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Write a Choose Your Own Adventure story with Twine

Science & Technology

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Editor’s note: This is part 3 of 3 of creative columnist Robert Patten’s look at interactive fiction. Read his introduction here, and how to create a different kind of interactive story here.

Most novels and short stories are like trains. The author takes you on a predefined track, and no matter what you think about the scenery, regardless of how you feel about the destination, if you stay with the book, you will end up in the same place as every other reader. There is only one last page.

Not all stories are that way. If Harry Potter had a branching narrative, for example, you might have an ending where Voldemort is victorious or Neville becomes the new Dark Lord. Your choices would determine the outcome.

The most popular books in this format are the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series, popular in the ’80s and ’90s (and still being made today). Nowadays, when people refer to a CYOA, they simply may mean a story with multiple paths — not necessarily the series.

As a kid, I thought it would be neat to make my own CYOA, but I had no idea where to start. Writing a linear story is hard enough. How would I keep track of branching storylines and choices? Would I have to come up with some sort of crazy bookmarking system involving Post-its? Paste passages of a story to my bedroom wall and join them with arrows?

I found the answer 20 years later.

Meet Twine, a system designed for nonlinear people. Here’s a screenshot from my work in progress, “Empty Box,” a story about a kid, a box, a crayon and imagination:

twine-screenshot-1-small

Twine isn’t focused on creating paper books. It’s for creating hypertext fiction. That is, it generates an HTML file that presents you with options in a story. You click on a choice, just as you would click on a link on any other webpage, and boom! There’s another page. In other words, you don’t have to flip to another page in a physical book, saving you both time and paper cuts. And once you have finished your masterpiece, you can post it online for the Internet to enjoy.

This system is accessible, but you may find yourself using a little code. Here’s a screenshot from my own project:

twine-screenshot-wip-small

It’s simpler than it looks. Promise. All I’m doing here is keeping track of where the reader is in the story. This is what sets hyperlink fiction apart from paper CYOA – you can easily keep track of what the reader is doing or has done. You don’t have to say something awkward like, “Well, if you have been in the village before, click here. If not, click here.”

[[captain]], [[harpoon]] and [[ready]] each form links to passages of the same name. (We navigate by passage names, not page numbers.)

Here’s how the passage can appear in your browser:

empty-box-screenshot

(You can adjust stuff like font, text size and color.)

There’s more to Twine than that, but it isn’t complicated. After the first few hours, you will probably spend more time on the writing than the coding side.

It’s Twine’s simplicity and accessibility that makes it so attractive to people who normally wouldn’t create interactive stories/video games.

From The New York Times:

“Twine games look and feel profoundly different from other games, not just because they’re made with different tools but also because they’re made by different people. … Many of the most prominent Twine developers are women, making games whose purpose is to explore personal perspectives and issues of identity, sexuality and trauma that mainstream games rarely touch on.”

In other words, Twine allows you to create any story you want, regardless of who you are. Plant your idea in Twine, and watch it branch out.

The choices are yours.

You can follow Robert Patten on Facebook and Twitter.

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