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Dip Your Toes into Nonlinear Stories
Tips on Writing Interactive Fiction
Remember those dog-eared paperback Choose Your Own Adventure books from the classroom bookshelf at elementary school?
Are you an avid video game or mobile game player?
How about a tabletop RPG fanatic?
All of these mediums have one major aspect in common: they are all prime examples of interactive fiction.
What Makes Fiction Interactive?
As you might guess, interactive fiction allows the reader to drive the story rather than experiencing a linear narrative found in traditional mediums like novels, films, and tv shows. At crucial plot moments, the reader or player is offered choices for how to move the story forward. These choices range anywhere from small reactions in a situation to story-altering fates that could even change the entire ending!
Tips for Interactive Writing:
Maintain High Stakes
Readers and players need to know that their choices matter. Otherwise, what's the point in choosing interactive fiction? Give them situations that pull at their emotions or intellect, or that heighten their sense of danger or mystery. At times, their choice could even mean life or death.
Fake choices can be frustrating for players. If you give the reader a choice to open a door or pass it by, don't reroute them to one option regardless of their choice.
Do you choose to open the door or pass it by?
Player: Pass it by.
The way forward is blocked. The only way out is through the door.
In this example, the player doesn't actually have a choice in the progression of the story. You are forcing them to open the door no matter what, and they might feel cheated that their choice had no impact on the story.
Contain Your Story Branches
However, if you shouldn't write pseudo-choices, then how do you contain all of the potential narrative branches of your story? To keep your narrative from getting out of hand, you can gently funnel players into a plot point without making it obvious. You may, for example, give the player a choice of which weapon they want to use, but no matter the choice, all players will end up facing the same battle. Their weapon of choice may impact how they fight, or even whether they win or lose the battle.
Know your medium and your audience, and keep your pacing of choices consistent for that medium. Novel readers may be in a relaxed mindset that allows for patience, so an interactive novel may have one choice every few pages. But an interactive game typically has many choices within a single situation or conversation to keep up with a game's fast pace.
Are you interested in writing interactive fiction? Here's some helpful software for designing branching narratives:
Interactive Fiction to Enjoy From Swordfights & Spaceflights Authors:
Sister from the Multiverse by C. E. Berger, a Choose Your Own Adventure novel releasing October 3rd!
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