How to Write Interactive Fiction and Interactive Audio Stories – 029 – Narrative Elements

Spielelemente

Never forget that you are writing for a listener. A story that is easy to read might fail as a listening experience if the texts are too long or the language is too complicated. When you begin writing, have your first texts read back to you or read them to someone else. Observe how the listener reacts to them. Do they get impatient, look confused, or ask follow-up questions? This gives you the opportunity to adjust and optimize your narrative style right from the start.

Viewpoint

By picking a stance for your narration, you also decide whether the player is a character in the world or rather a distant observer, steering events from “above”. And you decide whether other characters in the story can interact with the external player, for example if they or the narrator address them directly.

First-Person Narrator

An interactive story can also be written from a first-person viewpoint, coupled with Player Choices like, “Should I turn left or right?”

This perspective is similar to that of the third-person narrator, in that the player is not the main character themselves. However, the connection between player and main character will feel much closer than in the third-person viewpoint. Basically, the player is taking on the role of the decision center in the head of the main character. The character tells the player what options they see within the limited framework of his own perception and personality, and the player then decides which of these options the character should pick. This creates a feeling of high responsibility for the fate of the main character. The viewpoint of the first-person narrator can be an interesting alternative for crime and mystery stories, for example.

Second-Person Narrator

As a general rule, the best viewpoint for an interactive story is that of a second-person narrator. If offers the advantage that the player can completely identify with the hero of the story. Even more, the player is the hero of the story, for the second-person perspective places them directly into the role of the protagonist. This creates the feeling that they aren’t just looking over the shoulder of the main character, but are experiencing everything themselves. But this is not all that the direct address with “you” and the present tense of the story accomplish. They also make the narrator more trustworthy which is advantageous for the immersiveness of your story.

The disadvantage, however, is that, even with the second-person viewpoint, the player still only has illusionary freedom, their view of and access to the world being limited by what you write. They can only pick from the choices that you present to them, and cannot operate outside of the predetermined paths. Identification with the player character can also suffer if the player does not believe or feel the same way as their character. This is especially problematic if you put words into the player’s mouth or dictate to them what they are supposed to be feeling. So make sure that your Player Choices and their consequences allow the player to completely embody the role of the player character. If they want to be playing a shady scoundrel, give them appropriate options to do so. The same is true if your player wants to be a noble and impeccable hero. This allows the player to make the choice they want to make and also to decide why they made this choice. Consequently, the player will have more freedom and will stay connected to the main character.

Third-Person Narrator

Alternatively, you can use a third-person narrator. Then, the Player Choices are not, “do you want to turn left or right?” but rather, “should Character X turn left or right?”.

In interactive stories, the use of this viewpoint is less common since it creates a distance between player and player character. The advantage, however, is that it allows you to present the player with a more predefined hero as the main character, with words, deeds, and thoughts that the player themselves might not necessarily agree with. Thus, the player is guiding a character that is not explicitly themself which ultimately gives you more control over the narrative because the player will understand that their own control of the character will be limited.

For certain stories, this viewpoint can indeed be useful, for example if the main character is a historically, mythologically, or literarily established figure like Joan of Arc, Hercules, or Romeo and Juliet. Or if it is a character of one of your own published novels whom you now wish to make the main character of an interactive story.

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