How to Write Interactive Fiction and Interactive Audio Stories – 034 – Story Formats

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More than just writing different stories in different settings, you can also use different story formats. Interactivity can assume many forms. Below we have presented several format ideas for voice which you can use as creative input.

Interactive Audiobooks

Interactive audiobooks are the simple adaption of traditional gamebooks for Voice. Similar to these, interactive audiobooks have no linear story but consist of a tree diagram with single story segments that end with a Player Choice. With the difference being that these choices are being made through utterances by the player. The player’s decision can influence the story in many different ways and can change the plot, specific events, or the relationship of the player character to other characters in the world. Depending on the player’s decisions, very different stories will unfold. Since the course of events is being determined by the choices of the user, a personal and individual story will be created for them.

The high involvement of the player and their investment in the story allow for a strong identification with and an emotional bond to its contents. Interactive audiobooks are suitable for all genres. They benefit from storytelling features like the use of variables that enable the player to customize the player character according to their preferences resulting in their decisions having far-reaching consequences for the course of the story.

Interactive audiobooks without variables are called pick-a-path stories. They are comparatively simple-structured and put a greater emphasis on plot rather than game mechanics.

Plot-Based Interaction

Instead of an interactive audiobook, you can also write an audiobook where the player is not taking on the role of a character and thus is not the hero of the story. Instead, they just decide about the course of events. At certain points in the story, they are asked what should happen next. This can look as follows:

  • “How does the story continue? Does a dragon appear who attacks the city, or has an assassin secretly entered the court of the king?”
  • “Unexpectedly, an ally comes to the rescue of the humans. Who is this ally? The dwarves or the elves?”
  • “What happens next? Will we see a romantic relationship develop between Inspector Miller and Sarah, or will they get involved in a bank robbery?”

 

Of course, you will have to offer more story choices for this format, resulting in a bigger amount of work since you will have to write completely new paths. Since the above format is more tailored to audiobook listeners rather than gamers, text passages can certainly be longer which in turn reduces the amount of work which may balance the volume out.

Infinity Stories

Infinity stories are a specific kind of interactive audiobook. They also form a tree diagram with different story segments, but there are no Player Choices. The course of these stories is not being decided by the player but by chance. This means, every playthrough of the audiobook will result in a different story. Even in the case of just 35 random decisions with two options each, this would result in over 34 billion different endings.

The appeal of such infinity stories is that every listener will experience their very own version of the audiobook and the story told therein. By using a central main plot thread that appears in all versions of the story, users can exchange their thoughts about the story, but first and foremost about the differences between the particular versions they heard.

Shifting Perspectives

This variant of interactive audiobooks is again based on player choices. But instead of influencing the story itself, at the end of each story segment the player decides from whose viewpoint the next part of story should be told. Therefore, this format is not only suited to every kind of story, but especially to stories with many main characters.

In a love story, for example, the player would be able, depending on their personal interest and preference, to jump back and forth between the two protagonists. In a crime story, the player could follow the investigation from different viewpoints or watch the cat-and-mouse game between the inspector and the criminal, alternating between the two.

Personalized Audiobooks

Personalized audiobooks, in contrast to interactive audiobooks, do not consist of many short story segments with Player Choices, but of several large text modules. These enable the user to compose a story beforehand according to their own preferences. So, apart from the main story, there are different subplots with differing contents. Thus, the player could, for example, decide at the start whether there should be a romance in their audiobook and whether this romance will have a happy or a sad ending. Once the player has made their choice, the audiobook will be personalized for them by using the corresponding modules.

Text Adventures

Text adventures, similar to interactive audiobooks, consist of separate story segments, but do not have any predefined Player Choices. Instead, there is a series of basic Voice commands that the player can use at the end of each segment. By using commands like “Talk to”, “Go to”, “Use”, “Take”, and so forth, the player can solve puzzles, overcome obstacles, and find a way through the story.

These formats usually do not have a large or complex plot. The appeal for the player is the engagement with the different scenes and their creative puzzles. As the author, you will have to make sure that you create an event or a feedback message for every single command the player is allowed to use.

Hotseat Stories

While normal interactive audiobooks address one player, hotseat formats allow two players to experience a shared story via a single smart speaker. Your story will require two protagonists for this, each one played by one of the players. Player Choices will then be presented alternatingly to the corresponding player.

 

Example: Hotseat Story

In a detective story, the players are taking on the role of two investigators called Sally and Harry. Arriving at the crime scene, they will somehow have to get into the house. A corresponding Player Choice could be, “Sally, will you try to pick the lock of the door or enter through the window?” or, “Should Sally try to pick the look of the door or enter through the window?” If the player chooses to try the window, the next question could be addressed to the other player before the further consequences of the first player’s choice are being revealed, like, “Harry, do wish to help Sally climb up, or do you wish to keep watch?” or, “Should Harry help Sally climb up, or should he keep watch?”

Thus, the players can support each other in their actions and overcome obstacles and solve conflicts as a team. At the same time, this format offers the opportunity to have both players compete against each other or maybe betray each other. In the latter case, the second Player Choice could be, “Harry, will you help Sally climb up, or do you wish to, once she is up there, yell that someone is breaking into the house?”

When using such a format, it is important to keep an eye on the downtime, namely, the time one of the players is not actively involved in the events taking place. This time period should not be too long, but you can certainly have story parts where one player is making three or four decisions in a row. The most important thing is that the share of playtime and entertainment value are equally spread between both players across the story as a whole. Hotseat stories are an exciting format, since the joint experience of the shared story creates closeness and immersion.

Multiplayer Stories

The game concept of multiplayer formats is similar to that of hotseat stories. However, the players are not playing together on one Voice assistant, instead everyone is playing on their own one which makes it possible to have separate plot threads within the story. Every user would then play their own story, but their decisions will influence the course of the story for the other player.

In a crime story, for instance, one player could be an inspector doing field work while the other player would be a member of the Cyber Task Force. Both would, depending on their path through the game, find new clues and information concerning the case which would then unlock new Player Choices, characters, and locations for the other player’s part of the story. This will lead to a fascinating and many-faceted story web that is also marked by the fact that each user can only play part of the story and then will have to wait for the other user to finish their own part of that segment of the story.

Story House

Despite their interactive nature, most interactive audiobooks will run from left to right with a kind of linear main plot thread. An interesting idea that would offer the player more freedom, is to structure a story not into scenes, but into the locations appearing in the story. Using the example of a crime or horror story, this could look something like this:

 

Example: Story House

At the start of the story, the player enters a house and will be told what rooms exist there, for example library, study, attic, dining room, and bedroom. They are then being told that visiting the bedroom will end the current day or chapter. After that, the player can move freely through the house by using Voice commands to enter the different rooms where interactive events will take place before they can enter the next room. Depending on what rooms they enter, and in which order, the events in the other rooms will change, in some cases even unlocking completely new events. For example, the player could find a safe in the attic which they are unable to open yet. But in the study they discover a note telling them the combination, allowing them to return to the attic to open the safe.

Once the player enters the bedroom, a new day begins and the rooms are filled with new events, moving the plot forward. Night time, when the player goes to bed to progress the story, can also be used to add a subplot or a separate main plot in form of a dream. Those dreams could offer clues to some of the puzzles in the house or tell part of the house’s history, or the player even has to become active in their dreams and make decisions there to fully uncover the mysteries of this place.

The major appeal of this format would be the vast freedom of movement within the setting of the story, combined with the simple mechanism that visiting the bedroom will continue the main plot. But such a story will be a huge challenge for you as an author. You will have to use many variables to record the progression of the player and to remember all the events that have been triggered.

Therefore, this format is especially interesting for writers who like to get intricate, develop complex game mechanics, and create extensive tree diagrams. But this concept can also be modified. The story does not need to take place in a house, it can offer a whole game world where the player can change location more or less freely. In that case, the player would not visit different rooms but different buildings in a city, for example, or different villages and towns on a world map.

One-Move Games

The video game “Aisle” shaped this innovative and intriguingly simple format. The game begins with a short intro text telling the player that they are standing in a supermarket. In front of them is a shelf with gnocchi, nearby, a brunette is putting a jar of sauce into her shopping basket, and behind her more shelves. The simple question to the player is then, “What do you do?”

The kicker of the story is that the player can only make one single decision. After that, they are presented with a follow-up text, then the story ends. But there are dozens of available hidden Player Choices so that the story can be played over and over again while more and more of the back story is revealed in these short episodes.

Since the Player Choice is very open and only a few of the available choices are hinted at, there are many more options for players to discover as they play again. It is a kind of double sleuthing that draws the player into the game. The player wants to know who the main character actually is, but to do so, they have to find the correct Voice commands to access as many of these mini-episodes as possible.

Summary

Various Formats for Interactive Stories:

  • Interactive audiobooks are the adaption of traditional gamebooks for Voice.
  • In plot-based interaction, the player is not a character from the story. Instead, they decide completely on how the plot and story develop.
  • In infinity stories, random chance decides the course of the story.
  • In shifting perspectives, the viewpoint alternates between different main characters.
  • In personalized audiobooks, the story is put together from different modules based on the listener’s preferences.
  • In text adventures, the player navigates through the game by using fixed standard commands like “Talk to”, “Go to”, “Use”, or “Take”.
  • In hotseat stories, two or more players are playing together and can alternate decision-making for their respective player characters.
  • In multiplayer stories, the independent players’ choices will influence the course of the story for other players.
  • In story house stories, the story is limited to a specific location, but the player can move around freely in this location.
  • In one-move games, players only make one decision and have to discover all available Player Choices through repeated playing of the game.
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