How to Write Interactive Fiction and Interactive Audio Stories – 010 – Segment Length

Segment Length

For the beginning of your story we presented you with a clear recommendation concerning the length of the texts. For the following parts of your story, this choice is more ambivalent.

To begin with, there are some technical limitations depending on the platform you want to publish on. On Amazon Alexa, for example, no more than 240 seconds may pass between two user interactions (more specific information for each platform can be found in Chapter 5.1: Technical Requirements).

TWIST offers a simple feature to gauge the estimated reading time of a text. In the text box as well as in the simulator, you will be shown the expected duration of the corresponding text or story segment. Based on our experience, the voice actors are usually faster than the calculated time. Still, you should never completely exhaust these 240 seconds rather stay below them.

But what is good segment length from the player’s point of view? Interactive audiobooks for Voice are an exciting format which enables players to lie back on their couch and actively play a story with a high narrative pace, many Player Choices, and a high degree of attention required. These players might enjoy crime stories in which they themselves are doing the investigation, searching for clues and drawing conclusions. This player target audience wants to be active and occupied, making decisions as often as possible.

But there is also another audience, the audiobook listener. They might prefer to just listen to a story, zone out, or have some diversion while tidying up the house, driving around, or while they are otherwise occupied. They favor longer intervals between Player Interactions as well as stories that do not require too much attention. For them, the story has to work even if they are not absorbing every detail of the plot. They prefer to be entertained and only want to make decisions at certain points in the story.

Thus, the length of your texts will depend on your target audience and on the story itself. For a story addressed to “gamers” we recommend not to exceed 90 seconds of text between two Player Choices. For a story addressed to “listeners” those segments should be probably 150 to 200 seconds long. Of course you can also mix and match, especially if your story boasts an appropriate dramatic composition where action-oriented passages alternate with quieter ones, or where longer explanations for better understanding of the story are occasionally necessary. Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that it is better to gear your story to one of these two audiences instead of trying to please both.

Story Length

As a general preference, we recommend you write shorter stories. For interactive audiobooks addressed to children we have had positive experiences with audio material totaling 30-40 minutes and an average playing time of about 12-20 minutes.

Stories for adults can be somewhat longer. Our prizewinning fantasy story “Iron Falcon” boasts a total of 115 minutes of audio material and an average playing time of about 50-60 minutes. Despite having received the distinction of best Amazon Alexa Games Skill, today we would split the story into 3 episodes instead of packing that much plot into one big episode. The reason for this is simple:

Words heard are more fleeting than words read. This is not only true for the time during which the player is experiencing your story, but also for the time between playing sessions. When a reader puts a book aside and returns to it three days later, it is usually not a big problem. If in doubt, they just flip back a few pages, shortly skims over what happened last, and is quickly up to date again.

When playing an interactive story for Voice, this is not so easy. The listener cannot just jump back a few paragraphs or skim over part of the text again. If the time interval between two playing sessions is too long, your story runs the risk of not being finished because players cannot find their way back into it. Shorter stories mitigate this risk.

This does not mean that you have to forgo telling longer stories. Our storytelling tool TWIST enables you to simply create several episodes. It also lets you define whether players have access to all episodes from the beginning, whether the episodes have to be played in a fixed order, or whether players will have to reach a certain ending in one episode to gain access to a different episode.

Rule of Thumb

The ratio of one playthrough to the total amount of story material should be between 2:3 (sufficiently interactive) and 1:2 (very interactive). The smaller this ratio, the greater the replay value since the player will only experience a small part of the whole story in one playthrough. On the other hand, you will have to create a lot of additional content that might never be seen or only be seen by a small number of players.

For your first interactive stories you should certainly focus on the plot, the characters, the world, the language used, and the choices offered and try to make these as appealing as possible. When you first start out, less is often more!

Length of Sentences and Words

There is no clear recommendation for the length of the sentences and words you should use. We analyzed the first 10 minutes of a lot of German interactive audiobooks and stories, and we had a look at their user numbers and ratings.

 

Story

Number of Sentences

Words per Sentence

Number of Player Choices

Tag X (Day X)

186

6

22

Tape Stories

200

5

22

Der Zauberwald (The Magic Forest)

130

8

15

Der Eiserne Falke (Iron Falcon)

135

12

8

Herzklau

144

11

23

Cobra 11

154

15

8

 

All of these stories had very good ratings and strong user numbers. “Tape Stories” and “Tag X” offer a high narrative pace. Both are action-heavy, suspenseful thriller stories, quickly gripping the player. This is good. But we also saw that stories with a slower pace worked just as well.

Since we cannot prove it yet – we are working on further breakdowns which will take time – we can only assume that players will have different preferences here and will pick those stories that they like while aborting those that do not appeal to them.

Nevertheless, you should make a conscious choice about the narrative pace and dynamic with which you tell your story since, unlike with regular books or eBooks, the player does not have any influence on the reading speed of an interactive audiobook.

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