An exercise in narrative based SCPs
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An exercise in narrative based SCPs

AKA Leveritas beating the drum he's been beating since what feels like an eternity, so if we let him write an essay maybe he'll finally shut up about it.

When I look back at the narrative style from Series I compared to now, I feel like it's a larger difference than most people realize. Sure, the format hasn't changed that much. We don't do numbers (#) anymore, and we perfected clinical tone, true. Apart from that though, the most noticeable change is what an SCP article conveys.

SCPs right now are expected to be more than just pure documentation of a thing that's anomalous in some way. Why? We have over 3000 SCPs at the time of writing. You can be pretty sure that your idea has been done before, maybe more than once. So how can you still make it successful? Quite simply:

The execution.

It doesn't matter if a concept has already been done if the way you write it, or rather the story you tell with it, is different and good enough. In a way, SCP articles are a catalyst to tell your story. A dry report telling about horror, or suffering, or pity, sometimes even love or humour. And that's the art of writing SCPs. It's the challenge that everyone who has written, or wants to write one, has to overcome.

To quote VezazVezaz:

''Get away from "type of object" or "sort of creature" and instead start thinking about stories you want to tell,''…

…or feelings you want to give your reader. Starting with an object and trying to shove story elements into it afterwards is a lot harder and will usually come off as less natural unless you can make the object in itself interesting enough on its own.

If you're thinking of writing an SCP and you start your brainstorming like this:

I have this cool idea for a closet that when you open it something terrible comes out-

or:

Ok so I'm thinking of some kind of cool monster that-

Stop, take a step back and think about the following:

Alright, but where do I want to go with that? What story do I want to tell my reader? What do I want my reader to feel when they read about this closet SCP? Do I want them to feel tense? Intrigued? Do I want them to be curious what's inside?

or:

  • Why is this monster here?
  • What does it want?
  • How did the Foundation find it?
  • Why should the reader care about it?

Some authors are working out details on an SCP before deciding what narrative direction you're taking it in. It's like fleshing out a main character before you decide on what kind of novel you're writing. Especially for newer authors, it's a lot harder to pull off right, since the setting that character is placed in will always be influenced by their surrounding situation, interaction with other characters and situations depending on the genre. For me, it felt like working backwards.

Examples.

This isn't just a trait from modern Series either. Let's look at something from Series I: SCP-962.

  • Basic anomaly: A tower that releases cyber-augmented animals that occasionally communicate with us.
  • What makes it interesting to readers: The implication of sentience of whatever is writing the notes, as well as the sudden heel-turn in writing style.
  • What makes this stand out: When looking at the notes (yes, this article gives the SCP a voice) we get the feeling that it's a bizarre sort of admirer of the human race.
  • How this different from a standard straightforward article? Imagine how much weaker the article would have been if it had just been the tower and animal, without the notes? We'd lose the speculation on it's existence, or the motivation for it doing what it does.

On to Series II: SCP-1983.

  • Basic anomaly: An aperture to (presumably) another dimension opened by cultists.
  • What makes it interesting to readers: Either the backstory or the document left behind by an MTF unit.

Item #: Pending

Object Class: Keter. God help you.

Special Containment Procedures: You're going to die, you poor dumb fuck.

This isn't a threat. I'm Agent Barclay. I'm in the middle of this goddamned thing, and I'm telling you, if you're here? You're going to die. I'm probably already dead.

So that's out of the way. Let's get to the containment procedures. There's really only one. Close the goddamned door. You aren't going to get back through there. You've probably already tried. But we know they can get out, if they try hard enough. That's how we found this fucking place. Hopefully, you've already done that. I know we did, once we gave up on getting out through there. If you didn't, then you go straight back and get that door closed. That is your only priority right now. You're going to die anyway. Might as well do some good before you're gone.

  • What makes this stand out: Notice this piece of narrative gold at the end:

The SCP is presumed to have been neutralized by D-14134, who was posthumously awarded the Foundation Star (one of only two awarded to Class-D Personnel). Due to information contained in Document 1983-15, it is believed that the anomaly was not localized, as previously believed, and renewed resources have gone into attempting to locate similar incidents.

This both sets the D-Class up as people, that can be heroic, instead of just test fodder, like the Foundation usually perceives them. It also sets up a premise for future work or the feeling that the threat isn't over.

  • How this different from a standard straightforward article? Again, ask yourself how this article would have been received if it just stopped after the containment procedures? It would have been orders of magnitudes worse in terms of narrative and characterisation of both the Foundation, the Mobile Task Force member and the D-Class, instead being a report without any insight on Foundation personnel. No matter what, they're still people.

On to Series III: SCP-2099

  • Basic anomaly: It's a brain in a jar that can still communicate.
  • What makes it interesting to readers: It's implied that this SCP is the inventor of technologically profound devices, and we're made curious of what else this SCP came up with.
  • What makes this stand out: Rather than simply finding the things this SCP invented, we can communicate with it, and the strange manner of speaking gives us a good 'mad-scientist' vibe.
  • What makes this stand out: The SCP-2099-A instances do a good job of weaving a story together. We see the Foundation's knowledge of the anomaly grow along with the reader, giving us the feeling that we're making these discoveries together.

Finally, Series IV: SCP-3008.

  • Basic anomaly: A portal to another dimension, specifically an infinite IKEA.
  • What makes it interesting to readers: The details around the anomaly, specifically the humanoid entities and universal laws (day/night cycles) that differ from the norm. Along with that, it uses excellent worldbuilding that helps the reader visualise the scenery in detail.
  • What makes this stand out: This time, the log establishes the experience inside SCP-3008. The reader cares about the person writing the log. It's a story about the survival and experience inside the anomaly more than it is a report. Add to that an interesting reaction from the staff to characterise the Foundation even more.

They call the town Exchange, because that's whats on the sign hanging from the ceiling directly above it. Exchange and Returns. All lit up against the night using lights they've found and plugged into the power lines. And there are beds and food and people. Over 50 wonderful people with regular sized limbs and a full set of facial features. It's now my 7th night here, and the first one not spent in darkness. A full week living in Ikea. There's probably a TV show in that somewhere.

  • How this different from a standard straightforward article? Instead of just detailing how the SCP works and leave it at that, we're also looking at the SCP through the eyes of Foundation personnel, giving a more interesting narrative perspective. This is the same narrative tool as in the previous example, except that instead of the improvised report from an MTF member knowing they're about to die, we dive into the psyche of one person trapped inside the anomaly.

Think about how much more interesting these anomalies become with these logs. In this case, the SCP serves as a catalyst to tell a story instead of revolving around the anomaly itself.

So what do we try to say with these examples?

I clung to an idea very hard on my first draft, and I didn't understand what reviewers meant by ''It's lacking in narrative development''.

''What's there to develop?'' I asked myself.
''It's technically sound, the procedures are reasonable and we have a clear understanding of what it does.''

Then I read SCP-1730, and all pieces fell into place. These are stories. They're stories disguised as reports that are intentionally cold and detached1.

This isn't an essay to tell you what you should and shouldn't write, nor am I saying that the item-first-story-second approach will never work. This is simply an invitation to a different perspective. It's one I learned after struggling with writing for this wiki for a long time, and I see a lot of users fight the problem from the wrong angle.

They're trying to build a house on quicksand, thinking that the house won't sink if it's just good enough. Instead, do something about the ground the house stands on before starting to build it.

To reiterate: I'm not claiming that this approach will work for everyone and this is definitely not the only way to go about it. This is mainly because I didn't understand what reviewers meant when suggesting to develop narrative more, and this is a look at some examples for an approach that might work for you.

To conclude:

  1. Start off with an idea for a story or a feeling you want to give your reader.
  2. Create an object around that idea, specifically with the narrative in mind.
  3. If you're having trouble conveying your emotion or narrative, ask either the brainstorming or the drafts and critiques forum to help you out.

Following these steps should help you making something your readers will enjoy, and hopefully this essay will have helped you understand the perspective of creating narrative-based SCPs better.

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