untitled essay regarding scps, narratives, and how they can share a page
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Introduction: Narrative and Temporality

Under normal circumstances, constructing and conveying a narrative1 comes naturally to us. We do it all the time in our day-to-day lives, and when we sit down to write a normal story, it's such an easy task that it does not even register as a barrier. It's a non-issue. So, why do we hear so much about narrative in SCPs? People need more of it, or they need one to start writing, or blah blah blah — it's a bit strange for a writing site to have this problem to begin with.

Ultimately, the 'narrative problem' arises because the SCP format is at odds with a temporal element. The general conceit of an SCP article is that it is a postmortem of sorts, in which all of the information about an SCP and the rules regarding its handling are assessed after the fact, distilled, and slotted into a format that conveys it efficiently — about as far from a story as you can get. The natural progression of an SCP is not "exposition => rising action => climax => falling action => resolution", it's "how to handle a thing => what the thing is => important information about the thing => less important information => tangentially relevant information".

Writing an SCP that works as a story, then, requires that the author introduce a temporal element that still harmonizes with the SCP format, the actual anomaly, and all the other elements of the article. There's more than one way to do it, not all of them are obvious, and some articles use more than one. This essay will break the available options down for you, provide examples, and help you decide what's right for your article.


The Gateway Method

The SCP documentation exists for the sake of including documentation not written by the Foundation that relays its own narrative. The narrative itself has little to do with the SCP in question — it usually ties back into the documentation at some point, but you could excise the SCP itself from the document and still be mostly complete. This is the least subtle way of incorporating narrative into an SCP.

Articles that do this are often criticized for being an obvious excuse to relay that documentation — at the end of the day, the SCP itself DOES count for something to a lot of people, and making it feel like an accessory to the real story doesn't always go well. As the author, you can avoid this by making the SCP stand on its own as much as possible — even if you only convey the narrative through non-SCP documentation, presenting interesting concepts and images that provoke an emotional reaction in their own right2 will make the article as a whole much stronger.

Apart from that, pulling this off just requires being good at whatever form of writing the outside material takes.

Examples include: SCP-1406, SCP-2988

You should use this method if…

  • You have some great prose that ALMOST stands alone, and just needs an excuse to be in an SCP document or something to tie it to the Foundationverse.
  • You've used one or more other storytelling methods in this document, but for whatever reason, you can't make them work right.

The Expository Method

The SCP documentation forms the exposition, and the rest of the narrative is played out in some documentation that the Foundation didn't write. Using the SCP document to provide crucial context for the external documentation merges the SCP with the narrative in a way that the Gateway method doesn't, while being almost as easy to write. Lots of articles that are centered around interview logs, civilian diaries, and other found materials use this method.

Much of the advice given for the Gateway method still applies — writing a good stand-alone is crucial to make the article coherent and enjoyable. It's also wise to take advantage of the unique quirks of SCP documentation — the ability to do a detached, comprehensive "postmortem" analysis of something means that the narrative can be more streamlined, support an unreliable narrator, or focus on emotions a lot more easily than a prose story on its own could. Since an SCP here represents knowledge that the actors in the story didn't have, sometimes including the story's aftermath, it can also be a great way of setting up dramatic irony.

Examples include: SCP-3008, SCP-1983

You should use this method if…

  • You have a story you want to tell that relies on an anomaly while it's outside of the Foundation.
  • You thought of a cool anomaly that the Foundation's detached analysis doesn't quite do justice.

The Incident Log Method

The story plays out in a series of events that occur after the Foundation identifies or contains the SCP, which the Foundation has recorded in their house style. Exploration logs, experiment logs, interviews, and the titular incident logs (whether they are labeled as such or not) are common and easy-to-use ways of doing this.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that, with the possible exception of dialogue, this is all conveyed in a clinical (dispassionate, unambiguous, concise) tone, and in strict linear order. You have to make the most of the plotline itself and the pacing in how it's revealed to the reader; incorporating dialogue or researcher commentary is useful to alleviate this pressure, and can let you use some of the tricks that normal prose uses to be more engaging.

Additionally, a certain level of discipline is required to stop the Foundation from speculating or conveying information that you know, but they don't — either directly through commentary, or indirectly through the actions they take. A lot of the fun of reading SCPs is the dramatic irony that comes from you puzzling something together, but the Foundation doesn't, because they're either thinking too scientifically or they're too committed to objectivity to speculate.

Examples include: SCP-2526, SCP-2496

You should use this method if…

  • Your SCP is a big place where things happen or have happened, and thus an exploration log would be cool; or, it's something the Foundation would run a lot of tests on and find out interesting things from, and thus an experiment log would be interesting.
  • Your SCP would react to the circumstances of its containment in an interesting fashion.
  • You have a story about some things that might happen to an anomaly, or happen because of an anomaly, while it's in the care of the Foundation.

The Repetition Method

The anomaly in question incorporates some repetitive cycle or sequence of events that plays out over a period of time, which forms the basis of its narrative. A lot of SCPs use this method as the backbone of the article, and then supplement it with various details or minor narratives that go beyond the clinical description.

It's important to consider the implications of something happening in a cycle. Reliably repetitive behavior denotes either a lack of agency or exceptional single-mindedness; for animals or diseases or concepts or inanimate things, this can be perfectly fine, but if it's something like a person, there should be some reason for them to be like this. Additionally, there's usually some sort of driver that pushes things to keep happening, some external input (implied or otherwise) that enables something to keep going when it would break down or decay.

More broadly, the fact that something is repeating is itself an event that dramatically changes the meaning of a story. One man coughing up facts about himself until he fades out of reality is a mysterious and unsettling event, while a virus that makes people cough up facts about themselves until they fade out of reality is a problem for the CDC and a potential case of bioterrorism.

Examples include: SCP-871, SCP-1646

You should use this method if…

  • You have a basic sequence of events in mind for a narrative, but they don't have much impact if they only happen once.
  • The SCP actively does something, and that thing is really interesting.
  • The story acquires a different, more interesting meaning if something happens a lot rather than just once.
  • The Foundation couldn't reasonably lock the SCP in a box and put it under a microscope, so they'd focus on what it does.

The Self-Insertion Method

The narrative is what would happen to someone who encountered the SCP. This method gets its name from the fact that, in many cases, the desired emotional impact is best conveyed when the reader imagines themselves in this position. This is how a lot of articles about diseases, or more generally Things What Fuck You Over, incorporate a narrative.

Trying to use this in its pure form usually results in some iteration on the generic monster articles that get coldposted to the site on a regular basis — just shock articles that describe something generically unpleasant and then bounce and never return your texts. So, don't do that. Also, over time, it has become more and more difficult to think of some novel experience to let readers experience vicariously, but we're still far from running out, so keep thinking at it. You'll have better luck taking some demographic or mindset you know well and catering to it than you will by trying to make something that will squick everyone out.

If you already have an SCP and want to play up the self-insertion factor, figure out which traits resonate most with people and why, and then build off those. Make sure that there's some way that a person could actually have this experience and you're pretty much good to go.

Examples include: SCP-221, SCP-1626

You should use this method if…

  • Your inspiration for the SCP was "Wouldn't it be [strange / cool / awful] if [you saw this / this happened to you]?"
  • Someone read your idea/draft and said "It would be so [strange / cool / awful] if [I saw this / this happened to me]."
  • You really want to get under your readers' skin.

The Detective Method

The SCP presents an anomaly and (usually) an unusual certain set of circumstances, and the readers are left to speculate about what events must have occurred for this to come about. It's not always necessary that readers are actually able to figure out what happened — just that they have enough information to feel good about whatever their guess is. Expungement and redaction are sometimes useful for this method, but they're not necessary, and won't constitute a worthwhile mystery on their own.

This method is very tricky to pull off properly, but when it's done right, the act of reading it can be intensely satisfying. It's tough to thread the needle so that readers aren't railroaded into one particular explanation, but not so much that readers don't feel like doing the work. On the other hand, it's also one of the only methods you can pull off without knowing exactly what's happening.3 Consider heavily supplementing it with some other method, so that the people who don't get it still have something to think about.

Examples include: SCP-2537, SCP-2747

You should use this method if…

  • You have a story in mind that the Foundation wouldn't know about, or wouldn't include in the document if they did.
  • You want a story in your SCP, but all you have is a set of notions and vague imagery.
  • You enjoy making puzzles.

Multiclassing

There's no reason an SCP can't include multiple narratives. Doing so can enrich an article and broaden its appeal, though it will become harder to keep the article coherent and concise. Likewise, an SCP can convey its narrative through multiple methods — an SCP entry might describe a cyclical series of events, include an experiment log and a civilian broadcast detailing an encounter with the SCP, and tacitly invite readers to figure out the backstory. Outside of brief or very focused SCPs, it's actually rare to see an article use a method in its pure form.

If you want to include more than one story or use more than one method, you should take the time to deliberately plan out the article so that each bit of narrative builds off the last. An article that tries to incorporate multiple tenuously connected stories, or that reiterates plot points across multiple narratives, can easily turn out clunky or disjointed.

An especially bad implementation might look like this:

A good (if a bit elaborate) implementation could play out like this:

While the concept of the first one would appeal more to me on the whole,4 the second would be dramatically more engaging.

Closing thoughts

1. Nothing in this essay should be construed to say "X is impossible", just that X is difficult, or requires skills A B and C. Likewise, if I recommend doing something, that doesn't mean that's always the best way to do it. If you think some of this advice doesn't really apply to what you're writing or that you're 'above' it, go ahead and ignore it.

2. Merely having a narrative isn't enough to make your SCP good. Beyond the obvious fact that any story you use has to be good, it should be balanced with the demands of the SCP format. Sometimes this means cutting out details that don't have a reason to be there, even if you personally like them, or including content that's irrelevant to the story.

3. Don't sweat the process. If you keep writing SCPs, you'll find a way of doing so that works for you — there is no one way, no superior way, to go about the task. This essay only deals with narratives as they exist in finished, successful articles; what happens between your first inkling of an SCP idea and hitting the 'Post' buton on the site is entirely up to you.

4. If you're not sure whether your SCP has a narrative, don't sweat that either. Not every SCP needs a prominent narrative, or even more than a nominal narrative. A few are so interesting on their own that they don't even bother with a narrative. Follow your best judgment and the best judgments of your peers.

5. If this essay missed anything, or if you find some better examples than the ones I added here, let me know in the comments section.

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