So You Want to Write a Guide
There's a lot of information in Neopia. Some of it is inside your head! You probably already know this, and maybe you've even tried to explain it and write a guide about it.
But something goes wrong. You can't finish writing it for some reason, or nobody seems interested, or you can't find a layout or someone to make one for you.
Frustrating, isn't it? To know that you know something that may be valuable to someone else, but not able to reach that audience? Well, this article is here to help. We'll cover topics such as how to write efficiently, when illustrations are appropriate, and how to format for both a petpage and the Neopian Times.
The first part of writing your guide is, of course, to know your topic. Ideally you won't be writing about anything you have no clue about. This will be obvious in your writing and if you claim to be an expert at Cooty Wars all someone has to do is check your high scores. So think about what you're good at.
Are you an artist who gets into the Art Gallery frequently? Write about how to become better at drawing, and include some tips on getting into the gallery. Tell people how to format and compress their images.
Are you a whiz at Destruct-o-Match III? Share your strategy! Give people a general rundown of how many points you should have at the end of a level to get the avatar efficiently. If the strategy for getting a higher score differs, let the readers know!
Once you've picked your topic and are reasonably confident that you can write about it and not sound like the Esophagor, it's time to think about what information you're going to include.
Game guides should include a summary of the game and an explanation of the controls, levels, and point values. It may seem like cursory information, and it is, but it's relevant and a great way to open your guide. The middle should be strategy and walkthroughs - once your reader knows how to play the game in theory, he'll need to learn how to play the game in reality. At the end, you may wish to include some tips on getting a higher score, information about an avatar that is associated with it, or simply a "good luck!" with a promise that you'll answer any questions your reader may have.
Other guides are a bit looser in structure, but you should still start with a summary of what the topic of your guide is. Let's say you're writing about the Art Gallery: you'll want to explain that art is a great way to express yourself and pass some time, and the Art Gallery is not a bad place to display your hobby! Then you'll include information on making sure your image is high-quality and conforms to Neopets' submission standards. If you have any idea how long it might take to get some feedback, say so, and also include what possible prizes might be.
'But I don't know how to write!'
That's okay. You're not penning a story or planning on writing for a blockbuster film some day. People understand that.
But there are still some things you can do to polish your writing a little bit and make it more readable. The most important ways are the most obvious: use grammar and spelling.
You're not E.E. Cummings, so use capitalisation. Punctuation is also important; if you're not sure how to use a particular form of punctuation, don't use it at all. Find a different way to phrase what you want to say. Don't skip letters of a word just to make it "easier" on yourself. You are not the important person here. Your reader is.
"This sentence has a readable structure and is easy to understand."
"tis sentnce iz redabl & iz ez 2 undrstnd."
You see the difference? If you're a terrible speller, use a program that has a spellcheck function. Most Internet browsers contain it, as do most word processing documents. On the other hand, Notepad for example is not going to tell you that "plz" is not an acceptable word.
Along with using spelling and grammar, understand when abbreviations and "cutesy" slang are okay. Using "NP" in place of "Neopoints" is fine, as long as you use the latter first to signify that your abbreviation is derived from it. "NP's" is not okay, and neither is "NPS". NPS makes me think of the stock market, and "NP's" makes me think of something that belongs to NP, whoever he is.
Similarly, "Neopets" is not "neos" or "npets". "Neo" seems to be the culturally acceptable form of abbreviation, but you should ideally refrain from abbreviating that at all. A name should stay a name.
"Cutesy" slang appears when a person takes an ordinary word and tries to make it "cuter". "Sims" turns into "Simmies" or "Kacheek" turns into "cheekies". Don't do this.
Just don't. It's not cute at all, actually, and it just makes me want to throw something.
Cutesy nicknames are a totally different matter - calling your magma pet "Red" as a nickname is okay. But if you're writing a guide, you're not doing this anyway. If your guide contains a character whose name you know - say, Hannah the Usul, don't call her "Han" or "Hanners". She's not a character in a story you're writing in this case.
You don't have to conform perfectly to grammatical standards, but you should know how to use the most common aspects of it. Read over your guide when it's finished to make sure it flows okay. You can also ask a friend to proofread and see how she reacts, and make adjustments accordingly.
Your Attitude and Style
Along with making sure you're spelling things correctly and avoiding that semicolon you don't understand, you also need to make sure that you sound both official and personable.
I know, they sound conflicting, but you can do it! Once you find the balance between too informal and too formal, it's not hard to keep it up.
Don't act like you're better than your reader. On the flip side, don't act like his best buddy forever and offer to cover his dinner at kelp. You want to sound like an authority, but a friendly one that your reader might want to know more from.
"The game Destruct-o-Match III is simple at first. You click on groups of coloured blocks to gain points required to clear a level."
"Destruct-o-Match III is pretty simple - you click on coloured blocks to clear a level! Be careful of some of the powerups, and make sure you have enough points to pass."
"DOM 3 is easy! You just need to click on coloured blocks to clear the levels! All you need to pay attention to is your score!"
Which one attracts you the most? Probably the second one - you're giving your reader information, but you don't sound like you should be sitting ramrod straight or walking around acting like a living exclamation point. You sound normal, and that is never to be underestimated.
You know what your fourth-grade language arts teacher told you about never using the first person in an essay? Forget it. Use it in your guide if you feel like it helps! For example, "I always do this to help prevent blocking my way later, but it's not necessary at all" is okay, and flows better than "if you would like to prevent blocking your way later, you can do -insert move here-, or alternatively skip this and continue the level as normal". It's more concise, you see, and easier to read.
Some humour is also all right! Your teacher may not have appreciated a relevant and well-thought-out joke, but your reader probably will. So include that joke about the quarks when you're writing your guide about Chemistry for Beginners.
Avoiding the Wall o' Text
Part of the problem, some people say, with guides and articles and stories is that they don't contain pictures.
This is a fair enough point, but know how to avoid taking it too far. While some of your audience might appreciate some visual breaks, others might appreciate you not cutting off a paragraph with a totally irrelevant image of a dancing Arkmite with tons of blank space on the sides.
The easiest way to make both parties happy is to include relevant images. Screenshots of the game you're writing about, for example: if you're describing a manoeuvre that seems difficult, you can include a screenshot with an arrow or two that shows exactly HOW to accomplish it.
Similarly, if you're including level maps for a game guide, those can break up the wall pretty nicely and not annoy everyone ever.
Be careful about the size of your images, though. Smaller images probably belong aligned to a side rather than centred in between two paragraphs - lots of blank space to the side of the image is unsightly, and putting your image to the side of your paragraph still helps break the illusion that there is just TEXT EVERYWHERE OMG!!
If you're writing about something that doesn't have levels or something easy to screenshot, you can still include images! That Art Gallery guide we keep talking about, for example, can include images of a Neopet painting, or some examples of art you've done or gotten permission to include, or a sketch guide to proportions. Again make sure the spacing is all right, and doesn't leave any unsightly gaps.
Just be careful not to take it too far. An image after every single paragraph is probably too much, as is a visual demonstration for every single brush stroke. Your reader is not here to look at your personal process. He's here to get information about your topic, and wants to be able to access it without fighting his way past a three-headed dragon.
Polishing Your Work
If you can get a visual of your guide, do so. You can look over it to see how it all works together, and make adjustments easily. If you're a little more stuck, say if you're writing for the Neopian Times and are including images, try working it onto a petpage first, or applying your images on your document where they'd wind up being to get a general idea.
So once you're satisfied with the way it looks, make sure everything required is there: the relevant information, credits if necessary, a link to whatever it is your guide is about, your name and a way to contact you, and your title.
Speaking of your title, while you can call your guide "Denny's Guide to the Art Gallery", you can also take liberties and go a little silly. Just make sure the topic of your guide is still discernable from your title. "Denny Draws a Flute" doesn't tell the reader that Denny is trying to share his Art Gallery tips. If Denny wanted to keep that title, he could add "an Art Gallery Guide" after it to make it "Denny Draws a Flute: an Art Gallery Guide".
You can try to get feedback from someone who is not as familiar with your subject to see if your information and advice is still understandable. Quite often things that we think should be obvious actually aren't, simply because we are already familiar with the thing in question. If you don't have a friend that's willing to read your guide and you aren't comfortable releasing it to the public for critique yet, just try to be as critical as you possibly can.
Walk away from it for a while. Come back the next day and see if everything still stands and makes sense. If it does, great! If not, make the adjustments you need to.
Then it's time to consider your publication method.
Petpage guides need one major thing that Neopian Times articles don't: a layout.
Ideally you should try to make your own to make your guide more personal, and if you're considering entering into the Site Spotlight someday, but there are tons of premades out there for you to use too! If you can't seem to find the perfect one, say one that is themed to your guide, you may feel like you're at a loss, unless... you ask someone to make one for you.
If you decide to go this route, be careful. Some sites do take custom layout requests, so it's probably best to try those before you make a thread on charter or the help chat or wherever. However you decide to do this, be respectful and polite. The person making your layout is doing you a huge favour and is getting nothing in return except the satisfaction of knowing that she's helping out a fellow Neopian. If you're not happy with your layout, nicely mention to her that you were thinking that "maybe this part could be a bit bigger?" Sometimes the changes that seem small to you are actually kind of major, so never act like it's easy. When you do get your layout, make sure to credit the maker! Even if it's a premade, you're using someone else's work, so it's only fair.
Petpage guides also have quite a lot more flexibility. You can create custom headers, position things almost anywhere, and not worry about conforming to TNT's article standards! You'll get less of a target audience at first, however, simply because eleventy thousand people look at the Neopian Times every week.
To maximise your audience, ask your guild if there's a place your guide can be linked to. Link to it on your user lookup, or include a subtle mention of it in your font. Never make a thread specifically asking people to go to it unless you're honestly asking for serious advice; it's rude and turns people off.
If there's a sticky thread of some sort that your guide can fit into, ask if your link can be included. A food club thread will probably welcome your guide or betting page. If you wrote a guide about Habitarium, look for an ongoing thread about that and ask if you can join in.
Guides in the Times
While there's less freedom in writing for the Neopian Times, that can sometimes be a huge relief. You need minimal or no coding experience and you can write about almost anything and it will get an audience. Yes, even your rant about Jhudora's new location! If it gets published, someone will read it.
But that's the question: will it get published?
You don't need to do anything special to make your guide Times-ready, but that convenience comes at the cost of needing someone else's approval. Getting this feedback takes time.
Generally I find that it takes anywhere from two to six weeks to get the initial feedback Neomail. You'll get one of three responses:
A: a held-over notice. Celebrate! Your guide is almost certainly going to make it into the Neopian Times, and within a couple weeks it'll be published and you'll have a shiny new trophy.
B: a rejection notice, in the form of "there were too many good entries this week". This is probably the most common. If you get this, don't despair. There was nothing terribly wrong with your guide, so just submit it again. After a few of these mails you may wish to slightly modify or update your guide.
C: a rejection notice, in the form of "please do not reference this or that, or be offensive or forget pivotal characters' names" or whatever. If you get one of these, you need to make the change noted. Then feel free to submit it again and see what happens!
If you've never written for the Neopian Times before, and you get in, you may be expecting a huge wave of fanmail after it gets published.
Probably not going to happen, sorry!
But people WILL have read it, and some may come out of hiding and send you a mail to congratulate you or thank you for your guide. Whenever you do get fanmail, appreciate it for what it is, but never expect it.
Wrapping Things Up
If you enjoyed this experience, good for you! You may be tempted to write more guides, and these will only be better for your new know-how. If not, well, you gave it your best shot!
No matter which avenue of publication you decide to pursue, make sure your guide is high-quality, and it will receive notice. You have to put the effort in to reap the rewards!
But make sure the rewards are not primarily what you're after. Your goal should be to share your knowledge on this subject with other Neopians, and maybe start a new hobby in writing about Neopian topics!
And remember: no dancing Arkmites!
Happy writing! :)