Interactive story first draft: Done!

For anyone who doesn’t get my newsletter… I mean, first off, why not? Geez… but secondly and more to the point, I’m looking for work, and one of the opportunities that came up was a scriptwriter for an upcoming Star Wars game from powerhouse game developer Ubisoft.

One of the suggested items to have in your portfolio before applying was an online interactive story (think digital Choose Your Own Adventure story and you’ve got the gist of it) that shows you’re able to keep all the narrative plates spinning while managing multi-branching storylines. So I put my current project on hold and focused on getting that kind of story done for the application.

Well… most of the way into working on the interactive story, I discovered that the job position, which didn’t have any overt deadline and I couldn’t find a deadline for even via contacting the company, had been taken down. I guess it had closed. But having gotten so far into the project, I didn’t just want to abandon it. Also, if such a job should come up again, it’d behoove me to have an interactive story done and available to check instead of starting another one from scratch then, or trying to remember what the idea was for this one to continue it later. And besides, the sooner the better, as it’s one more writing format I will have done and be able to show on my website. All the better to show my mad skillz, as the kids say.

I just finished the first draft of it, which is bigger than expected. It came in at well over 14,000 words in total (so, technically a… novellette?). That’s a raw count, of course. I still need to go through it and follow each possible set of options to ensure it all makes sense, and there will no doubt be some trimming done to help streamline it.

Although who knows, there may be some added, as well. Consider for a moment that a reader of an interactive story may have the option at one point to, say, pick up an item or not. Which means there are now thread B (pick up the item) and thread C (don’t pick up the item) spinoffs. The storyline in either case must continue forward but will at some point down the line be informed by that choice. Rather than having the clunky-feeling “Did you pick up that item earlier? If so go here, if not, go there” to determine the next step the reader had to take, I wanted the story to go smoothly and occur naturally in either case. Meaning that whether or not you picked up that item, you will experience the storyline determined by that choice. Had you picked up that item, the story would proceed with you in possession of it. If you didn’t pick it up, the story would continue with you not having it. Which makes for a more natural feel for the reader, but requires that two storylines must run parallel yet have different (at least short-term) outcomes.

But then those two or more threads need to merge again later. Storylines can branch to offshoots and other ones ad nauseum, losing the trail of the primary story entirely unless you keep the choices contained to help keep the story moving forward. So you’re keeping multiple potential storylines rolling at the same time, as determined by previous choices the reader could make, but still needing it to wrap with at least one means of reaching a successful story end depending on certain choices made.

All of which creates a bit of a brain pretzel.

I’m sure there’s a basic method to do these kinds of stories. The Choose Your Own Adventure series was close to 200 books in size. So while not formulaic, there was almost certainly some method of devising the story breakdown and offering the reader key choices but keeping them contained and things progressing, rather than have each writer come up with their own method of making the final product work.

I was considering using a mind map to track each thread and its relative spinoffs and when and where and how each comes back to join the main story (or not) so I could see the whole thing in a visual overview as a map to follow, since I’m often a visual learner. But I’m not at all familiar with using physical or digital mind maps, so that would’ve required a learning curve in order to try to simplify something that itself had a learning curve, as I’m trying to hurry up and get the interactive story done to get it online to apply to the game scriptwriting job.

I ended up just using Scrivener, which is an excellent tool for writers of all stripes but in particular makes it very simple to make and nest and re-order files as needed for optimal effect. Part way into it, I thought that perhaps using some sort of colour coding system would help. Thread A is blue, thread B and everywhere it leads is red, thread C and everywhere it leads is yellow, etc. But that got tossed out when I wasn’t sure how to handle one segment being the result of a couple of different choices made. Thread B could lead to thread D then F, but it all has to come back to A, and how would that kind of scenario be evident with a colouring system?

Does it matter what colour that file would be?

Does anything matter?

Why are any of us here, anyway?


As per usual with my challenging first drafts, I’ll let that one sit and mellow for a bit before going back to it for editing and rewrites. I’ll follow each thread to try to find any issues, then drop it into the Twine interactive story engine in order to make the story and its choices operate smoothly. Then I’ll get some beta readers on it, tweak it again as needed, and assuming I can do so, will put it live on my website for everyone (particularly prospective employers) to try out.

Meanwhile, onward with the project I waylaid myself from to get the interactive story done.

Stay tuned!