Hello again, Mythcreants,
I was wondering if you have any tips for authors looking to write interactive fiction. My own sense is that it’s a whole different beast from both novels and regular RPGs.
Hey Ronald, great to hear from you again!
Assuming we’re using the same definition of interactive fiction, then I do indeed have thoughts! In my experience, interactive fiction is basically like a roleplaying campaign, except you script it entirely in advance. That has both advantages and disadvantages.
On the one hand, it means you don’t have to deal with the chaos that comes from telling a story to your group of cowriters (players) in real time. You have time to consider whether a certain choice makes sense, and when you set up an adventure hook, you don’t have to worry about PCs running in the other direction. Even better, you can always follow through on your foreshadowing! My most common regret in RPG campaigns is that I hint that something cool is going to happen, but then the story goes in another direction and the cool thing never happens.
On the other hand, you don’t have the personal energy that comes from sharing your story with players in real time. That energy helps a lot, especially when players contribute their own ideas. Standards for interactive fiction are also higher, especially if you’re charging for it. TTRPG players will accept a lot of story goofs so long as you shower their characters in candy. That effect still exists in interactive fiction and other video games, but it’s a lot less pronounced. Finally, interactive fiction requires a lot of words. Every branching path multiplies the word count, until you’re neck deep in hundreds of thousands of words.
While I can’t cover the entire genre of interactive fiction in one Q&A, I do have one major tip: the player’s choices should matter. That’s the entire point of interactive fiction, but it’s often forgotten. For example, consider Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York. It’s a really fun game where you make all kinds of exciting choices, until the end when literally none of your choices matter. Everyone gets the same ending, which is really frustrating. There’s even a moment where you have the option to use your powers, but it does nothing!
Of course, making choices matter is the main cause of interactive fiction’s high word count. If you offer the choice to kill the king or save the king, then you need two versions of the story: one where the king is alive, and one where the king is dead. But that’s what you sign up for with interactive fiction. If you don’t have the time or energy for such a big choice, then it’s fine to offer smaller ones instead.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!
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Comments on Do You Have Any Tips for Writing Interactive Fiction?
If you’re more thinking in the direction of the Fighting Fantasy or Choose Your Own Adventure books, there’s a video series on writing a gamebook on YouTube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_RRcWVmt98&t=1s) I’ve watched it a while back and it’s good in my opinion.
Plotting is an absolute need in those books (or a visual novel, which is similar there), because you need to make sure that there is a way through, despite everything being so fractured and pulled out of context. There are also tools, if you want to make an ebook version of it.
In my experience as a player of visual novels and choice of games, the best ones were quite limited in choice and told one coherent story. Because 1) If every choice means a brand new different story, you’ll never finish writing, 2) I played some amount of games that separated from the main throughline and didn’t come to a satisfying conclusion because the story never hecking closed the plotlines (For example Steam Prison).
One thing I am BEGGING you…
Please, please, PLEASE make it interesting from the beginning
I’ve played way too many visual novels and other games that think they need a slow burn, and by that they mean you slog through meaningless stuff WAITING for the story to start. And I’m talking HOURS of play before anything interesting or fun happens, before I see anything more than the slightest hint of plot, if that
You don’t have to start w/ a fight. Just make the beginning as much fun as (you hope) the rest of the game will be
There are nineteen articles on Beginnings here on Mythcreants at the time I write this. Many of them can be applied to interactive fiction
Oh yeah, one of the reasons I never finished a lot of classic (and not so) Japanese VNs
I absolutely agree. It’s much better when a VN jumps in either with a conflict or with the promise that something is going to happen soon.
Thanks, guys. I’ve tried writing short stories in high school, and that’s hard enough for me, personally.
You definitely need to be an experienced writer to write something more interactive. Getting one plot line done well is challenging enough already. Having several branching plots and doing them all justice is far harder. I’ve written a couple of books by now, but I don’t think I’d have it easy doing a CYOA book or a VN.
I have some big complaints about the ending of the game Little Hope, from the Dark Pictures Anthology that I’d love to gripe about with someone…
I mean if you can’t complain about bad video game writing in the Mythcreants comment section, then what is it even for?
**** Spoilers for the end of Little Hope****
They made the entire witch trial plot line completely meaningless! They could’ve made it all work so much better, still be about the protagonist’s guilt, and not made it all just in his head!
I have as yet to find a “it was all in their head” reveal that didn’t disappoint me. Writers: I already know cool stuff isn’t real, you don’t also have to make it fake in the story!