A Dime A Dozen: An Essay On Critiquing Ideas, Community, and Making The Most Out Of Nothing
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Foreword

Ideas: They're a dime a dozen. Everyone has them whether they realize it or not (yes, even babies. Especially babies). Ideas are the vertebrae connected to every movie, book, or videogame that you have ever heard of in your life. But how do we know that our ideas are good? What does it even mean to have a good idea? How do ideas become… this? Or that? And what on earth does a good idea look like on the SCP Foundation wiki?

Hello there. I'm RockTeethMothEyesRockTeethMothEyes. I am an author on this site, I'm a staff member on the Forum Criticism Team, I'm not particularly ticklish, and I haven't read SCP-076, SCP-087, SCP-096, or SCP-999. And if you're reading this, it's because you thought the title was fun or because you want some help with the Idea & Brainstorming Forum.1

In this essay, we'll discuss the kind of things that you can expect to see on the Ideas & Brainstorming Forum (henceforth referred to as "I&B"), how I (RTME) typically approach them, and why this can be one of the most helpful things that you can do for… well, everyone on this site.


Addressing Your Concerns

Alright, let's get some stuff out of the way. I'm sure there are plenty of questions on your mind concerning this essay and what it means. Check out the stuff under the collapsible for some answers.


Diving In

Now that that's out of the way, we can start talking about the main event: threads in the I&B forum.

There are a couple of different types of threads you can expect to see from I&B:

  • Short and simple
  • Long and verbose
  • An absolute mess
  • A draft

We're going to tackle these one at a time, but each of these has a core way of going about them. Ultimately, we want to get to the point and tell them what we honestly think and why. There's a bit more to it than that, but those are the two things you'll find yourself doing just about every time. It's really just that easy.

Let's break it down.

Example 1: Short and Simple

A thread like this is typically a couple of sentences (or just one really long sentence) with all the information inside. Here's an example I came up with:

My SCP is a giant toad statue that when it rains it comes to life and starts eating people around it.

That's it. So let's take a moment to analyze what's here. It's a pretty straightforward thing we've been provided. All the components are there in blue, so there isn't much "getting to the point" that we need to do, so we just need to be honest about what we think. And what I'm thinking right now is that it's too simple. But how do we help the author get from Boringville to Interest Town?

Here's something I picked up from a very helpful walkthrough.2 Consider this for a moment: Why does anything exist? What is the purpose of, say, a coffee mug? Well… it holds coffee so you can drink from it. Duh. But think about its design. Think about the need it's fulfilling. It was made with a specific purpose in mind, which is hold hot liquid in a way that you don't have to actually grab the container, hence the nice little handle. And it doesn't need to hold just hot stuff or liquids either! You can throw pencils in that if you wanted.

Nothing just exists and does nothing for its entire time existing. Things have meaning and purpose and goals. Similarly, things can be used in a different manner than intended. In short: Why does it exist? How was it used? How is it being used now? These are questions to ask the author to get them started on the right track.

Example 2: Long and Verbose

You'll find a couple of these every so often. Let's rework that previous example to get a better idea of what this looks like. Trust me when I say this is still relatively short.

My SCP is a giant toad statue. It's located in a forest somewhere in Japan and has been there for centuries. However, when it rains, it soaks in all the rainwater and comes to life and looks like a real toad. Then, it makes its way to the nearest village/town/city and eats whatever gets in its path, including people. It does this by lashing out its tongue and grabbing it, pulling them into its mouth.
I'm thinking it would probably be a Euclid. The Foundation finds it after it goes on a rampage and eats a bunch of people. What do you think?

On top of the blue text, we have some green text. In our previous example, the blue text represents the fundamental components of the idea, or "the point". Here, the green text is the opposite: It is all stuff that we don't necessarily need to know. They're "extra details".

That's not to say that all of that green text is useless. On the contrary, some of that could probably be used to form a decent plot. Its location can give us a brief glimpse of its history, the appearance it takes on could mean it was a normal toad at one point, and the Euclid class gives us an idea of how the Foundation contains it. It really depends on how you view it. Some details you can squeeze more out of than others.

Example 3: An Absolute Mess

Okay. Allow me to preface this by saying that, if you are seeking concept critique, don't do what I'm about to do. I am begging you. Help us help you by following the above samples and not this:

My SCP is a giant toad statue. It's in the middle of a forest in Japan and has been there for a very long time, probably centuries. Its covered in moss and vines and stuff, but its in perfect condition. When it rains, it soaks in all the water and becomes a real giant toad, being able to jump really high and stick to buildings. Sometimes, it stops to eat trees and cars and people that it runs into. It also glows in the dark and talks in a deep voice telepathically. If it doesn't eat someone, the poison on its tongue will kill them in two hours. Can you tell me if this is a good idea?

UGH. GROSS.

So, blue text is the fundamentals, green text is stuff we can bounce off ideas. So what's with all this additional blue text? The main problem here is that the idea has a bunch of doodads stapled to it. Remember: It's not what the anomaly does that makes it interesting, but how it is used. The anomaly could be the coolest Swiss army knife ever and it would be lame if it just sat in a box for its entire life.

So how do we address this? Well, take it step-by-step. Locate your core components first. Then, you have a bunch of extra details that you can play with. See what jumps out at you and what you can't necessarily make anything out of. Does it need poison to be interesting? Does it need to be able to communicate telepathically? Focusing on one thing will make this easier for everyone.

If you're having an issue figuring out what the main components of the idea is, try out this exercise attributed to Doctor CimmerianDoctor Cimmerian: Summarize the anomaly and story in one sentence, with one comma. "Frog statue that eats people" isn't much of a story; that's just the anomaly. However, "Frog statue terrorizes civilians, so they actively fight against it" has some real potential. If a detail doesn't contribute to the summary sentence or do anything to further that idea, then you likely don't need it.

Example 4: A Draft

I don't think I need to spell this one out to you. We all know what SCP articles look like.

However, I should clarify what I mean here. If you see, like, a fully formatted SCP draft on the ideas forum, ignore it. That's against the I&B rules and we aren't reviewing drafts. What I mean is that if you see something that is overly specific, somewhat clinical in tone, and has SCP-XXXX and SCP-XXXX-1 or whatever in it, there's a good chance that the person who made the thread already has a draft made. So what do you do?

I literally told you not too long ago: We aren't reviewing drafts. We're reviewing the concept behind it. Follow the previous examples. Find the fundamental components, bounce off of the stuff that you can, ignore the stuff that seems tacked on, and honestly tell them what you do or don't like and why. If the draft is suffering from a shaky concept, that is what needs to be addressed.


Something Familiar

Quick question: Does my toad statue sound familiar? If it does, I don't know it, because I literally thought it up during this essay. How would I find out?

Oh, right! Of course! We have a hand-dandy tag search tool!3 You might find yourself using this every so often if you're looking for a particular kind of SCP. It's also useful for checking to see if the idea has been done before. I typically use it alongside the Tag List4, since there are some terms I'm just not familiar with (looking at you, formic).

So how would we go about using it? Take a look at what the toad statue is. It is a statue, which there is an existing tag for, and it is also frog-like, so we'll use the tag ranine. And that should show us…

… huh. No results on that one. I wasn't expecting that.

Well, anyway, if there were a frog statue, then it wouldn't matter! In most cases, there are bound to be ideas that have been done before. It all depends on what the author is doing differently. There are tons of things that do things, but how those things are explored is what makes those things different.5


The Follow-up

Still with me? Perfect. You're doing great.

The thing about the SCP-wiki is that it isn't just a writing site: it's also a community of writers. We're all here to read and vote on each other's stuff for the most part. When you're using the crit forums, however, it goes just a little deeper. You're not just here to read and vote. You're also here to help each other make some cool stuff.

I don't mean, like, literally collaborate (though if you wanted to do that, ZynZyn has a neat little guide about co-authorship6). I mean you get to push someone to an ideal vision of their concept, which is very rewarding, in my opinion. We all like to read cool stuff, so why not help someone make cool stuff with the experience you've gotten as a writer or (hopefully) by reading this essay?

So how do you do that? Easy! You just come back to the thread and see what the author responded with, if at all. Maybe they've responded to some questions you brought up. Maybe they agree and think that the idea you bounced off was a good direction. Maybe they just need a little clarification on what you meant. In any case, you can start having the conversation of making this thing awesome.

I should note that your mileage may vary on this. There are all kinds of people. Some of them bend a little more than others. In my experience, ideas aren't a precious thing. They come and they go. However, some people get really attached to their ideas. If I were to offer any advice on this, it would be to relax, respond calmly, and assert why you don't think the idea will work. Again, be honest.


The Cliffnotes

Alright. You've either skimmed this, read this once already or didn't read any of it. Either way, it's been a while since we went over the big points here. We're going to go through this one more time to make sure that it's all clear.

  • No matter what the thread looks like, the two things we are always going to do is get to the point by identifying the core components and tell the author what we honestly think and why.
  • A good way to get someone on the right path to expanding a simple concept is to ask them why the thing exists, what was it doing before, and what is it being used for now.
  • If there are some extra details, look closely. Try and squeeze some more info out of them.
  • If there is a bunch of things that add onto the idea, but it isn't that deep, focusing on one thing will make it easier
  • Remember: We're reviewing the author's concepts. We're not reviewing drafts. The idea deserves the most attention.
  • If you feel like this might already be a thing on the wiki, try using the Tag Search Tool.
    • If that idea has been done before, ask what the author is going to do differently.
  • And lastly, it's called a Brainstorming forum for a reason! Check back and see if the author responded!

Afterword

You ever think about Godzilla? It's a giant dragon lizard. It shoots laser beams and sleeps underwater and fights the Japanese Self-Defense Force and other giant dragon lizards. It's a really cool and very destructive sea monster and it has been around since 1954 (trust me, I just checked). So why is it so stinking popular if that is all it is?

Because it isn't just a sea monster with atomic breath. It's a metaphor for nuclear weapons testing. It's a vehicle that's driven by a supporting cast of characters that interact with it in a meaningful way. Between the moments of absolute carnage it wreaks, the Japanese are deciding whether they should be studying it or fighting it, up until the point of a noble sacrifice by a scientist to destroy it outright (trust me, I just checked).

Would Godzilla as a monster work on the wiki? Maybe. Would Godzilla work as a premise? Yes, actually, because we have War On All Fronts, but also because it's a clear example of engaging the audience with meaningful content. It's about the monster, but it's also about the people that have to deal with the monster. It's about what that monster represented and how those themes were introduced.

Any idea can work. Beneath a simple concept lies a story to tell. Nothing just exists and does nothing forever, not as long as humans are around to discover them. As readers, we decide whether we walk out of the theater mid-showing. As dedicated reviewers, it's our duty to challenge authors to keep us in our seats until the very end.

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