The Digital Writers Toolkit: Agency

I practically grew up on a diet of Choose-your-own-adventure stories. As a migrant who spoke no English, there was a time when reading was not a joy, but a laboured task like going to the gym. It was books like Choose-your-own-adventures that first opened up the pleasures of reading to me. When I heard RA Montgomery passed away, it brought back memories of reading his beloved series at the local library, silently mouthing the words, struggling to get the meaning but determined to pick the right path.

It’s only fitting that as part of my residency, I discuss the idea of agency in digital writing. Choose-your-own-adventures were the first successful book series that gammified reading by letting readers have some choice in the story outcome. Along with early text-based games (I’m thinking Zork), it paved the way for this hybrid game/book format. Of course, as graphics improved, the text-based games were superseded by role-playing adventure games (RPGs) while electronic literature spun off in the direction of hypertext, interactive fiction and obscurity.

I’ve been excited by the recent resurgence in interactive fiction. I’m currently reading? (playing?) a story gamebook called 80 Days by Inkle Studio based on the novel by Jules Verne. The premise is simple – Phileas Fogg has wagered he can circumnavigate the globe. The story unfolds through text but you play as his servant and at the end of each chunk of text you need to make decisions about money, equipment and routes to influence your master. This story probably won’t suit literary aficionados, but it’s a fun, frothy read with beautiful steampunk illustrations. Personally, I’m suspicious of people who insist they only read literary fiction and won’t touch genre fiction. They probably also have healthy eating habits and go to the gym three times a week.

Screen images of storybook from
Screen images of storybook from

In other good news, Inkle studio is also the team behind Inklewriter, a free writing platform that lets you composite and publish your own interactive story and doesn’t require any knowledge of coding.

If you’ve ever thought about dabbling in it, this is a handy tool. It even has a feature that helps you publish to Kindle. And just so we all know that chooseable pathway adventures are definitely a cool thing, I have taken a picture of the next book on my reading list:

Book cover (By Ryan North)

If it’s good enough for Ryan North, it’s good enough for everyone.

So for your creative writing challenge this week, how could you turn your favourite book into a chooseable path adventure? Plot it out in a branching narrative and post it here or put it on the Limerance facebook wall.

There’s plenty of fancy software to do this in but I’ve found the most delightful, user friendly media…

(Here is one I did earlier for Pride and Prejudice)
(Here is one I did earlier for Pride and Prejudice)

I find this sort of silly, brainstorming activity helps me get into my creative flow. Despite (or maybe because) of my day job in transmedia, I like using pen and paper for all my development work. I keep giant A1 sheets of cardboard on my desk especially to scribble on. For people who are interested in software equivalent for plotting branching narratives, I use Prezi and also one on ipad called HD Magical Pad.



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