Hey, this is Joe from Broken Paintbrush writing a guest article for Creative Twilight. It’s only fair as Thor has written some posts for me! Here I want to share some of my thoughts on what makes for a great tutorial and how to make a tutorial yourself.
Most likely you’ve at least seen the Paint Splatter articles in White Dwarf or some hobby tutorials online (like Thor’s article on creating ice effects). But if you are thinking about creating tutorials yourself, or improving ones you have already done, I break down what makes a good tutorial and the steps I use to create mine.
What is the Purpose of a Tutorial
Perhaps before we even get into what makes for a good tutorial, let’s talk about what its purpose. Why bother even writing a tutorial in the first place? By answering this question, we can frame what makes for a great tutorial and how to make one.
For me, a tutorial provides for one (or all) of the following purposes:
Guide someone from start to finish
Provide tips and pointers to get past sticky points
Empower others to give it a try
The first one is typically the first thing you may have thought of. A tutorial is often believed to be synonymous to a step-by-step guide to guide its reader from nothing/beginner to a masterpiece/expert.
Good tutorials take this a step further and provide ways to allow the reader to avoid, or at least get past, the things that could go wrong. Like not gluing on certain pieces before painting underneath them.
Great tutorials do all this but make it seem so easy that even readers that doubt they could accomplish the task before are ready to give it a try now. Doing freehand is intimidating for many painters, but my tutorial on hacking decals enabled others to give freehand a try.
Elements of a Good Tutorial
Now that we know the purpose of a tutorial, what factors go into making one?
For our hobby, photos are invaluable to show each step. An excellent picture shows the details of what happened that action or an up close look to what part you are speaking.
Pictures for tutorials may be completely different shots than when you create the ‘showcase’ pictures of the finished piece. It’s not about showing off your amazing work, but rather showing the reader what they need to be doing next.
While the saying goes that a picture speaks a thousand words, a tutorial is a whole lot clearer when it has text describing what the reader is looking at.
So a good tutorial helps the reader understand the picture and describes the steps taken to get there and where to go next.
Sometimes it makes more sense to use video to create the tutorial. This could be that it’s more complicated than pictures and text would allow for in a typical blog post (like my video on Photo Editing in GIMP). Or it may enable you to show in real-time how different techniques affect the model.
Even within a video tutorial, you may incorporate text and pictures to clarify what video may be showing. Going the other direction, you may use a short video within a longer tutorial to demonstrate a particular step rather than a picture.
Explain the Task
When writing the description of each step, a good tutorial explains the task rather than the object.
For example, if you are creating a painting tutorial, explaining the work would include what color of paint you are using, how you are applying it, and where. Telling about the object would be talking about the paint brand or quality of the sculpt.
These are great for product reviews but doesn’t add directly to the tutorial. Unless of course, the reason you are explaining the object is to explain why the next step is needed to overcome its deficiencies
Credit the Source
So this one is more general good manners of the internet, but for a tutorial, it is important to credit the source of pictures, great tips, or styles.
On of the things that I love about this hobby community is how helpful so many people are, like all the hobby bloggers out there who make zero to little money but provide tremendous value to us following them.
A way to give back is to help your readers find them. So if you picked up the idea for an individual step, or copying the distinctive style of someone else, give them a shout out.
Creating Your Tutorial
Armed with this knowledge on tutorials, how can you go about creating one yourself? Let’s walk through the steps I’ve been using and bring it all together.
1. Start with the Goal
The first step is to write down the goal you want your reader to achieve. Is it to paint a certain color, a particular model, or a cool effect.
The reason this is so important to start with is that it will form what steps take to create the tutorial. It also helps to narrow down to a specific goal to achieve.
Too many objectives and the tutorial becomes large and confusion. Or if you meant to teach about painting a space marine but end up spending half the article talking about dry brush techniques, you may need to refocus the goal of the article
2. Write the Story
Next, I write up the necessary steps to go from beginning to end. What does the reader need to know and what steps will get them there.
It doesn’t need to be detailed as those will come when you practice it and create the pictures. Rather, list out the steps and valuable tips you think you will go through. In some ways, this is the first draft of your tutorial, a way to get it down on the page.
3. Practice It
Now it’s time to run through the steps yourself and try it out. For more advanced tutorials this might be a practice run where you take notes along the way. It might also be the first few models you do with this technique (before you even decided to do a tutorial).
I could also mean you run through your draft tutorial and take notes and pictures as you go.
Either way, the idea is to run through your steps and make sure they make sense, and you didn’t miss anything. Take pictures, notes, and maybe even videos as you go. Even if this is an actual ‘practice’ round, the pictures and video will help make sure everything is working correctly as well.
4. Write it Up
At this point, you’ve created your draft steps and run through them. You may have done a second (or more) take to ensure everything looks good. But now you have a great sense of all the steps and pictures/videos to use for your tutorial.
It’s now time to write them up. Be it a blog post, Facebook album, or PDF for an online magazine, it’s now time to create the second draft of your tutorial.
I start with writing out the steps as sub-headings with quick text on each step. I then fill it in with the pictures and videos for each phase to help reminded me what text needs to be written to explain it. I can then add in the description of each step with tips and hints shown in the pictures.
Finally, I add in an intro and wrap up for the post. The intro helps get a potential reader interested in your tutorial, describing the what and why of your tutorial. The wrap up may show some finished pieces that use the technique or preparing your reader for the next step.
5. Review and Edit
Cool, now you have a finished tutorial ready to post!
Tutorial posts are one of those posts that live on for a long time. People will be searching for how to do what you solve and others will link to well-done tutorials (like I do in the Good Reads series).
Because of this, tutorials are extra important to insure your spelling, grammar, and structure makes sense. Run your post through a spelling and grammar check tool. Print it and read it with a pen in hand. Read it out loud or have someone else review it.
You would be surprised at what would have slipped through otherwise. This extra attention to details can make a huge difference in how people perceive your tutorial. So after doing all the hard work to create the tutorial, take a bit more time and review it at least once and edit any mistakes.
6. Publish It
Now you are ready! Publish your tutorial, share it with your friends and social media followers, and see what happens.
If you wrote the tutorial up as a blog post, you could think about submitting it to sites that focus on tutorials such as Miniature Hobby Tutorials, so that more people can find your work and learn what you shared.
So let’s bring this all together.
Tutorials are an awesome way to give back to the hobby community, bring people to your site, and are awesome. They are helpful for others to recreate what you accomplish and potentially skip over pitfalls you encountered.
They do take lots of work but with some planning, including setting a specific goal, it can help make the whole process easier. In the end, you have a solid article that will bring people to your blog, magazine, or Facebook post for years to come.
Back to You
Do you have some other tips on how to make a tutorial that I missed? Hit up the comments below and share with the Creative Twilight community.