Game Design in Everyday Writing: Cadence

Game design is all about making things more fun. Turns out you can make reading fun too, even on a “mechanical” level. Here’s one way.


The easiest way to discuss cadence is to compare a highway and roller coaster.

While accelerating on a straight empty highway can feel thrilling, once you’ve been the same speed for enough time, you’ll eventually get used to it. It’ll get monotonous, on that empty highway.

Roller coasters aren’t fun because they are fast per se; their fun actually comes from the changes. First is the long, slow climb, building anticipation. Then your stomach lurches as you drop and twist and launch through turns and loops, and your speed fluctuates, too, slowing on some hills, before lurching down again. Etc.

In games you utilize the principle of cadence to make sure that levels are constantly shifting in terms of pace, difficulty or even type of skillset required.


But you can do this in writing too! It’s somewhat common knowledge to alter the length of your sentences, but are you making sure your paragraphs shift between information and calls to action? Low-energy words and high-energy words? Nouns and verbs? There’s so many things you can play with! Repetition is a useful tool, of course, but do anything for too long - and in the same form for too long - and your reader will lose interest.

If you find that people check out of your conversation… check that you’re not repeating yourself, or continuing on the same thread too long after your audience understands you, or that you’re not calling on someone to give the same ‘style’ of response over and over - ie forcing someone to keep giving you responses like ‘that’s awful/that’s great’, etc.

There’s some other stuff, like challenge and discovery - but that’ll come later. Until then - may your words catch like wind on sails!

X-Disciplinary: Deckbuilder Deck Thinning and Creative Writing

I admit that I have an obsession with deckbuilder games. I also have an obsession with the idea of being a creative writer. So it was kind of nice when my skill in deckbuilding translated over towards my poetry / prose.

If you haven't read my other posts about deckbuilders, allow me to summarize. The "deckbuilder" genre is a game where you interact with game mechanics by playing from your personal deck of cards. Specifically, you get to add cards to & subtract cards from your deck in order to stack your draws and perform exponentially better as time goes on.

Well, a key part of the deckbuilder genre that pushes you from 'beginner' to 'intermediate' is when you start to realize how strong shaving down your deck size can be, as opposed to just making a big bundle of whatever value cards you kind of like.

Some people on Slay the Spire forums complain they can't beat the game, and then also refuse to remove Strikes from their deck... now it won't be you!

Some people on Slay the Spire forums complain they can't beat the game, and then also refuse to remove Strikes from their deck... now it won't be you!

With the "thin deck" strategy, you should focus on a few key cards with specific effects and remove as many middling cards as possible. By doing so your average hand will have a much higher chance of including the exact cards you want with none of the anti-synergistic fluff in between.

You've heard this kind of advice before if you've ever tried your hand at creative writing, or even academic writing. But I guess I never intuitively Got It as much until my descent into deckbuilders gave me a better sense of recognizing how different parts can interlock [or not] at a given moment.

When you're writing a story, or prose, or especially poetry, you want each word to carry as much impact as possible. And sure, you can choose stronger words, but that'll get you so far.

Eliminate unnecessary words.

You have to try and get rid of any words that aren't strictly needed.

Of the two above statements, one probably sounds a lot heavier, eh? I write in a freeform janky style in my blog posts because I prefer giving my tone a smooth and relaxed texture, but in actual creative writing [especially poetry!] it's important to make sure that your 'fluff' words aren't making the reader spend proportionately less time on the words that matter.

A reader taking in 3 words per second may be considered equivalent to drawing a hand of 5 cards a turn.

Thus, the quality of each hand/second is determined by the average quality of each card - or word - combined. 

THUS, one can improve the quality of any given moment [or hand of cards] either by adding more high-quality content, or by simply removing low-quality content. 

( And this somewhat explains why novels tend to be more permissable with rambly long passages. Similarly, fat decks that can stand up to curses or poor thinning options can be just as competitive if done correctly. Novels have the luxury of allowing overarching character development and plot points to somewhat make up for the lower saturation of impactful words. [Plus, you'd probably get exhausted.] )

So now it's time to add another aspect. In a deckbuilder, other than just getting rid of unnecessary cards, you ALSO want to make sure that your remaining cards all have a strong synergy with each other; this is especially true when you're more likely to see the same cards in the same hand together. Take advantage of your emphasized pairing!

When writing: you'll want to make sure that your words, ideas, characters, sentence flow, tone, syllabic emphasis, etc are all complimentary with each other. And by always checking to cut away unneeded bits, you make such little synergies become increasingly A) common, B) powerful, and therefore C) important to consider.

We all kind of know that this stuff is important to writing - synergies and shaving down your words, etc. But I can honestly say that getting waist-deep into deckbuilders has sharpened my intuition for how to shave down and sculpt a powerful written piece. Maybe it'll do the same for you?