How to Write a Gamebook -- Part 1

First of all, what on earth is a gamebook?

Answer: A gamebook is a book in which you turn to different pages to decide where the story goes. The Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny series is a good example.

I first came to write a gamebook when I realised that reading one on Kindle could be a lot easier than reading a print version. In a printed gamebook, you have to flip to different pages to make your decisions, but on a Kindle you could simply have a link to click for each choice, and get to the next page that way.

The result was The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor, an interactive ghost hunt aimed at ages 8-12. It was quite a steep learning curve, but it was exhilarating fun. Now, I'm going to tell you how you can write your own gamebook!

Gamebooks are perfect for a little side-project, because they are fun and provide a break from straightforward storytelling. However, they'll be great for a main WIP, too (especially if you're the sort of person who gets bored with working on the same old story for hours and hours).

Before you start writing your gamebook, you need to make a few decisions:

- Where will you set it? Most gamebooks are set in weird and wonderful places, much like conventional role playing games. Space, a pirate ship, a made-up fantasy world, etc.

- What will the basic plot be? Sure, gamebooks have several different plot strands, but the overall problem to solve will generally be the same. It might be a battle, an epic jungle adventure, a murder mystery, a zombie apocalypse, or, in my case, a ghost hunt.

- Will you write it in first, second or third person? Most gamebooks are written in second person (referring to the main character as 'you'), because this engages the reader into the role play aspect more. However, this doesn't necessarily have to be the case.

- Past or present tense? Again, present tense engages the reader more, but past tense can also work.

- Will you have ways of winning and losing, or just finishing? Gamebooks always/mostly have multiple different endings. Some books are focused on either winning or losing (e.g. solving the mystery vs not solving the mystery), and others are simply focused on the conclusion of the story.

For The Misadventure, I chose second person, present tense, winning or losing.

Now that you've decided on the basics, it's time to write the thing. Get a notebook (like a school workbook, not a little pad of paper) and a pencil. Number your notebook pages; you'll need at least 50 for a decent gamebook. Then, on the first page, write section 1. This is the section which should set the scene, introduce the other characters (if any), and generally help the reader to see where they're at. At the end of this section (and every other gamebook section), there should be a choice for the reader to make; a choice of paths to take, a choice of food, a choice of whatever. Remember to include the corresponding page numbers for each choice! For example, you could write:

To turn right, go to page 3. To turn left, go to page 5.

Just to illustrate what the first section of a gamebook should be like, here's the first section of the Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor.

~~~~~~~~~~~

You stare at the ghostly mansion in front of you. Tendrils of ivy curl around the silent towers like pythons strangling their prey. The worm- eaten, ornate front door, carved out of once- lustrous oak, swings gently back and forth in the wind. And, in a circular window in the south turret, a single light burns.
From beside you, your friend Alex chuckles. “Looks like the ghost is home,” he says, pointing to the window.
“That’s a good thing, right?” says your other friend, Rhian, from behind.
“It’s called a ghost hunt, guys,” you say, trying to sound calm. “Of course it's a good thing.”
The three of you step through the door. In front of you is a great hall, with gray stone walls. Faded, tattered tapestries hang on the walls, depicting knights of yore and scenes of battles long past. The stone floor is completely bare, and two vast marble staircases lead upwards – one on the right, and one on the left.
“Which way now?” asks Rhian.
Left or Right?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As you can see, the excerpt above set the scene, introduced the Non Player Characters (NPCs), and offered a choice.

Take plenty of time over the first section. It's arguably the most important section in the whole gamebook.

In the next part of this post, I will show you how to write the rest of a gamebook, including:

  • The art and panic of writing in five dimensions;
  • How to save time by converging storylines;
  • And, of course, making that all-important conclusion!

Stay tuned!

EDIT: Read Part 2 of this post here.

The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor is available on Kindle for just $3.60 (£2.38). Click Here to visit its Amazon.com page. (UK customers Click Here).





AND IN OTHER NEWS...

I'm currently formatting the next Super Sporty Short Story (working title Alien Diplomacy). I hope to have it out in the next few weeks.

Super Sporty 8: The Attack of the Pegasi is being wrestled into shape. It's a timorous beastie, but I will beat it soon!

I've ordered a second proof copy of Introducing Super Sporty from CreateSpace. I've made the margins better and fixed one of the pictures (because it was pixelated) and, more excitingly, I found out how to get words on the spine!

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