Sometimes, Elfwood is just too big. There's just way too much stuff out there for you to be able to go through it all, particularly if you just want the highlights. And what if you just want to look at pictures of a specific type, like just some really awesome dragons or some really gothy pictures? This is why Tours exist.
A quick and easy definition of a Tour would be a collection of artwork and/or stories, arranged in a sequential order, with each picture having a comment about or relating to it made by the Tour's creator. Every Tour fits this definition in the very least; what makes a Tour special, however, is the other factors involved.
Anyone who is a member of Elfwood can make a Tour, and Tours can be about virtually anything: a specific object, a theme, a 'best of', and so on. While this offers a great deal of possibilities, this also can lead to a lot of confusion. For someone unfamiliar with Tours, the first difficulty in visiting the Tours page can just be picking one out. If you know what you want to look at, the field narrows down, but even that can be tricky, with so many choices listed.
If you do know exactly what sort of Tour you're looking for (such as dragons), it's possible to just scan through the list and pick them out. Another method is to list the Tours alphabetically and go to the 'D's, although this is by no means guaranteed. If you're absolutely and totally lost and just can't stand to go through them all, you can always use the edit > find function in your browser - most browsers have this and it's easy to use. But what if you don't know what you're looking for and just want to take a really good Tour?
When you go to the Tours page, you'll notice a place in between 'Please select one of our tours from the list below!' and the actual listing of Tours where it reads 'Sorted by : [Age-] [Age+] [Overall Impression *] [Originality *] [Descriptions *] [Creator Name] [Tour Name]' The Tour Name sorting option is what you'd go to if you wanted to sort by Alphabetical Order. The Creator Name is what you could go to if you want to see what, if any, Tours your favorite Elfwood Artist/Writer has created. And the Overall Impression, Originality, and Descriptions sorting methods are what you can go to if you have no clue how else to pick a Tour. These sortings employ user ratings, given after a person completes the Tour, to list the Tours in an order from best rated to worst rated. Want a Tour that offers really good commentary on the pictures from the person giving the Tour? Click on Descriptions and pick one from the top of list. Want a Tour that is really unique and different from the rest? Click on Originality. Want a Tour that's just plain good? Try the top of the Overall Impression list. The only real problem with picking a Tour this way is this is based on user opinion, so there's no guarantee the Tour will seem great to you, just that it's seemed great to all of the people who have taken it so far (how to express your own personal opinion of the Tour will be gone into later).
Now, all that being dealt with, click on the name of the Tour of your choice. A little box will pop up in another browser window. This is the tour's intro, containing additional information about the Tour you might not have gathered from the its name, things such as what the Tour is about, why it was made, warnings, and who's in it. At the bottom of this window it will read 'Click here to start the tour>>' which is more or less self-explanatory.
Once you've clicked, the entire window will remake itself; don't be afraid, this is supposed to happen. The window now contains the actual mechanism of the tour: the buttons for End Tour, Autorun, Previous, and Next, as well as little green circle that represent the pictures or stories in the tour. Below this is where the comment the creator of the tour has for this picture/story.
It's extremely important to know this one bit: the picture or story does not actually appear anywhere in this window. Go back and find the window that the Elfwood Guided Tours page was in; this is where the picture or story will appear. If you've got a smaller screen resolution, this results in a lot of clicking between the tour window and the window of what you're looking at or reading, which is why the larger screen is preferred, but not necessary.
Choosing which to look at or read first, the comment or the actual tour item, is a personal decision. Afterwards, however, you're presented with three new options: go to auto-run, hit Next, or leave a comment.
Hitting Autorun enables the tour to start automatically cycling through items, moving on to the next item after a certain interval of time occurs. This interval isn't necessarily very long, so unless you're a very fast reader, or just in the Tour to look at pictures, this might not be the wisest option. Feel free to test it out; to disable it, just click on Auto-run again. If you do this and need to get back to the beginning, just click on the first green circle.
Comments are the lifeblood of Elfwood, or at least one of it's vital fluids, so if you liked whatever the item you viewed or read was, it can never hurt to leave a comment, especially since it won't interfere with taking the tour at all. The etiquette for this is generally to mention within the comment that you came through on a tour and to mention what tour; artists like to know what they're getting traffic from, and it never hurts the ego of the tour maker, either. You can also have a look at the rest of the gallery if it seems interesting, because since the tour mechanism is in it's own private window, you can continue the tour from just about any webpage in the large browser window at all.
When you're done looking at one item in the tour, you simply hit Next to move on. When you want to go back, you can hit Previous. It's also possible to use the green dots to jump directly to one tour item or another, but this isn't a necessary skill.
Eventually, you'll either complete the Tour or decide you don't like the tour enough to finish it. When this happens, simply hit End Tour. If you've completed less than half the tour, you'll be returned to the main Elfwood Guided Tours page, where you can select a new tour. If you've completed more than half the tour, however, you'll be sent to a new screen within the smaller browser window: the tour's finish page. Here any endnotes the tour maker decided to include will be displayed. At the bottom of this screen will be three drop down menus, where you can now submit a rating about how you feel the tour did in each of the three categories used for sorting. The more you liked the tour, generally, the better the ratings you should give it, 1 being the weakest and 5 the best. Or you can chose to skip this entirely.
If you submit a rating, you'll be given a chance to send the maker of the tour comments. While these comments aren't displayed anywhere, they can be as uplifting for the tour's creator as comments on their gallery or shelf, so if you enjoyed the tour, just a simple little thing saying 'nice tour' is a good thing to send. After submitting that, you'll be returned to the Elfwood Guided Tours Page, where you can begin the entire process anew.
So now you can take a tour? but what about making one? Not everyone feels the urge, but if you didn't find what you were looking for in a tour, or just plain have an idea for one, you might want to try your hand at it yourself. It's not as hard as it sounds.
The first step, naturally, is to actually gather materials for the tours. A tour has to have a minimum of ten items and a maximum of thirty. Ten is almost always too few, but thirty is just as easily too many, settling somewhere around twenty can be a good idea, unless you're working with such a rare topic you can't find that many. What you put in is, of course, ultimately your own decision, but remember to try and keep quality consistent. If you're lost on how to find items, try using Elfwood's search engine or searching Elfwood with Google.
So now you know how to take a tour, and how to make a tour, but what on earth makes a tour good? Generally it's a combination of factors: artwork/stories, theme, arrangement, and comments. Having good items in the tour isn't enough: the commentary needs to be inventive or interesting and well written, the theme of the tour itself needs to be sound, and even the order the items are arranged in can enhance the whole experience. Given the diverse factors, no two tours that are great are good in exactly the same way or for exactly the same reasons; this, ultimately, is another one of those use your own judgment things.
So go have fun and leave comments!