I finished a game and didn’t do it this way. Much less planning, followed branches where they led me, repeatedly moved the goalposts for what I was going to fit into the game. I don’t know what your style is, but take heart–there’s no single right way to finish writing a game.
I am, by no means, a meticulous writer. And what I mean by that is I take an idea and run with it as far as I possibly can. And then some more. Demon Bound started with the idea that I wanted to write about witches, it didn’t seem like there were a lot of witchy/occult/horror IFs so I took it upon myself to gather an idea. I am a terrible planner, and this bites me in ass a lot. Demon Bound started off in a completely different direction (under a different name and plot line). But once I started writing I thought “Wow, this isn’t going to make it past 20k words.” So I changed some plot points, then the whole plot. The one thing I will say that has stayed the same is the original 4 characters. I think at least having one solid aspect you want to write about will help with direction, mine just happened to be the characters.
When it actually comes down to writing, I let my characters drive the story. “This happened, what would Ansel do/say?” “This happened, how would Rowan react?” This tends to create a lot of branching but I have somehow managed to tie them together in haphazard bows at the end of each branch. I usually write based off a piece of dialogue or event that comes to mind, and then ask myself how is the story going to get there? I’m sure I’m not alone in this process but it’s definitely not for everyone
Most of my writing is pantsing.
Matter of fact, the first time I wrote a comprehensive outline was when I started writing for CoG and had to develop an in-depth pitch/outline that detailed every chapter. Even then, Werewolves: Haven Rising changed considerably from the original outline, and Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality changed even more as I wrote. I can’t just lock things down to a prescribed path when I don’t know the characters yet, because they get in my head and do what they want sometimes.
That said, I outline and graph my stories as I go, not beforehand. This is very important in complex interactive fiction because it can get very confusing when you’re going back, adding bits, editing, and tightening up later. My games take me about a year and a half to write, and when I go back and change around something I wrote a year ago, I need a visual way to remember all the ins and outs of what the hell I did way back then or I’m lost.
Werewolves: Haven Rising was the first ChoiceScript game I played and it made me fall in love with the format. That ending though… I’ve been waiting for the sequel. I didn’t even know it was in the works.
I was already familiar with interactive fiction in general and even tried my hand in Twine, but because of Werewolves, I found my way into CS. So, thanks, I guess.
I outline the backbone and I try to leave some space for improv. But planning is really my stronger suit. So even if I had not planned the scene down to the T previously, I will at least sketch it before committing any words to the screen.
Glad you liked the game! Werewolves 2: Pack Mentality is scheduled for a July 9th release, though my submission of the completed draft has slipped by a few weeks due to the Covid crisis causing my day job (post office) to require overtime. Hopefully the release date doesn’t slip as well, but it depends on how much work the beta and editing needs. Either way, the wait is almost over! /shilling
There are several basic story structures for plotting IF games. They are lovingly outlined here in both text and visuals.
Time Cave: Always begins at one place but rapidly branches into totally different stories (usually with a minimum of choices/variations). Only a small part of the total text is read during any given play-through so it can be replayed many times.
Gauntlet: Essentially, one linear story (like a standard book/novel) with a few branching choices that quickly terminate in a dead end. Also known as a “railroad” story since it hews to an author-devised track. These generally come across as “fake” IF since there aren’t many significant choices to make, but the videogame “Hard Rain” is a Gauntlet and lots of people really enjoyed it.
Branch & Bottleneck: The recommended style for CS. Essentially, different choices can be meaningful but they quickly merge back to the main path.
To understand B&B, imagine the player is in a hotel, and there are 3 rooms on that floor. The player can enter any of the three rooms, but after a minute or two, they will ALWAYS hear the cops/bad guys outside in the hallway, so they MUST escape out the window and down the fire escape and down to the street level behind the hotel. That is B&B structure. Different stories can happen in each of the three rooms, but the paths always merges back together (into one story) at the fire escape.
Quest: Multiple B&Bs that are parallel and rarely intersect (usually only at the end of the story). Requires a LOT of writing on the author’s part. But if you want to write Lord of the Rings from both Frodo and Sam’s point of view, that would be the Quest structure.
Open/Random: Extremely difficult to write but involves creating tiny stories (storylets) that can be accessed at any time in random order by the player.
Imagine a kid alone home on a rainy day with some talking goldfish. She can vacuum the rug, make a snack, or sing a song - each storylet is independent and has minimum/no impact on the other storylets.
Sorting Hat: One significant choice at the beginning “sorts” the player into a (customized) Time Cave/Gauntlet/B&B narrative. Named after the hat in Harry Potter that sorted each kid into one of four houses which then affected the rest of their time at school.
There are other types of IF structures, but they are progressively more difficult to code and to plot. The first three types (Time Cave, Gauntlet, and B&B) are the most common and how you probably want to begin.
Just thought I’d add here that the easiest way to plot a Branch and Bottleneck story is to track it by chronological time.
If your story was about going to school, the day would start with waking up, breakfast, first class, second class, etc. If it was about work, same deal (morning meeting, lunch, afternoon meeting) etc.
Then you could have variants for each of these time segments, i.e. different breakfast stories, different activities for the first class (one story is the MC is in class, another story is about the MC skipping it and going for a walk in the forest) but when the bell rings, all the plots would merge back together.
Depending on what kind of writer you are, you may prefer to plot out ONE transversal of your story and then go back later and write out the other variants for each distinct time period.
Hope this helps!
I don’t have strong writing skills. But I might use some of these tips. It’s pretty useful thread for me.
I hadn’t known George was a pantser!? That certainly explains things. I, myself, am a “bottle-pantser,” that is, I start with my pants in a bottle, but they always seem to get out. I heard, at a writers’ conference once, that we pantsers sometimes do the “planning thing” at a subconscious level of our minds. We navigate like geese. Honk! She, the doctor-lady who said so, seemed credible during the parts where I paid attention. Steve, I thought, was more an architect. He claims to be one of those INTJ mastermind types. Although, I hear he has at least three top-paid editors who cycle his work between them. Helps me feel better about how prolific he is, or less bad about how prolific I’m not. Thanks for sharing this. Cheers! @cup_half_empty
I’m a panster to the extreme. My writing partner is a plotter to the extreme (if character A wouldn’t do what the plot requires him to do, then my buddy just forces it even if it makes no sense… and I rewrite it because I hate that!). It’s fun to battle with him over everything. He nagged me into writing an outline a few times and my “outlines” end up quickly becoming short (and sometimes longer) scenes. And then the scenes end up being trashed because other stuff happens and my characters don’t do what I thought they’d do. I have well over a thousand pages of crap I’ve written that I’ll never use thanks to this!
Honestly, I wish planning worked for me, but I have to go with an overall view of things then let the details work themselves out as the characters start muddling through everything.
Honestly, I think it’s much to do with how you move through life re:control. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. (I hope my opinion isn’t less valid because I haven’t published a CoG/HG yet; I’ve done lots of writing in other mediums.) Similar to, say, public speaking. Memorization versus Manuscript versus Extemporaneous versus Improvisation. Do your lines sound rehearsed of organic? Do you get to where you intended or surprise both yourself and your listeners? (Ms. Maisel, anyone?)
Screenplay, I’ve found, lends itself strongly to structure. The industry has rigid demands about what falls where and when. If you take Christopher Nolan, Memento for example–this is a story only the planning-est of planners could devise. He’s the most masterful living INTJ writer, in my opinion. However, the emphasis on plot detracts, in my opinion, from character. For me, good characters take on lives of their own, and you should stay the F out of the way. Gives more authenticity and emotional resonance, in my opinion. I think of the actors who improvise lines despite scripts, like Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Deniro. “I’m walking here!” “You talking to me?” These kinds of iconic lines happen when you allow yourself to be swept up in the moment.
Ultimately, I think we don’t have much say in the matter. So, we should lean into however we tend to go about things. Part of what defines your voice and style. Some people get migraines when I explain my process, which I know is flawed to hell. When you live life with an open hand, some things fall out of it, but others are allowed into it. Don’t feel bad about your pants or lack thereof. @EvilChani