What is interactive fiction? It is a story which requires the reader to offer some level of input to progress the narrative in some way. Many video games, for example, offer interactive fiction because the story unfolds based on the actions and decisions of the player. Another example of interactive fiction would be the text-to-command software story of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is accessible online at Vogon.com.
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Yet interactive fiction doesn’t have to be software-based or be a video game. There are novels that also fit into this category. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, there was a series of young adult books that would allow readers to choose their own adventures as well. Readers would reach a decision in the book and be forced to make a decision, which would then have them turn to a specific page within the book to continue the story.
Interactive fiction can be a bit tricky to write. Here’s how you can get started writing a narrative that will feel authentic, yet still provide the reader with a lot of fun.
#1. Choose your preferred tools. The easiest way to write interactive fiction is to use a template. One of the most commonly used tools is called Inform [available at inform7.com] because it turns the coding you’ll need for your story into terms that are easy to understand. You don’t need to know coding or hypertext with Inform – you just write. Other tools include TADS3 and Quest. If you want to create multiplayer interactive fiction, then consider using Guncho or Seltani.
#2. Begin to outline your world. Unlike other types of fiction, interactive fiction requires an author to structure puzzle progress, plot maps, and character strategies as part of their narrative. It’s a lot easier to compose a story that feels authentic when the structure of that story has been created. Spend time creating diagrams of your puzzles, your rooms, or the inventories your characters will need and you’ll find that the composition process will be a lot easier.
#3. Play games or engage in stories that are similar to yours. If you want to write interactive fiction about an alien invasion, then playing a video game like Destiny can help you get a feel for the movement and flow of the narrative. If you want to do some comedy, then you can’t go wrong with the online The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Immerse yourself and then use your experiences to create your own narrative.
#4. Begin to branch your narratives. They key to unlocking high quality interactive fiction is to create meaningful early decisions for your readers. You want them to begin engaging with the story, but you also don’t want early decisions to penalize them so they lose hope for a fun outcome. You’ll be weaving a multidimensional story together, so take your time to create narrative branches that will keep the narrative moving, but still be meaningful to the overall plot.
#5. Don’t overlook your character behaviors. Writers of interactive fiction can often get lost in their story branches and plot details that they forget about the authenticity of their characters. How your characters engage with the reader, or even interact with them, is just as important to the world you’ve created as your puzzles, your room maps, and all of the other elements that go into this medium. Take some time to focus on how the actual conversations take place within the scope of the narrative so you don’t create skepticism within the reader.
#6. Test your work… and then test it some more. You know how authors can be plagued with typos or grammatical errors? The same is true for the writers of interactive fiction, except their typos wind up being software glitches or other bugs that ruin the authenticity of the created environment. You’ll want to do some beta-testing on your narrative after it is completed, no matter what the format you’ve chosen may be. This way any coding errors, narrative inconsistencies, or even typos can be resolved before the product is released to the general publish.
#7. Get yourself published. Many writers of interactive fiction self-publish their work. Thanks to Kindle, Android, Apple, and Steam, it’s very easy to sell your final files to the general public. You can also attempt to sell your work as commissioned, enter competitions, or host your interactive fiction online if you prefer. It all depends on how you’d like to market yourself and how much money you think you can make with your venture.
Writing interactive fiction can be difficult at first, but it can also be extremely rewarding when you see the pleasure your readers or players receive from engaging with your narrative.