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 creature, your 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!)