RPG Blogging Tools III: Writing Tips and Sample Setup

This is the conclusion to my three part series on RPG Blogging Tools.  In this installment I provide some basic writing advice, point you to the advice of the experts, and then show you how I set my WordPress blog up.  The rest of the series can be found here:

Writing Tips

There are a lot of resources out there that can improve your writing.  In fact, there are thousands of books and websites devoted to the topic.  In my opinion, the best way to improve your writing is by writing.  The more you write, the quicker you will develop your own style and the more consistent your writing will become.

The Basics

I see RPG Blogging as a mixture of editorial, journalistic, and creative writing, and so certain approaches to writing in this medium work better than others.  I have said before that the best thing a blogger can do is write new, quality content on a regular basis.  “Content is King” is a catchphrase constantly heard in the realm of blogging.

But before anyone will read your amazing article on the history of the icosahedron as a gaming device, you are going to need draw the reader’s attention.  This begins with the title.  The title is the gateway to your article, but you are not done there.  You have to entice the reader to read each consecutive sentence.  The first sentence leads to the second, and the second to the third.  Keep this idea in mind when authoring posts.

Keep posts focused on a single topic and each post should fit within the domain of your chosen niche.  Keep in mind the short attention span of web surfers, so break long articles up over several posts.  You’ll find that many sources say the average amount of time the average reader spends on a page is not much longer than a minute and a half (app. 100 seconds).

Make sure your content is readable and easily scanned.  Break up those walls of text into paragraphs and emphasize keywords by changing the font size, color, or style (bolds, italics, & underlines).  Be sure to proof read your content!  I know I easily get disgusted with poor grammar and spelling (and I find mistakes in my own writing ALL the time!).

Keep your content fresh and beware the echo chamber effect.  Echoes happen easily in the RPG blogosphere because the industry is relatively small and when news from the publishers hits the ripples do not need to travel far before ten or twenty blogs regurgitate it.  Your content doesn’t need to be original, and it probably won’t be.  But you can make it unique by applying your perspective and presenting the information in a way not found anywhere else.

Become an expert on of your particular niche.  Do you specialize in OGL d20 games?  Then research the topic daily.  Know the history, current developments, and future projects in the genre.  Become very familiar with the basic rules and what the trends are when changes are made.  Play the games.  Then write about it and before you know it, the community will confer that title upon you.

Be sure to mix up your sources for articles.  This becomes more difficult the more specialized you are (after all, how many publishers and blogs produce content for Live Action Hentai Cyberpunk Cthulhu?).  It is a matter of credibility I think.

Also, ensure you follow general internet etiquette guidelines.  This means obeying Fair Use doctrine for copyrights and trademarks, citing your sources, and avoiding hot-linking (linking directly to an image, .PDF, or other file on someone else’s site).

My final piece of advice is that blogging shouldn’t become a job.  RPGs make us happy and provide countless hours of entertainment.  So writing about them should be fun too!

Advanced Tips

Since I do not consider myself an expert on the topic of blogging and writing tips, I am not going to say much.  What I will do is provide some links to those I do consider experts on the matter and let you expand your knowledge by reading their excellent posts.

ChattyDM

Phil, the Chatty DM, is perhaps one of the most prolific RPG bloggers, and certainly an influential one.  Just after I started blogging myself, he started a series of articles called, “So You Wanna Write a RPG Blog.”  I am sure it still one of his more popular series and he even invited Berin of UncleBear to do a guest post for the series.

UncleBear

Berin Kinsman (doesn’t that sound like sci-fi/fantasy hero’s name?) has been a mainstay of the RPG blogosphere since before blog was a word.  He has the oldest blog (12 years old?) I am aware of, so he has a lot of experience.  He continued ChattyDM’s series where it left off with his guest post.

The Core Mechanic

Jonathan runs The Core Mechanic, and while only starting his RPG blog in July of this year (2008), I would put him the “bloggers to keep an eye on” category.  He initiated the very successful RPG Blog Carnival (for which I was asked to guest blog for his entry, Skill Challenges of War, in this month’s (December ’08) carnival hosted by Critical-Hits.  He is also working on the Open Game Table: The 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, which should be available early next year!

Living Dice

Trask of Living Dice organized the Bloggers Bloodbath tournament this year which featured bloggers battling it out with each other using d20Pro.  I totally kicked ass in this event using a pre-generated character that was an ECL 10 Centaur Ranger with horseshoes of speed, dual wielded scimitars, and a hawk animal companion.  Trask also created RPGSeek, a customized Google search that only indexes RPG Publishers (which should be VERY useful for article research!).

Yahuda

Yahuda is/was a professional blogger with a keen interest in boardgames.  In fact, he actually created a pretty nifty collection/auction boardgame called, It’s Alive!.  He is also involved with Purple Pawn, a prolific gaming blog.  In the second linked post from Yahuda, he mentions that swapping links (blogrolls) and site design are things that don’t matter.  This may be the case in his experience, but I think these things do matter.  1) Swapping links is a form of networking, and the more friends you have the better.  2) You only have one chance to make a first impression, so site design can be crucial. EDIT: Yahuda responded to my comment on his post and clarified that he does believe networking is important, but he doesn’t swap links just for the sake of swapping links.

Copyblogger

Copyblogger is a blog dedicated to copywriting, which is defined on their site as “the process of writing words that promote a person, business, opinion, or idea, with the ultimate intention of having the reader take some form of action.  Even if that action is a link, bookmark, or a vote at Digg that leads to the traffic you need.”  Ok, so combining wordsmithing with marketing.  There are tons of excellent tips available there, so I will contribute to their bank account by sending more traffic their way.

ProBlogger

Problogger is run by Darren Rowse, a guy who makes six digits as a full time blogger.  This site is just one of many he runs and maintains and this one is dedicated to helping people learn the skills of blogging and has over 3500 articles devoted to the art.  When you read any of the “make money with blogging” articles, keep in mind that our particular niche of RPG blogging, has a significantly smaller audience that some other topics (which means significantly smaller revenue).

My WordPress Set-up

I figured I would give an overview of my WordPress install and show you how I have customized it to make it my own.  I find the earlier you implement some settings and plug-ins, the less of a headache it is later.  For instance, if you wait until you have 100 posts to install All-In-One SEO, it is going to be a pain in the ass to go back and optimize all your old posts.

If you have any questions about how I accomplished something, feel free to leave your question in the comments and I will either answer it there or, for more complicated issues, I’ll email you.  Keep in mind, I am using WordPress v 2.5 (I know I’m behind the power curve!) but I am getting ready to migrate to the new 2.7 release.

Theme

I shanghaied Design Blog‘s Modern Marvel theme and put it to work on my blog.  I have made some simple adjustments to the theme, such as shrinking the width of the sidebar to allow more room for the content (because content is king!).  I want to make the content area even wider.

I also made the search, category, and tag pages show excerpts instead of full posts to make it easy to browse and find particular articles.  I further modified the excerpts and added a line that listed the tags associated with each post.

I think the next step will be implementing excerpts for all posts after the current article on the main page as well as creating a new banner, for which I finished my new avatar.  I would say it is important to never keep the default design of any theme off the shelf.  Make your blog stand out from the rest!

Mad Brew's New Avatar
Mad Brew

The key to choosing a theme is to pick one that is readable (no yellow text on white…) and has an easily navigated layout.  A couple of blogs that have excellent themes include Critical-hits and RPGCentric.

Settings

I pretty much kept with the default General settings of the WordPress install (except of course customizing the blog title, tagline, URLs, etc.  I would make sure the if you are allowing members to register, that you set the “New User Default Role” to subscriber so you don’t have just anyone messing with your content..

In the Reading section of the Setting, you can select the number of posts that displays per page.  Your setting depends on whether you write super long articles and have them display as excerpts or full posts.  I would set it so a read doesn’t have to scroll for minutes before reaching the bottom of the page (I think mine are too long!).

In the Discussion section, it is important to note the “Comment Blacklist.”  While this feature seems to only work half the time, this is where I put the full or partial IP addresses of those asshole spam commenters.  Also of note are the avatar settings, I show them and default to Gravatar.

In the Permalinks section you can determine the URL of your posts.  I personally use the day and name option because I like to have that information in the address bar.

Plug-ins

Oh damn, it can be real easy to go nuts with plug-ins, just make sure you back-up your site before you install one.  Installation requires you to unzip the contents of a plug-in into your plug-in directory.  I usually use an FTP client for this (FileZilla).

For traffic analytics, I use CyStats, StatPress, and WordPress.com Stats.  Between these three plug-ins, my server’s traffic analyzer, and Google Analytics I can find out just about anything I need to know about my traffic.

For general stats about my blog, like the number of articles, authors, pages, tags, and comments I use WP-Stats and for my word count I use TD Word Count.

For Search Engine Optimization, I make heavy use of All In One SEO Pack which allows me to customize the title (including separate formats for different page types: category, tags, archive, etc.), keywords, and description of each article.  I made my own robots.txt, but you can use KB Robots or Robots Meta.  And to keep my sitemap up-to-date for Google, I implemented the Google XML Sitemaps plug-in.

Besides using the “Comment Blacklist” setting, I have to say Akismet has done an excellent job of catching spam.  But for the be all, end all of defeating those dumbass serial spammers, you can add the following bit of code to your .htaccess file (usually found in the root of your site):

order allow,deny
deny from 87.118.118.133
deny from 94.102.60.
deny from 193.86.
allow from all

For improving the efficiency of my writing, I added several templates with Post Template.  I like to embed invisible Technorati tags in my posts, so I added them to my template as well as a schema for the “Listening to:” line I put at the end of my articles.  For a quick and clean method (read: standard compliant) of embedding Flash into the site, I use Kimili Flash Embed which adds a nice little button in the post editor.

I have also added tons of social networking and interactive plug-ins.  ShareThis I think is very important because it adds a widget to every post that allows reader to add the page to their favorite social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, and Reddit.  CommentLuv automagically detects the most recent post(s) of a commenter based upon the entered URL and provides a link to it.  This encourages fellow bloggers to comment because it gives them free advertisement.  I have also added WP Ajax Edit to my site to allow users to edit their comment for a short period of time because I know how frustrating it can be to catch bad grammar or spelling errors after you submit your comment.

I also added the MiniMeta Widget so I can instantly navigate to the write, dashboard, and stats pages of the admin section from anywhere on the site.  WP Cumulus is another widget I have added just for the cool factor (it’s the cool spinning “3D” tag cloud).

Coding

I am a programmer, and I like adhering to standards whenever possible.  I have meticulously ensured that my blog validates under XHTML 1.0 Strict as well as being CSS 3 valid.  I even created icons that link to the official validation so anyone can check it.  So if you happen to check the validity of my code and it fails, LET ME KNOW!

Anyways, WordPress uses a combination of SQL, PHP, XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript to eventually arrive at the finished product you see now.  I recommend visiting W3C Schools for help with XHTML and SQL (not that I foresee anyone changing any SQL).  For CSS I also recommend W3C Schools but you also need to check out CSS Zen Garden.  Finally, for general PHP help, we will again visit W3C Schools but for things specific with WordPress I recommend you visit the lessons section of WordPress Codex, especially paying attention to anything about tags.

Listening to: Lollipop Lust Kill – My So Called Knife – Personal Jesus

5 thoughts on “RPG Blogging Tools III: Writing Tips and Sample Setup

  1. @Bonemaster: I’m glad you liked it. The RPG Blogosphere does tend to be more of a community than some other demographics out there. And you’re right, there is always something you can learn and there is always room for improvement.

  2. This is perhaps the best of the three articles. I’m very surprised at the number of RPG blogs that had blogging tips. I guess we are just a giving bunch. I’m going to have to review them myself and see if there is anything I glean from them. Which is a guess another piece of advise that people can use, never be so conceited that you don’t think you can’t use the advise of others or can’t use a refresher in things you think you already know.

    Bonemaster’s last blog post..Player Networking

  3. Glad you like the look of my site. 🙂

    It took me a long time to find a theme that I was happy with. I liked my original theme but it didn’t really stand out. It just seemed to be one more blog on the web. I finally stumbled upon Elegant Themes and, even though I told myself I would never actually pay for a theme, I shelled out $20 for access to a dozen themes.

    After a couple of weeks, I was finally happy with the layout. I probably spent at least two hours a day tweaking it and even though I still play with it every now and then, I’m very content with the way it’s set up. Who knew blogging would be this time consuming! 😉

    Tony Law’s last blog post..Gifts not to give this holiday season

  4. Thank you for this fine post! I have a lot of reading to do; I am restructuring my website for various reasons, and this has been a very handy tool, and not just for the RPG post aspects either. One of my biggest things is that I don’t post as often as I should, but have a list of things to research/blog about.

    One thing to note about your website: I believe you should change the background color of CommentLuv – the gray text on lighter gray background defeats readability. on my blog, I changed the background-color to transparent, as my post div’s have background images.

    I guess there are two things about your site. I think the grammar is incorrect in your footer text, especially right here: “Mad Brew modified this kick-ass theme was designed by Design Blog.” – Looks like you just prepended “Mad Brew modified”. Hope this helps.

  5. Thanks for the heads up! It’s fixed. I had changed the wording not too long ago and the actual text is split up between code… it’s easy to screw things like that up. Especially if you don’t have a second set of eyes.

    And I have been pondering changing the style of the entire comment area… for better readability. I have it set in the 2.7 version I need transfer over from the dev site.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

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