How to Make a How-To, Part 1

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I think it's safe to say we all love tutorials! We love to see how the end product was made. Even if we don't build it, I think we all appreciate ingenuity and I know we can learn something that will help us in our own pursuits.

I don't know why everyone else joined AZHaunters, but I can tell you the reason I even started looking for Halloween forums was to find tutorials. From there, it was only a matter of time before I wanted to find people locally to meet with and share with. Anyway...

Many people don't write tutorials because they think it's hard, or they say they aren't good at writing. Well, I would like to help those people out. I offer my humble take on how to put together a written tutorial to be proud of:

1. The "Vision Thing"

2. Documentation

3. The Audience

4. Your Voice

5. The Stuff

6. The Steps

7. The Missteps

8. The Finished Product

9. The Future

Step 1: The "Vision Thing"

The first thing you need is the vision - the goal. What do you want to build? A head that constantly vomits blood? A remote control groundbreaker? A thermonuclear reactor? Whatever it is, that's a big part of the goal. That's not quite all there is to it though. What do you hope to achieve with your project? In other words, why bother?

Like writing a news story, you want to know who, what, when, where, and why - the how we'll get to. Do you need to put all this into a tutorial to be good? Not really. You should at least know it though. It will help you anticipate reader's questions later.

Some people like to post tutorials as they progress. That's fine, as long as they keep the goal in mind. Personally, I prefer to know where I ended up. I think it helps to tell the story, and in many ways, a story is what a tutorial is.

Step 2: Documentation

Record everything you can! Keep a list of materials. Keep your receipts. Take notes. Take photos. Lots of photos. Take video too. I have read a ton of tutorials. Some were awesome, and some were awful. No matter what, though, it's better to have more pictures!

You will not remember everything. The camera never forgets. If you take pictures as you go, you will remember better. Notes help, but I know some people are simply not going to do that.

My purpose is to cover how to do a written tutorial, but I should mention video here. You can take video of various steps to help you remember or to clarify certain steps in the process. Naturally, you could video the whole thing and create a how-to video rather than write it down. I find writing it takes less effort than editing together a bunch of video, but I love video tutorials too. The same principles apply anyway.

Step 3: Know The Audience

This is the most basic part of writing a tutorial or making a movie or producing a radio show or whatever. You have to know the audience. Assuming you have a stuffy, rich aunt, you would write the tutorial much differently for her than for the 23 year old hard drinking biker down the street.

Your audience, presumably, is other haunters. Great! As a haunter, you know what we like. We like cool effects. We like reactions. We like cheap - don't deny it! We like some humor. We are generally OK with the macabre and even the gross. (Personally, I don't want to read a tutorial I wouldn't let my kids see. The less offensive your tutorial, the wider the audience you can reach.)

We want to know how to make your prop as quickly (we're on a schedule here!), as cheaply (we don't work for Disney), and easily as possible.

The whole point of a tutorial is to help haunters meet those goals. Showing off your prop doesn't hurt, either.

Continued next time...

Happy haunting!