How to Write a Gamebook -- Part 2

Last week, I posted the first in a series of posts about how to write a gamebook. This first post covered:

  • what a gamebook is
  • why writing a gamebook is a fun thing to do
  • what you need to decide before writing a gamebook
  • how to write the first page of a gamebook.

If you haven't read this first post yet, then go and do it now! (Click this link to be taken to the post)

Back again? Good. Now, let's talk about writing the 'meat' of a gamebook -- the main body of story.

Because gamebooks have multiple different storylines, writing one requires that you write in five dimensions. This means that you're not dealing with a normal plot any more; you're dealing with several different possible timelines, all meshed together and entangled into a seamless mass of pure story (or, at least, that's the plan!)

So how does one go about creating this seamless mass?

If you followed the instructions in my last post, you should, by now, have a notebook with plenty of numbered pages, the first one of which has your intro written on it (or maybe more pages are filled, if your intro is long). At the end of your intro, there should be a choice for the reader to make.

So far, so good. Now, turn to one of the blank pages that you linked a choice to. For example, if, at the end of your intro, you wrote:

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

Then either go to page 3, or go to page 5. Write the next bit of the story. It should only be about a page long, and should include another choice at the end. Remember to include the corresponding page numbers with the choices!

As an example, here's what happens when you go left after the intro of my gamebook, The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor:

You trot noisily up the staircase to the left, followed by your friends. At the top of the staircase is a corridor, with mustard–yellow wallpaper and a dirty wooden floor. Old, dusty portraits line the walls. You stop to look at the one closest to you. It is of a severe–looking woman with auburn hair and a hooked nose, clad in expensive furs.
As you stare at the picture, the woman’s eyes blink. Do you…
Poke the eyes, or Step back

Once you've written the page for one of your choices from the first section, turn to the correct pages and write the other one(s). Then, write the segments for the choices branching off of those segments. And keep going!

Actually ... it's not that simple. Since you don't want to be writing a whole new storyline for every choice you add, it's highly recommended that you merge storylines. Merging storylines means that you come up with a way of making a new choice lead to a segment that you've already written.

To illustrate this, let's make use of a handy tree diagram:

As you can see, the two storylines (the one about walking along the beach and the one about paddling in the sea) merged. This is an amazing time-saver in a gamebook, and it's also a very satisfying feeling to tie up a loose end this way.

CAUTION!!!! Make sure the story still makes sense when you merge. For example, if, in the gamebook represented by the diagram above, the magic fish was referred to after the storylines were merged, readers who chose to walk along the beach (and therefore never met the fish) will be confused.

Sometimes, if you want to make a reference to something which the reader may or may not have encountered before, you can get away with it by writing ambiguously. However, if you are in doubt, it's best to write a new page rather than merge with an existing one.

Sometimes, merging storylines requires a bit of 'filler' -- an extra little page with only one choice, which makes sure the storylines merge seamlessly. To illustrate this, let's merge another part of our beach gamebook:

As you can see, there needed to be a little step in between the hamburger part and the walking-along-the-beach part. This is why fillers make life so much easier.

That's all from me on the subject of writing a gamebook's 'meat'. However, you will figure out many more tricks and techniques to make writing a gamebook easier as you go along (and when you do, please share them in the comments!).

In the third and final part of this post, we'll look at the final bits of writing a gamebook -- tying up the loose ends, and, of course, the conclusions! See you then!

EDIT: Read Part 3 of this post here.

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