How to Write An Interactive Story
Looking to get your feet wet with creative writing but don't have the time or energy to pen an entire book? Creative plotlines just not forthcoming? Well, look no further. The answer to your problem lies with the interactive story. Narratives based around the popular "Choose Your Own Adventure" style of writing abound on the internet and many of them are looking for contributors to compose a little or a lot. Don't want to contribute to someone else's tale? Write your own!
Through this article you will discover numerous places to build upon the stories of others and how to structure and write your very own interactive story.
Publish your plotline on the iPhone
Want the world to see your writing? Aspiring authors can now contribute to the novel "Beer, Women and Bad Decisions" by Shawn Harris from Choose The Ending Books. Suitable plotlines will appear in the well-crafted iPhone and iPad app of the same name. The story tells the tale of one night of cruising for chicks: from the joys of getting lucky, to utter failure from using the wrong approach. A wide variety of women color the scene as the reader makes choices that will determine their fate.
Authors, this is YOUR chance to share some of your worst dating horror stories as an interactive story plotline with a built-in audience everywhere iPhones and iPads are used!
Other online locales to submit your plotlines
- Choose Your Own Adventure Wiki is a wiki where authors can add content to interactive stories in progress or create original interactives. As of April 27th, 2010 there are 32,161 articles. These articles are collected into tales ranging from Family-friendly to PG-13, Mature (R-rated), Adult (age 18+) and Poor Taste (age 21+) stories. The online narratives range in size from only a few pages to over hundreds and hundreds of pages long. Many of the stories are in progress and looking for authors to contribute.
- Writing.com, an online community for authors with almost 800,000 members, also provides similar opportunies for authors to donate creative effort to plotlines of an interactive story in progress. Not only does Writing.com provide a venue for an author's work but it also has a vast number of peers willing to assist authors in their writing goals, whatever they may be.
- iStory is an interactive story telling environment online that allows one or multiple authors to work concurrently on an adventure. On the site, people can read stories and vote on their quality. For composition, the site contains prebuilt environment called "StoryForge" that allows one to set up text and choices for each plotline developed. Access to StoryForge is created with Google tools so authors must have a valid Google account to log in. Once finished, authors submit their interactive story for approval to the iStory admin team. iStoryWeb is powered via the Google App Engine and its source code is available from Google Code.
To write a successful bit of interactive fiction, it takes 3 simple steps: plan, plan and plan some more. Oh, and I did I mention "planning"? I think you get the picture.
There are many ways to map out possible plotlines. To get an idea of how some popular interactive stories have been developed, many folks have mapped out a few of the early Choose Your Own Adventure novels. For example, take a look at an informative map by Sean Michael Ragan showing the routes a reader may take through "The Mystery of Chimney Rock" by Edward Packard (see below).
As you can see, there is quite the network of paths that a reader can take - some relatively straight forward, others quite convoluted. In this example, you can see that there are an amazing number of endings (36) with only 121 pages, some of the same endings being reached by alternate routes.
Equally informative is a visual map of Choose Your Own Adventure #2 Journey Under the Sea by R.A. Montgomery from designer Michael Niggel. In this example, he maps out all the possible outcomes to show that in this interactive story at least, death and unfavorable endings prevailed. [from a FlowingData blog post] Whether this trend is true of other interactive books is up to the reader to discover.
For perhaps the most thorough example, check out the outstanding illustrations of Choose Your Own Adventure books from Christian Swineheart referenced in this GeekDad article from Wired Magazine. The article touches upon his brilliant work, wetting the palate of any conniseur of interactive stories.
Christian Swineheart elaborates extensively on the process of the Choose Your Own Adventure book construction in a fabulous online article that is a must read for any serious author in planning an interactive story. Even more beautiful to look at is his animated visualizations of ten CYOA novels. In these animations, you can click on a title to see the possible paths unfold right before your eyes. To delve further into each title, Mr. Swineheart has created a gallery of each of the books which is extensively coded to show the progression of each interactive plotline. Finally, as a culmination of his adoration of the interactive story, he created a beautiful online interactive book using a tale from the Zork Universe, the basis for many text adventure games throughout the 1970's and 1980's.
At this point, you may be wondering about the best way to lay out YOUR interactive story. That task is best accomplished using concept mapping software [list]. Below is a screenshot taken from the novel "Beer, Women and Bad Decisions" by Shawn Harris where the software "Inspiration" was used.
In this example, you can see how the paths are terminated with orange-colored circles indicating "good" endings and red-colored circles indicating "bad" endings. Concept mapping software provides the author with a visual idea of how long each plotline is, whether the story has an appropriate balance of endings, and to be sure that no branch is left unwritten.
Finally, once you have put all your possible paths on paper, writing your interactive story is a snap! So get to it!!