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Making a story less linear

5 years ago


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!



Making a story less linear

5 years ago

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. ;-;

Making a story less linear

5 years ago

If there are pages later in the story that your reader will always see, then the story is rather linear, in general.

Making a story less linear

5 years ago
A story that needs a few points there and will always be solved somehow is, typically, going to be linear anyways.

Making a story less linear

5 years ago

Perhaps you didn't read the title of this post.

Making a story less linear

5 years ago
Apologies. They'll be *somewhat* linear anyways. I attempted with a few ideas; Ogre and LN gave more details. ^-^
If I gave misleading/wrong info, just delete the info/post. I'm clearly confuzzled easily.

Making a story less linear

5 years ago

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.

Making a story less linear

5 years ago
You're right. ^^; My fourth suggestion was to make more branching to avoid that problem - so the information is fitted into the different pages of each branch. That way, it appears unique instead of "funneled". I actually didn't think I explained that point well in that post at all.

Making a story less linear

5 years ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 2/8/2017 10:15:19 PM
Exactly, the idea of the murder mystery really doesn't fit well with CYOA. Cresentstar has some good ideas, but in the end everything has to lead to the final scene for the solving the murder, right?

Or does it?

It would require quite a bit more planning and branching, but a way I could think of it ending with different endings:

Have one ending where you figure out the murderer, go to find some final clue, but the murderer gets the drop on you and kills you. You solved it, but died.

Another ending could be something along the lines of if the reader took too long. Maybe they re-investigate something just to be sure -- and then the detectives or police beat them to the murderer. So they end up getting it right, but don't get credit for solving the murder.

Perhaps in another ending, a key piece of evidence is missing and when the group is brought together for the unveiling, the evidence shows up and is being used by the murderer to take a hostage and escape. You may have solved it, but the murderer got away.

It can be tough, though, to have a traditional murder mystery because people can always just click on links. Making use of items and even requiring items to be used with other items can make it so complex people cannot stumble on the answers, though this does require quite a bit more than just writing.

Good luck!

Making a story less linear

5 years ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 2/8/2017 10:15:07 PM


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.

Making a story less linear

5 years ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 2/8/2017 10:14:59 PM
Hi TJ. I haven't had a chance to play through Panic Room yet, but at the time I thought it was encouraging you recognized the problems with your first story and were working to address them with the next, and it's great you're still doing that. This is the right attitude to have, and I expect anyone looking at your profile in the months to come will keep seeing steady improvement there.

A murder mystery sounds fun, I've always thought we could use more detective stuff around here. And how complex it is to write really depends on what approach you take. There's dozens of ways to structure a CYOA, the key to not getting bogged down midway through is plotting out the branches ahead of time so you know exactly what works for the specific story you're trying to tell.

Also, where is when is this going to take place? If it's any real world setting, some research before you begin is going to be important. You need to at least give the illusion you know what you're talking about as far as the investigation, character attitudes, technology, etc. goes.

Sci-fi or fantasy allow you more wiggle room, but internal consistency and some level of common sense is still important for immersion there.

When it comes to structuring a mystery story for a CYOA, the first thing would be deciding if it's more a story or a game. Is the idea that the player is solving a puzzle, or is this primarily about the character experiencing and influencing the events of the story with the player steering them?

Either way, I don't agree with your assumption that the player shouldn't be allowed to miss a clue, or necessarily think you have to have the ending be exactly the same. (If that's what you consider the canon ending, sure, but sprinkling in a couple of failures or sub optimal endings is almost necessary for a CYOA.)

If this is a game, the player needs to be allowed to make mistakes in order to have eventually solving the puzzle be an accomplishment, and if it's a story, the character himself can drive the action when it comes to the really vital stuff--and the focus is going to shift a little from the importance of the clues in and of themselves to what the murder and solving it means to him personally, anyhow.

But what I mean about the character driving the action, is that they're presumably going to know they need to examine the scene, interview witnesses, etc. (or have a partner or boss that keeps them on the right track, if they're an actual detective.) The player would more be choosing how they go about it, and you just have to make sure there's enough there to keep the plot moving forward regardless.

For a more puzzled focused game, you might structure each section using time or locations, or some combination--say each day they can only perform a certain number of major actions, like picking from a list of witnesses or suspects (with some of them possibly opening up further leads), searching locations of interest or sending evidence you pick up off to the lab--and after a set number of days they either have enough evidence to make an arrest or various things may happen leading to an unoptimal end.

Fair warning, you're going to have to be pretty comfortable with scripting to keep something like the above from turning into a mess.

If you're going story focused...well, you just have to think of each major path as a complete story in its own right. (And ideally there really need to be at least two, I'm still not thinking the one single ending where the crime is solved and the criminals arrested is going to go over well.) A complete story doesn't have to mean the crime is neatly solved and the bad guys arrested, it just has to be some sort of logical and satisfying conclusion, narratively and emotionally.

Though if it's a classic style detective story you're writing, here are a few of the classic dos and don'ts:

The 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction.

(The site includes other writing tips from notable sources, some more serious than others...)