Dr. Mackenzie's Common SCP Pitfalls

This is a collection of long-form explanations of common idea and writing pitfalls that are often addressed in the Ideas & Brainstorming and Drafts & Critiques forums.

As with my Writing Tips page, these are all subjective observations and do not represent absolute truths or requirements. You are free to follow or ignore any of the items outlined here.

Ideas & Concepts

The Foundation is not a Magic Item Compendium or Monster Manual.

Named for several iconic sourcebooks of the Dungeons & Dragons product line, this is a bit of a broad category that requires explaining.

Generic Magic Items

Generic magic items can be any of the following:

  • An object that is absurdly effective at what it's supposed to do. (Such as a sword that can cut through anything or a gun that can destroy everything, often referred to as an "Over The Top" or "OTT" item.)
  • An object that is absurdly ineffective at what it's supposed to do. (Also referred to as a "Reverse OTT" item.)
  • Any object that consists only of an object with clearly defined activation and function, with no context or backstory.
  • In general, any object whose description reads like it could have been out of a game of some sort falls into this category.

The problem with magic items is that they're universally boring. The Foundation is, to me, fundamentally an exploration of the human response to the existence of the supernatural and paranormal; simply having an object that exists without any in-depth emotional response does not fit that description.

In order to make an SCP article successful, it's helpful to think of an effect and a story first; once you have a story to tell, you can always come up with an object or entity that you can mold into the right shape. It's a lot harder to start with the object and work backwards.

Corollary: Cursed Magic Items

A common response to accusations of an idea being a simple magic item is to add drawbacks to it. This is a fallacy because doing so does nothing to address the basic problem: it's still a magic item, it's now just a cursed magic item.

Corollary: Compulsions Are Boring

Any item that compels people into using it in order to activate its effect generally comes off as forced and uninteresting. In fact, part of what makes Factory items so interesting is that all of the horrible things that happen occur because people willingly use them, not because the item whispered into their minds.

Corollary: Conceptual Distinctiveness

The SCP community considers uniqueness to be a very important aspect. However, a lot of newer members get caught up on precisely what makes something unique or original.

Take the classic trio of SCP-261, SCP-294, and SCP-914. They are all conceptually similar because fundamentally they are all "random item generators"; objects that produce other, often anomalous, objects given some kind of stimuli. Something that does the same as one of these but looks different (such as being in the form of a book or appliance instead of a vending machine) is generally not sufficiently distinctive to be a different SCP.

If your idea could be described as "like [existing SCP], but [slightly different]", then you might want to take a step back and consider whether you're on the right track. Also keep in mind that it doesn't really matter whether you think the concept in question is sufficiently distinctive from existing work, it's the community that has the power to vote your article off of the proverbial island, and if you have difficulty convincing them, then you are in trouble.

Monster Manual Entries (a.k.a. Generic Monsters)

Just like magic items, monsters are entities that simply exist to cause pain and suffering with no rhyme or reason. This doesn't mean that we have to understand where all of our creatures come from, it simply means that you either have to describe it beyond simply what it looks like and what it does.

Sure signs of a Monster Manual entry are an in-depth explanation of its abilities and how it reacts to certain stimuli, especially conditions under which it "enrages" or otherwise gets angry and becomes hostile. If it feels like it could be dropped into a role-playing session as a generic enemy, then you're on the wrong track.

As with generic magic items, often times the problem is that there is no interesting context or backstory to the entity. If the only interaction with the Foundation consists of it killing people or being difficult to contain, or if it otherwise could literally be uprooted and planted into any other setting as a monster-of-the-day, then you're not doing it right.

Humanoids, Jokes, and Keter-class Objects

All three of these categories are statistically harder to pull off than anything else you might come up with, and thus I always suggest to new members that they should not try writing one of these until they have written a few successful submissions.


Enough of a problem that it has warranted its own essay, Humanoid SCPs have numerous pitfalls associated with them. The vast majority of humanoid SCPs come across as either superheroes (humans with superpowers), supervillains (the same, except evil), or Mary Sue wish-fulfillment fantasies.

A sure sign that a humanoid SCP is headed in the wrong direction is if there is a lot of unnecessary exposition about its specific physical appearance or mannerisms when such things are irrelevant to its anomalous properties or containment requirements. Another big warning flag are humanoids that are allowed to wander around Foundation sites (even if they are under escort) or otherwise given anything they want for no reason.

Joke SCPs

Joke SCPs are often perceived as being easier to write than normal SCPs or as a sort of "dump box" for ideas that don't quite make the main lists. This could not be further from the truth, as any Joke SCP not only has to nail all of the requirements of a main list SCP, but has to be broadly funny as well. In general, Joke SCPs are much harder than regular SCPs to write because no matter how well written it is, if any given reader doesn't laugh at your joke, then they will not vote favorably on it.

Corollary: Pop Culture References Do Not Make Good Joke SCPs

Things from games, movies, or other fiction written straight-up as SCPs generally aren't funny, and the vast majority of Joke SCPs that fell into this category were wiped out in the Mass Edit years ago.

Keter-class Objects

Keter-class Objects are broadly defined as "inimical threats to all of humanity", and are listed along with Humanoids and Jokes as concepts that are difficult to write because the process of coming up with something that is broad-reaching enough to threaten all of humanity while allowing the Foundation to maintain the veil of secrecy and being an interesting read is surprisingly difficult. While a planet-sized monster that can swallow the earth in one gulp might certainly be classified as a Keter-class entity, it would be almost impossible to write it in such a way as to be plausible (within the Foundation's literary framework) and interesting.

By taking look at the main lists, you'll also notice that there are four times as many Safe- and Euclid-class objects as Keters; that alone should be a clear indication of how uncommon they actually are.

Danger/Death/Gore is a Cheap Thrill

Danger in the context of an SCP is a very broad concept; some SCPs are contained simply because they threaten the Foundation's mission of secrecy and mission to keep the world in the dark as to the fragile nature of reality. Simply making something gruesome is easy to do but ultimately not very effective on its own: body horror may get a quick reaction out of your reader, but if that is your only hook then they aren't liable to stay interested for long.

Put another way, horror movies that consist entirely of jump-scares and scary monsters tend not to be as interesting or successful as suspense-thrillers that play on the audience's deep fears and phobias.

Corollary: Rape Is An Extremely Sensitive Topic

Rape is an extremely difficult subject to write about, be it for SCP or elsewhere. Not only is it impossible to write in any semblance of a tasteful manner, you are nearly guaranteed to receive negative backlash for the subject matter alone. There have been many cases in which even veteran authors have gotten positively eviscerated for a rape-related SCP because they narrowly missed the mark.

Needless to say, this is something that you should not touch at all until you have gotten a lot of experience writing for the site.

SCPs Must Stand On Their Own

This means that a reader must be able to "get it" even if it's the first SCP they ever read. You must assume that the reader won't have the context of other, more fleshed-out articles to bolster your own.

Corollary: Don't Shoehorn Groups of Interest

Many newer writers fall into a trap where, in order to try to make something more interesting, they pick a random entry from the list of Groups of Interest and try to fit it into their article. This rarely works, as most articles written for a Group of Interest were started with that in mind; trying to shoehorn something in in such a way that it clashes with pre-existing headcanon regarding that particular GoI will get your article downvoted.

Corollary: Don't Gratuitously Cross-Test or Cross-Link

Something that is far more common in grandfathered-in Series I articles, cross-linking or cross-testing is almost never done anymore, and a great way to guarantee downvotes. Cross-testing and cross-linking is generally seen as a blatant attempt to ride another article's coat-tails and leech votes; even in cases where that wasn't the intention, if the article requires understanding of the linked article to make sense, then it is considered highly detrimental to the stand-alone ability of the page.

Formatting & Writing

SCP Articles should be Concise

When I write an SCP, I try to envision it as an executive brief of a technical document; your reader may be smart enough to understand your scientific gibberish, but they're too busy to read through a ten-page essay on some obscure aspect of a physical anomaly. Be clinical and precise, but keep your language simple and easy to understand. Excessive use of big words and scientific terms don't necessary make an article better.

Special Containment Procedures

In line with the above explanation of the central theme of an SCP article, the Special Containment Procedures section of a document is generally thought of as the emergency instructions for maintaining or re-asserting containment over an object in case of a catastrophic failure or breach. A responding team has to know how to keep themselves and the SCP safe until a more permanent solution can be established.

You can also read more about writing plausible containment procedures in this essay.

Corollary: Special Containment Procedures should be Special

Everything within the Procedures block must be directly related to the specific anomalous properties of the object in question. I refer to things like guard rotations, door codes, and lock procedures as "useless minutiae" if they are not directly related to the SCP at hand; these are basic procedures that anyone who's employed by the Foundation would already know, and aren't important to this particular object.

This also holds true for things like rooms with specific measurements or specific materials: they should only be mentioned if the object or entity poses a containment risk or danger to site staff if they are not met. There is nothing wrong with putting a humanoid SCP in a "standard humanoid containment cell"; you don't have to mention that it's a six-by-eight room with a bed and furnishings unless there is a significant variation from what you would imagine to be standard containment procedures for such an entity.

In a more broad sense: assume that Foundation staff are intelligent, and have been trained on basic security already. Spelling out things that don't require spelling out just bloats your document with unnecessary text.

Corollary: Procedures Should Not Be Censored

If you censor anything in the Procedures block, then you sort of defeat the purpose of having emergency instructions to begin with. Anything that containment teams need to know needs to be readily available, and anything that isn't necessary shouldn't be in the Procedures to begin with.

The only generally accepted exception to this rule are site names or numbers; if you are at a site where you need the emergency instructions for an object that has just breached containment, then you damn well already know where you are and that information is now unnecessary.

Corollary: Procedures Should Not Name Specific Personnel

In-universe, it doesn't make sense for a single person to be the point of contact for all research done on a single item. If that person is injured, killed, or otherwise incapacitated then all research is stonewalled until someone else can take over, and then we have to update all documentation related to it, which just causes an immense amount of confusion. It's far better to mention things like "Senior Researchers" or "Site Directors", titles instead of names.

Out-of-universe, any specific name in the Procedures section a) violates the nameless/faceless theme of the Foundation and therefore feels out of place, and b) looks like a self-insert whether that was your intention or not.

Corollary: The Foundation Is Cold, Not Cruel

I am firmly in the camp that believes that Class Ds are not wantonly killed at the end of each month; it simply doesn't make sense for the Foundation to be that wasteful of human life, and I can't imagine how it could be plausibly deniable for so many people to simply disappear off the face of the earth, even if they're mostly drawn from third-world countries and dictatorships.

Specifically, feeding humans to SCPs should almost never be done unless there are specific, plausible reasons that a human subject is absolutely required for the SCP to remain contained. A cow or pig is more nutritious and far less morally gray than a human and quite frankly there's very few SCPs that could even tell the difference. Even in the case that an SCP has a preference for human flesh, we generally don't cater to their demands anyways so it shouldn't even be an issue.


This should go without saying, but a surprising number of people miss out on this point:

The Description block of your SCP has to actually describe the object in question.

Remember that this is supposed to be an executive brief; a high-level staff member such as an Overseer doesn't have time and shouldn't have to dig through your entire document in order to figure out that the object being described is a rusty knife that mind-controls people into sacrificing babies (please don't use that idea, it's only an example).

A general rule of thumb is that if the reader doesn't have a good physical description by the end of the first paragraph or a clear high-level understanding of its effects by the end of the second or third paragraph, then you might be writing in too much of a roundabout fashion.

Corollary: SCP Articles Still Have to Have Literary Value

Despite the unusual format, SCP articles should still have all the traditional elements of fiction:

  • You have to have exposition.
  • You have to have build-up.
  • You have to have a dramatic reveal or climax.
  • You have to have some semblance of resolution, even if it's just a narrative cliffhanger.

The fact that SCP articles have to be done in a clinical and technical format doesn't absolve you, the author, of these requirements; that's part of the fundamental challenge in writing SCPs.

Corollary: Origin Information is Unnecessary

I see a lot of people try too hard to come up with how and where something was found when sometimes the best thing to do is to not mention it at all. If you find yourself censoring large swathes of the origin information just because you can't come up with something that's both interesting and plausible, then you may wish to consider leaving it out entirely.

Addenda / Miscellaneous

The addenda of an article are used in two main ways:

  • To build on the concepts established in the Description block.
  • To create a sense of chronological progression by creating "later additions" to the main article.

They should not be used to separate out information that should logically belong with the main Description instead. Topics such as origin information for an object or entity is debatable: the general rule of thumb is that if the origin information is short, it fits better at the end of the Description. If it's long or convoluted then it might flow better in an addendum.

Corollary: Test Logs / Interview Logs / Incident Logs Are Not Required

As with any Addendum, the aforementioned logs need to have actual value to them; they should add meaningful insight to the object in question rather than be tacked on just to make the document longer.

Just keep in mind: SCP-173 is incredibly short, yet manages to paint an incredible picture in the short space it occupies. Longer is not always better.

Corollary: Humorous Addenda Are Out of Style

Often referred to as "LolFoundation", this refers to addenda that fall into any of the following patterns:

  • The next person who misuses this item for personal gain will be punished.
  • The next person who plays a prank using this item will be punished.
  • The next person who disobeys orders or violates security with regards to this item will be punished.
  • Any mention of being "demoted to Class D".
  • Any mention of being terminated for minor infractions.

These kinds of addenda went out of style years ago, as they imply that the Foundation is full of idiots or pranksters who are willing to threaten the safety of all humanity by abusing items with potentially existence-threatening anomalous properties. This is no longer done, and older articles that still have them are slowly being edited or phased out.

This doesn't mean that SCPs can't have situational humor in them; many popular articles have a degree of absurdity that makes them all the better. Just don't play on humor that involves the Foundation being a pack of slobbering idiots.

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