Choose Your Own Writing Strategy - Tip #2
Gamebooks are all about interactivity. The path the reader takes is - to a certain extent - controlled by them, which means that your job is not to lead the way, but to provide a cohesive and fully-fleshed out world for them to navigate. So, in addition to the game-play elements, important though they are, you have to give them a story.
Here’s my 5 key questions that will help to bring this story to life.
1. What does the reader have to do/complete/fight in order to win?
Before you start, you need to think about the end. What is the goal here? If you mull over all the game-books you’ve played, you’ll get an idea. You probably had to fight the main Baddie; open a treasure chest; access a room; escape from a labyrinth; destroy a machine – you get the picture. What will your reader have to do so that they are directed to the glorious final paragraph?
This also leads you to consider the back-story of your antagonist - why have they got a Weather machine or why is there an annual Trial of Champions? And this information will help to put flesh on your gamebook bones too. Talking of which....
2. What information or items does the reader need to find in order to achieve the end-goal?
Now you can take a step back and look at the bigger picture. If a battle is the end-goal, do they need a special weapon? If escaping, do they need to decipher a code? Find keys?
Once you’ve considered this, you’ll see that one thing leads to another. If they need a special weapon, where it is hidden? How will they find out the hiding place? Do they talk to someone or find a message? Do they need to decode the message?
If you’re thinking of having bottle-necks in the game to funnel the reader from one location to the next, then these are mini-finales. What do they need to do to pass through to the next location? A particular item? Knowledge about the place or how to trigger secret passages?
Finally, your reader also needs to find out about the world they’re in, but you probably want to tease it out with gradual, cumulative reveals and with different formats. Not just character exposition but scrolls, computer print outs, overhead conversations, location descriptions…..
3. What obstacles will try to block the reader?
This is a tricky balance. Usually there are antagonists within the world who will try and kill your reader but will you have one battle after the other? There are usually accidents to be had too – being overcome by toxic gases or falling off a cliff – and these are necessary to keep your reader on their toes and realise that any decision they make could be wrong. However, too many and it just feels unfair and frustrating. From the practical purpose of keeping a grip on the game, you just sometimes need to cap off routes. You know it’s going nowhere, so put the reader out of their misery.
4. What entities will be present?
Both this and the final question really help you to create a believable world. The reader will be interacting with other entities – be it battles or chatting – so picture them! What are they like? What are they wearing? How do they speak? What are their personalities like? What role do they have in this world? Why are they here? Why are they passing on information? What’s their motivation?
Cohesion is the word. Whether you’ve got orcs and dwarves or vampires and ghouls – make sure their presence is logical and makes sense.
5. What is the location like?
Whether it’s a cold, stone tunnel or on a ship across a stormy ocean, it’s important for you to totally inhabit this world so that you can see it and describe it. You want your reader to be able to visualise where they are. That way, they can really immerse themselves in the game.
And once you’ve answered these questions, you should find that the plotting and writing will flow a bit easier. More about that next time!