Learning How to Write (From Terrible CBR Text)

What makes for good writing? Hell if I know. For the most part, I just slap words on the screen and hope it doesn’t confuse the reader or put them to sleep. And anyway, answering that question would require typing up my own encyclopedia collection, because sharing just one slice of advice is like satiating someone’s thirst with one droplet from a lake. But gather enough droplets and eventually you’ll have yourself a full bottle of water, and my contribution to preventing dehydration is that communication is key, and this excerpt on Fire Emblem: Three Houses’s Lysithea from a CBR character recruit/avoid list has serious communication issues:

At first, Lysithea is so week a character that she seems a nuisance, and her defense and HP are always lower than her comrades. Buy Lysithea demonstrates extraordinary exponential growth as a character trait, and soon her magic can decimate opponents, given someone nearby to defend her.

Additionally, her backstory is tragic and well-written, and her characterization proves gratifying. It takes work to get Lysithea to where she needs to be, but once she reaches her full potential and becomes equipped with Thyrsus or a similarly powerful Staff, her low defense doesn’t matter because her range is devastating.

An exercise I do while reading is editing the prose as my eyes roll over it. More so a while back than now, but the practice goes like this: when you find word choices or phrasing you don’t like, swap them out. The goal is to improve the text. If a line is fine, leave it. If not, alter it and then provide a reason for the change. Doesn’t have to be a five-paragraph essay on the semantic difference between calling a lady pretty and calling a lady beautiful. Just a short note—“That dialogue tag was unnecessary.” “This book has used the word thoroughgoing six times already.”—and move on.

Go ahead and try this out on the CBR snippet. Being familiar with Fire Emblem: Three Houses would help immensely with editing it, but in case you’re missing out on that title, below is an excerpt chosen more or less at random from a different article. Hell, if you wanted, you could do this with anything I’ve ever written.

It was big news the first time One Piece went on an extended hiatus, mostly because Eichiro Oda was seen as a dedicated manga machine. Still, no one can work without a vacation for decades. In 2010, the manga, which had only ever taken single weeks off at a time, announced it would go on a one-month hiatus for the first time.

In true Oda fashion, however, there could not have a more fitting time for an extended break. The break marked a time-skip in the manga, and possibly the halfway point of the series. If there was ever a time for Oda to take a vacation, it was right then.

Assuming you’ve either completed this exercise by now or are reading on to see what madness I’ve concocted, the following is my edit of that first CBR excerpt:

At first, Lysithea is such a weak character that she’s a nuisance, doubly so with her lower-than-average Defense and HP. But Lysithea demonstrates extraordinarily exponential growth, and before long, her magic decimates foes. Just remember to keep her out of harm’s way.

Gameplay aside, her backstory is tragic and well-written, and it’s endearing seeing the studious, critical, and easy-to-offend young miss reveal her more childish tendencies. Some sweat put in turns Lysithea into an unstoppable powerhouse, and if that’s not enough, you can buff her up even more by handing her Thyrsus, allowing her to snipe baddies from four blocks over.

Apples and oranges, my edit from the original text, but it conveys the gist. Going line-by-line, the reasons for my changes vary from correcting potential misunderstandings for unfamiliar players to fixing typos.

An Examination

Original:

At first, Lysithea is so week a character that she seems a nuisance, and her defense and HP are always lower than her comrades. Buy Lysithea demonstrates extraordinary exponential growth as a character trait, and soon her magic can decimate opponents, given someone nearby to defend her.

Edit:

At first, Lysithea is such a weak character that she’s a nuisance, doubly so with her lower-than-average Defense and HP. But Lysithea demonstrates extraordinarily exponential growth, and before long, her magic decimates foes. Just remember to keep her out of harm’s way.

To begin, week and buy are corrected to weak and but. The most minor of issues solved.

Saying that Lysithea “seems [like] a nuisance” creates uncertainty, and in my gaming experience, when you’ve got a cast of beefcakes who can hold their own in a firefight, weak teammates don’t seem like a nuisance, they are a nuisance.

Defense is capitalized, since in-game stats are proper nouns.

Extraordinary and exponential are two adjectives that side-by-side like that need either a comma or and between them. For oomph, I conjugated extraordinary into its adverb form.

“…as a character trait” I chopped because it’s unnecessary wording which seems to reference her written character over stat growth.

Getting into the meat of my edits, now. Have a gander at just the first line and you’ll see it’s two clauses that, when given a full-stop, become this:

At first, Lysithea is so week a character that she seems a nuisance. Her defense and HP are always lower than her comrades.

Given that the second clause follows the first, it’s reasonable to interpret it as a continuation of the argument that Lysithea’s a weak—or week, I suppose—unit. But since it’s detached from the first clause, it can come off as its own complaint, an effect which is exasperated when you replace it with a phrase like “She has white hair.” Two sentences acting seemingly independent of each other doesn’t strengthen the fronted argument, which is why, in my edit, I gave it a shot of strength with the wording “…doubly so with her lower-than-average Defense and HP.” It’s dependent on the first clause to exist and makes for an odd statement if you replace it with “…doubly so with her white hair.” (Though if you’re familiar with Three Houses, you’ll understand that white-haired characters are far from the weakest.)

“Soon” into “before long” comes about for one purpose: to create anticipation. There’s a rhythm to that entire paragraph. The first sentence establishes a negative, that Lysithea is weak. The first clause of the second sentence refutes that with the counter that she’s strong given time, and then the second clause provides evidence to support the counter, that she decimates foes. What “before long” does that “soon” does not is create a delay between seeing the counter and receiving the evidence, or, better yet, reward. You hear that this character is powerful, but powerful how? The mention that she “decimates foes” lets you in on that. Theoretically, you could extend that delay by adding more words—“…and once you get her strong enough…” but such a long introductory clause overpowers the short main clause, dampening the wham it should have. Keeping that clause concise is the reason for the switch from “opponents” to “foes.”

Like with “seem” before, I removed “can” to eliminate uncertainty, but also for definiteness. Saying that she “can” decimate foes makes her out to be a benchwarmer waiting to be called onto the roster. But when you flick out that potentiality, Lysithea transforms into a force of nature. She doesn’t just have the ability to rip apart her enemies’ atomic structures, she does it, no hesitation, no questions asked.

The last sentence in this paragraph has the opposite problem of the first. That closing clause, “…given someone nearby to defend her,” misleads inexperienced players into thinking that Lysithea can or will obliterate her opponents, but only as long as she has bodyguards, which isn’t how the game’s mechanics work. Accommodating for her squishiness is imperative to keeping her alive, but that’s independent of her magical prowess, which is why I remade that incomplete clause as an addendum: “Just remember to keep her out of harm’s way.”

That’s the one half of the editing reviewed. Now, onto the second paragraph. For convenience’s sake, so that you don’t have to scroll back to the top, here’re the original and edited second paragraphs:

Original:

Additionally, her backstory is tragic and well-written, and her characterization proves gratifying. It takes work to get Lysithea to where she needs to be, but once she reaches her full potential and becomes equipped with Thyrsus or a similarly powerful Staff, her low defense doesn’t matter because her range is devastating.

Edit:

Gameplay aside, her backstory is tragic and well-written, and it’s endearing seeing the studious, critical, and easy-to-offend young miss reveal her more childish tendencies. Some sweat put in turns Lysithea into an unstoppable powerhouse, and if that’s not enough, you can buff her up even more by handing her Thyrsus, a magic wand allowing her to snipe baddies from four blocks over.

For starters, “Additionally” is changed to “Gameplay aside” to discern the transition from Lysithea as a playable unit to Lysithea as a character.

Saying that her “characterization proves gratifying” is an empty statement, and the very concept it’s suggesting is something I can’t wrap my head around, so at the price of being wordier, I provided clear-cut examples of her various traits.

Originally, my rewrite of the concluding sentence spiced up the text and cleared up a misconception, but then I realized there were still problems it hadn’t fixed, so I restructured it.

The goal of the original CBR article is to sell Three House players on recruiting and ignoring certain students and knights, so, running with that, I made the last line into a sales pitch, which is why I have that blurb about her might not being enough before transitioning into the screed about equipping her with the Thyrsus, a hold-item which increases a magic-wielder’s range by two tiles.

The part on leveling her up was in the way of the pitch, so I cut it.

I named her as an “unstoppable powerhouse” to provide a clear-cut image of her battle capabilities, because “full potential” is vague and says nothing.

The wording on Thyrsus or a “similarly powerful Staff” gives me hives, all because of the follow-up clause on her range being devastating. “A similarly powerful Staff”—so many issues with those four words. In total, Three Houses has four Staves, including Thyrsus, but just one other boosts range, the Caducesus Staff, and only by half what Thyrsus grants, and the other two increase magic damage and healing spells. Depending on what angle you’re looking at it from, the phrasing “Thyrsus or a similarly powerful Staff” is providing information that’s incomplete (not tacking on Caducesus before Staff) or misleading (suggesting a greater plural than what’s in the game).

The first paragraph ends with caution on Lysithea’s frailness, and then the second paragraph ends by throwing that caution to the wind. It’s contradictory, and her vulnerability to attacks is a concern that should always be kept in mind when moving her around the battlefield, so I cut the second mention.

As is the apparent theme with the original text, proclaiming Lysithea’s range as “devastating” not only doesn’t tell us much, when paired with the comment about the lack of worry for her safety needed, it suggests a boost to her range greater than what the Thyrsus grants. I allude to her range with the word choice of snipe, and “from four blocks over” helps solidify that admittedly hyperbolic image of her long-range capability with the Thyrsus. What’s more, my use of the term blocks gives the player an exact count for Lysithea’s range, since battles take place on grid-based maps whose individual tiles can be thought of as “blocks.”

As some bonus content, here’s the original title of the Lysithea entry and my edit:

Original:

Lysithea Has Devastating Range

Edit:

Lysithea is a One-Woman Army

The misdirection all began in the title. It’s phrased to suggest that Lysithea herself has incredible range when the reality is that that’s only true with the right loadout of equipment and buffs, which any magic-using character, and not just Lysithea, can utilize. Therefore, I made an ode to her battle prowess with the label of “One-Woman Army.”

·

A lot has gone into editing just two paragraphs (mostly because those two paragraphs were written, edited, and proofread by a caterpillar which gained sentience and 50 IQ points after crawling over a nuclear waste dumping site), but coming away believing that writing is a tedious process of picking every individual word with the utmost, most deliberate care is the wrong impression. The goal of this editing practice is improving a selected work (and in the case of these paragraphs making sense of them) and applying the lessons learned to your own opuses. If we take these objectives to the source article at large, I would scrub away the passage on ignoring Lorenz. Not because I do think he’s a worthwhile recruit, but because he needs to be in your class to access the sidequest that rewards you with Thyrsus, so it’s contradictory and unhelpful to sing the praises of an equip item but then advise the player to sabotage themselves from getting it. So editing doesn’t need to dabble exclusively with the nitty-gritty, it can be hitting backspace on entire blocks of text. And so long as CBR is around, you’ve got endless material to practice on.

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