Making an Orientation Interesting: Is It Really Possible?

Orientations. Most of us have probably been through at least one, for work, or school, or something else. They’re pretty much a fact of dealing with large organizations, after all. Bunch of people leading you around the system telling you things that were already in the manual, except that every now and then there’s something useful slipped into all the whats and wherefores, or something happens that makes it interesting.

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski

Writers avoid them, gamers more so. Can you blame them? Most orientations are an infodump of epic proportions. Granted, it’s justified to have the announcer going on and on, but it’s also dead boring. On the other hand, there are useful things that can be learned, and sometimes there’s something else going on. Meeting someone, perhaps. Making discoveries. Coming to realizations about the job and what it means (and not always negative ones, either). In fact, one could say that those are the only good reason to run an orientation. The audience is likely to remember standard operating procedure through trial and error, after all.

So how does one execute a scene couched in an orientation?

First off, figure out what the parts that are actually going to matter are, and how many of them actually connect to the orientation itself. Is it an unusually surprising bit of information? Meeting someone? The oddity of being on one of these things when you’ve been in the place you’re getting oriented to for several months and actually work for one of the stops on the tour? (I know that one from personal experience.) These, needless to say, deserve to be given detail, so figure out what that detail looks like.

Then summarize as much as you can of the rest. It’s particularly easy in writing, when you can actually show the character’s eyes glazing over by going from the first few sentences of actual quote and word by word to a summary. Specific motivational pitches, bits of paperwork, whatever, give way to “and then a movie about [subject], and then a short speech about [subject], and the brochures piled up on the desk like leaves in fall.” The best part about the summarizing is that, when you introduce the thing that matters and start describing it with specifics rather than generalities, whether it’s a quote or a character or an incident or what, it’s going to stand out. Harder in a game? Well, yeah, here you’re having to balance out the length of exposition as well as everything else, since the players probably can’t just skim. Pre-write the unimportant parts.

Of course, on the summarized parts, you’re going to want to make every sentence count. If it doesn’t contribute to the context, if it’s just there to be part of the orientation, try to pare it down. Every sentence has to pull its weight, since the more sentences you have, the more likely you are to glaze people’s eyes rather than getting your point across.

Yes, there are very few things inherently more difficult to write well than a standard orientation. But if you can make it work, people will remember it.

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