10 types of interactivity

With the Future Voices competition in full swing, we thought it might help those new to writing interactive stories and trying out inklewriter for the first time to give a quick shopping list of ways you can use interactivity in a story to powerful effect.

None of these ideas are new, and not all of them will suit every project. But maybe some will tickle your imagination! So without further ado, let the countdown commence!

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10. Talking to the Narrator - the book kind

If the story is written in first-person, with the protagonist talking to camera, then the interactivity can be the voice of the reader talking back.

This is how Frankenstein works, so if you haven't tried it yet, check it out.

9. Talking to the Narrator - the script kind

An interactive story could be written entirely as a dialogue, in script, so that everything that gets written is dialogue, and every choice you make is how to answer that dialogue. The end result - an interactive play.

Here's an example: make-up, or break-up?

8. Talking to characters

You don't need to be talking to the narrator to be choosing what to say. Write a story with a protagonist, and with a cast of characters to talk to, and let the interactivity be about choosing how to converse with each one. Perhaps it's a first date, or perhaps they're suspects in a murder. Use conditionals to make one character angry, or another one sad.

Uncover their dark secrets and confront them with each others. Best of all, spread lies and rumours. The possibilities are endless. (Here's a visual novel that plays with the idea.)

7. Explore a Setting

The oldest form of interactivity in some ways, and the one used by most 3D games. Choose a gripping setting - aboard an Elizabethan Theatre, inside a pyramid, an underwater city - and let the reader of your story explore, choosing where they go and finding their way around. Fill the world with details and riches to discover. In a book, one thing you can never do is look around and poke at the corners of the world -- but in an interactive story, you can.

When making an "exploring" story, it can be a good idea to use counters and conditionals to prevent a lot of repetitive text. For instance, count how many times the reader has visited a certain place and choose a different description for the first, second, and subsequent times.

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6. Choose the order to read in

Not all interactivity has to be moment-by-moment, line-by-line and step-by-step. Some great interactivity can simply change how a story is read, rather than what it says. Make your interactivity just about what order things are read - as though the reader was sifting through letters in a drawer, or considering the evidence in a court case.

But remember, it doesn't have to be the same story every time. Perhaps what you see first will change you see later: the reader doesn't even need to know it's happened...

5. Balance the books

Base your story about the costs of life - the endless choices over what to do and what not to do, what to support and what to leave behind. Tell the story of a week in the life of a high-school student, trying to balance work, social life and money: or a week in the life of a politician, balancing the party, the country and what's right.

From the Interactive Fiction competition, Deidra Kiai's The Play involves balancing different cast members during a disastrous dress rehearsal.

4. Make a plan and watch it play out!

Use your choices to formulate a plan. Organise a heist, cover up after a crime, create the scariest haunted house, set traps... Arrange every detail and then when you're ready, start the action and see how your choices work out.

3. Switch viewpoints

Tell a single story, but let the reader choose whose viewpoint they see it from, and switch between these points of view as the story unfolds. Use the contrast for comic effect, or to highlight the gaps between the characters in the story.

2. Tell a story together

Don't tell your story -- tell the story your reader wants you to tell. Let the reader choose the setting, the protagonist's job, their greatest fear or what they'll eat for breakfast. Tell an imaginative, creative story in which anything can happen!

Here's something similar from a few year's back: Fairy Tales by Kevin Brooks, part of Penguin's We Tell Stories project.

1. Mix up and make up...

So finally, the cop-out number 1 method of using interactivity - a mixture of the above. Some conversation, some explorations, some switches of view-point... blend the two together, change the pace, break your story into sections and let each have it's own flavour. Or make up your own approach and see where it takes you.

Above all, be creative, and say what you want to say, the way you want to say it.

So, get writing!

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