Being a Better Writer: Writing for Interactive Stories

Welcome back readers! It’s going to be a great week here on the site. More stuff coming, as usual. Follow-ups to prior posts, feedback … Basically, there’s a lot going on at the moment, so expect to see quite a bit of that on display here as the days come along!

Okay, rather than spend a few paragraphs on news or teasers, I’d really rather just jump into today’s topic. This one is, as many of you probably already know, a request topic. And you know that because you were one of the many readers that requested it, and you let out a satisfied “finally” the moment you saw this post’s title.

But yes, we’re talking about writing for interactive stories: Choose-your-own-adventure-style works, tabletop campaigns, or any other sort of story where you give your audience the means to pick their own fate.

Now, this is one of those posts that I’m going to lead with a disclaimer. A stronger one than the normal “everyone’s experience is going to be a little different.” And that disclaimer is: I am not an expert at this. While I’ve been playing tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons for a few years now, and have been running my own custom campaign now for over six months, I would still acknowledge that I’m a novice of sorts and tend to make a lot of mistakes. Crud, last week I made a pretty lousy one and did something that would have worked for a normal book … but instead flubbed pretty bad because it wasn’t a book, it was an interactive story.

In other words, what I offer today is only going to be scratching the surface. I’m not a master-class writer at doing interactive stories and running tabletop games. I’ve never once written a Choose-your-own-adventure story, though I did read a number of them growing up. What I offer are some of the basic lessons I’ve learned that can hopefully help get you started. From there, I would hope that if you find the topic interesting, you would go to someplace like Youtube or Google and start searching for advice from dedicated Game/Dungeon Masters who have run professional games and have for decades. Yes, such advice does exist, and in fact I watched quite a bit of it before starting my own campaign in January.

Also, a bit of a warning: We’re going to bounce a bit today. Mostly because running a tabletop campaign story is still a bit different from a CYOA-style story. Plus, since I have more experience with the former, the advice I share here today will be more tailored to what I have done for that and would I would do for the other.

Right, disclaimers and notifications out of the way, let’s get this post underway! So … you want to run an interactive story.

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Being a Better Writer: Good Subversions

Welcome back, readers, to another Being a Better Writer post!

Okay, so it’s not that surprising. After all, these things have been dropping like clockwork each Monday for almost five years now, so any surprise at this point either means you’re new or really poor at picking up on patterns. But in any case, it’s Unusual Things‘ … well, thing!

Anyway, I got all relevant news out of the way last week with the last news post, and there’s nothing new that’s worth bringing up at this time, so let’s just dive in to today’s topic shall we? And, oh yes, this is a request topic (clearing out the last of Topic List Ten, so get ready to suggest new topics), one that’s been a long time coming!

So, today we’re going to talk about writing good subversions. Which, almost immediately, means that our first question is going to be “What is a subversion?”

Well, it’s both simple and more complicated than it seems at the same time. But a subversion is when the story sets up an expected path, event, trope, etc, and then when the moment arrives to bring that same event/trope/story element to its expected conclusion … something happens to turn everything the reader expected about said element on its head. It’s called a subversion because when you subvert something, you undermine the established “traditional” narrative, or disrupt it. In other words, you—the author—have become a subversive element to an established trope, event, etc.

Let’s talk examples, and pick one of the more famous ones: The classic fantasy damsel in distress. We’ll start with an even more common story-arc in this formula, that of the princess being kidnapped by a dragon, and a heroic knight sent out to rescue her in return for her hand in marriage. That’s the classic setup echoed across fairy-tale and folklore for the longest time.

Now? Let’s subvert it! Sat we follow this story, it’s novella length, from the knight’s perspective as he travels across the land, in pursuit of this dragon and hunting for its lair. Then, after a time and some arduous travels, he arrives to find … That the princess doesn’t want to be rescued, thank you very much. She’s best friends with the dragon, been pen pals for years, and her dragon friend wasn’t kidnapping her but saving her from … Oh, an abusive parentage, or an arranged marriage of political convenience that the knight was specifically not told about (so that the king can conveniently backstab him later). The princess isn’t being poorly treated, but in fact is living well and finding her true calling as a baker …

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Being a Better Writer: When Readers like It … but It’s Bad

This is an interesting one, and one that I’ll freely admit I never would have thought of on my own—at least not in such context. Which means that, yes, today’s post is another reader-requested topic (which reminds me, we’re getting closer to needing more of these, so start thinking of questions you’d like me to address).

But first, some quick news. Those of you who read my LTUE recap might remember the uncertainty around the Barnes & Noble upset? Well, it’s still going. Though it didn’t seem to make the news most places, hundreds of former B&N employees have now spoken up an confirm that yes, almost most if-not-all full-time employees of the last remaining physical book retailer have been let go. At least a thousand people from one department alone confirmed as gone. B&N has since seen that yes, it has “saved” the 40 million it won’t be paying those employees … but it’s stock has also tanked (dropping by around 60% in a single day last I heard) and seen a massive bailing of investors and stock offloads.

So head to your nearest B&N store and pick out the furniture you’d like to take home, because they’ll be selling it soon!

Second, Alpha Editing on Shadow of an Empire continues to progress. The good news is that we’re not seeing any major changes, just tiny alpha tweaks. The bad news? Well, you can’t read it yet, I suppose. But soon! Still looking at a spring release!

Right, that’s the news! Onward to bad writing!

So, you’ve just put the finishing touches on your latest story. Maybe it’s a fanfic, maybe it’s something original you put together after a workshop or on the train ride to work. What matters is that it’s yours. You wrote it, and you’re proud of it.

Well … almost. Or crud, maybe you are in the moment. Point is, you’re excited and enthused, and with a few clicks you throw your story out there into the wild. It hits the net … and your readers love it. You go about your day, and come home to a barrage of comments, attention, and fanfare. Great!

Except there’s just one problem. The comments aren’t what you expected, and as you look over your own story you realize that in the excitement of getting this idea down on paper it kind of slid past you how bland the rest of the story really is outside of that concept. You start noticing all the errors that you should have fixed before posting, all the flaws, but at the same time …

All these readers love it. Is it really so bad?

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Being a Better Writer: Preaching to the Choir

Morning readers! Well, actually afternoon, and that’s my fault. Ever start reading a book late at night? Yeah, that’s something I shouldn’t do, and yet …

Well, anyway, let’s dive right into today’s topic shall we? It’s one that I’ve wanted to write about for a while, since it comes up a lot in the modern reading world, and quite frankly, it really shouldn’t. At least, not if the claims of the authors were remotely accurate.

What am I talking about? Why, I’m talking about preaching to the choir! Which I’m sure you know all about, so let me just skim over things so we can all get to talking about how right we are and how wrong everyon—

Ahem. Apologies, but we won’t be doing that at all. But that last little paragraph does serve to illustrate in a somewhat rough fashion exactly why this topic should be brought up, as it’s an exaggeration example—though not too far off the mark in many cases, sadly—of what preaching to the choir is, and offers a glimpse of why writing something in that fashion can wreck your story’s potential audience.

So without further ado, let’s dive into today’s Being a Better Writer, starting with an answer to the question that I’m sure is on some of your minds (and if not, we’re talking about it anyway to establish a baseline): what is preaching to the choir?

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Being a Better Writer: The Value of Fiction

First of all, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I had a shift at work Monday(I’m still playing catch-up on a small pile of debt incurred during my knee injury and trying to be able to make rent this month, so I’m working more shifts than normal) which, as expected, put this post behind the clock. Thankfully, looking at my daily views, it seems that many of you don’t mind—a large number of you have just been checking on Tuesday rather than on Monday, which is sad as far as my ability to get these posts up on Monday is concerned, but otherwise isn’t a bother.

So … today’s topic … This is one that I’ve wanted to do for quite a while. Years, actually. But I wasn’t positive if I wanted it to be a Being a Better Writer post or just a random post until recently. I can’t recall quite what the context of it was, but there was a forum post on a site I was browsing that made me immediately turn to my topic list and write down “Learning by Example – Value of Fiction.”

Now, for some, this post is going to seem somewhat … Well, perhaps obvious is the best way to put it. But the odd thing is, for some it won’t.

See, I once had a fellow student in one of my creative writing classes who could not understand why we were bothering to read stories that ‘hadn’t happened.’ They were incredibly incensed by it (for the record, none of us, including the professor, could determine what they had expected otherwise from a course in creative writing), constantly complained about the books we read, and even, if memory serves, flat-out refused to do the writing assignments because ‘it wasn’t real, therefore it was of no worth.’

The thing is, as I’ve gotten older, wiser, and seen more of the world, I’ve come to find that this student was not alone in sharing this opinion. There are a lot of people out there that do not see the value of reading anything that is a work of fiction and hold it to be of no merit. Why? The answer is, when boiled and distilled down, because a work of fiction isn’t something “real.” Therefore, not being “real,” it has no place in the real world.

Now, obviously I disagree. But, naturally, this disagreement doesn’t start or end with “Well, you’re wrong.” Crud, there’s a reason I put “real” in the last paragraph in quotes. Because fiction isn’t simply something that’s “not real.” In fact, simply thinking of it as such shows a lack of understanding of what fiction is.

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Being a Better Writer: Audience and Shifting Reader Culture

Hey everyone, welcome back! I hope you all had a pretty good weekend. Mine was … actually, I don’t think I’ve posted about this on here, but coming up on three weeks ago now at work I twisted my knee. Which is why my posting on here suddenly got really regular. Ever twisted your knee? Well, it’s not fun. It’s not something that requires surgery, nor that makes you completely incapable of using your leg … but it does pretty much prevent you from hobbling more than a few-hundred feet in total (and that brings about swelling and some serious pain). It’s not an injury you can have and at the same time do a job involving lots of walking and other physical activity … which means I’ve had time off from work (time I hopefully get paid for under workman’s comp since it was an injury from work; but we’ll see on that angle). So I’ve been doing a lot of writing.

Anyway, that’s a long, roundabout way of putting context to saying that my weekend was pretty good. I hit my monthly quota early (surprise surprise, right?) and, by combining two months of quota rewards (each time I meet a monthly quota I spend $5 on myself), picked up Hollow Knight. It’s a game, not a book. Fantastic game so far, though. It’s a brilliantly-conceived little world, with a lot of charm and wonderful art direction. Blended with fantastic design. A someone who loves the Metroid games, Hollow Knight is going right up there with Shadow Complex.

Okay, okay, you’re not hear to read about games … though I’ll admit I’m a bit tempted to do a piece on Hollow Knight‘s particular style of storytelling, as well as a few other games that do similar, and how it’s influenced my own. But … that’s for another time. No, now I need to get down to business on today’s topic.

I’ll give you a warning, though: It’s probably going to be a shorter one. Why? Well … because last week’s was titanic, in part. And because Jungle is finally starting to get to the exciting bits (for me, at least) where things start coming together! So I’m a bit excited to get to be working on that.

So, today’s topic is a bit of a weird one … Weird enough that I just wiped 700 words on it out of existence because it didn’t feel on point enough. Today, I want to talk about audience. Well, not just audience, but also the shifting culture that audience brings.

Confused? It’s a bit weird. So let me give you an example from this year’s LTUE.

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Being a Better Writer: The Heavy Hand of the Writer

So … I picked that title because it looked and read better than my other alternatives. One of which was “The Heavy Hand of Whatever” which really didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Another was the several knit-together topics that this post was to cover … which would leave you, readers, with a giant string to look at. Then the last was a giant string (______) in place of “the Writer.”

Oh, right, before I dive into things don’t forget: April 19th is a one day sale of all my works in honor of my birthday! That is one day away! Or possibly less … or maybe even in the past, depending on when you read this post. Hopefully you read it in time. Part of the goal I’m going for is for everyone who’s enjoyed one of my books to share their favorite somehow while the sale is on, so get ready! You can check this post for a quick reminder of all the sales. Got it? Good!

So, back to the mysterious topic at hand. This is one of those posts that was actually inspired by a book that I’m currently forcing my way through. Yes, forcing … It’s not a very good book. But, since what’s causing me to not enjoy it is an easily identifiable flaw, or rather a series of them … My mind immediately turned to this blog and started putting together a blog post. A blog post I knew would be written late, since I had work today, and I have family visiting tomorrow.

So … here’s the biggest problem with this book I’m trying to shove through (which, if you’re wondering where it came from, originated at my local library as my random pick of “Let’s try this”). Okay, second biggest problem next to its plot being ripped off pretty much wholesale from any generic book or film that has a Skynet plot. And this problem is … Crud, I barely know where to start. Technically, it’s a lot of problems all wrapped up under one giant umbrella, each one feeding off of one another to create a morass of issues. But at it’s core?

The book is extremely heavy-handed in it’s approach to, well, everything from the plot to the theme.

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