GI Course Lecture I

Lecture 1: The Ideas, Core Premise, Story, and Serial Commas
If you’re reading this, that means one of two things. One possibility is that you’ve read our introduction and hope to take my course on writing issues for NS. The other possibility is you’re just bored and are clicking random discords. I hope it’s the former, but here’s hoping you get involved if you’re here for reason number two.
(ok, there are other possible reasons but I over-analyze things so let’s move on.)
Lesson 1: Don’t use interrobangs The Idea; The Premise
The first step to making a draft is… what? Figuring out how to make one? Possibly. Acquiring a sense of humor? Probably. But for this course, the layout won’t be what you learn first. The first thing you should do, in my opinion, is learn the basics of what makes a draft work. And this very thing is something that I, myself, have trouble wrangling with.

The first step is to come up with an idea. This can be very, very hard if you’re new. You don’t know what’s going on, what’s been covered, what makes a good issue, what to even write about. Always start with a good premise. Ideas are occasionally supplied by fellow authors and editors. You can also ask for ideas in the Writers’ Block, where you can also just hang out or go over others’ ideas, or ask if an idea of yours has been covered or would even work.

DO NOT post your first rough draft in the writers’ block. Just post your rough idea, like “issue about wood-eating spikeballs” (not that specifically, we have one already), and maybe a couple of option ideas (which we’ll cover next), but if you have a full draft, make a new topic for it. If you do not have a full draft, post it in the writers’ block. If you have something in between… well, uh, you should probably post a simpler thing in the writers’ block before finishing, or just finish it.

But again, we’re focusing on issue ideas. An idea can come from anywhere. It could come from something you heard over the radio, something that recently happened in real life, or something you learned about from the past. After all, NS is satire, so if you want to write about something irl-inspired, DO IT. However, DO NOT use actual irl content, or copy/paste things word for word. Just take the idea and add your own content (or use references, but we’ll get to that later).

It can also work off of a game mechanic, such as a policy (check out Trotterdam’s or NSIndex’s list of policies) or a statistic, or interactions between several. This is what I often do, but I’ll have you know this is very niche and not an ideal starting place. It could also be something silly and light-hearted, such as a controversy over tea vs. coffee (do not do this specifically, we have several already.), or something that you or a friend have personally gone through, or enjoy studying about, or are passionate about, or a TV show you watched. Anything, really, as long as it makes a good premise.

So… what is a good premise? This is something I have trouble with, sometimes. A good premise is really subjective, and differs from person to person. And it’s difficult, because, even though you may not realize it, a lot of the issues you might come up with are nation-centric. They may happen in the UK but not the US, or vise versa, and not even happen anywhere else. That’s OK, as long as it’s a serious issue, but be aware and cautious of overly national-centric fields.

However, it is generally agreed that a good premise is something that sites conflict. That is, an issue that doesn’t have an obviously right answer. This, too, can change depending on your target audience: If you want an authoritarian issue, write something authoritarian. Want something communist, write something communist. But it has to be an issue that doesn’t have an obvious “right answer”; it has to have conflict, and really has to make the reader think about the situation at hand. And finally, if at all possible, it should be at least somewhat funny.

“So… that’s the premise, right? It’s an idea you make an issue around?” That’s the basics of it. It truly gets more intricate than that, though. The core question should be what the issue orbits around. Sometimes it’s actually hard to find the core question, and sometimes an option that deviates from it is alright, but you should always try your best to make your issue concise, and itsquestion… not necessarily obvious, but understandable to some degree. If you can’t find it, then either write something else, or ask someone to find it for you.

Sometimes an issue can have multiple dimensions, such as one of my favorite issues by Chan Island, whereby a historic mansion was bought and its owner wants to place solar panels all over it. Go environmental? Protect history? Take it from him a supply it to the population? An issue that grasps the story and pulls it into multiple directions is one of the best.

This kind of writing is also risky, however, since you want the issue to surround the premise. I can not tell you how many times I’ve seen an issue talk about one thing, maybe have one or two options around that, and then have the rest of the issue go off of a different idea entirely. This can be good if your premise is genuinely wacky or plays off of something like this, but please try to stick to the core concept and its story, because you rarely get a good issue when you don’t know what the issue is about. (few exceptions)

Which brings me to the thing I may have the hardest time with:
Lesson 2: The Story
Every single issue has to have a really good premise. Not every issue has a good story, and instead poses a core question that you should answer. This can be acceptable if the premise is good enough, but here’s a question you may not have even thought of: Why is this an issue? Why. The premise is the what; the story is the why. Many times, the issue premise riffs off of the story. Another Chan issue example is from an issue, where you’ve tracked down a known terrorist and are able to wipe him (and I think some of his associates, not sure) out… but his children are also there.

Now that is a good premise, in my opinion, with a good story. A solid story. No “what is this issue about?” or “Why is this an issue” here; you know what it is. It’s an issue about whether you should let a terrorist go free or kill innocent children. If you can write an issue as solid as this, then the editors and fellow authors will go out of their way to help you fix up any other issues you’re having, such as writing, humor (if necessary) — why, even option layout. As long as the premise is worthwhile.

Stories don’t have to be so grim, of course; this is satire, most issues are far more lighthearted. A good example to this is one discussing quality-brewed tea. The issue? You were given some terrible tea. That’s not heart-wrenching. That’s completely silly. But it’s an issue, and a good one, as your decisions will affect your entire nation.

This also reminds me, your story and premise must have national consequences. I’ve learned the hard way, a “@@LEADER@@ Simulator” is not likely to make it into the game. It’s happened a couple times, but they’re exceptionally well-written and humorous, and generally have a broader consequence to them. An issue that obviously affects your nation in some way is far safer. An example is a stock market crash (covered already), or regions in your nation breaking free of your leadership (covered many times).

Your story should also have an element of urgency. Many issues make it into the game and don’t actually have this, but a good issue usually has something that gives it immediacy. A storm surge is on its way and is about to wipe out a high-security prison. Your ministry just discovered spies in your government. Your neice’s pet died. All of these (COVERED) examples have immediacy to them.

Again, this is something I also struggle with. Most of my issues, and most issues in general, are much less urgent. Urgency is not a requirement, but it does significantly help.
Lesson 3: Keep It Unique, Yet Not Too Niche
Even if you have a really, really good story, it’s not going to work if your core question is already covered. Similarly, you can have a story that’s very similar to another, as long as the core question is different. This is all ambiguous and tricky territory, as issue overlap is avoided as much as possible. Sometimes a little overlap is alright. Other times it kills a draft. It really is ambiguous territory, but try to make something as unique as possible, while also trying your best to make it still relevant.

Another issue that people sometimes run into is that the core question is actually the same as another in disguise. This is often times ok, but be very, very careful; issue ideas can be overused. “People don’t like this” is a bad and overused example. Of course they don’t like it, that’s the point. Make something unique. One way around this has been “People are doing this anyways and it’s hard to enforce”, which is better and gives more urgency, but is also overused to some extent.

Another example, this time story-focused, is “There’s a protest!” or “people are rioting about this thing…” and that’s fine once in a while (sometimes it’s hard to come up with a better story, and it is urgent), but it’s very overused, and not particularly unique.

One final example (there are more, but this is the last one I’m giving) is that of national disasters in your nation. “A massive flood has hit your nation, what do you do?” “A massive fire burned your nation” “A massive fire came close to your capital” “Your nation is flooded (again)” “A meteor struck your nation”; these are all natural disasters. Should you discard all of them? No! They’re all in the game. But because they all involve natural disasters, you have to write the issue in such a way that addresses a different core dilemma or plays on that specific thing.

Got a fire? Prevent wildfires, clear trees, build things out of stone, etc. Got a storm coming your way? Make it solely about some dangerous prisoners who’ve yet to be freed. Got a flood? Maybe you don’t focus on the flood, but rather use it as a reason for the fact that nobody has insurance. These are all ways of using the same story of “A natural disaster” and gives them all a unique core question, or even a similar one that riffs off of some unique circumstances. Still, do be careful if you go this route.

While it’s good to come up with a unique idea, also be careful not to make it too niche. What is too niche? Several things can be, actually. An issue that plays off of compulsory gun ownership, corporal punishment, and no zoos? … If it’s a good enough issue, maybe, but generally, something that is too restrictive doesn’t pass. An issue that covers whether retail price guns are working well enough? Very, very unlikely. These are both ways of being overly specific. Does it dodge the ball of being too broad and being ambiguous or already covered? Yes, but it does it a bit too well. NS can not possibly have issues about every single last thing in existence, let alone ones so niche they’re not worth adding.
Lesson 4: Serial Commas
Some people use serial commas, other people don’t, and some people don’t care, use both and tick everyone off because of it. An issue already exists on this subject, but I’ll let you know now that issues that play off of English are never accepted with that one exception. Remember, NS should not have ANY irl references. French Horn? No. Merovingian Horn? Sure. But for goodness sake, do not make an issue surrounding IRL language quirks. Fictional language quirks? If vague enough, sure, but nothing too specific.

Oh, and you’re more than welcome to write in any way, be it British, American, Canadian, or something else as long as it’s in English, but for goodness sake, you must be consistent, unalterring and stick with either all serial commas or no serial comma whatsoever.

Write down an issue idea! Anything, really. Ideally, write as many as you like, and the better the ideas, the better the grading. Quality over quantity, but quantity doesn’t hurt. Regardless, I want to see an issue idea pop into your head and down on paper. It does not need to be perfect, or even good, but every idea starts somewhere. And if it’s really bad, throw it out and make another — it’ll save you a lot of headache and heartache.