Medium’s been doing to analyze how posts get completely read & what makes a most viewed post.

YES the caveat is that this isn’t a direct correlation with the quality of the post, just how many views you get. But that’s not how business with ads works. You can’t take the writing out of the business of writing and judge it purely on the romanticized Great Writing vacuum. Paid writing is very much about the volume of people consuming your work as well as how good/useful your work actually is.

Which means this rant is probably going nowhere because it’s so goddamn long. Oh well.

Anyway.

The point I’m making is that BW class columns are hella limited spaces for full class guides, especially when read by players who are used to multipost forum guides or sites like Icy Veins. It took me 4 articles on WI (here’s one) to do a whole class guide — one post for each of the 3 specs & then 1 general “which spec do I play when” type. You’re asking a lot of the class columnist when you ask this and, let’s face it, you’re probably going to be disappointed anyway because it’s going to be short/brief/not the glorious in-depth solves-all-your-problems thing you were hoping it was going to be.

Series are dailies not weeklies

I like series of things. I like convoluted plot lines in TV shows and books so I can watch and read them over and over again to get new information each time. I like epic book series that have a million different things going on with a hundred different characters and have family trees and shit in the appendices in the back. I love complex media that take multiple times to absorb.

But I learned while writing Blood Pact that series only really work when they’re consumed in a timespace relative to the wordspace they take up.

For example, I expect A Song of Ice and Fire or the entire Lord of the Rings mythology of books to take several months to finish. It’s thousands of pages, it’s going to take a while, so I’m OK with that timespace because the wordspace is also relatively huge.

4 columns = 6000 words. That’s like, what?, come back here, Medium, ok here it is, average reading rate of an adult is 275 words per minute. So 6000 words is roughly 21 minutes of reading.

Except, it’s a weekly column, so it takes you about 43,200 minutes (30 days * 24 hours * 60 minutes) to finish those 21 minutes.

Don’t do that.

Because blogging posts end up being relatively short (to keep up with the short online attention span of reading articles), you have to have quicker posts in order to keep a series connected. Which is why you have news every hour or 1-2 class columns per day. It keeps you from going “hey, when’s the next part?” too much. We want a little bit of that so you’ll come when the next part releases, but too much and people get bored or angry or both.

I remember Alex emailing us once, because the class columnists were all doing one little series or another within their columns, and he was like “stop, it’s not really worth it.” And I remember, I was silently like “yeah but I’LL get it to work because MY EGO KNOWS BEST” and then …

It doesn’t work.

Don’t do a series within a weekly column, unless it’s a series of 2. A class how-to guide one per spec is about the only series that works and even that one means only 1/3 of the class is listening at any given time. (“Oh, this week is on destro, I don’t play destro, I don’t care *skip*.”)

You CAN, however, possibly do a once-in-a-bit series within a class column. There’s patch notes, for example, that occur every few months. Loot lists happen every few months. Which spec is currently performing best/worst. Of course, they coincide with content releases, so it’s not a planned series. But you can do these sort of occasional yet categorical column posts that everyone knows is coming and they won’t be mad when you deliver one of those that week.

So you can have a series of one-offs that you do every 4 columns or whatever. But you can’t do a part 1 of X posts series within a column.

Will I ever do warlock soloing guides for the old raids in Blood Pact? Yes, but not in a row. (I’m thinking maybe monthly, since it’ll take me 2-3 weeks to do each spec on my main or an alt — look, I have 2 warlocks, but one is geared and one is quest greens.)

Will I go over how to play a warlock in specific fights? Maybe, but not in a row, and really, I’d probably just do one column of here’s warlock tips on LFR for alts because by the time I figure out all the regular raiding tricks on my main, you probably have, too.

Will I do spec guides? Yeah, if it turns out we’re all doing [Spec] 101 articles across all the class columns and it’s a THING we’re doing. Definitely if it’s a special longer article that’s allowed, because, of course, no more AOL means more freedom. But that’s ultimately up to the editors. I’ll keep assuming 1500 is my max.

But that’s kind of what the column is for anyway — how to play? — so I’d rather go to my new model of taking a specific bite of a rotation or strategy and analyzing it further. I can build up over time what is essentially a wiki of how to warlock in general so my content both lasts & is useful.

The thing about the Wowhead guide is I have to update it every time we get a new raid tier or significant patch note change. While you can go back and edit blog posts, typically you don’t go back & change months-old posts. (They’re also rather useful left as is, because then you can see where the class went over time. Blog posts make their own historical record, it’s great.)

How to play a class is not the same as how to love a class

Alternative Chat spoke to the feeling of the columns. This is what everyone’s generally been saying since Blizzard Watch resurrected from the ashes of WoW Insider. That BW/WI was always different from MMO-C or Wowhead or Icy Veins or even from regular blogs, because it was a concentrated spot of soul even when delivering the hourly news.

That’s not wrong. In fact, I agree, and further, I want to continue that.

But that’s not the same conversation as choosing the right words to meet a wordcount.

Telling me to write a class guide in a column because the soul of the class columns is what brings people is like saying my skill at playing demonology in a raid scales with how awesome my transmogrification is. You can be awesome at playing demo and you can have an awesome transmog, but one does not necessitate the other.

Really, any monkey who can run Simulation Craft, or look at spell tooltips, or spend 15 minutes on a training dummy, or run things on the PTR, or …any monkey can tell you how to play a class.

Well, not every monkey can do the science/coding/math behind the class mechanics, just to be clear that I’m not dissing theorycrafting here. That stuff is complex when it comes to figuring out exactly which questions to ask & I /salute to those who do it.

But any monkey can go read the conclusions by theorycrafters and dress it up in a guide.

Not every monkey can inspire you or otherwise get you to love a class. That’s the part that comes from the heart, and that’s the part that has to happen over every article in a class column.

You can do it with one-offs — I did soul a lot of the time by doing my narratives. The Kanrethad one comes to mind. And I still catch flack for it; my narrative stuff always had one or two comments about how it felt like it was some personal diary or blog rather than something “worth” being in the column.

One of the things I experimented with was the narrative loot list. Sure, you can argue I’m not doing much — I’m basically finding all the Wowhead links for whatever’s in the Dungeon Journal loot list. I’m hardly even telling you which piece to pick up. Strictly content speaking, it’s a bit of a fluff piece that takes some tedious work to put together.

But the way I do it — that’s what people like about it. I crack puns with the loot, I diss mages with the loot models, I frame the specs against each other with whether a piece is crappy or not based on the stats. I sometimes use the loot in a brief mention of the boss’s strategy, like making the obvious joke on running away from something while linking some leg slot piece.

There’s a mini poem in my BRF one. Just you wait.

Why did I even try to do a prose-y loot list? Why not contribute some actual info about best-in-slot pieces? Because I got bored reading bulleted loot lists. I got bored writing them — it’s just copypasta central that puts me to sleep. I still have to copy loot links with my narratives, but it’s more fun to figure out which words I’m going to link instead of just the same, old, boring loot name.

I also wanted to experiment with writing in short bursts without losing much meaning. As you can probably tell by now, I am bad at writing briefly. Having to do an entire raid instance in one post means each boss only gets about maximum 75 words each to cover all of its loot.

14 bosses in Throne of Thunder + 2 world bosses: 1200 words. Actual post: 1243 words.

16 bosses in Siege of Orgrimmar: 1200 words. Actual post: 1110 words. (shorter?!!! Fuck yes!)

But the secret that everyone simultaneously knows and doesn’t know about writing is that when you have fun writing, the reader has fun reading. When it’s a chore, it shows, when it’s fun, it shows. I had the most fun when I was doing ludicrous things like “so, I need to write a boss strat for Kanrethad. But this fight is SO AWESOME how can I show this CAN I ROLEPLAY THIS why not.”

Do you like reading a pamphlet about a place or do you like going on a museum tour? I far prefer the museum tours with enthusiastic tour guides and I bet you do, too, so I’m not going to write about the most efficient way to solo Karazhan in the fastest time possible, I’m going to tell you to do silly non-technical things like look at the ceiling while clearing Opera trash in whichever spec you like playing.

(Seriously, look at the Opera house ceiling. It’s the best.)

I love my warlock when it’s the best class. I love my warlock when it’s the worst class. If you’re just here for the shinies and the numbers, that’s fine, whatever floats your boat, but my hope is that you continue reading Blood Pact for the fun and flavor and because I make a good read, not because I make some bookmarkable rotation lists once or twice an expansion.

 

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Lessons from writing the warlock column

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