This is not an official document, and not intended as a strict guideline for writing SCP articles. These are merely observations I have made after reading and writing countless SCPs, common patterns I see in highly-rated articles, and my own rules of thumb for when I write new articles. You are free to follow or ignore any of these tips! - Mackenzie
Coming up with a compelling idea is often times the hardest part of writing a SCP. As the site has been around for nearly five years at the time of this writing, many of the common themes in horror and creepypasta have already been done to death, and hundreds if not thousands of drafts have been deleted so far.
The Foundation as a literary body is a collection of articles describing an all-but-too-human organization with vast but limited power attempting to protect the rest of humanity by containing and studying anomalous objects and entities. Ideally, when you come up with an idea for a SCP, it should fall into at least one, preferably two, and ideally all three of the following categories:
- Creepy - Something is "creepy" when there is something innately wrong about the object or entity in question. Creepy things cause primal fear and revulsion or an indescribable feeling of "wrongness". Very often this can be something that is a phobia (such as the fear of drowning or spiders), but ask yourself whether this is a common phobia. The closer you can hit home with your creep, the better chances it will elicit a strong reaction in your readers.
- Mysterious - Is it something that is out of place or unexplained? Otherwise ordinary objects or beings that shouldn't be able to exist where they are, or do the things they do are Mysterious. These are things that do not necessarily frighten us, but dig into our curiosity and make us want to find out how it works or where it came from. While most people think of the Foundation as something that is focused primarily on Creepy things, there are plenty of objects in containment that inspire a healthy sense of wonder. I, for one, prefer Mysterious over Creepy most of the time.
- Dangerous - These things are either difficult to handle or contain, or are simply capable of causing us immense harm. Danger can range from risk of injury or death to body horror and mind rape, and is by far the easiest aspect to add to a SCP. However, it's also the least interesting; as I always say, gore is a cheap thrill. If your SCP hinges purely on its destructive capability, it's probably not going to be very well received.
Remember that the SCP Foundation contains objects that are a danger to all of humanity, either by being a direct threat to our existence or by threatening the Foundation's mission of secrecy by their mere existence.
One of the most common mistakes made by newer authors in their attempt to emulate the deep, thought-provoking nature of the best and brightest SCPs is putting too much fluff into their idea. When encountering a draft that seems to wander all over the place, one of the first questions I ask is, "Can you fully describe your article in only two short sentences?" Very often, if you can't seem to do it with your idea, then you may need to consider paring it down. Alternatively, take a raw idea you came up with, cut it down to short form, then build on that to come up with the rest of the article.
- SCP-173 is a concrete statue that moves when you aren't looking at it. It makes strange noises, and kills people by snapping their necks.
- SCP-231 is a young girl that is impregnated with a cosmic horror. If we don't do horrible things to her, then it will destroy the world.
- SCP-882 is a huge clockwork object that gives people a compulsion to throw more metal parts into it.
The fundamental and uniting theme of the SCP Foundation is unexplained or creepy objects that are contained and described in a clinical, scientific manner. I often see new drafts that are too conversational, sensational, or otherwise non-conforming to this theme.
Special Containment Procedures
The Procedures block of your article serves two purposes. Firstly, it quickly explains the method by which an active object is contained, and secondly it serves as a hook and intro to the rest of your article. A good Procedures block sets a tone for creepy or dangerous objects, and causes your reader to want to learn more.
As a special note, please avoid name drops and containment procedures that involve "SCP-XXX is stored in my closet / on my desk / in my office" or "Ask me for permission to use this". Even if it isn't your intention, this comes across as a forced self-insert and a blatant attempt to increase the importance of your author avatar, and I can almost guarantee that many of the veteran members of the site will downvote an article for this alone. If at all possible, try to follow procedures such as, "requires permission from Level # personnel". The Foundation has a strict chain of command, and the names of the individuals are unimportant (and often censored anyways).
While there are many possible ways to write the Description block of your SCP, there are a few writing structures that are used often and serve as good starting points for your first article. The most vital components of your Description block are as follows:
- Physical Description - In the first paragraph, try to give a short introduction to what the item is, or resembles. If something terrible happened and someone who didn't know what the SCP was had to deal with it, they need to know how to identify the object quickly and easily. Try not to go over one paragraph, as you don't need to describe the object in brutal detail, but make sure you include size and color for objects that aren't otherwise obvious.
- Anomalous Properties - After you've established how the object can be identified, establish what is so abnormal about it that the Foundation needs to be involved. Try to indicate known ways of activating the object's strange properties, and remain objective. Don't use subjective descriptions such as "good", "bad", or "scary", and don't use flowery language.
- Source - This section is technically optional. Many highly rated SCP articles give no hint as to how the object was discovered or contained. In particular, try to avoid the heavily overused cliche of, "This object was discovered in Agent/Researcher/Doctor X's attic", or "This was left on the doorstep or discovered in a closet at Site Y". If you feel that an object's method of discovery or the process by which it was contained adds something to the article, however, then tell us how this object came to our attention. Was it discovered after it was triggered and caused civilian casualties? Did some unusual incident catch our attention? How did we contain it initially, and what kind of damage has it caused in the past?
- Current Status - Finish off by giving us a brief of its current condition. While this is also technically optional, it adds depth to an article to note whether it is safely contained now or still highly volatile, whether additional research is planned, and what we intend to do with it in the near future.
I call this the standard 1-2-3-4 format. Sometimes, when the Anomalous Properties section becomes extremely long, you can opt for a 1-3-2-4 format to make the article flow better, but use your best judgment and don't be afraid to deviate from the common structure if you think it works better!
Experiment or Incident Logs are a common way of adding further detail to an article that may seem bland by itself, but please use them sparingly. Often times an article that could stand on its own already will receive negative feedback in the form of, "Why were these experiments necessary? This is an unwarranted waste of resources."
Furthermore, there is often a common misconception about the purpose of an Experiment Log due to the huge popularity of "SCP makers" such as SCP-914. Adding a template, or "how to write your own experiment log entry" section to most articles is grossly unnecessary, and breaks the tone of the article. In addition, collaborative contribution logs such as that of SCP-914, SCP-261, and SCP-294 are grossly overdone at this stage in the Foundation's history, and new ones tend to be frowned upon. We already have enough of these.
This is my number one pet peeve, as well as that of many veteran members, authors, and editors. Articles that end with a final note along the lines of, "further abuse or the use of this SCP in pranks will result in demotion to Class D, termination, or punishment" are horrible, horrible tone-breakers. The prevalence of such addenda in older articles undermines the seriousness of the Foundation's work, and implies that researchers are a bunch of idiotic pranksters. This is another common mistake that will almost guarantee downvotes on it alone.
This isn't to say that humor is frowned upon. Situational humor, especially in the context of the Foundation, can be a useful tool to underline how mistakes in the line of duty can have severe and often times fatal consequences. Tacking on a humorous final note, however, is universally reviled.
These are random other things that might be useful.
This is a very important tip for younger members: The average age of authors that contribute to this site is somewhere around 25. For those of you who are younger than that, you need to be aware that even if you are not a college graduate, we can and will hold you to a post-graduate level of writing quality. The SCP Foundation is an effort to present a collection of short articles in a unified tone and framework; if you lack the literary experience to identify and conform to this standard, then you will have a hard time writing a proper article.
This is not to say that you can't do it at all; rather to the contrary, some of the highest rated articles on the site were written by authors under the age of eighteen. However, these are by far the exception to the rule. If you are young and/or still in school, I cannot stress enough how much you need to use the provided resources (sandbox, pastebin) and court feedback on your writing before you post it. The IRC channel is a great resource for discussing what does or doesn't work for writing on this site, and any attempts at posting half-baked articles to the site will be quickly dogpiled and ripped into shreds.
On a related note, don't try to force creativity either. One story I hear way too often from teenage writers is that they feel like they need to come up with something and get it posted. This can't be farther from the case; if you are having trouble writing, then you need to do something relaxing and get your mind off of it until something comes to you. At the time of this writing there are over twelve hundred SCPs on the site. This is a staggering amount of writing, and it need not be said that all of the 'easy ideas' have been taken long ago. In order to come up with a unique and convincing article, you will have to work very hard just simply to stand out from the existing body of work. If you force yourself to sit at a keyboard just because your first idea didn't work out, you will do nothing but produce more sub-par content.
Finally, please spare us the sob stories. We don't need to hear about how your domestic problems, health conditions, or mental disabilities. This does not court sympathy from us, nor does it make us lower our standards to accommodate you. This is, however, a great way to immediately and completely alienate yourself from the community!
These are some of my own articles, and ones that I consider useful reading before trying to put your ideas to words.
- SCP-176 - Observable Time Loop. This is a fairly popular example of a 1-2-4 Description with an omitted Source paragraph.
- SCP-269 - Dialysis Bracelet. This is an example of a slightly Creepy, moderately Mysterious, and moderately Dangerous SCP that follows the 1-2-3-4 Description format. The anomalous properties section is probably near the upper limit for length before a 1-3-2-4 format is preferable, and the description of SCP-269 is robust enough to work very well without an experiment log. This is also a good example of a well-received Safe-class object, and a good illustration of how even a Safe object could be dangerous if mishandled.
- SCP-556 - Painted Aircraft. This is an example of a 1-3-2-4 Description, wherein the Source paragraph is placed before the Anomalous Properties for better flow. The use of Addenda to establish the persistent danger in containing this object adds significant value to the article, and avoids giving off the feeling of a runaway log.
I cannot stress enough how useful it is to an aspiring writer to read as much of the site as they can. While there are a lot of articles and tales on the site already, and certainly nobody expects you to read the entire site before contributing, the more you read before striking out on your own, the better chance you have of nailing the tone of the Foundation. One of the best ways of doing this is to come into IRC and ask around what some of the veteran members' favorite articles are. This will not only help you identify which articles are considered to be superior examples of SCP writing, but also quickly get you involved with the review process and get yourself known to the veteran members. IRC is also the best way to get feedback on drafts or other works in progress. Don't be shy!