Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trying to avoid saying the same old thing

Article planningWith two articles in the model railway press it seems opportune to say something about the process of writing.

Of the two, the easiest piece to put together was the Hornby Magazine one. Every month I build something, photograph the work as I do it and then write some words. The order of pictures is pretty much decided by the order of construction. I can't cover painting the walls of huts before erecting same or even pulling the bits out of the bag.

Most of my text is in the form of captions and those are simply descriptions/explanations of whatever is going on in the photo. I make a point of highlighting any potential pitfalls I'm aware of and how to bodge your way out of them. There is also a few hundred words introducing the piece but even there it's pretty logical. My biggest challenge is to try and avoid being too boring. Apparently this is quite difficult and finding people who can do it is harder than you'd think.

The ModelRail article was a tougher. Layout descriptions tend to all sound the same. For many years editors have learnt to dread the phrases "Baseboards were built using the usual methods" and "Wiring is a bit of a mystery to me". Sadly it's really easy to produce pretty much exactly the same article as everyone else has done - with only a couple of thousand words to cover many months of work you end up missing out all the detail which reduces things to "I had an idea made some baseboards put some track down wired it up did some buildings and some green stuff then ran trains on it". Interesting articles (and even blog posts) tend to be about details. These are also a heck of a lot more useful to the reader who actually wants to know how to do something.

Nowadays you'll notice that many descriptions, especially in the more finescale publications, tell you very little about how anything was made and instead focus on the builders inspiration. Apparently we need to understand the motivation behind a model railway more than the dirty hands end of the hobby. I suppose this makes a change from the dreadful fake histories that we used to have imposed on us many years ago.

In an effort to get around the problem I used a method of planning learnt at a course I was sent on by a job several employers ago. They were supposed to be teaching me how to write reports, in fact I learned loads about producing articles (Insert joke about readers wondering if I was paying attention at this point). The trick is to produce a spider diagram starting with a rough title, then spread out to the main topics and finally break these down into sub-sections. Once happy, it's a good idea to do this at work as you can leave it and come back to it occasionally when your mind wanders from employment to something interesting, then take all the stuff in bubbles and try to write a list in some sort of sensible order. Then all that is required is to fill in the bits between the lines and voila - a beautifully written article.

Incidentally, what IS the usual method of building baseboards ?

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