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How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
This is really short-sighted of me, but I figured I'd ask anyway. How does one actually write a story in this genre?

I've got all the characters I need, they've been developed for years, and I'm reasonably confident that story inspiration will strike sooner than later, but I've only ever written single plot stories, and relatively short ones at that. How do you plan for the multiple endings a CYOA story will have?

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
Plotting is the trickiest part for these, newbies usually don't realize what they're getting into and how fast the branching can get out of control.

I've seen various suggestions given for this. I think the simplest that doesn't involve a lot of outlining is just to write out a complete, linear story beginning to end. But as you go, make note of places where the protagonist might've said or done things differently. (If you're one of those people like me with characters constantly bouncing around in your head, you'll probably start naturally following the scenario through in your mind and coming up with ideas for consequences it could lead to. Make note of those too if you wish.)

Then once you have the story down complete with your first ending, you can go back to those branch points and start working on the next major path from there. And there's no problem with mixing in early endings as needed to prune extra branches you don't have full plots for, it's pretty necessary in fact.

Other ways of handling it could be listing the endings you'd like to have, and sort of think backwards to how they'd get there from the beginning. You just have to try different things and find what works for you. Reading other stories here to see how other people handle branching might help too.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

While I haven't finished any stories so far, what's working for me is similar to what Mizal said. Just go through and write your story, then add in branching wherever you see fit and keep on writing.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

Traditionally, there is NOT much of a gap between a CYOA story and a "straight" novel.  The two main differences are that a) CYOA may let you somewhat customize the protagonist (via something called "flavor" text) and b) that CYOA needs branches that APPEAR to be leading to different stories but are, in reality, just brief intermissions before rejoining the "main" story path.

Crudely, CYOA also appears to "move" a lot faster to the reader, so things like breaks and plot points come along faster and more frequently than in linear writing.  Therefore, if you wanted to "translate" your novel to CYOA format, simply break up the text into key beats, add choices to each one, and then work to force the reader back onto the main path if they get shunted into a side one.

That being said, there are a LOT of weaknesses to the CYOA format:

1) The customization of the protagonist/flavor text stuff is a nice gimmick, but it can't carry a whole story

2) Too many "side branches" will exhaust the author (and most text will never get seen by the player), but too obviously forcing players to stain on the main route feels like "railroading" and defeats the point of it being interactive fiction

3) Standard (linear) plot arcs rely on standard chronology - a beginning, middle, and an end.  It is exceedingly difficult to create "standalone" arcs that aren't based on fixed chronology.  This makes it really hard for a story to "develop" without railroading the player.

4) Successful CYOA plotting, therefore, relies on either a) elegantly masking or disguising the "forcing the player to return to the main path" and/or b) creating lots of interesting and engaging stand-alone "mini" experiences that can be combined in different ways without breaking continuity.  

Basically, you either end up with a "branch and bottleneck" story that you like because its story arc was interesting and the "railroading" was elegantly disguised (a primarily linear story camouflaged as an "open world") OR a really experimental, sliding doors kind of experiential storytelling where you explore different snippets of text in different successions (each play through).  Which can be interesting and fun to read (play), but then becomes closer to something like poetry than true "fiction" in the classic sense of the word.  

That being said, if you really want to adapt your story idea to CYOA, here's my recommendation:

1) Find three major MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE endings that work for your story - this means any one playthrough will only result in ONE of the endings while being open and upfront about you not realizing the other endings.  This lets you write 90% of the story as (more or less) linear while only needing to branch out with alternative paths at the end.

2) Reality should always reward the player - if the player decides to shoot the villain, for instance, the story should LET THE PLAYER SHOOT THE VILLAIN, not pull it back at the last second with a "seeing the tears in his eyes, you just cannot bring yourself to pull the trigger" line of BS text.

3) Players react, not the writer - Don't tell the player how s/he feels about something, let the player determine that.  Instead, give your players the CHOICE of how to act/react.

4) Use "small" choices, too - These choices might not affect the story in major ways, but they do add impact for the player.  Something as simple as having three choices of what to eat for dinner can add a lot of interactivity to an otherwise boring passage.

5) Balance your text to choices ratio - Reading 20 pages of text and then making one decision is a poor ratio.  Try making a choice appear every 9 paragraphs or so (or even more frequently).  

Everything else is mostly about avoiding the pitfalls learned over 50 years of writing CYOA texts which you can find here and elsewhere strewn across the internet.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
I do have to point out that the branch and bottleneck format with one main plotline is not the norm here, and 'fake' or minor aesthetic/roleplaying choices are usually advised to be used sparingly. Or at least not as a crutch to avoid actual branching.

Not that branch and bottleneck or some other non standard format couldn't do well here, so much has to do with the quality of the writing itself (just look at PoF or at MHD's work) but it'll be recognized as being pretty linear if the only thing that that can be changed is a couple of endings or whatever instead of the storyline itself. The big tactic another site uses to disguise linearity is simply to not provide a back button, discouraging replays, but here you can expect there will be at least a few readers fully exploring all the options, and so the smoke and mirrors you may be used to seeing aren't quite as effective.

It might be that we're more open to bigger chunks of text between choices too, although that varies a lot by reader of course. The advice that used to be accepted as a guideline was no more than 1000 words per page, no more then three pages between choices, and that choices should be meaningful....but the more significant authors just kind of do their own thing anyway so that's all of limited value.

It's all just text with links and some optional ways to add items and code, there's a lot that's possible but an entertaining story with quality writing is what's going to matter the most in the end. In the case of a new writer like the OP, they just need to browse around the site a little more and have some confidence, not every storygame has to be a groundbreaking epic, and it's not difficult to write something at least passable as long as you don't skip concepts like "grammar" altogether.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

CYOA needs branches that APPEAR to be leading to different stories but are, in reality, just brief intermissions before rejoining the "main" story path... Too many "side branches" will exhaust the author.

You are not wrong about the author being exhausted.  But I'm willing to be exhausted if it leads me write interactive fiction which strives more interactivity than brief intermissions with a main story path.  To the extent that IF has a main story path, I think it is weaker.  I think branch and bottlenecks should constantly be working to break the rigid structure and be willing to hybridize into some Cave of Time-ness.  But yes.  Exhausted is the word.

It'll be interesting to see how and if this advice changes as you reads more of the good Cave of Time style stories here.

too obviously forcing players to stain on the main route

We don't allow games like that here, Sam.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
great))) thank you

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
beep boop?

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

beep boop.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

I'm definitely glad to hear more things are not "allowed" - however, "branch and bottlenecks" must occur in some sense because I've seen them here aplenty.

Are there other ways to structure CYOA stories than "branch and bottleneck"?  Of course.  Several seminal posts have been written about it by people smarter than I, including outstanding examples such as Time Cave (branches at the beginning, then linear paths that never cross over other paths), circular paths (that evolve in relation to past choices) and fairly complex dialogue interactions ala "Blood and Laurels."

That being said, there are some HARD limitations on CYOA.  And I think it's well worth noting them before trying to push the envelope.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

I'm not sure what Gower meant about games like that not being allowed. I don't believe there are any restrictions on linear games here beyond reaching the minimum ratings. However, I don't think it's correct to call actual branching storygames "pushing the envelope" considering that those are the norm among highly rated or even middle-rated games here. I'm not sure why the options you listed in the second paragraph are the only ones that came to your mind. Stories don't have to diverge only at the beginning or circle around in order to not be linear. They can actually branch out like the branches on a tree. You played Love Sick, which is a good example of this. Every choice leads to another set of choices, which lead to another set of choices, etc. until the end of the game, with each path leading to a different ending. Obviously, Love Sick is a smaller game, and you can't have exponential branching like that for a much longer game. In that case, you can look to epics like Eternal, which branches in the beginning, middle, and end, with some choices ending in death to keep the number of branches manageable. The only hard limitation on CYOA is the amount of time and energy an author is willing to put into writing a story.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
>>>I'm not sure what Gower meant about games like that not being allowed.

Read what he was quoting again.

Also Sam replied to that bot while speaking to Gower, dang he really does find the forum confusing.

Sam, are you using non threaded view? We don't allow that either.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
@Sam_Ursu Other ways to structure: here you go (see #4)!

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

Just do what I do.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago
But does he really have the stamina to do all those moms?

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

Lol

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

I see the newbie (and Sam) never came back again, so I might as well hijack this thread to say I began my first serious writing attempt a couple of weeks ago, and I'm having similar problems to the OP.

Particularly I'm finding it very tiresome having to rewrite similar scenes with slight differences multiple times, so I've begun to think more dramatic spiderwebbing is the way to go. 

I know heavy branching is a given to most people here, but I was interested more in exploring different facets of one situation when I started out. 

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

If you're just rewriting the same scene with minor differences, then you could use scripting to help you out! Unfortunately, I only know of the most basic script, so I'm not of much assistance here.

How to Write A CYOA Story?

2 months ago

As Wizzy mentioned, just look into learning the editor scripting.

You can have something like:

The %%COLOUR%=%1%red%%%%COLOUR%=%2%blue%% flag fluttered in the wind.

It could be more checks, you can use greater than less than, you can have sentences, you can have multiple on-page scripts on one page (but you can't combine different variables, so either combine them before you use it, or just keep in mind it needs to be spaced out).

Another example:

%%STABBED%=%0%The merchant looked out at the armies from the hill.%%STABBED%=%1%The merchant was bleeding on the ground.%% %%FIRE%=%0%The moon in the azure sky watched it all.%%%%FIRE%=%1%The sky was red; the moon blocked by smoke.%%

Notice the space between the %% at the end and start of a 'script' when it changes the variable it is checking.

Read the help articles and consider messing around in a test story. Then you can ask questions.

The simple stuff like using variables to track choices and then using scripting to display text (or choices) based on variables is relatively simple, but it can be a bit confusing at the start. From experience, my explanations don't tend to be the most beginner friendly.

You can also add in scripting for redirecting to a different page (which can be useful). Depends on how you structure stuff tho, as sometimes you can just have two links with different visibility.

Anyway, that'd be something like:

IF %KEY = 1 THEN $DEST := @P10

If the variable KEY is equal to 1, then the DESTINATION (denoted with $) is set to Page 10.

Alternatively, keep doing the tedious method, since it'll bloat your word count, heh.