Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guiding the Guide

I've done The Mole. I've done The Crystal Maze. I've even done Survivor twice. All with different formats. And pretty much every time I even open a draft of a challenge guide now, I find myself hating the format and wanting to rearrange everything to make it easier for my readers to follow. So I thought I'd go directly to the source and ask you how YOU want future guides to be presented. I've come up with a shortlist of alternatives for each of five important elements, each with pros and cons listed, and I'd like your input. Just comment on this post and I'll take your thoughts into consideration as I update the existing guides and continue to write guides for even more shows. (Obviously, if you can take the time to explain said thoughts that would be even better, but... eh, I'm not picky.)


Option 1: Shorthand text.
Pros: Short paragraphs.
Cons: Important details may be lost. Nobody can rant concisely.

Option 2: Full, text-based paragraphs.
Pros: Detailed coverage.
Cons: Possible TL;DR-ness for more complex challenges.

Option 3: Text, divided into appropriate sections (eg Rules, Prize, Commentary) as needed.
Pros: Easy to vary as needed for different shows, easy to search for necessary information.
Cons: Disjointed read.

Option 4: Simple table - title on the left, details on the right.
Pros: Quicker to scan down the titles to find particular challenges.
Cons: Same problems as using any of the above text approaches. Not all titles will be official. Why not just use Control-F?

Option 5: Table, divided into appropriate sections (eg Rules, Prize, Commentary) as needed.
Pros: Easy to search.
Cons: Will be too wide for portrait (normal) A4 presentation, and table cells will be too tall to fit more than a couple on a landscape page, making printing pages impractical. Tough to vary for different shows without changing appearance.


Option 1: Copy-paste descriptions.
Pros: Saves searching. Easy to adapt for minor variations.
Cons: Tedious. Increases file size.

Option 2: Cross-referencing.
Pros: Short, reduces file size.
Cons: Pain in the ass when used frequently. Pain in the ass when challenges have very minor, near pointless variations (especially when the variant is then reused).


Option 1: All twists treated as challenges and listed when they occur.
Pros: Listed when needed. Same format.
Cons: Repeated twists, for example Amazing Race non-eliminations. No differentiation.

Option 2: Alternate colour, but listed when they occur.
Pros: Easy to tell them apart from challenges.
Cons: Eyesore. Repeated twists.

Option 3: Separate table, at the start of the relevant season.
Pros: Simple.
Cons: Non-chronological. Twists returning from former/international seasons - ignored or included?

Option 4: Paragraph, at the start of the relevant season.
Pros: Simple. Easy to counter returning twists.
Cons: Multiple twists, returning or otherwise, could get confusing.

Option 5: Only challenge-esque twists included, listed as challenges.
Pros: Avoids repetition.
Cons: Some major elements, for example Survivor's hidden Immunity Idols, will be ignored.

Option 6: All twists for a show listed before the first version.
Pros: Easy reference.
Cons: Tough to follow. What if a twist is directly tied to a challenge?


Option 1: Ignore spoilers at all cost.
Pros: No spoilers.
Cons: Will make some challenges and twists nigh on impossible to describe accurately.

Option 2: Puzzle solutions etc only, regular text.
Pros: Still no result spoilers.
Cons: Readers lose ability to try and solve puzzle themselves. Knowledge of season results often needed for Idol et al song selections and quiz challenge questions and answers.

Option 3: Puzzle solutions and quiz questions/answers only, coded text.
Pros: No result spoilers. Allows readers to try and solve puzzle.
Cons: Text-based solutions are usually wordy and decoding them could take more time than simply figuring out the puzzle on your own.

Option 4: If they come up, they come up.
Pros: Makes accurately describing challenges and twists much easier.
Cons: Constant risk of spoilers.

Option 5: Spoil everything, regular text.
Pros: Complete coverage.
Cons: Someone WILL skip past spoiler warnings and STILL complain.

Option 6: Spoil everything, coded text.
Pros: Complete coverage for those who want it.
Cons: Who would decode a result spoiler?


Option 1: By country, alphabetically, then by season.
Pros: Easy to navigate to particular seasons.
Cons: Impractical for regional versions, co-productions, and shows with recurring challenges. US versions usually original and/or most copied but often last alphabetically.

Option 2: By country, chronologically by debut, then by season.
Pros: General chronology.
Cons: Essentially pointless unless each version only lasts for a single season. Hard to scan back and forth between versions - no logical order unless you know a show's history. Can't skip seasons with not enough available information.

Option 3: By country, US first then alphabetically, then by season.
Pros: Many readers looking only for US information.
Cons: Seems random if US version wasn't the original.

Option 4: By country, original country first then alphabetically, then by season.
Pros: A nod to the origin of a show.
Cons: Deviation from standard order could be confusing.

Option 5: Individual seasons listed chronologically by debut.
Pros: Tracks the history and development of a show - surely should be included in a detailed guide?
Cons: Tough to find particular seasons, or to read only sections for a single version.

Option 6: Categorised, for example 'Obstacle Courses' and 'Local Delicacy' challenges.
Pros: Easy to find similar challenges.
Cons: Amazing Race Detours, and other tasks that fit into two categories. Tasks so unique they don't fit anywhere. Tough to find exact challenges.


  1. The best solution is probably "get a Wiki" then you would probably have a much easier time in trying things out, and certainly for cross-referencing.

    I think if you're aiming for encyclopedia rather than novel I go for option 3 for presentation. Presentation of used challenges is a toughie, I *think* I go for option 1 in the context of a document. For twists I think I go for option 3, with a caveat that you could probably have a side-entry for "series elements" for significant things like hidden immunity idols. Option 4 or 5 for spoilers, I usually treat spoiler whingers with short shrift and chances are if they're reading a challenge encyclopedia they've probably got a decent idea of what has happened anyway, maybe use impersonal names (Player A, Player B, etc.) as a sort of halfway house to indicate something happened but removing obvious signifiers? Good luck with settling on something for sorting.

  2. Challenge - 3 (Feels right for a guide to me, providing a good compromise between printability and ease of use on screen)

    Reused Challenge - 1 (Cross referencing is a nightmare)

    Twist - As a variant of 2, I'd use different text formatting rather than different colour. Less garish, but should be easy to pick out while being chronologically correct

    Spoilers - 4 if you want to focus on the game and format, 5 if you want to focus on recapping the show itself. Many a show is dependent on things that would be spoilers for properly writing it up. As a compromise to the spoiler-phobic, maybe use option 1 until a couple of months after the season is over if that wouldn't be too much work for you, but probably simpler to just update at the end of seasons for that.

    Sorting - If you're doing with PDFs or HTML, you can do internal hyperlinks, which should mean you can do any of these options aside 6 without too much trouble to arange in a way that satisfies most preferences. I'd lean towards either Option 1 or 2 with a 'contents' table for both (Preferably side by side) or Option 5 with a contents page for alphabetical S1's and links to previous and later seasons in the same series (possibly just 'preceeded by' and 'followed by' to make updating easier). Option 6 is likely useful if you want a guide to anything that's ever been in the 'playbook' of a show, but not for general guide to shows. Option 4 feels like a messy hybrid of Option 1 and Option 2, and as someone who isn't American Option 3 never fails to annoy me.

    If you don't want to muck around with that sort of thing, and I really wouldn't blame you, then... Do you want to document seasons or format evolutions. If seasons go with Option 1, if format evolutions Option 5. And if you settle on Option 2, I'd seriously consider splitting entries if there's a significant gap between two seasons (e.g. Australian Mole S5 to S6)

  3. Thank you SO much, guys. You've basically both picked the sort of direction I was leaning most towards anyway, which makes me more confident I'm doing the right thing. (And I somehow had no idea about internal hyperlinks, which is definitely going to help enormously.)