1. Do use all six senses. If you have a mental block and are stuck writing a description, ask yourself how your six senses may react. Of course, you don't want to always include all six senses in every description, but asking yourself the questions may help the creative process. What does it smell like (pleasant or reeking)? What does it taste like (not a common sense except for food)? Are there any sounds (background noise or ominous silence)? What does it look like (colour, size, scope)? What does it feel like (texture, maybe viscosity)? What psychic impressions are felt (foreboding, delight, queasiness, etc.)? Psychic impressions (the "sixth" sense) should be used sparingly.
2. Do use present tense. There's very little reason not to use present tense when writing descriptions.
3. Do use dynamic verbs. Verbs are the workhorse of a sentence so when appropriate try to use dynamic verbs. For example:
4. Do use proper grammar. Though it should go without saying, send your mind back to Mrs. Grundy's bonehead English class and avoid run on sentences, incomplete sentences, awkward wording, etc.
5. Do ALWAYS use complete sentences. This seems like it would fall under grammar, but it is singularly important on its own. A nymph stretches out here, quietly singing to herself. Her damp hair against her body. That second sentence is a VERY common mistake in both room descs and mobile descs. It is not a complete sentence. Why? If I said to you 'Her damp hair against her body' on its own, you would have no idea what I was talking about.
Seven Simple Don'ts:
1. Don't double space between sentences. Those who have worked in an office environment tend to double space between sentences. However, what looks snappy and professional on a business letter looks awkward on a MUD.
2. Don't let Microsoft Word help you. This goes for any word processing program that has an auto-formatting feature that turns everything you type into smart quotes, automatically double spaces, changes ordinals to superscript, etc. Find this feature and turn it off.
3. Don't use "seems to" or "looks like" or "appears to be". This is a common mistake that strikes even the very best and experienced builder. Feel free to use metaphors and simile, but using the phrases "seems", "looks like", and "appears to be" weakens the impact. If the man appears to be the oldest man in the village, then chances are the man is the oldest man in the village. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it can be avoided. For example,
4. Don't reference the player in a room. Try to avoid using "you" or "your" as little as possible, preferably not at all. Generally, avoid referencing the player in the description. Instead of telling a player directly what he or she is looking at, the impact is greater and illusion less intrusive when descriptions lay before the player what is seen in the third person.
5. Don't describe objects or mobs that can be placed in the room. If the chef is in the kitchen, don't write up the chef in the room description. Rather, create a chef mob and place him in the room. Important objects should also be a separately created item, like the large monolith crackling with energy should probably be a separate object rather than merely described in the room description.
6. Don't reference history in a room. There is no way you can tell by looking at a room that it was built by an ancient group of flesh-eating wizards, known for their purple robes, who scared the natives. This is maybe the only time you can use seems: 'The hall is in shambles, covered with dust and debris of decades past. Indeed, it seems as if a war had happened here, waged on the walls itself.' if its a war-ravaged castle. You can say some things about origins, but there's a definite point of too much.
7. Don't overwrite. First, for reasons of spammy room descs. Most people don't really read the descs but skim them. You don't want to fill out every single detail down to its tile pattern, curtain texture, and the exact location of the desk, table, and three upholestered chairs; however, these little details can help beef up a sparse description for a boring hallway.
Can you give more details about these two things, @Camenae .
on 5 - Is this a 'never ever' rule? A number of room designs in Hallifax talk about statues or desks or inspectors or somesuch. Or this 'no important things', and the minor things like a desk that doesn't matter is fine?
on 6 - This is more of a lore question than anything - do the various cultures of Lusternia not have distinct architecture that even the common npc would know about?
In terms of rule five, we make a distinction between a throw off-line about an item versus a complete description of an item. An example would be something like:
And to get @Breandryn after the edit: I would say that it is completely fine to reference merchants and shoppers in a marketplace description. The problem, again, would be if you took the time to reference every single person's description rather than mentioning them in passing.
In terms of rule six, some cultural references can be made in rooms and won't be too upsetting. However, there is a difference between the description describing something that arguably is impossible to know simply by looking in room versus making note of Hallifaxian style lattices. I think it is also important to note that these rules were originally developed in 2003 by Estarra in a thread on the Top MUD Sites forum (found here), so they are a bit outdated, especially given that Lusternian cultures have distinctions that are common-place to us now, and they are meant for a more neutral theory of building.
Does this help?
This was written by Auseklis, #GoneButNotForgotten
It's easy to run into trouble when writing room descriptions for large natural areas. After all, how interesting can you make a forest? What is there in mountains to justify a hundred or more rooms?
Actually, even with the most barren plain or desert, it's possible to create tens - if not hundreds - of descriptions with relative ease if you're willing to think around the subject. Here's a list of things you may want to add to your descriptions.
LIGHT - is it dingy? overcast? in the shade of a mountain, or exposed to the sun/moon? (be careful here, because obviously a description talking about bright light won't make any sense on an overcast night)
COLOUR - what is the overriding colour? If you look at pictures of deserts they vary from yellow to black to grey to white. The same (but with different colours, obviously) goes for any environment.
EXPOSURE - is it a sheltered nook, or exposed to the elements? It is probably reasonable to talk about the wind in a description if, for example, it's an exposed platform 200 feet above the ground. Volcanoes or springs may be naturally misty, and other hollows can collect mist or fog, especially low-lying swamps. Be careful mentioning other weather, as it may contradict in-game weather.
TEMPERATURE - is it hot? cold? warm? comfortable? (NB burning sun again doesn't make any sense at night. Likewise, don't contradict the in-game temperatures.)
DAMP/DRY - is the air damp or dry? How about the soil? Is it boggy, or normal grass, or dried by years of sun-exposure? Is there dew collecting on the plants? How about water from stalactites in caves?
DIRT - Everything gets dirty. I don't believe in clean rocks in swamps, and neither will players. Mention mud on things if it's believable. Dust, likewise.
CLUTTER - This refers to all the things that you wouldn't think of otherwise but make for good descriptions. Fallen bits of wood, sheep's wool, animal dung, broken rocks, etc etc. Even more important inside buildings.
PLANTS - Except for trees, what else grows here? I find the internet and nature books very valuable for this. You can make massive lists for just about any environment. Don't forget lichens, mosses, fungi, pond-weed, etc.
TREES - A good internet site or book will provide at least five or six sentences that you can easily adapt, and which make things more interesting than 'lots of huge oak trees grow all around'.
FLOOR - What's the player standing on? It may seem obvious... but is it hard or soft? Wet or dry? Is it an obvious path, or a tiny animal trail through thick undergrowth? Is it precarious, or flat and wide? Are there signs that the path has been used before?
FLAWS - Nothing's perfect. Cracks, broken things, potholes, puddles, a collection of mud, overgrowth of a path, all serve to make the area have a sense of reality.
DISTANCE - One of my favourite fall-backs. If the area is so absolutely boring there's nothing to describe, what's all around it? A mountain or hill gives a view for miles and miles around. Talk about the paths of distant rivers winding to the sea, seas of green that mark forest boundaries, etc. Even if you can't see far, it may be important to mention that you can't, and why not.
EXITS - Where do they lead? This is potentially the most important thing in a description, as probably 50% of people reading are just trying to find their way in or out of the area.
BLOCKS - What's stopping people from going NW if there's no NW exit? It's not always possible to explain why players can't go in a certain direction, but in most environments it's good to put a physical obstacles in place to prevent them doing so.
SMELLS - Nasty or nice? Natural or strange?
SOUNDS - the swirling of sand, the whistle of the wind, the cry of birds. Oh, and 'the cry of a distant hawk' is far better than 'the sounds of birds'
MAN-MADE - What influence have intelligent beings (or indeed, monsters or animals) had upon the landscape? Probably the second most important thing in a description.
SLOPE - Is it flat here, or on a hillside, on a slope, beside a cliff, on jagged ground, above cracks and holes?
ODD DETAILS - Again, if you're bored of just 'mountain path', put something in! How about a small shrine, a pile of stones, a broken statue, anything you wouldn't expect in the environment and hence something interesting to look at.
As a final note, always be specific if you can. A specific example ('A gnarled ash throws rickety branches from its aged trunk') is better than the general ('an old tree is here').
The eye of Dylara materialises in your hands and flings itself around your neck, tightening incomprehensibly until it is irremovable.
Perfectly clean, this eyeball has been wrenched from the socket of Dylara. It has been animated by some unusual force, constantly looking around itself as if in shock or fear. It is bathed in a light covering of white flames that roll endlessly over its surface. A single chain of empyreal metal pierces either side of the eye, allowing it to be worn around the neck.