Tales of Terror Submission Guidelines
If you're planning on writing a Tale of Terror for me, here are the guidelines:
The Golden Rules
All Tales of Terror
follow these five Golden Rules. If you can't follow these, you don't get in.
- Length: Tales of Terror are short. I am not interested in complicated plots of world domination - I want concise ideas and flashes of inspiration.
- Statistics: Tales of Terror do not have time or space for statistics. Any mention of Hit Points and the like will be mercilessly purged. GMs are usually pretty smart - they can invent statistics as they need them.
- Possibilities: Tales of Terror have three endings or possibilities. Not two, not four. Three. The possibilities themselves don't have to describe different variations - they could describe how the Tale might be encountered. Possibilities that just say "As option 2, but this time . . ." are not regarded favourably. Think. Be original!
- Coherent: This one should be obvious. If I can't understand what's going on or if there are vast yawning chasms in your logic, then it won't get much further than my e-mail in-box.
- Attachments: I don't like attachments - they harbour viruses and madness. So please don't send me an attachment in an email as I will probably delete it without checking. Use the submission form instead!
- System: Tales of Terror started out as a vehicle for ideas for Call of Cthulhu - but I'd now rather expand it for any system. (In fact, my preference is "systemless" as they can usually be fitted in to any game.)
So What Makes A Good Tale of Terror?
Following the Golden Rules guarantees that I will use your Tale, but there is a difference between an acceptable Tale and a good Tale. Of course, "good" is a relative term - you may have other preferences. That's okay, as long as it follows the Golden Rules, it's in.
I'll start with the bad points.
- Obscure Settings: If you are going to write a Tale of Terror, why limit its usefulness by setting it somewhere obscure? A Tale that can be applied anywhere, to anyone, is much more interesting than one set in 1936 Belgrade.
- Newspaper Articles: Newspaper articles do not a good Tale of Terror make. Unfortunately, when I first produced Tales of Terror I did not realise this and the first collection was, sadly, full of them.
- GM Advice: Not only can GMs invent statistics, they know how to best use Tales of Terror. So if your Tale features a strange Egyptian relic, you don't need to explain that the characters stumble across the relic through a friend, in a will, at an auction, in the news, or whatever. Just describe your Tale and let the GM decide how best to fit it into his or her game.
- Grammar: Coherency is one thing, grammar is another. I don't have time to correct grammar and punctuation. I may correct obvious flaws, but you aren't doing yourself any favours if you don't check your grammar. (See also the tips below.)
- Scenarios: Converting scenarios into a Tale of Terror doesn't really work - there isn't enough room for heavy plotting. I based The Midlock Dragons on a scenario I ran and it made a much better scenario than it did a Tale of Terror.
And here are the good points.
- In Your Face: I really like live, active and nasty Tales of Terror. Tales are well suited to this sort of personal horror.
- Things: I find that limiting yourself to a thing (place, person, event, object and so on) produces an interesting Tale. These also fit into an existing game easier than situations or scenarios.
- Can I use it anywhere? Here's an acid test that many of my favourite Tales pass - can I use it straight away, in the game I'm currently running? (I might not want to, but can I?) And if I'm not playing a horror game and it still passes the test, that's even better!
- Possibilities: Don't think of the possibilities as a burden, consider them an opportunity. Good Tales have diverse possibilities, unrelated to each other.
Having recently completed editing More Tales of Terror, I've noticed that I've been making certain edits time and again. So, to help reduce my workload next time I do this, here they are.
Will: Watch out for the word "will" - it can often be deleted. For example, The bomb will explode in thirty minutes would be better as The bomb explodes in thirty minutes. Punchier, sharper.
Very: Awful word - avoid using it at all costs. You can usually come up with a better synonym - for example: very big = immense, vast, huge; very bright = blinding, dazzling, actinic; and so on.
There are: Avoid starting a sentence or clause with "there are" if you can help it. The sentence can usually be rewritten so that it is stronger: There are three hungry shoggoths waiting impatiently in the basement is better as Three hungry shoggoths wait impatiently in the basement.
Wasted Words: Look out for wasted words - some examples:
- Jane managed to open the jar is better as Jane opened the jar.
- Crowley then decided to perform the ritual is better as Crowley then performed the ritual.
- The byakhee succeeded in killing Joe is better as The byakhee killed Joe. Same thing.
- Robert was able to escape is better as Robert escaped.
Omit Unnecessary Words: Unnecessary words pad out a sentence without adding content, making your writing seem weak and flabby. Using fewer words is generally better. For example, If the investigators look in the box, they will find a severed head is better as Looking in the box reveals a severed head or even The box contains a severed head.
(Incidentally, the above points all come down to the difference between "active" writing and "passive" writing.)
Grammar checker: Most word processors come with a grammar checker. While you need to treat these with a pinch of salt, it’s worth running them to see what they throw up. I learned a few things when I first started using them.
Numbers: Numerals ten and below are generally written out in full. More than ten and just write the number in numerals.
Follow the rulebook: Check your spelling and (particularly) capitalisation. For example, in Call of Cthulhu it’s investigator, not Investigator and deep ones not Deep Ones. Check the appropriate rules if you’re not sure.
Other sources of style and grammar: I recommend dipping into Jack Lynch’s grammar and style guide. I’ve not worked my way through the whole set, but I can’t find anything to disagree with what I’ve read so far. If that fails, he has links to other sites.
There. Easy, eh? Now, send me some Tales of Terror!