How to Write a Ceremony
Date Written: August, 1986
Last Updated: Summer, 2016
Author: William the Lucky

Policy Level: Informational
Intended Audience: Potential Court/Ceremonial Heralds
Abstract: Simple instructions on how to write a ceremony, with ideas on organization of ceremony and examples.


Occasionally you may be asked to write a ceremony -- for presenting a local award, acknowledging the winner of the local championship tourney, etc. This need not be an occasion for panic, even if you have never done anything like this before. Of course, it helps if you have lots of experience with ceremonies (from the SCA, from your religions background, from the theater, or wherever), but it is not really necessary.

STARTING OUT:

The first step is to get really clear in your own mind what the purpose of the ceremony is1. Since you have been asked to write it, talk to the individual who requested it. When you think you understand the reason (which may only take one sentence from them), repeat it back to make sure that what you understood is what they meant. (It seems to help to use several short sentences rather than one long one for this.)

Having gotten a clear idea of why the ceremony is being created, check to see if there is any particular bit of business which must be included, or any existing ceremony which is supposed to be used as a model (if so, try to get a copy). Find out who is supposed to be involved; a Barony or a Principality has a ceremonial figure-head, while a Province or a Shire does not. Find out what they are supposed to do.

STRUCTURE:

Lay out the basic structure of the ceremony. This is the skeleton on which you will hang the final product. It can be very detailed or extremely sketchy. As an example, here is a skeletal outline of the standard Kingdom knighting ceremony:

Note that this leaves out some of the bits of business (fetching the candidate, the chain, the spurs, etc.) and has none of the language used. All it does is give the critical parts of the ceremony and the order in which they will occur. For a local award this will probably be very simple, e.g.:

If the ceremony is long or complex, you may want to expand the skeleton once or twice, to fill in the details of the action before you start adding the words. This is also the time to start thinking about blocking: where people will stand or kneel, who will be moving around, etc.

LANGUAGE:

It also helps to put the language in in two stages. Stage 1: just say it, Stage 2: make it foresoothly. ‘Just say it’ helps to make sure that what you mean does not get lost in the effort to make it sound right. Take the oaths of fealty from the knighting ceremony again. The knight’s oath is:

The Sovereign’s oath is:

Once you have what you want to say sketched in modern English, you can put in the actual wording. Take the knight’s oath again:

And the Sovereign’s oath:

The same sort of process for a Baronial Champion:

Then:

REVISING AND POLISHING:

Unless you have enormous aptitude for this sort of thing (and probably not even then), you will probably find that what you have at this point is not quite what you want. Let it sit for awhile (as a day or two). Read it aloud to someone else from beginning to end, to see how it sounds. Have someone else read it over. Fiddle with wordings. See if you have used a perfectly good word, which has acquired unfortunate overtones in the modern world2. A thesaurus is useful.

STYLE:

There are varying preferences in style. Some like ceremonies as elaborate as possible; others like them as simple as possible. Some feel a short ceremony has more impact; others feel a long ceremony enhances the importance of the occasion. Primarily you should be guided by your own taste and the preferences of those for whom you are writing. It is well to remember, however, that few of our members are professional actors, and therefore they are unlikely to be able to memorize long speeches and rattle them off at need.


1 Note that, by Corpora, Shire awards are unofficial. If you are in a Shire (as opposed to a Province, Barony or Principality) and they intend an official award, explain to them that this is not one of the choices.

2 On seeing the newly built St. Paul's Cathedral, the King of England pronounced it "Awful, pompous, and artificial." By which he meant that it inspired awe, that it was full of pomp and circumstance, and that it was a great artifact -- in short, he liked it a lot. But what would be the instant reaction of a modern audience such as you could expect at a Society event?