My brother and sister were into the Choose Your Own Adventure Books back in the early 1980’s. I think I was just a little to old. I had moved onto Go Ask Alice by then. Meanwhile, the idea of choosing your own adventure is well suited to our online world and as a form of story telling has a new and wonderful digital life. Felicity Banks is my guest blogger today and I will let her tell you about it.
What is interactive fiction?
Choice-based interactive fiction (as opposed to Parser interactive fiction, which has puzzles) is exactly like a normal story except the reader gets a say in where the story goes. That can be as minor as choosing how to feel about an event (does the hero panic? Do they worry about their friends? Do they wish they were stronger or smarter?), or as major as travelling to a completely different country for part or all or the story.
A lot of choice-based interactive fiction is similar to Choose Your Own Adventure novels, except modern interactive fiction is usually 100% digital and released as an app rather than an e-book. This has led to a culture in which a lot of IF lets the reader choose their own name, gender, and even sexuality. Suddenly every character is a strong female hero!
Interactive Fiction can be surprisingly lucrative for writers.
How is it different to writing straight novels?
It’s all about choices, and there is an expectation that the reader has a lot of control. That means shorter, punchier scenes and often writing in second person and/or present tense. The more choice the reader has over the personality of the main character, the more the character feels like a blank slate at the beginning of the story. There’s also an innate frustration for both the writer and the reader, because interactive fiction gives the illusion of total freedom… but the only true freedom is a blank page. An interactive fiction story should also be able to be “replayed” meaning that a reader should be able to get a completely different experience of the book by making different choices. That means that most or all of the possible endings leave the reader thinking, “But what if I’d done such-and-such? Was it really worth prioritising my marriage over my career?”
A truly great interactive fiction story makes you feel as if the tale has been written specifically for your mood. It’s an amazing feeling!
What advice would you give beginners to interactive fiction?
If you’ve written a few novels and you want to earn money, start by sending your writing credits to Choice of Games. If you’re fascinated by the form, jump into Twine and have a play (Birdland was written in Twine). It’s free and takes about ten minutes to get started. If you’d like to test the waters, try entering a contest: The Windhammer Prize entries have to be both short and printable rather than digital. Introcomp is specifically designed for unfinished games. The Spring Thing welcomes beginners (they even have a “Back Garden” so critics know to mind their manners and be gentle with new people). The IF Comp is so huge a large number of reviewing blogs organise their year around it.
Be warned that the IF Community has an extremely deep (sometimes bruising) tradition of reviewing. It’s normal for even the best games to draw both praise and criticism, and for some games to be roundly condemned (especially in the IF Comp). On the other hand, I placed 7th in the IF Comp in 2015, and was offered three different paid jobs as a result!
If you want to learn about the world of IF, then read blogs and games (most of the competitions above are publicly judged, so go play!)
How did you get into interactive fiction?
I’ve been writing novels for many many years (my debut novel, Heart of Brass, has just been released by Odyssey Books Australia). I started writing Hosted Games (effectively self-published through Choice of Games) and found they were surprisingly successful. I entered some competitions, and cold-emailed a few people (including Tin Man Games). When I won the Windhammer Prize, I emailed Tin Man Games to see if they wanted to publish it (they own the rights because of their connection with the contest). They said no—then called me three hours later, because they’d just realised they needed another writer to work on Choices: And The Sun Went Out (an award-winning sci-fi subscription story available on iTunes and android). When I knew they were likely to get a grant from Film Victoria, I pitched Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten. We won the grant and I started writing!
Could you tell us a bit about your latest book?
Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten is a serialised story that releases a new section each week (the first week is free, and continuing the story costs a few dollars). Readers can choose to turn the music and sounds on or off. If they have an apple watch, it can play a crucial role in the story (spoilers!) or they can switch off that function.
The main character has the magical ability to carry the souls of the deceased (a form of magical last rites). They have a duty to face dangerous training, which they’ve avoided for some years. The story begins when the main character is on the cusp of adulthood. A powerful woman guesses they have magical talent, and demands their help. At the same time, an immortal white bear is stalking them. One way or another, they have to face their fears. Their life changes forever as a result.
They’re soon swept up in an international war between the living and
It’s a steampunk story set in the same magical steampunk universe as my novel Heart of Brass, but without any overlapping characters or plot (so no spoilers). Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten is set in a steampunk 1830s Europe, when Queen Victoria was a teenage princess and the power of steam was changing everyday life forever.