Designing 10-Second Reads takes substantially longer than ten seconds.
What are 10-Second Reads?
10-Second Reads are short pieces of material a GM can read in about ten seconds, and quickly incorporate into their game.
Imagine you are running a game, and your players do something you didn't expect. They duck into a tavern for a drink. They start talking to random NPCs. They explore a part of town you haven't designed. You can panic, or you can use a 10-Second NPC or Locale to save the day.
Check out the 10-Second Reads archive below.
The Design Process
Writing 10-Second material presents interesting challenges. Obviously, the first is length. A 10-Second Read corresponds to roughly 280 characters (or about 40 words). 280 characters isn’t a lot of space for a flavoursome description. Presenting a shiny treasure, NPC or urban locale in only 280 characters means I’ve got to pack a lot into a small space.
The words are all. No clever text effects, cunning mechanics or graphics will save poor design. All unnecessary words must be expunged. Focus is key.
Writing 10-Second material requires a different approach to normal design. To do so, I use four apps:
At first glance, three of the four—Tot, Ulysses and iAWriter—are virtually identical, but each has a specific use.
Tot is a lovely lightweight text app that I use as an electronic scratch pad or jotter. It’s incredibly simple and fast to use. I use it to jot down random NPC, locale or treasure ideas as I go about my day.
Tot works on all my devices and syncs via iCloud. It uses Markdown, which is handy as I’m a big fan of Markdown.
When I’m ready to work on an idea I move my notes from Tot to Ulysses.
Ulysses is a fully-featured minimalist writing app. It uses Markdown and syncs to all my devices via iCloud. It’s got several handy features for writing 10-Second material. For example, you can specify a maximum character length for each article. Given I’ve limited myself to 280 characters (the maximum length of a tweet) that’s a jolly handy feature. Ulysses also has a revision mode to help with style, grammar and so on.
Once I’ve got my final Ulysses draft, I import the text into Hemingway. Hemingway looks at your text’s construction and complexity, and suggests simpler alternatives. It helps remove passive writing, adverbs and complex sentence structure. It makes text more readable. I then return the text to Ulysses to make sure I’m still under the 280-character limit.
Hemingway is a Mac app, but it has a free web-based editor.
Once I have my final version, I export the text to iAWriter. iAWriter is another tremendously simple and powerful text editor.
This final step isn’t critical, but iAWriter has one huge advantage over Ulysses. Ulysses uses its own library system which syncs via iCloud while iAWriter uses .txt files (and syncs via iCloud).
I’ve fallen in love with text files. Text (.txt) files are tremendously portable and so simple virtually any word processing or text editing program can open them. Once the final draft is in a text file it can go almost anywhere. There’s not a lot that can go wrong with a .txt file. I have Word documents from the 90s I can no longer open because of compatibility issues I don’t understand. Text (.txt) files are—as I understand it—immune to this problem. So, in ten-years time when I want to use this material again, I should be able to open the files with whatever system I happen to be using at the time.
And there you have it—my 10-second design workflow. As I said, it takes substantially longer than ten seconds.
Keep in mind, I’m deep into Apple’s ecosystem. Some apps I mention above may, or may not, be available on Android and Windows. Even if they aren’t, I’m sure substitutes exist, if you want to try a similar process.
Finally, none of the links in this article are affiliate links. I get nothing for mentioning these apps. I use them all on a weekly, if not daily basis. I highly recommend them all.