A few weeks ago, Heather told everyone about her experiences writing a video-game script for LongStory. The branching, non-linear style of the game structure was very different from the TV scripts Heather normally writes. At the time, we discussed how much the structure reminded us of interactive novels. These are books often marketed under one or two company line names, Choose Your Own Adventure is probably the best known of the lines.
Interactive stories allow the reader to make critical decisions about the main character’s experience by selecting from a limited menu of plot options. This story splits take place at set points in the story’s development, usually at the end of a scene.
You go straight and march into the middle of a deserted-looking town square, turn to page 44.
You backtrack into the woods and take a path around the creepy-looking town, turn to page 91.
Writing this form of story once baffled even hardcore plotters. In my case, I felt like there was zero possibility of me writing an interactive novel without leaving dozens of loose story threads and plot dead ends all over the place.
That is until last week when I discovered a free website where anyone (yes, I said anyone) from school age children on up to seasoned novelists, can write their own interactive novel.
*It’s called InkleWriter.
(Updated 8-18: Sorry to report that Inklewriter will be shutting down. Check the comments for links to alternative writing tools.)
If you have kids off school, like I do, this site is a fun way for them to spend a few hours of quiet time. Best of all the system manages everything about the structure of the novel for the writer. It tracks all the story threads and gives prompts when there is a missing element.
The program takes all the challenges out of the keeping track of the framework and allows the writer to concentrate on the story! And it includes a tutorial feature to help you (or your kids) get started quickly. Although the program makes it possible for writers who hate to plot to still write an interactive story that rocks, a little planning can insure an even better result.
Here are 8 easy planning tips for writing your first interactive novel.
1. Pick a cool setting. A great setting is critical and it will dictate everything else about your story. Interactive stories can be set anywhere, deep sea to deep space. Past, present or future. Real or fantasy. I set my story in Victorian era Zanzibar; my son picked space.
2. Create a main character with a goal, but without too many details. The idea is for the reader to put themselves in the main character’s shoes. It’s one of the reasons these novels are often written in second person present tense. The character needs a quest and a few motivators, but you don’t want to create a fully fleshed out character profile.
3. Limit characters. These stories don’t work well with mutable viewpoints. If you must include a secondary character, make them a helper or mascot. This could be another human, maybe a love interest, or a handy robot who fixes things.
4. You may not need or want a villain. It’s hard to go head-to-head with a single antagonist in an interactive story. However, obstacles are a must. You’ll want at include at least a dozen (or more) situations where something unexpected stops your lead character dead in their tracks. Complications can be almost anything: nature elements, random monsters, or just equipment failures.
5. Include a handful of helping items. Scatter these items around and let your character find them on their travels. Good examples of helpful items are maps, healing charms, money or food and water. When your character faces a killing obstacle, make sure you occasionally include the option for an item to save them.
6. Plant treasures. Even if these goodies don’t actually help the hero on their quest, it’s just fun to find a sack of gems.
7. Plant clues. If you want to craft an extremely tricky story, include hints about which branches of the story are the best ones to follow.
8. Establish several endings. You want to end the journey with various degrees of success and failure. A few branches should lead to the main character’s death. Others might show the main character limping off to fight another day. At least one branch should end in a spectacular triumph.
It’s seriously fun to write one of these stories and even without any advance planning you can easily create a fantastic story. My son is currently working on his second novel, while I’m still on my first one. But we’re both having a fantastic time.
If you have experience writing an interactive novel, please share your tips in the comments.