Forever People

Forever People

Gamebook You Say???

Gamebooks are, simply put, interactive fiction. Usually there's a story element, an adventure and a game system similar to (but usually less complicated than) the kind of rules systems seen in tabletop roleplaying games.

Example: You enter a fascinating blog about gamebooks.

To explore the nooks and crannies of the blog, turn to entry 312.

To drink the green potion, turn to entry 74.

Start your journey of discovery by reading the blog. I've recommended a whole heap of gamebooks, for varying reasons, with titles for the veteran gamebooker and newbie alike. Dive in!

The Mistake Most Writers Make

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.

Deathtrap Dungeon
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'.



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The Narrative Beat

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.

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