Writing GamebooksPosted by Forever People Thu, October 19, 2017 12:48PM
The biggest mistake writers of all calibres make is one that you can easily avoid. If you omit this mistake, you will improve your writing and the gamebook will be all the better for it. I Guarantee it!
The mistake, made by amateurs, intermediary and masters alike, is this:
An idea comes. The writer rushes to their word processing document and starts to write. A first draft - that's ok though, right? Because Books Aren't Written, They Are Rewritten (more on this truism in the next article). They get their idea down and start with chapter one, or in the gamebook format they write the opening intro. Throw some flowchart ideas together and start joining up paragraphs.
Sounds like the fairly conventional way to start turning an idea into a finished piece, right?
Next time you get a great idea for a gamebook. Stop. If you go straight from idea to book creation, you will come unstuck. Chances are high that your idea may be great, but you will falter attempting to turn that idea into a coherent gamebook, you may, as a result, abandon your attempt halfway through and then your great idea will never make it to the book shelves of your readers!
So.... don't go to your word processor, go to your notebook, or if you prefer a simple word processor like Notepad. Personally I use a scruffy notebook and a pen. My hand writing is terrible, but I'm the only one who ever needs to see this, so it's fine.
Start by writing out the Concept. Keep the Concept to one line. Keep it simple. If it doesn't fit on one line, it's too complicated. Water it down and try again. Above all, do not be tempted to go turn this idea into a story, or a book or a blockbuster movie! Some examples of great (yet surprisingly simple) gamebook ideas written out as Concepts:
Caverns of the Snow Witch
A white witch wants to bring on a new ice age and must be stopped.
City of Thieves
An adventurer heads into a sinister city in search of someone who can help them defeat a dark lord.
The baron of a city holds a gauntlet in which competitors attempt to survive a death trap dungeon and emerge at the end to be crowned the victor.
All three of the above Concepts went on to become the three books we know and love.
Crucially, as you can see from these very simple lines, the meat of the story is missing. There's nothing about Zanbar Bone, or the girl he wants to kidnap from Silverton. There's nothing here about the gems the adventurer will need in order to get to the end of the dungeon.
But when you have your concept, you can start to stretch it, like elastic. Ideas beget ideas. So the next thing to do is start mapping out your story (and even though this is a gamebook, there is of course a story embedded therein).
In my next article in this series I'll explain more about mapping out your story and using narrative conventions to give your gamebook depth.
In the meantime your homework is to write as many Concepts as you can think of. Go to town! Fill up a page, or maybe an entire notebook of Concepts. Don't turn any of them into stories or gamebooks until you've read my next article, 'Why Most Ideas Fail At the Outset'.
Weekly OSGR Gamebook SpotlightPosted by Forever People Wed, October 18, 2017 12:27PM
Gamebook Showcase, week 3
I'll be highlighting a new gamebook from the world of hold in the hand printed works every week on this pinned post. These are books which I consider to be important in terms of bringing the gamebook format back to mainstream consciousness as well as being books you can find in book stores, libraries and so on. These books deserve our support!
Week 3: The Fabled Lands series, by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson.
Originally published by Pan books in the mid 90s, the first two books were also printed under the name Quest in the U.S. by publishers Price Stern Sloan. A Kickstarter campaign to fund completion of Book Seven was launched in 2015 and funded within 45 minutes of launch. The original books have been reprinted under Fabled Lands Publishing (also responsible for last week's showcase, Heart of Ice) and Megara Entertainment launched a series of apps set in the Fabled Lands realm, though these are no longer available due to a change in IP ownership.
Fabled Lands differ from standard gamebook formats in the way you can jump from one book to another, using the same character sheet throughout and improving your character, increasing their stats and their gear. In this sense FL does for roleplayers what Destiny Quest does for fans of online roleplaying games like World of Warcraft. Here is a distilled and concise version of a tabletop roleplaying campaign contained in a series of books.
Some elements are lost in translation, the depth and scope of RPG and the detail of most conventional gamebooks, for example, cannot be crushed into such an expansive and ambitious set of books. Nevertheless there's plenty of atmosphere and you'll soon feel like you've stepped into a living, breathing fantasy realm, albeit one requiring more imagination, perhaps, on the part of the reader than most roleplay settings.
Cover art was by Kevin Jenkins with the epic Russ Nicholson and Arun Pottier providing illustrations and maps respectively. There's plenty of artwork too, with Russ providing city scapes and jaunty fillerstrations in his usual unique style, though the lines seem thicker than his fine Warlock of Firetop Mountain work and some of the images do seem a little rushed (possibly a result of the sheer quantity of artwork contained in each book).
And these are big books, printed in the same size format as the FF Dungeoneer and Blacksand titles, each has 600 references, almost all of which you'll struggle to visit until you've built up your gear, amped up your stats and buffed up your combat ability to a decent level.
Some advice: don't gamble. Spend your shards wisely and pick your fights. Explore plenty and if a quest is offered, take it, because they are surprisingly scant at times. You can usually tell if a quest is beyond your capabilities early on as a kind of 'you must be this tall to ride' task will require you make a successful skill based roll before you can get into the meat of the adventure.
Another Dave Morris! I'm aware that this is becoming the Morris Fan Club here and will endeavour to fix it next week with a different author. To his credit, Dave has been involved in some great gamebook projects (and I hear from him by messenger this week that he is working on a new one, of a more grown up nature, but no more details. Interesting!)
Writing GamebooksPosted by Forever People Thu, October 12, 2017 12:44AM
Narrative beat is something you'll find a lot of novelists and other professional writers banging on about. It essentially means rythm within a story structure and acts a bit like a hypnotist's pendulum, mesmerising the reader and making the business of reading the book more comfortable, natural and entertaining.
Think of a piece of music you like. Unless you're a fan of freeform jazz, chances are there's a drum beat, or a rythm, or at least a set pattern to the music. Without this, it's just a bunch of noise and very hard to listen to.
In the same way, Gamebooks should have a narrative beat. You can produce this when writing by breaking your story structure down into a set number of 'episodes'. The natural place for such episodes is bottleneck points. These are spots where every reader will eventually reach no matter which paths they take. I'll talk more about these in another blog post, but for now you should be aware that such locations exist in pretty much every single gamebook ever written. Without bottlenecks a coherent story is almost impossible.
Begin, of course, with paragraph 1. The last beat in your narrative rythm will be 400 (or the last paragraph equivalent). Using a flow chart, work out approximately how many entries the reader will go to before they hit the first bottleneck. Regardless of which direction the reader takes, this should be more or less the same amount every time. This eradicates short adventures caused by taking the direct route and failing to investigate side-rooms, branching paths or mysterious doors (that kind of thing).
At each bottleneck, insert some kind of narrative structure. This might be a small amount of exposition, a meeting with a recurring character, a chance to rest and recuperate, or some other kind of positive encounter.
Enemy encounters and combat should occur halfway between bottle-necks, with other types of encounter occurring approximately halfway between each bottle-neck and its respective combat encounter.
You might envisage this:
START -- Encounter -- COMBAT -- Encounter -- Bottleneck -- Encounter -- COMBAT -- Encounter -- END
You'll likely want more than one bottleneck in order to push the narrative forward, since important parts of the story will need to be experienced by the reader of they are to make sense of the reason behind their adventure.
Give it a go and see how it affects the flow of your own gamebook creation.
Weekly OSGR Gamebook SpotlightPosted by Forever People Mon, October 09, 2017 10:06AM
I'll be highlighting a new gamebook from the world of hold in the hand printed works every week on this pinned post. These are books which I consider to be important in terms of bringing the gamebook format back to mainstream consciousness as well as being books you can find in book stores, libraries and so on. These books deserve our support.
Note: sorry if I don't include your book, but the criteria I'm using is quite strict. If you want to include your book please do promote the hell out of it with your own post. This is specifically books which I think deserve a spotlight for the great work they're doing for the OSGR movement.
Heart of Ice (Critical IF) by Dave Morris, published by Fabled Lands Publishing. An intriguing book set after a modern ice age, you play within the aftermath 300 or so years in the future. It's an intelligent and mature book and really we should expect nothing less of Dave Morris, the thinking man's writer and author of countless Old School gamebooks, including Fabled Lands, Dragon Warriors and Blood Sword. The day Dave becomes a member of OSGR will be a day to relish as he really is a standard bearer for the whole idea of bringing the gamebook back into mainstream consciousness and book shelves, and one of the few names capable of doing so. Like most smart new gamebook formats, Dave targets the 30+ crowd, the natural market and for this reason I include Heart of Ice.
I think gamebooks are a literature naturally inclined toward getting kids into reading books. Game systems encourage mathematical problem solving, the format of the books themselves encourage critical and logical thinking. But you can't advocate the promotion of improving reading and education with a dumbed down product. Moreover, most kids are oblivious to the existence of the gamebook format.
But you know who does know about the gamebook format? And knows how to do it right? We do - the 30+ fans of old school style. Gamebooks for us will increase readership of gamebooks overall. If we can increase the market share, bookshops may start stocking the books meant for us and this, in turn, opens up an entire range of possibilities for children's books.
FF have already introduced the genre to school kids through Scholastic. Whether you agree with the Scholastic presentation or not, the way this has been marketed to the next generation is ingenious and, I'd say, necessary. But we can't all use Scholastic, so instead we should try to get gamebooks like Heart of Ice onto the printing presses and on the book shelves of high street retailers.
If anyone can do it, Dave Morris can.