This was submitted to Storycade through the ladies at SilkWords.
SilkWords is a woman-owned small publisher of interactive fiction. We’ve resurrected the “choose your own adventure” style of storytelling that many people are familiar with from childhood, except our stories target adult readers of romance and erotic fiction. We thought it would be interesting to ask our authors how writing interactive fiction differs writing traditional fiction, and we got some great answers!
Did you read CYOA as a kid? Have questions for our authors? We’d love to hear from you.
What mindset or preparation do you as an authors need, in order to write interactive fiction?
I approach interactive fiction the same way I’d approach writing any piece of fiction. To me, the interactive element creates a project that’s like writing multiple short stories instead of one long piece. Regardless of the options the readers pick, everything must flow together as a solid story. I map out every plot point and story arch before I start writing, but other than a little extra prep work, my writing process remains pretty much the same. I never put pressure on my first drafts to be much good. My mindset is almost always: do the work. Meet your deadlines. Don’t procrastinate. That’s about it.
– Skye Montague
There’s something inherently playful about writing interactive fiction, so you need to enjoy that kind of experimentation and responsiveness. I like giving readers really substantive choices to make, decisions with real consequences, so that the story can be made to go places I wouldn’t have taken it. The reader becomes your co-conspirator, an active part of your storytelling process rather than passive audience, which I love. It’s much more of a conversation, and one I’m very interested in finding other ways of expanding. I’d love to play with a write-in option where readers don’t pick from a selection of choice I’ve provided, but can make up what happens next on their own, or can request story elements.
I think you have to be organized to a point, but willing to go off the reservation to make the story work. For example, with my first CYOA Fetish Fair I had an actual chart I went by as I worked. This allowed me, as a beginner, to see where I wanted the story to go and say “Okay. If the character wants to do this, go here or to do this, go here instead.”
With my second interactive project Temptation Resorts: Marnie’s Adventure it was more fluid and I was able to map it out entirely in my head and make more flexible choices possible by adding scenes that could be used at varying points in the story. To me it was more natural that way. With the third interactive piece I am currently working on it is very much the same. I’m just turning up the heat a little.
– Erzabet Bishop
What tools and/or techniques do you use to create IF?
I like to use note cards or pen and paper to map out each story arch. When the story is heavy in plot, there are certain revelations or elements that must appear at least once no matter what path the reader follows. Sketching out maps or rearranging note cards helps me ensure the plot stays on point without too much repetition.
I draw decision trees — messy, twisty decision trees scored with arrows and dotted lines, with scratched out braches and furious notes to myself.
At first I used a chart maker in Word until I had my mind wrapped around it. Then I tried mind-mapping techniques, but it slowed me down. It was easier to see than the chart but in the end I went freehand and just wrote out the story as it came to me.
– Erzabet Bishop
What is the biggest challenge you faced while writing IF?
Often my biggest challenge is anticipating and mapping out what kinds of adventures my readers will enjoy. I strive to bring a good deal of variety and diversity to my stories. I want the options to be as different as possible because I know people have varying tastes and interactive fiction is unique in its ability to please a much larger section of your audience than you can with a single story. This may mean the character’s personality builds and changes differently based on the path chosen.
Preserving the integrity of the character’s emotional arc and level of sexual arousal. Sometimes one option will leap-frog readers over a scene or two, and it can get very tricky to track where everybody is emotionally. If one story path doesn’t take the protagonist through the bonding moment or bypasses the mounting sexual tension, it’s important to add those things in before picking up the narrative in the next scene.
– Skyler White
That’s a really good question. I want to be able to grab the reader’s interest right away. You never know what path a reader is going to take so in the erotic romance scenes, you don’t want to have things sound repetitive. Each romantic encounter has to be unique and memorable for the reader so they want to see what else you have up your sleeve.
I love to give the reader a ton of choices and if you aren’t careful, that two choice project that sounded so awesome on paper during the initial planning stage can become this very involved thing…
Another challenge for me, at least on the last one, was keeping the story contained. I love to give the reader a ton of choices and if you aren’t careful, that two choice project that sounded so awesome on paper during the initial planning stage can become this very involved thing you have to try and nail down like a squirming bowl of Jello. So, you have to organize and define a set number of choices — but that can also mean you are not giving the number of choices you really want to for the story.
That issue happened for me in the first Temptation Resorts. I wanted to have a host of menu ideas for the guests to pick from, almost like a video game. Hit this choice to hang out with the lady in the dungeon and this choice to play with paddles and so on. You could literally have hundreds of little feeds going everywhere. Containment is key. Pick the main choices you want to go with, that you can manage, and do that. There can always be a sequel.
When plotting your story, what is your strategy for maintaining a balance between the story narration and providing the right number of choices for the reader (i.e. does the character development and plot suffer with too many choices)?
I think a wonderful balance of narration and the number of choices can be struck with careful planning. Story is always king. If you don’t have a strong narrative, it won’t be any fun to read. The choices must come naturally and be real, interesting decisions the main character would have to make in the context of the plot. Nothing can be forced just to sandwich in more choices. If every branch of the story eventually creates a full narrative with rising/falling action and solid character development, then the number of choices don’t matter. More choices equals more work, but it doesn’t automatically mean poor plot.
– Skye Montague
It certainly can, but I think it has more to do with the size of the decision than the number of them. If your protagonist has six points of deciding between dress colors, or between a come-hither wink and a seductive smile, it doesn’t change nearly as much as the single choice to stay in her husband’s bed or slip out of it. If you write the path in which your protagonist meets another man, another woman, or no one at all in the nighttime halls, she’ll be a subtly different person each time she gets back in bed.
I’ve written enough full-length novels to have an exaggerated sense of scope, so it’s something I constantly battle, but my strategy is fairly simple. I trust my readers to follow complicated thoughts. I trust my editor to stop me if I get gratuitously complex and my copyeditor to tell me where I’m too hard to follow.
– Skyler White
There is a balance. I think in the beginning when you set up the story it could go either way…either set up the character background (which I tend to do) or start right away with the choices. I want the reader to see herself in the character or at least identify and then start picking their path. I usually have a short version and a way out if the reader isn’t fond of whatever choice they were led to. Pairings is one example. Not everyone likes to read m/f or f/f so I give them a choice. That opens up a whole land of opportunity and stories the reader may never have dreamed they would enjoy-but do.
– Erazbet Bishop