Things you wished you knew when starting a project

Hi everyone!
I’m new to the CoG forums and thought I’d ask for some advice for someone new to writing IF. What lessons have you learned from writing a project that you wish you had known before starting.

I’ve just finished a four year project that is currently pending approval for publication and I’ve realised now I have a technical job how much I miss writing so as someone who is very interested in narrative design IF seemed like a good format to start writing fiction. I’m big fan of CoG, Choice of Rebels and Creatures such as we among others blew me away.

I’m probably going to try writing historical fiction so at the moment I’m reading around the setting to get my head into the period and to make sure I don’t write anything obviously ahistorical or offensive.

Any advice you are prepared to share would be gratefully received.

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  • Develop your own routine where you are constantly exposed to new ideas and inspiration. In my case, I routinely search through concept art of environments, characters, and fictional locations loosely related to the genre that my project is classified under. I also draw my inspiration from video games.

  • Figure out what hours in the day are your optimal working periods. Pick out locations that make it easier for you to be able to transition into that mental space you need for writing. Cup of joe is completely mandatory for me, at least.

  • Coding in the branching pathways in your story will drain you many times. Emotionally and mentally. Sometimes, the mere act of thinking about the technicalities involved might dissuade you from writing past your last scene. It can take hours to code in all of the combinations of sequences you want to include. What is important is never losing sight of that enthusiasm.

  • Don’t expect people to like everything. Expect a few of them to hate it. It doesn’t really matter, because they don’t exactly know what’s going on in your head. They won’t understand the personal relevance of the project you’re sharing with the world. We all write to deal with our heads.

  • Writing short stories set in your universe is a great way to get immersed in your own imagination. I am currently experimenting with this and it works wonders in terms of further fleshing out the personalities of the characters that your protagonist might interact with. It is also great for worldbuilding because these essentially act as extensions of a world you are only allowing the reader to catch small glimpses of.


Do you have an approach to planning as I can imagine with branching pathways structure gets complicated very fast.

Planning my projects can be a frustrating exercise, I just want to get on and start writing once I’ve had that great idea but If I don’t plan properly I soon get lost in the various twists and turns.

I’ve tried lots of options, including spreadsheets, post-it notes (really!), I tried Twine as a useful prototyping tool, but in the end I always come back to simple mind mapping software like Freemind.
It’s not perfect for the job by any means. While it allows outward branches, there’s no way to recombine them later so I have to make do with labels to mark merge points.

I think this is going to be one of those things where you’re just going to have to try different things and see what works for you.

I did see an interesting article somewhere a while back where someone said she actually wrote a complete story for each main branch and then looked for suitable merge points. That sounds like a lot of extra work to me but it might be something worth looking into.

It depends on the nature of your story. Is it linear? Something with multiple endings that wildly diverge from a point in your plot? Try setting an upper bound for the number of potential scenarios that are relevant to the plot. Right now, I’m using this approach to break down each individual chapter into discrete blocks of events. Every block of event contains an overarching theme or event that contributes to the turning points in my narrative. Within this “block”, I allow myself specific ranges of freedom depending on the linearity of your story. If I’m going with a wildly branching narrative, then that range of freedom is bigger than when I am trying to go for a more linear build for the plot.

I hope that explains it somewhat, anyhow.

Whatever you are planning is going to turn out thrice as long, so don’t worry about your story being short. Once you start working, it will balloon.

Don’t worry too much about stats from the start, let them develop naturally as the story processes.

Remember that the more variants that you make for the MC when it comes to fighting attacks, the more variants you have to write when it comes to a fight, Sometimes it is better with low variability but deeper complexity,

Start writing sooner rather than when you have things planned out, because for a first game you’re not gonna have a clue anyway, so it’s better to just get started.

Make sure to post your WIP to Dashingdon and link the forum, because the people here are super helpful!


Do you have an approach to fostering greater complexity in a low variability framework? I’m not sure if I understand the practical difference between variability and complexity.

Let’s take a standard fantasy game for example. You plan for there to be a fair bit of fighting, since it is a fantasy game. Now, when deciding what your MC can do to beat someone in the fight, you have two options:

1: High variability. You let your MC pick between being good at swords, spears, staves, bows, daggers and magic. Now, when writing a fight scene, these weapons can be split into two variants. Hand to hand weapons (sword, spear, daggers, staves), distance (daggers, swords) and then in addition to that, magic, which is probably even more variable than all the weapons combined. Now, to write a scene when you have to take out a guard outside a a gate you have to consider the best way to do it with all those weapons.That means that every weapon will get only one(maybe two) options each, and since the player only picked one weapon that means that the player only has a very limited amount of choices in a fight (low complexity), even though he had a lot of variability when making his character.

2: High complexity. Now, let’s say we say that the player only have the ability to be good with a dagger. Extreme railroading, you are playing a thief, that is your weapon. That means you can allow for a lot of complexity when it comes to the actual fight scene. Let’s say you have the same guard at the gate. Will you throw your dagger from afar? Maybe try to bluff your way close to stab him in the guts? Sneak up and drop down behind him to cut his throat? All of those choices, which in turn could lead to new choices whether you succeed or not because they are also paired with other skills (like bluff or sneak). When you have low variability for things the MC can do, you have the space to really play around with what they do with those things.

I see a lot of WIPS go overboard with early variability to try to please everyone, and then ending up with little complexity as the game progresses.


You mention wanting to write historical fiction, so I thought I’d warn you about my experience. My game Choice of Alexandria was reasonably well-reviewed by people who did play it, but far fewer people bought it than Choice of Robots, and I think it’s partly because I didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which people do not buy games about things they’re unfamiliar with. So, you might want to be sure there’s a hook that can get people in the door, no matter how cool the stuff on the other side of that door is. Even if you’re not selling games, you presumably still want people to play them.


Well, to me, historical games tend to be more… historical, rather games.

And I had enough fill of my own history class, you know :"

@malinryden That makes sense. I’m provisionally thinking of maybe 4-5 skills and a few binary qualities, like faction affiliation that will only come up sporadically. Do you tend to start out knowing what stats you are going to include or do you let them emerge as you write choices?

@kgold I’ll definitely give Alexandria a read. Choice of Robots was the game that persuaded me of the merits of choicescript. Its quite the achievement! I’m not too bothered if it ends up being niche but I think I’m going to have a core setting and title that’s evocative in its own right which should hopefully obviate that issue somewhat.

@Szaal I’ll definitely bare that in mind when writing. It’s more of an alternative history vibe I’m going for but I want to make sure the cultural practices and setting I use are rooted in reality. I’m definitely not trying to educate anyone. If you consider something like Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall it feels entirely character drive and the historicity helps it feel grounded and lends it a tangibility to the prose imo

I started out knowing the big ones. What you want to shape the MC. Then I just kept adding as I wrote, once you are done with the first chapter you’ll have more of a feel for what is needed. It’s impossible to think of everything beforehand, but it’s good to at least have a starting baseline. Fewer rather than more, it’s easy to add if you find yourself missing something.

EDIT: Oh, and also, when you add the starting skills, ask yourself in what scenes you want it to come up, and what will happen if someone is good, or if someone is bad at it. You preferably want them to have a broad rather than a narrow use.

For example: If your MC is a thief, no other options, it makes sense to have skills such as sneak or pick locks. But if your MC can be a thief, knight, bard or farmer, it would be simpler to just have a simple “criminal background” on/off toggle to cover all those skills.