My first story was so complex that it was taking ridiculous amounts of time linking the pages together etc so I rushed to finish it, leading to a pretty poor story. So for the second story I wrote I made it much more linear and focused on the plot and it received a higher player rating. However, I'd made it so linear it was barely a CYOA game at all. For my next story I'm hoping to get a balance between the two by providing more branches but without sacrificing the plot.
I want to write another murder mystery as that's what I like reading and writing but I'm having difficulty thinking of ways to make it less linear, as it's always going to end with the crime being solved and someone being arrested. Does anyone have any ideas on how this could work? I've thought about making the player choose about which location they examine, or who they talk to, but I don't want the player to miss out on any possible clues by restricting them to only one option.
My aim is to improve my writing with each story I do, so any feedback on here or on the stories themselves is greatly appreciated!
Have you played Will's Hunting the Ripper? It's a good way to see how to write a murder mystery. :)
Note: "I don't want the player to miss out on any possible clues by restricting them to only one option."
If the player misses out on minor clues, it'd be fine—it's more realistic. However, big clues can be "required" by:
1. Utilizing variables.
Variables are a good way to restrict links and if the person can continue. Simple variables and link restrictions. :) Though keep in mind the fact that a person could get stuck in a certain spot, so make sure you made a way to avoid that.
2. Writing it in the text that the reader will always see.
If you know that the reader has to land on a certain page, try adding the clues there. For example, the player might have to investigate a graveyard, but not have to investigate the tavern. So, you can just, without variables or link restrictions, to just make the major clues part of the story and the rest optional.
3. Using items.
Place items on places the person will have to visit. This is very much like #2, but it's with items instead. Items can very much help improve the quality of the story too. :D
4. Branch it like a normal CYOA.
Write each branch separately (or at once, but separately might be easier if you want to include all the information) with some splitting paths for enhancement. Write each branch so that the reader will always read the major clues.
Also keep in mind that you could provide a epilogue for the story that describes the period of time after the "solving" of the crime, and only the real solving of the crime leads to the correct ending. :)
EDIT: @Ogre11 and @LNFyle Nice advice. I assumed there would be different endings (crime, historically, has been solved incorrectly before—"solving" the crime could simply mean turning in the suspect and have substantial evidence... but the suspect could always be the incorrect one, and that means that the case was closed, but there could be different endings because you could accuse different people). Also... >:( You both spelled my name wrong. ;-;
If there are pages later in the story that your reader will always see, then the story is rather linear, in general.
Perhaps you didn't read the title of this post.
No, in general the post is pretty good, I just wanted to point out that if the author is trying to make the story less linear, then they should avoid funneling all paths through certain pages.
Cresentarstar has made some excellent points. Hunting the Ripper is definitely a good read if you want some inspirations or ideas to get writing, and I would take note of the rest of her advice.
You talk about rushing your stories. I have to ask, is it necessary? Unless you're writing for one of the contests, I don't see too many reasons why you can't take your time. The site doesn't have any mandatory story-posting.
Moving on, you already have good ideas to make the story more engaging to the reader. You wrote, "I've thought about making the player choose about which location they examine, or who they talk to, but...restricting them to only one option." I think you should allow the player to miss out on possible clues. Here's my thinking. Say you write blah blah blah, and it leads to two (or more) possible suspects the reader can interrogate. However, due to time restraints, they have only the time for one. Have the player choose, but make the choices an informed decision. For example, Person A was a witness at the scene, but Person B is a close family relative that could know important information. You'll want to develop Person A and B more, and you'll want more benefits/drawbacks for each, but that's something I came up with in a half of a second. To add, having the information of one person being more useful is an option you can take. You can even make that one person's information become borderline useless, but have a reason for it. Like, if through the investigation it's possible for the reader to deduce that Person C won't be helpful/as helpful, you can have them provide less effective clues. Overall, just don't make it a "pick-a-link."
One more thing that I am thinking of is the ending, and this is reminding me of the Carnal Sins quest in Witcher 3, if you've ever played it. In your second paragraph, "It's always going to end with the crime being solved and someone being arrested." In my opinion, this doesn't have to be the case. Yes, in the end there'll be a big decision on who to choose from, but you can make it more than just a "You lose" screen if you choose wrong. How about that the reader and the people in the story are convinced that whoever the player chooses as guilty is correct. However, the player chose wrong, and the wrong man is sent to jail/executed. You can have an epilogue where everything seems all fine and dandy, everyone is happy yatta yatta, but there's something not quite right. I relate this to Witcher 3, as in the Carnal Sins quest, the player can "solve" the case by killing another man who the player thinks is the killer. However, if you progress through the game, you can come across a note on the ground, directed to Geralt, taunting the witcher that he killed the wrong man, and that he [the killer] will run free. There's nothing you can do at this point, and the player just has to live with the fact that they didn't solve the crime. I feel you can make a similar effect here.
I know that would make it much more complicated and time-consuming; after all, the player should be able to correctly identify the perpetrator given whichever people they choose to interrogate, places to investigate, and overall intelligent decision making. However, "mystery solving" is a genre that you can be extremely creative and crafty with, so there's many ideas that you can work with. Having a unique ending, interesting setting, memorable characters, and good choices all will lead your story to the high praised 8, for this genre especially. Furthermore, there's a lot more ideas you can incorporate yourself, and I don't doubt you'll think of one or two satisfying ones. Good luck, and keep writing.
Edit: Wrote this comment as Ogre posted his. We have similar advice.