06 March 2012

What Interactive Fiction Taught Me About Writing

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For children of the 80s and 90s (and maybe even today), you have probably come across at least one of these books - Choose Your Own Adventure books. They were the books that you could read and choose what you wanted to have happened...do you want to go into the cave, go to page 52 or do you want to go get help, go to page 78

Well, some time over the last couple of years, I grew a fascination with the online games Interactive Fiction. These were a bit like those books I read as a kid, but much bigger with a lot more time and energy in creating the world of the story. There are more than just the classics that were popular in the 80s, but new stories are being written all the time for all of us to play with contests for some to enter

So, what does this have anything to do with writing? Well, a lot actually. Some of the things that make those games good are what we can apply to our own writing.

Stuff actually has to happen.

If you have never played these types of games and never heard of Choose Your Own Adventure books, then to say it as basic as possible - the point of the story is for something to happen so that the reader (or player of the game) can continue forward. You can't have just description. 

Just like our own writing, in stories - no matter what your genre is - stuff has to happen. In these games, something moves the character forward, so the player can move forward. 

Little to no effort in the game becomes obvious very quickly.

Often times what you will see in some of the poorer reviews of the Interactive Fiction games is something along the lines of, "Oh, if only the writer put more effort into the story it would have been a lot better." We all know when we have put crappy effort into something (and we know when we have shown someone a story when we shouldn't have...), but we need to know that it is as obvious as going to the gym with no deodorant on - it reeks and someone is bound to come up to you and tell you that you need to leave (okay, not so much that last part...).

Background characters must have a purpose.

I have them in a story, you have them in a story. It's the characters meant to serve as one purpose and one purpose only - wait until the main character comes up to them or wait until a major event comes to pass. In the Interactive Fiction world, we are reminded that we can't have the captain of the ship just standing around or suddenly appearing out of nowhere. It will throw the player off. 

In our stories, we can't just have these background characters hanging out. In real life, these people would be doing something, not just waiting - so never forget who is on stage in your story and make sure they are entering in at the right moment.

Reveal your character's purpose immediately.

When you are playing Interactive Fiction, it becomes important very quickly to know exactly what you are supposed to be doing. Description and dialogue are fine, but if interacting with story doesn't prompt a plot line or a purpose than it becomes boring. You can't turn to page 53 if you don't know why you even care about what's on page 53.  With Interactive Fiction, whether it's to escape an awful party or defeat an evil creatureyour character must have a purpose. Make the player (err...reader) go forward.

Want to give Interactive Fiction a try and see what you can learn from it? Click here for a beginner's guide and click here to check out some of the more popular games that are new (and not from the 80s!)


13 comments:

  1. Those adventure books got me into reading. Reading has always been a chore. It was never easy. Those kind of books kept me guessing. I hated stories where the ending would seem so obvious. Those Narnia books got on my nerves. At 8, those books irritated me.

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  2. Good observations. Nice post.

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  3. I totally agree with Randy.

    I never knew these books existed and I never played the games. But I can definitley understand how it would help writers to partake.

    Great post!

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  4. I have never read that kind of book or played that kind of game. Sounds interesting. Think I will check it out.

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  5. I was thinking ebooks and ereaders would be a great platform for the return of these kinds of stories.

    mood
    Moody Writing
    @mooderino
    The Funnily Enough

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  6. I didn't read this when I was a kid. My niece mentioned it to me the other day. It sounds like this was an interactive ebook before the ebook existed.

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  7. Very interesting post. I can remember reading adventure books growing up and I know that they were the reason that I love reading so much now.

    Thank you for joining up at the new Follow Your Way Blog Hop. I am following you.

    Vickie
    http://victoriasvoice44.blogspot.com

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  8. We LOVED Choose your own adventure books when we were growing up! We wish they had "choose your own screenplay ending" and "choose your own logline and movie title" because we could use some help in those areas. Great blog!

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  9. I loved those books! I better steer clear of the online games, or I'll never get anything done!

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  10. I don't think I'd be a writer today if not for Choose Your Own Adventure. The first book I ever pulled from a library shelf was one of those, and it started a long love affair with books.

    I've peeked my nose into the IF community online a bit, but not as much as I'd like to. You've got me thinking about it again!

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  11. Oh I remember these books so well. I possibly read them all, and went on to more detailed choose your own adventure stories with stats and dice rolling and, of course, holding your finger on the previous page! What joy!

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  12. Todays eReaders and ePUBs are the perfect media to discover and experience CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) books on. Many of the original classics (House Of Danger, Escape) have been released as ePUBs and several new works (The Vortex, Death or Glory) are also available from most major online retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO, DriveThruRPG, just to name a few). Always something to enjoy!

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    1. Thanks the comment Randy! I also will look into those books you mentioned! It's nice to know there is another CYOA fan out there still! :)

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