Mapping Out a Story


#1

Hello everyone! My name is Alex Chase. This is my first post here on the CoG forums, but I’ve lurked for a month or two now. I’m a writer (obviously!) and as a kid I wrote my own choose-your-own-adventure books a ton. They were horrible, of course, but there was something just so fun about writing in that style. Now, as an adult, I’m super happy to find out that a site like this exists! I love the idea of taking those fun gamebooks and making them better written and more geared to an older audience.

So, my question for you all today is how do you map out your story when you start writing it? When I was younger, I would just get an idea and write away. Now I realize a lot of planning is probably necessary. My own ideas have been to make a huge flowchart of decisions, a simplified decision tree for major branches/endings, and a branching outline for each part of the book. Does anyone have some awesome techniques they’d like to share? :slight_smile:

I’m going to start planning out my book now, and I’ll let you all know what route I end up taking! I’ll be checking back in this thread frequently… if anyone has any awesome ideas, I’d love to steal 'em!


#2

This is basically my entire drafting process. This combined with public feedback usually drives me naturally to and through scenes and the plot I have in mind. I very much enjoy the freeform and organic way the story shapes itself before my eyes.

I have not seen that many authors of any kind of fiction do it like that, and I suppose it wouldn’t be advisable by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s just how I’ve become accustomed to doing things. I have a very long history of doing play-by-post roleplaying, and I still follow that segmented very freely flowing style to this day.

Whenever I find that my style doesn’t work though, I go to good old flowcharts or just open up a new document to write out a rough outline of what I want in a scene and then rework it until I have it as I want it to be. Flowcharts I usually create for detailed character interaction maps, and I generally make them with yEd Graph Editor. I can’t even begin to tell you how much trouble I have with names, and just putting them on a map is a lifesaver. I have a huge one already laid out for my current WiP and an even larger one for my first Hosted Game.
Another tool I use fairly often is Trello. I tend to use it as a post-it board for myself to keep track of far-off events and ideas I want to include but haven’t found out how to yet.


#3

Hi Goshman! Thank you for the reply!

I think that method is more common than you might think. Nowadays, I tend to do a good amount of pre-writing, but even so it’s important to sometimes just jump into the work and let your ideas unfold organically. I know a lot of writers that do almost no pre-writing, just getting an idea and letting the brain-slush hit the page, haha.

Thanks for your input! I’ll be sure to check out those tools. I’ve used Trello as an organizational tool in the past, it was pretty nice. Good luck with your WIP! :slight_smile:


#4

Well I’m not much of a writer but one thing I love about doing work on the computer is it gives you the ability to go back and change/erase any parts you don’t like or just hit enter and add a paragraph in somewhere that would be very difficult to do on paper. For this reason I believe any mixture of planning to free-writing would work and to find what is right for you I think the only thing you can do is just start writing. If you decided later on that you need a flow chart then take a break from writing and make one. I’ve used gliffy before which is free and online. If you want to look around though they are all over just search free flowchart maker.


#5

Hi there, Kelvin! Thank you for the reply.

I think that’s a great insight. I hunger for structure and organization, however- mostly because I’m so unorganized naturally haha. Because of that I think I’ll HAVE to do at least a little bit of planning. I’d probably pull my hair out if I didn’t :slight_smile:

When you make flowcharts for your gamebooks, how detailed do you make them? Are they describing large swaths of plot, or minute details?


#6

I thought this way too but only after I found out people actually plan their books :joy:. Before that I had just been writing freely and it was working fine for me. Then I ended up making a flow chart for my ideas and have yet to use it. Just saying you may surprise yourself.

Well what I did was make the story line. I would suggest putting down everything you are afraid you might forget, and continue doing so as you create your flow chart. Then once you have everything you want down I would really recommend trying to build your world at least a little bit. I put down everything I knew I wanted which for that time was the first scene and the last scene. Then I just got creative. “How would someone in this world get here?” What time period? What are the people like and where? What are the governments like? What is the terrain? Many of these things and more will affect each other. Maybe if you have a fantasy world no one is going to live in the deserts unless maybe there is a race that eats sand or something (here terrain is affecting populations).

Hope this helps a little.


#7

I tend to be a very plot-planning sort. I took a much more free-ranging approach with Fantasy Foods, my current WiP. It worked for a while - but then I spent a month rewriting a 30,000 word scene twice because the coding and gameplay weren’t working out very well. I even put together a post on the subject.

My general conclusion from the experience, at least regarding my own writing, is that it’s fine to free-write a story, and works well for many authors. Free-writing a game is a much more dangerous proposition for me, because planning can help avoid branching-plotpoint pitfalls and poor coding decisions (and I tend to make more than enough of those as it is).


#8

Putting demos up on this site is really good for trimming down what you need, and maybe adding things you hadn’t though of.


#9

I think this is 100% true for all career writers. However for us hobby writers I think people usually overlook one thing. This is a hobby. If it stops being fun we may stop writing. I believe that as a hobbist you should look at what people want, then at what you want. Whatever matches up you should definitely do that first. Then all the other stuff is optional.

Write what you want and your readers will find you.


#10

I totally understand and everyone works in different ways, but I know when i write and when I do other things (that I consider hobbies) I like to do the best I can, and it makes it a lot less fun for me if i know it’s not very good and I could have improved it.


#11

I also did a bit of searching and found:

This thread on outlining

Another thread on flow charts

And another brief thread on outlining

And a few suggestions about useful tools


#13

@Sampl15
I believe this is true for all writers and artists in general, career or hobbyists. It just depends on what a person perceives as “good”. Personally I enjoy the writing of it and generally don’t care too much what others say. Although a “nice story” every once and a while doesn’t hurt. For me, I think I mostly write my story for myself and follow the principles of my last post. But it is very interesting and eye-opening what you have said especially because now that I see the other side I see many others think like you.


#14

Just to be clear, I do use a lot of freewriting as well! Otherwise I’d never get anything done, haha. Your suggestions are very helpful though. Thank you again!

I think this is a really important point, as well. With a traditional novel, there’s only so much you can do wrong- usually you only have one continuity, one plot, etc. This is one reason why I’m hellbent on doing at least some planning before I start writing my gamebook. Last thing I want to do is lose track of a branch or accidentally leave a link or something unfinished. Thanks for the thoughts, Fiogan, and I’ll be sure to check out that post.

Hi Sampl15. While I imagine that is certainly true, I’m worried more about using planning as an organizational tool rather than an editing one. That said I’m sure I’ll be making heavy use of demos and beta readings. Good to hear from you!

… derp. Sorry about that, everyone :frowning: I did a brief search and decided I’d make my own topic, but it seems like that probably was unnecessary.


#15

In CYOA/CoG games, I like the “Family Tree” plot point method. Makes finding inconsistencies easier and sates my OCD for complicated solutions.


#16

Hi there Jinx, thanks for the reply!

By “family tree” I assume you mean like a bubble flowchart with all of branches stemming from a single beginning? That seems to be the most straightforward way to map out/outline a gamebook. When using that method, how detailed are each of your entries? Are they major plot points, or do you describe the various different choices that can be made along the way?

At the moment my idea is to map out the broad strokes and then half freewrite, half plot out the intricacies. So I may be in Act 2 dealing with a specific event, and then just use the general information to start writing and go from there.


#17

Colored markers. Lots of paper (some of it is taped together, because I didn’t have big enough pieces.) Post-it notes, for things I use often like the breakdown of major character stats. Between the drawings and timelines and maps and whatever else I find myself writing down (and changes as needed), I’m similar to @Goshman - I just code stuff and see what happens.

I have an ending to my WIP, and I think it’ll be the same by the time I get there. It’s the events in the middle and how they’re connected that are more fluid.


#18

Hi there Sashira, thanks for your input!

I definitely drew out a bubble map last night (for world building rather than plot progression, but still). I’m so used to using digital means that it was refreshing using a paper and pen again. I enjoyed it so much that I may use a method similar to yours, with color coding, real paper, and post-it notes. I’m worried about losing some of it, or becoming disorganized, but there’s just something about the tactile feel of real paper that really seems to help my process- for visuals, at least. As soon as I have to type a bunch of info (detailing each bubble of my world building, for example), it’s back to typing for me. I can’t stand writing a ton of stuff out by hand anymore!

It’s interesting that you say ending, and not endings. Does your WIP have a “true end?”


#19

Unless I drastically change it, it’s similar to how Life is Strange, Until Dawn or Psy High handle it. There’s a major event near the end of the game that the various plotlines are building towards (and a few resolved before then.) Who you are by then, what your circumstances are, and what you choose to do about it are the parts that vary.

There are different epilogues for how you can spend your life after the events of the game (if you survive. High school is tough.) So if you think of those as endings, there’s quite a bit of variation (almost Tin Star-level.) The major conflict remains the same - the replay value I’m building in is through side plots and different characters, as well as different strategies.


#20

That’s a very interesting take. I hadn’t thought of handling a game like that. It seems like your method and the more branching plot method both have their own merits, but yours is drastically simpler in that you don’t have to spread yourself thin writing multiple climaxes. I’ll have to consider whether or not I’d like to have a specific major ending event or whether I want to go with branching ends. Thanks again! You’ve given me some good things to consider.


#21

Major plot point and any effect a given choice may or may not have on relations/stats attached to the branch assigned to said choice.