How to write interactive fiction and interactive audio stories
When Der Zauberwald: Neue Freunde (The Magic Forest: New Friends), our first interactive audio story, was published in June 2018, we realized that, compared to traditional gamebooks, Voice technology, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, offered new possibilities in interactive storytelling.
Penned in just a few hours with lots of yes-no questions and meaningless Player Choices, it’s no surprise our story felt underwhelming when it was actually played.
The story also faltered in places due to questionable logic. Both tarnished the gaming experience. “The Magic Forest” still was a great achievement compared to other Alexa skills at that time and quickly garnered huge popularity as a skill for kids.
We decided to invest more time and thought into the creation of subsequent interactive audiobooks.
With the fantasy adventure Der Eiserne Falke (Iron Falcon) we achieved this. With an average playing time of 60 to 70 minutes and two total hours of audio material, we had created a little masterpiece by the Voice standards of the time.
Certain story elements, like Alexa poking fun at players’ choices and leading them astray were particularly clever. This innovative approach and our increased effort were even rewarded with first place in the Amazon Alexa Games Skill Challenge 2018.
To us, it was a clear signal that we were on the right track. But success is no excuse to get lazy.
By that time, we had introduced our interactive storytelling tool, TWIST (The Wonderful Interactive Storytelling Tool) to more than 100 writers, each offering new perspectives on creating interactive stories.
We paid close attention to ratings and reviews. Our stories were good by the standards of the time; even better given the resources at our disposal. But we weren’t satisfied.
That’s why we decided to step things up. We began searching for information and guides on writing interactive stories. What did we find? Apart from dated forum threads, a few scattered blog entries, and YouTube videos by game designers, basically nothing.
Writing Interactive Fiction by DM Potter was the only book that focused solely on this topic. Narrative Design for Indies by Edwin McRae briefly touched upon the subject. Though both are groundbreaking works in the genre, they lack the depth and structured methodology for improving one’s interactive writing skills.
So we decided to write the beginner’s guide that we, ourselves, would have wanted. We analyzed our stories and those of other writers; spoke to specialists, and compiled ideas and information from what scarce materials we could find.
Three years later, we were finally ready to publish the guide. It didn’t turn out as we imagined and is, by no means, all-encompassing. It’s a great start on a long journey. The future of storytelling will be interactive. We’d love to provide some insights to help authors take their own first steps toward writing really good interactive audiobooks.
The first part of this guide focuses on structure, offering tips on writing good interactive stories. It centers mainly on Player Choices and phrasing questions in ways which most effectively present those choices.
Part two deals with storytelling: characters, plotlines, worldbuilding, and ideas for writing interactive stories. In Part three, we will look at ways to market and monetize your stories.
Draw from this guide the tips, methods, and ideas that inspire you. Start by implementing one or two techniques to the best of your ability. For example, avoid the use of fake choices or unnecessary yes-no questions.
Once you have done this you are ready to take on the challenge of creating the (maybe) perfect interactive story.
Approach each segment and path of your story as if it were the only one. Decide which thoughts and emotions you wish to evoke with each question. Create real immersion by making your players laugh, cry, and dream.
Summary – The potential of interactive audio stories
Interactive stories for Voice offer new possibilities in terms of storytelling and interactivity compared to traditional gamebooks.
With the help of tools like TWIST, every author can easily create and publish interactive stories without any prior technical knowledge.
Very few manuals currently exist for writing interactive stories. The intention of our guide is to change this.
The growing technologization of our world promises a great future for interactive storytelling.
Interactive stories require a different approach in their creation than linear stories.
This guide details the process of writing interactive stories so that you will be able to write great interactive stories yourself.
Immersion: the player delving completely into the story and the game world to the exclusion of the world around them.
Player: a user who determines the course of an interactive story on their Voice assistant device via Voice commands.
Skill: application that makes use of Voice technology.
Voice: technology that a user can control with their own speech to access mainly auditive online content and applications, also called skills (e.g. audiobooks, games, information).